Soaking wet, walking across the beach…Peter makes his way toward Jesus. The other disciples are right behind him…as always, Peter found a way to get there first. Maybe it was his youth. Maybe it was his passion. Maybe it was his love for Jesus that he still clung to in spite of his own failures and misunderstandings. The text doesn’t tell us. But what it does tell us is that Peter and the disciples gather around a charcoal fire to eat bread and fish with Jesus and to have a conversation they will never forget.
If you have been following the story to this point you already hear the echoes from previous chapters. The miraculous catch of fish, Jesus handing them bread and fish as he did when he fed the masses on the hillside, the charcoal fire (John 18:18), the glow of the fire on Jesus’ face (Matt 17:2), and listening to Jesus on the shore of the sea of Galilee as they had done so many times in the past. This moment is memorable in many ways and it conjures up memories of the entire ministry of Jesus.
After his invitation to breakfast, Jesus’ next word is “Simon.”
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” – 21:15
There is some debate over what Jesus meant by “these”. I believe he was talking about the fish. It is possible he was talking about the other disciples. This brings us to the first characteristic of the love God has for us and what that means for us.
Jesus loves Peter unconditionally.
Although Peter is made uncomfortable by Jesus’ asking him this same question three times, it is still evident in this exchange that Jesus loves Peter in spite of all that Peter had done. Eight chapters earlier, Jesus had predicted that Peter would deny him three times and now Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves Jesus. When you look back at Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denials, he couched it in a teaching about how they were to love each other as Jesus had loved them (13:34) to which Peter replied that he would lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus’ response to this bold claim was that Peter would not at that time lay down his life for Jesus (although he would do that later, which Jesus predicts in John 21) but that Peter would instead deny Jesus three times.
Peter denied Jesus and yet Jesus washes his feet and recomissioned him anyway. Judas betrayed Jesus and yet Jesus washed his feet and even gave Judas a choice seat at the last supper, evidenced by Jesus dipping into the same bowl as Judas, a hint that Judas is seated next to Jesus at that meal. Even the other ten disciples deserted Jesus as his arrest and yet Jesus takes them back too.
Jesus loves unconditionally.
Jesus calls us to do the same. “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another…” (John 13:34).
We are to love unconditionally as Jesus has loved us.
The second characteristic comes up next in John 21. Peter sees the disciples Jesus loved and asks “What about him?” Peter asks that because Jesus had just predicted Jesus death by crucifixion and Peter wanted to know, then, about what would happen to the other disciples, particularly John. Jesus responds by asking “what is that to you?”
Jesus’ love for us is non-comparative.
Jesus doesn’t base his level of love for us 1) on conditions and 2) by comparison.
Conditional, comparative love is worldly love. Actually, it isn’t love at all and Jesus knows nothing of that sort of “love”. It should be foreign to us as well.
If we are to love as Jesus loves, our love must not be based on comparisons. It must not be based on the question, “What about him?” or “What about her?”
If we are to love as Jesus loves as he commanded in John 13:34, then our love must be uncontitional and un-comparative. It must not be self-seeking. It must be willing to take the role of a servant as Jesus did earlier in John 13 where John tells us in 13:1 that in washing their feet and taking the role of the household slave at the meal, Jesus “showed them the full extent of his love” or as other translations say it he showed them “he loved them to the end.”
That is the third characteristic of the love we are to have for others – that we love people fully or to the end. Our love is not temporary or seasonal. Our love is to be eternal just as Christ’s love for us always has been and always will be.
I believe if we embraced these three aspects of God’s love for us as demonstrated by Jesus, the church would be in a much better position to be a light to the world as Jesus said we would be in the verse following 13:34 that I didn’t quote above, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Let me close with two questions. I hope you know that God loves you but how about Jesus’ question to Peter…”do you love me more than these?” You are probably not a fisherman and you probably love Jesus more than fish or fishing (at least most of you anyway!) but what about your love for Jesus? Do you love Jesus? is the first question. The second is this, “What is ‘these’ for you?” By these I mean that thing that you are tempted to before the Lord…that thing that challenges your heart to have enough room for Jesus? That thing that you cannot seem to do without but seems to constantly challenge your love for God and others.