Most Christians have been alerted to lies against the love of God. This lie lays siege to our faith on different fronts. Sometimes it attacks by insisting that God could never love someone as insignificant and mired in sin as we are. Other times it attacks us through tragedy and hardship that makes us wonder why a God of love doesn’t do more to help us. This lie, though common and persistent, is easily vanquished by a clear vision of Jesus Christ on the cross, taking our place, our shame, and our punishment. The revelation of God’s love in Christ is powerful and triumphant.
But there is another more subtle lie that can attack our faith. It is the accusation, whispered low and long, that we do not love Jesus. I believe this is the lie that Jesus destroyed when He asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”
Peter had denied Jesus three times. He then wept bitterly. When the angel speaks to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, he tells them to “tell the disciples and Peter” that they will see Jesus in Galilee. This might indicate that Peter was no longer considered a disciple or no longer considered himself a disciple.
Peter had every reason to doubt his love for Jesus. Didn’t his denial of Jesus and cursing show how little he loved Jesus? Hadn’t he foolishly boasted that although others would deny Christ, he never would. When Jesus comes to the disciples in Galilee, he asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?”
Oswald Chambers argues that these questions by Jesus awakened Peter “to the fact that in the real true center of his personal life he was devoted to Jesus.” Each time Peter answers, “Yes” and adds that Jesus knows that he loves Him. It is clear Jesus was not seeking information about Peter’s love. Each question by Jesus pierces heart of Peter and reveals to him how much he loves Jesus. The lie against Peter’s own love for Jesus is shattered; Peter is restored and called to be a shepherd of God’s lambs.
Over the years I have seen Christians drift, run, and jump away from Christ. Sometimes their own failures and denials of Christ have caused them to forget how much they love Jesus. Other times the failures and the hypocrisy of church people have persuaded them. In bitter reaction to wounds from the church, it is easy to forget how much we love Jesus. Sometimes left or right-wing politics eclipses our love.
Even the label “Christian” can be a burden when used by those who are hateful and cruel. However, the Holy Spirit still challenges us like Jesus challenged Peter and reminds us of how much we love the Jesus of the gospels—the resurrected Christ who still asks us to love and feed his sheep.
At different times I have wanted to grab my sons, shake them (gently), and insist, “But you love Jesus!” We are often blind to our own heart. Rebellion against parents and church, or a plunge into hedonism often demands that we forget our love for Jesus. Sadly, lying to ourselves about our love for Jesus frees us to become slaves of sin.
Even after all this Peter still has a question about what God’s plan is for one of the other disciples, probably John. Jesus replies, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” In a time when Christians on the right, left, and bewildered middle are all waving flags and asking questions about each other, it is good to leave our questions and follow Jesus.
I say to all my brothers and sisters of various religious and political tribes, to those who wander and are (or aren’t) lost, to those rejected or just dejected, to the prodigal and the bitter elder brother, “But you love Jesus, right?”
When Peter sees the resurrected Christ on the shore fixing breakfast for the disciples, he hears John declare that it is “the Lord.” Peter’s flings himself into the sea and makes his way to Jesus. The revelation of how much we love Jesus should move us like it did Peter.
We should throw ourselves at Jesus.