It is the single question that will change our lives. It was a punch to Peter’s raw emotions. He stood before the Lord having denied Him in triplicate. The life of Jesus hung in the balance. Every conceivable force had joined together in opposition to the Son of God. Hope for the little band of disciples was on the brink of apparent extinction when the self-confidence of the fisherman faltered. Now, he had a face-to-face confrontation with the One whom he had denied.
“Do you love Me (John 21:15-17)?” Step into Peter’s skin for a minute. Jesus had warned him that his failure was imminent (John 13:38). He was certain that it wasn’t. No amount of pressure could win out against him. Then it did, and not just once but three times. Evil won that round, and a once-cocky apostle had a head-on collision with his own frailty. He stood at a distance as the Son of Man took that and all the failures of humanity to the old rugged cross. Now, he looked the risen One in the eye. Or did he look away, too humiliated to meet His gaze? “Do you love Me?”
Peter was one of the first to hear the “follow Me” invitation and accept it. He was among a dozen disciples that Jesus chose to be apostles. Judas was, too. A fast start does not assure a victorious finish. They all received the same instructions from the Lord before they ventured out into a hostile world (Matthew 10). It would be tough sledding. Included was a somber cautioning about denying Him (Verse 33). All twelve heard it and had wilted in the heat of persecution. “Do you love Me?”
That would probably provide the perfect definition of discomfort. Jesus asked the question three times, matching the number of denials. Yes. Yes. Yes. The repeated response from Peter led the Lord to give him a task: Watch out for the welfare of my people. The Lord did not reject him. He did not chastise him. But He did quiz him. One concern and one job. Relationships, both vertical and horizontal, are the focus. “Do you love Me?”
Peter went on to preach one of the most famous sermons ever on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). We still read those words and derive much of our understanding of the church from them. Jesus had promised that he would receive the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:19), and the kingdom was opened to all. The Lord communicated two inspired letters through him to Christians, and he served as an elder (1 Peter 5:1). Not a bad resume for a “failure.”
Failure did not define Peter, nor does it define us. It refines us. We realize our weakness, and in that we find strength as we recognize our deep need for Him. “Do you love Me?” Our answer changes everything.