He (Jesus) asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” John 21:17 (HCSB) (parentheses added)
I love how God’s Word is alive! It never changes but it is always fresh and ever-ready to teach me something new or leap up off the page in a way I had never seen it before. This passage from John 21 is one of many like that for me. God has used it to teach me much about forgiveness and restoration and about the different forms of love. Who knew He had another lesson to teach me from this passage?!
I had never paid attention before to the fact that Jesus didn’t refer to Peter as “Peter” in this passage. Instead, Jesus uses his former name, Simon. Simon had been chosen by Jesus to be one of His twelve disciples. In the course of spending time with Jesus, Simon came to see, understand and proclaim Jesus to be the promised Messiah (Matthew 16:13-19). Simon had been so transformed, Jesus gave him a new name—Peter, “the rock.” However, when the heat was on in the midst of the arrest of Jesus, Peter was anything but a “rock” and denied he even knew Jesus! THREE TIMES! Utter failure!
In my opinion, but Jesus had every right to come down pretty hard on Peter. But Jesus didn’t. He did, however, need to deal with what Peter had done. In order to do so, Jesus addressed him as “Simon.” It was “Simon” who was in the way of Peter once and for all becoming the “rock” Jesus had declared him to be. Three times Jesus asked “Simon” if he loved Him. The first two times, Jesus used a word for love (agape) that means a “pure and sacrificial” love, the highest form of love. Being very much aware of his failure and the reality of who and what he was, Simon responded with another word for love (phileo), stating he had “affection and fondness” for the Lord. Peter knew denying Jesus was certainly NOT a demonstration of “agape” love! Again, Jesus does something remarkable! The third time, Jesus asks Simon if he “phileo” loves Him. He doesn’t push Simon on the “agape” love but meets Peter where he is at in his “phileo” love. Such grace and mercy!
Jesus had to get to the root of Simon’s identity and heart issue in order for Simon to step up and become who Jesus had called him to be: Peter, the rock. Simon was confronted with some hard truth about himself. But Jesus had to take him there in order for Simon to face it, own it, turn from it and move past it. In that brief encounter, Simon didn’t just get his new name back. Simon was truly transformed into Peter, the rock. In only a few short days, Peter’s new name would be tested again at Pentecost. Man, did he ever pass the test this time as he preached the first post-resurrection sermon and 3,000 people got saved!!! Never again to be “Simon,” the one who denied knowing Jesus! Now, he was Peter, the rock, who would turn the world upside down by preaching the gospel. Also, let’s take note of the fact Peter was eventually martyred for his faith, laying down his life in “agape” love for his Lord and Savior. He may have denied Him at one point in his life, but Peter died as the “rock” Jesus had deemed him to be.
As I was meditating on this fresh insight into the passage, the Lord then took it and got up in MY business! However, the question He posed to me wasn’t, “Teresa, do you love Me?” The question Jesus had for me was, “Teresa, do you trust Me?” I wanted to respond like Peter did, “Yes, Lord, you know I trust You.” But I knew in my heart that wasn’t entirely true. Yes, I trust the Lord, but on my terms. I trust Him AFTER I try to do it myself or AFTER I try to figure it out on my own or AFTER I’ve exhausted all MY resources and have no choice but to “trust” the Lord. “Yes, Lord, THEN I’ll trust You.”
I’m so grateful for His agape love for me! So grateful He doesn’t give up on me and is willing to restore me after I’ve blown it, even when I blow it BIG!!! I truly want to become all of who and what He has declared me to be and one day be able to simply, confidently and truthfully say, “Yes, Lord! I trust You!” Until then, “Thank You, Lord, for Your never-ending GRACE!”