What character of the Bible do you identify with the most? For me it is Peter. I have been told I live my life in CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation marks!!!! It’s true. That is my personality. There are those who find that off-putting at best and annoying at worst. It’s just that I am so profoundly grateful to be a child of the King, so eager for others to know my Lord, so excited to get to know people and learn from them – I just can’t keep it all inside. Consequently, I feel a close connection to the bold, loud, brash, impetuous, passionate follower of Christ named Peter. Often his mouth got him in trouble (oh, have I been in that place – again and again!). He didn’t always take time to think about what he was saying and the results were interesting to say the least. Sometimes his loud proclamation led him to experience miracles like the time he impetuously said to Jesus, “If it’s you, Jesus, tell me to walk to you on the water.” When Jesus responded with, “Come,” Peter was compelled to put those words and his faith into action by taking that step out of the boat and experience a miracle. Other times he spoke profound words of truth put there by God like the time when Jesus asked the disciples who they thought He was. Peter boldly proclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” How he must have loved to hear Jesus’ words of affirmation and approval.
But then there was the time when Peter must have wished beyond all hope that he had kept his mouth shut (and I have been there time and time again!). I’m thinking of the night before Jesus’ crucifixion when Peter confidently and boldly proclaimed that even if everyone else would desert Jesus, he never would. I can’t begin to imagine the shock of hearing Jesus respond with the prophecy that Peter would deny Him three times. I also have trouble imagining how Peter felt when for the third time he responded with, “I don’t know this man you are talking about,” only to look up and see the eyes of Jesus looking into his. Eyes filled with love, compassion and forgiveness. Maybe it would have been easier on Peter if there had been condemnation and judgment instead of mercy. I’ve tried to put myself in Peter’s shoes at this point. I know I would have been riddled with guilt, remorse, self-condemnation and a desire to take it all back. My heart would have been heavy within me as I doubted my worthiness to be called a disciple of Jesus. Shame would have been my constant companion. I wonder if Peter dealt with any of those feelings. He wanted so much to love and serve his Lord, and all he did was let Him down.
I am fascinated by the story in John 21:15-19 where Peter is out with the other disciples fishing all night, not catching anything. Was he still processing feelings of remorse in the dark hours of the night? What was he feeling when he realized the man on the beach was actually Jesus? Obviously, he had a deep burning desire to be near his Lord for he jumped into the cold morning water and swam to shore. Ragged and wet he stands before the One he loves so much, longing to be loved and accepted by Him. After eating the fish and bread Jesus offered him, he hears Jesus speak. “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” Three times Peter vehemently answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus was giving Peter an opportunity to redeem himself, to put into words the love he felt for Jesus.
As I contemplated Jesus’ question, I was struck by the phrase “more than these.” What did Jesus mean? In his book “Cross Purposes,” author Eddie Askew writes, “These what? ‘Do you love me more than you love your friends here?’ ‘Do you love me more than they do?’ ‘Do you love me more than you love your past life or your fishing?’” Whatever Jesus means, it is clear that we must love Him above all else.
He is asking you and me today, “Do you love me more than these?” Do you love me more than you love popularity, power, recognition, acceptance, and appreciation? Do you love me more than you love yourself or your family and friends? Do you love me enough to put the needs of others ahead of your own – enough to sacrifice your comfort to serve me sacrificially? Do you love me enough to forgive those who have wounded you, rejected or abandoned you? Do you love me enough to trust me with your future and the future of all you hold dear? Do you love me enough to give me your fears, doubts, shame and guilt so that I can give you my joy, peace and hope? Do you love me enough to boldly and passionately speak about me to others? Do you love me enough to stop judging others and show them my mercy instead? Do you love me more than these? Do you?
It is a powerful question that demands an answer after a time of introspection. My prayer for all of us is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:5, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” As we grapple with our own weaknesses, misspoken words and actions that lead to guilt and self-condemnation, let us remember that we are unconditionally, unquestionably, unequivocally loved and forgiven by God. In view of that let’s offer Him our whole-hearted, unreserved, passionate love. Let’s all strive to love Him “more than these.”