Broken Love Restored

John 21:15-18

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, 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."

16 He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?"

He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You."

He said to him, "Tend My sheep."

17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, 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 all things; You know that I love You."

Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep. NKJV

I am sure that everyone knows the background of this passage. This must happen toward the close of the forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, before He ascended into heaven. Jesus had told the disciples to go into Galilee and there He would meet to them. Sometime in those days Peter convinces several of the other disciples to go fishing one night. Remember that at least one third of the disciples were fishermen when Jesus had called them. But that night was much like a night some three years ago when Peter and his company had fished all night and caught nothing. So too this night had ended the same way. As they came to the bank, there was a stranger their asking them if they had caught any fish. The stranger then advises them to cast the net in again. Which when they did the net was full of fish. Almost immediately, John understands what is going on. He tells Peter that the stranger on the bank is the Lord. Peter jumps into the water and swims to shore where Jesus has prepared breakfast for them. After they had eaten, our text takes place.

But the story behind this passage goes back even further, to the night that Jesus was arrested, before He was crucified. Earlier that evening Jesus had cautioned the disciples of the events that were to follow. He told them that they would all forsake Him that evening. Peter spoke up and confessed that even though everyone else might forsake Jesus, he would not. Peter was prone to forward confessions like this. But Jesus once again in very specific terms told Peter that Peter would deny Him three times that evening, before the rooster would crow in the morning. As Jesus had predicted, as Peter sat at the fire in the courtyard of the High Priest, he denied Jesus three times, the final time with a curse. At that very moment, Luke tells us that Peter caught the gaze of Jesus being move from one place to another. And Peter went out and wept bitterly.

In the gospels there is no other mention of these things after they happened. During that forty day period in which Jesus was with them there is no evidence that the breach of Peter’s denial had ever been repaired. But now in this passage John gives us a glimpse this beautiful, although painful dialogue between Jesus and Peter.


I.         The first question. Peter, do you love me more that these.

            A.        First we must realize the question is not for Jesus’ benefit but for Peter’s.

            B.        By “more than these” I understand that Jesus is going back to that night when Peter had promised to be more faithful that all the rest, to go with Jesus to death if needs be.

            C.        I think we should take note of the questions Jesus did not ask Peter.

                        1.         He did not question him concerning his faith.

                        2.         For love is a far more practical test than faith.

                        3.         He did not say do you fear me.

                        4.         Nor did he say do you admire and adore me.

                        5.         Love is the best evidence of piety. He that lacks love must lack every other grace in proportion. If love be little, fear and courage will be little.

                        6.         He did not ask Peter anything about his doings.

                        7.         He did not say, "How much hast thou wept?

                        8.         How often have you on your knees have you sought mercy?"

                        9.         Though works follow love, yet love excels the works

                        10.       And works without love are not evidences worth having. (from The Biblical Illustrator Copyright (c) 2002 AGES and Biblesoft, Inc.)

II.        The first answer is, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You."

            A.        He appeals to our Lord’s omniscience.

                        1.         Experience had taught him to distrust his own judgment in a matter so personal and so solemn.

                        2.         Jesus had told him of his weakness but he would not believe Jesus, now he appeals to His omniscience.

            B.        There is deep humility in the answer.

                        1.         He does not now boast of his superiority to the other apostles, as if to say, “I love thee above them all;” he now merely ranks himself with true lovers of Christ.

