Wednesday, April 12, 2023
Peter had been a proud disciple. His arrogance was displayed in his proclamations of superiority over the other disciples. He had made some boastful statements prior to Christ’s crucifixion. When Jesus told the disciples that He had to die, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22). Later Jesus told the disciples that He would go through this suffering alone, and Peter responded with, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33). When Jesus rebuked Him and told him he would actually deny Him three times that very night, Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Matthew 26:35) For whatever reasons, Peter had declared himself to be the best of the disciples and the one who was always ready to take charge and be in control.
Without damaging his spirit or diminishing his boldness, Jesus needed to bring some humility to Peter’s life so he could be fully used for God’s glory. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I do know that it did. Was it the remorse Peter experienced after denying Jesus three times? Was it the disbelief he had to deal with when he investigated the tomb and saw it was empty but doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead? Was it a personal meeting he had with Jesus sometime on that first day of Jesus’ resurrection life? Maybe it was all of them combined. The outcome was that Peter became humble. How do we know this? Look carefully at today’s passage of Scripture.
John 21:15 “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Jesus came to the lake shore and helped the disciples catch a bunch of fish. They ate breakfast together, and then Jesus began a conversation with Peter. He asked him a simple question that revealed the heart of Peter – “Do you truly love me more than these?” It appears that Jesus is asking Peter to love God more than he loves his fishing or the profits that come from a huge catch. It is valid to ask the question, “Do I really love Jesus more than anything else in my life?”
But what did Jesus really mean when He asked Peter if his love was greater than “these?” I believe Jesus was asking Peter to compare the love he had for Jesus to the love the other disciples had for Jesus. They were all sitting around the fire together, and I can imagine Jesus gesturing with a pointed finger at the six other men as He asked Peter, “Do you truly love me more than these men love me?” Jesus wanted to test the humility of Peter. Would he still be the arrogant, “I’m better than the others” man they had known earlier, or had his heart been broken and surrendered to Jesus Christ? Jesus gave Peter the chance to put himself ahead of the others by using the word “agape” for love in His question. “Agape” is God’s unique brand of love that unconditionally gives of self for the benefit of others regardless of any return. Would Peter put himself in that category of love and elevate himself to a superior position over the others? No! With a humble heart Peter admitted to Jesus that he loved Him but used a lesser term for love – the word “phileo,” meaning brotherly love. Peter had reached the point of transparency and was able to humble himself before Christ and admit his need.
How did Jesus respond? He gave Peter a purpose: “Feed my lambs.” Peter’s self-proclaimed purpose was to be the best of the best. It was how he would be able to validate his existence and worth. He had now learned that only Jesus can give life meaning, and in humble submission to Christ there is fulfillment. It was in humble serving others that true meaning for life could be found.
Christ’s post-resurrection mission was to equip us to be vessels of His life so that His kingdom could spread to the entire world. That would be impossible if we are not first and foremost humble servants of their Lord. Peter was starting to get it, and God used him powerfully to preach the gospel. Peter even became a role model and teacher of humility to others. In his letter he wrote to the Christians in his day, we read, “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”(1 Peter 5:5 – 7)
Jesus used the question of love as the instrument to humble Peter’s heart. What is God using in your life right now to teach you humility? Are you letting Him do His work? Don’t resist. God gives grace to the humble and uses them for His glorious purpose. Let Him use you.