John 21:15c-16b
We Do Love Jesus
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

John 21:15c (Holman) “. . . more than these?”

Jesus forced Peter to confront his own ugly sin face to face. By calling him Simon, Jesus reminded him what he had been before they met. The Apostle had not yet lived up to the name “Peter,” which meant rock. He wasn’t stable yet.

Jesus was asking, “Simon, do you love Me more than these other Apostles love Me?” The question was a pointed reminder of the boastful pride he had displayed a few days before. On the fateful Thursday night Peter had vaunted himself above the other disciples and had boasted, “Even if everyone runs away, I will certainly not!” (MK 14:29). His later denial made his promise sound foolish. He had claimed superiority, but fell lower than any of the others except Judas Iscariot. Jesus wanted him to consider, did he still think he was a cut above the rest?

It was time for Peter to take inventory of his heart. Was he still as cocky and brash as before? Had he learned anything from his disastrous fall? What about us? Have we learned from our past failures? Did they make us humbler or angrier? Did we gain wisdom or burn with desire for revenge? Peter’s test can be our test.

John 21:15d “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.” “Feed My lambs,” He told him.

When talking of our requirement to reach unbelievers, Jesus used the fishing metaphor. “You will be fishers of men,” He had said. In caring for believers, the imagery of fishing was replaced by shepherding. The fish brought out of a lost world’s sea of sin would need to be fed and tended.

Jesus felt His weak sheep could be safely committed to Peter because he had been weak. Simon’s failure would make him a better Pastor. A heart broken over its sins finds it difficult to harden itself against a fallen brother. By remembering his own fall, it would be easier for Peter to be gracious with others who stumble.

Many people have been improved by a failure early in life. Stumbling early can actually help us walk more carefully later. It can teach us to distrust ourselves, to lean more fully on Jesus, and to be more compassionate.

John 21:16a A second time He asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?

Seeing the cockiness is gone, Jesus this time left off “more than these.” Peter still needed to be pressed because he had skirted an important part of Jesus’ first question. Jesus had asked, “Simon, do you love (“agape”, divine love) Me?” Peter’s response avoided “agape” and substituted “phileo,” a term denoting only brotherly love. Jesus wanted Peter to quantify his love. “Simon, do you love Me with a supreme love?”

John 21:16b “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.”

Again, Peter affirmed feeling “phileo,” brotherly love, but avoided the word “agape,” divine love. Peter knew he loved Jesus, but he would do no bragging about the quantity of his love. Claiming only feelings of which he could be sure, he refused to say he had attained to the highest love.

Peter did not want any more future humiliation caused by another failure after rash promises. At the same time he will not lie, and show a false humility by saying he does not love Jesus at all. Peter knew he loved Jesus in his heart, and wanted to be honest about it. Peter felt he could not claim perfect love, but knew he could not deny he loved Jesus.

Peter’s dilemma is often repeated in our hearts. Since we know our love for Jesus is not perfect, we often hesitate to say confidently, “Jesus, I love You.” We can usually boldly say, “I know Jesus. I trust in Jesus. I believe on Jesus.” But for some reason, the words “I love you, Jesus” sometimes stick in our throats.

This is unfortunate. It is for sure sad to Jesus. Without doubt He wanted to hear Peter say, “I love you.” We can safely assume our Lord wants to hear the same words from us.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Nothing is more important to God than that we love Him. We know this, yet often have trouble verbalizing our love for Him. Why?

The main reason we balk is, we know we fall far short of living a life totally pleasing to God. Each of us has felt the sting of Jesus’ words, “The one who has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me” (John 14:21).

We do display the intensity of our love for Jesus by obeying Him, but we do ourselves and Jesus a huge disservice if we think we can love Him only if we are perfect. If this were the case, none of us could ever say we love Jesus.

Deeds do best prove our love, and sin does indicate love is waning, but it is impossible for a believer not to love Jesus. Our love may “grow cold” (Matthew 24:12), and lose intensity, but it is impossible for our love to Jesus to die completely.

Jesus told the unbelieving religious leaders, “If God were your Father, you would love Me” (John 8:42). This means all God’s children, which by definition includes believers, love Jesus. Romans 8:28, a verse we know refers to believers, says the called are “those who love God.” John said, “We love (no exceptions hinted) because he first loved us” (I John 4:19). All believers love Jesus.

We will not always be able to say we love Jesus with perfect, heavenly “agape” love, but we can honestly say, “Jesus, I love you.” Peter had shamefully denied Jesus, but loved Jesus nonetheless. An emotion in his heart could not be denied. We should experience the same feeling. We know we fail the Lord, but we ought to still be convinced we love Jesus.

Godliness is without doubt our purest evidence of love for Jesus. When we sin, repentance and godly sorrow also prove our love. If we can sin without remorse, the Bible offers us no comfort. In this case we had best search our hearts to see whether or not we have ever been saved. When we sin, repentance must be deeply felt. After Peter denied, he wept bitterly. Don’t try to avoid the sorrow. Accept it, and in your heart, look Jesus in the face and say, “I am sorry. Forgive me. I love you. Help me to love you more.” Do weep and mourn over sin, but then leave its guilt behind.

We have to honestly and minutely examine ourselves, but must not overly condemn ourselves. There is neither virtue nor merit earned in castigating ourselves for a lifetime over the failure of one moment. We sin, but this does not mean we must spend the rest of our lives doing violence to ourselves and our emotions. God will determine consequences. We don’t have to help Him punish us.

Are we sad because our love to Jesus is small? It is okay to mourn our sin as long as we don’t let it drive us to despair, or cause us to give up on the Christian life. If we try to smother the little bit of love still indwelling us, we sin even more. Our love for Jesus may be only a seed, but it exists, and we need to ask God to make it bloom.

Don’t give up on yourself. It is possible to love Jesus even if we fall into sin. Our love is certainly not demonstrated in our sins, but can be displayed in our reaction to them. When love for Jesus is present, sin will cause a deep sense of regret. Nothing in the world is more painful than to hurt someone we love.

If we are sorry for our sin, we love Jesus. If we are repentant, we love Jesus. If conscience gnaws at us, we love Jesus. Don’t fear being sad. Fear callousness. Being disappointed in ourselves is a good sign. Don’t let it destroy us.

We disappoint our family often, but we know we still love them. We fail our friends, but we know we still love them. This same reaction should be carried over to our relationship with Jesus. We fail Him, but love Him.

This disappointment in ourselves can strain our love for the Lord. It is easy to question God’s presence in us at such times, but we must believe He is present.

Do not brag about our love, or boast over others, but do tell Jesus you love Him. Speaking it increases it, and keeps it ever in our mind. We may never need to come to Jesus as a brash and bold Peter, saying “Lord, I will die for You,” but can always come to Jesus as a humble, sorrowful Simon, saying, “Jesus, I do love you. Increase my little portion. Help me to love you more.”