                        2.         He does not adopt the higher term (ajgapa~|n) used in the question, but contents himself with the mere term of simple and friendly relationship (filei~n). Pulpit Commentary

                        3.         Peter used a word for love that is not nearly as compelling as the word that Jesus used.

                        4.         Peter did not doubt his love or else he would say, “I don’t know” or “I think I love you.”

                        5.         Peter did not doubt his love for Jesus, only the flesh’s ability to maintain a consistent behavior.

III.       The Second Question. "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?"

            A.        Jesus now takes the present profession of Peter and drops the part about more than these.

            B.        “‘Lovest thou me?’ is, in reality, a very searching question. We may know much, and do much, and talk much, and give much, and go through much, and make much show in our religion, and yet be dead before God for want of love, and at last go down to the Pit. Do we love Christ? That is the great question. Without this there is no vitality about our Christianity. We are no better than painted wax-figures: there is no life where there is no love” (Bishop Ryle). Pink

            C.        I am sure that Peter was disturbed that Jesus asked about His love again.

IV.      Peter’s second answer is just like the first.

            A.        He does not add anything to his first confession even though no doubt pressed by Jesus asking the question again.

            B.        Oh that he could say more. But He knows now his own weakness, although he learned it at such expense.

V.        The Third Question: "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?"

            A.        Once again Jesus has stepped down to Peter’s confession in this question.

                        1.         The first two times Jesus has used the highest Greek word for love. ajgapa~|n

                        2.         Now Jesus has stepped down to Peter’s confession using the word filei~n

                        3.         In the first two questions Jesus has asked Peter if he loved Him with all his heart. Did he Love Jesus like God loved him?

                        4.         Now Jesus has used the word that Peter used to answer the question the first two times.

                        5.         NT:5368 phileo (fil-eh'-o); from NT:5384; to be a friend to (fond of [an individual or an object]), i.e. have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling; while NT:25 is wider, embracing especially the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety: the two thus stand related very much as NT:2309 and NT:1014, or as NT:2372 and NT:3563 respectively; the former being chiefly of the heart and the latter of the head); specifically, to kiss (as a mark of tenderness): Strong's Greek-Hebrew Dictionary

            B.        But now in asking Peter a third time, Peter was distressed.

                        1.         That Jesus should ask a third time.

                        2.         But also that Jesus should abandon that high and lofty word ajgapa~|n

                        3.         Surely there was not question as to this type of love.

VI.      The Third Answer:“Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”

            A.        The grief of the apostle was excited by the remembrance that his past conduct might well suggest a doubt of his present love.

            B.        Our Lord drops the higher term and adopts the lower (filei~n), as if to test the truth of the feeling now twice expressed by the apostle. The change of term must have touched Peter to the quick. Pulpit

VII.     Jesus Purpose is to reconcile Peter.

            A.        He must face his error.

                        1.         If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

                        2.         Facing our sin is not to make us feel guilty but to free us by the power of forgiveness.

            B.        Jesus never once denies Peter’s answer.

            C.        But rather each time He gives him a high and lofty responisbility.

VIII.    How do we know we love?

            A.        To think about him. We do not need to be reminded of him. It is just so between the true Christian and Christ! Christ "dwells in his heart," and is thought of more or less every day (Eph 3:17).

            B.        To hear about him. We find a pleasure in listening to those who speak of him. So the true Christian likes those sermons best which are full of Christ.

            C.        To read about him. What intense pleasure a letter from an absent husband gives to a wife, or a letter from an absent son to his mother. So the true Christian delights to read the Scriptures, because they tell him about his beloved Saviour.

            D.        To please him. We are glad to consult his tastes and opinions. In like manner the true Christian studies to please Christ by being holy both in body and spirit.

            E.        His friends. We are favourably inclined to them, even before we know them. And the true Christian regards all Christ's friends as his. He is more at home with them in a few minutes, than he is with many worldly people after an acquaintance of several years.

            F.        To maintain his interests and his reputation. We regard the person who treats him ill as if he had ill-treated us. And the true Christian regards with a godly jealousy all efforts to disparage his Master's Word, or name, or Church, or day.

            G.        To talk to him. We find no difficulty in discovering subjects of conversation, nor does the true Christian find any difficulty in speaking to his Saviour. Every day he has something to tell Him, and he is not happy unless he tells it.

            H.        To be always with him; and the heart of a true Christian longs for that blessed day when he will see his Master face to face and go out no more. (from The Biblical Illustrator Copyright (c) 2002 AGES and Biblesoft, Inc.)


