He tried to prepare them. The sorrow filled separation that death brings was looming in the future. John 13 records Jesus saying, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will later follow. “ Peter responded by professing his unwavering allegiance. He answered, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus said, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
That is exactly what happened. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times and then heard a rooster crowing. I can only imagine the regret, the shame and the disappointment in himself that Peter must have felt when hours later he watched his faithful, beloved friend die a brutal death on the cross.
But Jesus conquered death. The third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after His death and resurrection, He fellowshipped with them over a seaside breakfast. Surely Peter’s three denials spoken before another charcoal fire were fresh in his memory.
Jesus asked Peter the same question three times. “Do you love me?” Three times Peter confessed his love for Jesus and three times Jesus gave Peter the same calling. “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep” and “Feed my sheep.”
I am struck By Jesus’ kindness and His intentionality. Three denials by Peter were later followed by three opportunities to profess his love for Christ, followed by three commissions to serve God’s people.
It’s probably the process that every committed follower of Jesus must go through. We recognize that we too have denied Christ through our careless words and thoughtless deeds. Yet within our spirit, we are asked if we truly love Jesus. We are called upon to be honest and to examine the state of our heart.
Love is not a feeling. It is an action. It is a commitment. It is a devoted heart. Keith and I have been married 47 years, and we will both attest to the fact that a marriage survives because you made a promise and you honor your commitment. You choose to love. Feelings are fickle. One day they are strong. Another day…not so much. But commitments are steadfast and sure.
When believers answer Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?” with an “I do,” Jesus then commissions us to serve others. The works that He prepared for us to do become clearer. But our love for Him comes first. That is our motivation for serving. And it makes all the difference.
Acts of serving mean nothing if the foundation is not our love for God. Our flesh can so easily convert any good deed to a promotion of our own fame if we are not serving from a position of adoration of Him and all that He has done.
Perhaps Jesus was driving this point to the “type A, never can sit still, gotta do something, speaks before thinking” Peter. Perhaps Jesus was assuring Peter that every sin is forgiven when a heart loves Him. Perhaps Jesus was asking Peter to go deeper in their relationship. Perhaps Jesus was assuring Peter that he had great value in Jesus’ eternal plans.
Tending Jesus’ sheep is a difficult, challenging commission. It means caring for the unloveable, the unkind, the impatient, and the stubborn. It means biting our tongue when we really wants to retaliate. It means responding with patience, kindness and gentleness. It means practicing self control. Daunting? Yes, but it can be accomplished through love for Jesus and by the power of His Spirit.
Devoted time spent with God, through prayer and reading His Word, is a need, not a luxury. It’s in these moments that hearts are prepared, focused, grounded and yes, even humbled.
We are not a lot different from Peter. We mess up. We make mistakes. But like Peter, we are not disqualified from being used by God. And it will always begin when we answer Jesus’ question “Do you love me?” with the vow “I do.”
Questions to ponder:
Are my “good deeds” motivated by love for Jesus or by a desire to be noticed and patted on the back?
Since I answered Jesus’ question “Do you love me?” with an “I do,” where is evidence of my commitment?