After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19)
Peter thought he didn’t deserve Jesus’ friendship any longer. He believed he had failed him and that he was beyond forgiveness. Peter doubted that he really loved Jesus at all. So Jesus made a special effort to show Peter that he was mistaken. Jesus showed Peter that despite everything he had done, or failed to do, Jesus still loved Peter. And, perhaps more importantly, Jesus reassured Peter that he still loved Jesus.
What does the word “love” mean? It’s meaning becomes clear from paying attention to how Jesus used it. Peter denied Jesus three times. Therefore, Jesus asked him three times to affirm his love. Jesus was reassuring Peter that just because he failed, it didn’t mean that he didn’t love Jesus, or that Jesus loved him any less. Peter was still Jesus’ friend and still a part of God’s plan.
And what was God’s plan? Peter had said he would die for Jesus, but when the time came, he’d protected himself instead. So Jesus revealed that Peter would take care of God’s people, establish his church, and in the end, that he would die like Jesus on a cross. Peter’s love for Jesus really was no less secure than Jesus’ love for Peter.
Jesus reassured his friend that failure today didn’t mean failure for all time. God never gives up on his people, even if they sometimes give up on themselves.