Why don’t our children love Jesus?

If you do not love Christ, let me tell you what is the reason. You have no sense of debt to Him. There is but one remedy for this state of things -- self knowledge and the teaching of the Holy Spirit.

Which of all our friends, to save us.

Could or would have shed his blood?

But Immanuel died to have us

Reconciled in him to God.

This was boundless love indeed:

Jesus is a Friend in need.

And then there is another point here, in this triple question. How significant and beautiful it is that the only thing that Jesus Christ cares to ask about is the sinner’s love! We might have expected: ‘Simon, son of Jonas, are you sorry for what you did? Simon, son of Jonas, will you promise never to do the like any more?’ No! These things will come if the other thing is there. ‘Lovest thou Me?’ Jesus Christ sues each of us, not for obedience primarily, not for repentance, not for vows, not for conduct, but for a heart; and that being given, all the rest will follow. That is the distinguishing characteristic of Christian morality, that Jesus seeks first for the surrender of the affections, and believes, and is warranted in the belief, that if these are surrendered, all else will follow; and love being given, loyalty and service and repentance and hatred of self-will and of selfseeking will follow in her train. MacLarin

But we need to be careful. Peter had made big boasts of his dedication to Jesus. But when it came to making life decisions he failed to live up to what he had professed.

God help us to love Jesus, to follow Him and obey Him. Oh that we would worship Him and dedicate ourselves to Him. But without love none of those other things can happen. Love is the force that motivates us successfully.

692. Love—Impelling. In 'Assembly Annals' Dr. H. A. Cameron relates the following incident:

'Over in Scotland it used to be the custom in the time of harvest for the women in farming districts to help in making and binding the sheaves after the mower had cut down the grain. On one occasion, a mother named Hannah Lamond, offered her services in that time of labour and to make the work easier took with her her little child, thinking that she could place it safely within easy reach where she could look at it now and then. But, busily occupied as everyone was, the reapers did not notice that an eagle which had its nest on a nearby mountain, had swooped down and snatched the sleeping child from its little bed among the sheaves, and carried it off, flying with its talons firmly fixed in the child's clothing. However, it had not risen far when the anguished cry went up: 'The eagle has taken awa' Hannah Lamond's bairn.'

'Consternation took hold of the men and women, and in their commotion they ran as rescuers to the foot of the rock where high up the eagle had its eyrie, and to which it had transported the child to become food for its eaglets. Some of the men made a valiant effort to scale the face of the rock but unable to get a footing they fell back defeated, and it seemed a hopeless task to recover the bairn before it would be destroyed by the eagle and torn to pieces. Among the men there was a sailor accustomed to climbing places where there was but little foothold, and he did his best to ascend that precipitous cliff, but after a vigorous endeavour he also gave up the attempt and acknowledged himself beaten. The people were frantic, yet helpless, and the child's case seemed absolutely hopeless.

'But who is this that now essays to do what all others had failed to accomplish? It is Hannah Lamond. Impelled by mother love she begins to ascend that vertical rock, and bit by bit, here and there finding a little projection upon which to place her foot, she gradually rises away from the plain, and at last accomplishes the seemingly impossible by reaching the eagle's nest. There the bird of prey with flapping wings and powerful beak, tries to beat her back and keep its victim, now lying in the nest among the eaglets, but, desperate though the bird's efforts are, they are not equal to the courage and determination of the mother of the child as she rescues it from death and destruction.

She now begins the more perilous descent, more difficult far than the first journey, and, marvelous to tell, she comes back as surely if not as swiftly as before. And great is the rejoicing among her friends, as they welcome her returning safe and sound from her heroic and dangerous and valorous task, another proof that "love will find a way" where everything else fails.' (John 15. 13; Rom. 5. 6-8; Gal. 2. 20) 2,400 Scripture Outlines, Anecdotes, Notes, and Quotes Naismith