When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
In this passage, Jesus finally addresses Peter and his betrayal directly.
Three times, Jesus asks “Do you love me?” Jesus could have asked Peter any number of things. “Peter do you feel really bad?” “Peter do you believe?” “Peter will you go on mission trips?” No, he asks “Peter, do you love me?”
See, Peter did not want crucified savior. When he began to follow Jesus, he was a mess of mixed motives. Peter was ambitious. He wanted to be the greatest. Peter was excited. He wanted to see the kingdom of God and do miracles. Peter wanted to reign, not suffer. When Jesus spoke of His death, Peter rebuked Jesus to His face.
So Jesus asks, “Do you love Me as I am? Merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. Do you love Me as I am? Sovereign, just, holy, glorious.”
Peter’s response is amazing. Three times, Peter declares “Yes Lord, You know I love You.” Of course Jesus knows everything and of course He knows Peter loves Him. But Peter’s life has not demonstrated that love. Peter is devastated, not because he broke a rule or is embarrassed or disappointed in himself; he hates his sin. Peter wants his love for Jesus to be clear and unmistakable.
Finally, we come to Jesus’s reply. Three times, Jesus tells Peter to feed His sheep. We can be tempted to separate our love for God and our love for people. Jesus never does this. The inevitable result of love for Christ is love for His people.
This is the true measure of love for God. The true measure is not how loud we pray, how many books we read, or how many meetings we go to. These things matter but only insofar as they reflect our love for Jesus’s sheep. Sheep are not easy to love. Sheep are stupid and rebellious, just like us.
When I encounter extremely obnoxious people, I want to punch them but I’m a Christian, so I don’t. Instead, I close my heart and cut them off. Perhaps when they change, I’ll give them another chance.
When Jesus calls us to love, He is necessarily calling us to love difficult people. Loving difficult people always involves forgiveness. If we spend enough time with a sinner, they will sin against us. If we are to continue to love them, we must forgive.
Paradoxically, forgiveness is not about people but about Jesus. It is an act of worship. When our love becomes like God’s love, it does not reflect the value of the person forgiven or our own value. It reflects the worth of Jesus Christ.
Consider, who do you need love? In other words, who do you need to forgive? Jesus, give us grace to do the impossible.