Lovest Thou Me?

John 21  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 4
Sometimes the Lord speaks to us unexpectedly by circumstances. Peter had heard the words, " It is the Lord;" and with a bound he sprang into the sea, and swam to shore. But what must he have felt when he saw a fire of coals there? Would not his heart beat as he looked back to that other fire of coals at which he stood to warm himself? Yes, at the fire of coals where he had thrice denied his Lord. Let us look at that fire of coals, and then at this. It is a fire of coals in the high priest's house. Terrible things have been done in high priests' houses and bishops' palaces. But there stands bound the Lord of glory, humbling Himself to the lowest place of degradation, in infinite love to us. It is written of Him in the Psalms, " I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul." (Psalm 142:44I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. (Psalm 142:4).) What, not Peter the bold—he who had said a few hours before, " Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison and to death"—" I will lay down my life for thy sake"—" Though all men should be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended"? Well did the Lord know both the power of temptation, and Peter's weakness. " But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
Now mark the different steps in Peter's fall. " And Peter followed afar off." Are we following Jesus afar off? Then, like Peter, we are on the way to a fall. Mark this warning. And when they had kindled a fire of coals, did Peter stand with the despised and rejected Jesus? No; "Peter sat down with them." Are we standing with the rejected and despised Jesus? or, have we sat down to find our rest and comfort with that wicked world which hates our Lord? If this be so, we are already fallen. What a picture; Jesus mocked with cruel hatred by the religious world, and Peter sat down to warm himself with them! Is it not so in this day? How many Peters! Surely, if we sit down with this world, we may then and there deny our Lord. Thrice did Peter deny Kim then and there. How often have we?
Now look at Jesus. See that look of tender love! This is the first step in Peter's restoration, or conversion—that is, in turning him from self-confident Peter to dependence on Christ. That look of infinite, unchangeable love went right to the heart of Peter, and sent him straight from the fire of coals to go out and weep bitterly. Take another look at Jesus. " And the men that held Jesus mocked him, and smote him. And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face." Such is the hatred of man, and such the love and patience of Him who came to lay down His life for us. " Oh, patient, spotless one."
We will now pass on to the shore of Tiberias. You see that little boat out there, a little way from the shore. In it there are a few of those very disciples who all forsook Jesus and fled. The captain of that little bark is the bold, self-confident Peter, whom we lately saw so sadly humbled when sitting by the fire of coals. They have not caught a single fish all that weary night. As the morning began to break, they saw some one watching them, standing on the shore. He cares for them. He even asks if they have any food. He bids them cast the net on the right side of the ship. They obeyed, and a multitude of fishes were taken in the net. It was now plain to one of them whom Jesus loved that it was the Lord. The captain -Peter—heard that word: it was enough. There is still a little of the old natural boldness—he must be first to reach his Lord, and he sprang into the sea. No doubt there was also deep, ardent love to Jesus.
But that fire of coals: ah, and that other fire of coals a few nights before. How often the Lord humbles our hearts in this way. Have we not been thus humbled often, when taking a shade of pre-eminence over our brethren? Ah, a moment's remembrance often bows our hearts in deep confession before Him. Nobody knows what did take place between the Lord and Peter, when He first appeared to Peter. (1 Cor. 15:55And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: (1 Corinthians 15:5).) The Lord graciously kept that private between Himself and His fallen servant. Is it not so with us and the Lord? Well, by this time they have all pulled to shore. And let us not forget this is the last scene with the Lord Jesus narrated in the word of God—the very last, the closing words of revelation. The Gospel of John was written last. They had all forsaken Him. Yes, He was alone before God when eternal redemption was accomplished. " As soon, then, as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.' Cold and hungry, and having toiled all night—but we do not read that they had thought of Him. He could not cease to care for them; He could not cease to love them; He could not cease to provide for them. They had not to wait until He kindled the fire, or baked the bread, or cooked the fish; there was plenty ready, and they might also bring of what they had taken at His word• Is not this Jesus, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever? Oh, how sweet those words that fell from His lips—" Come and dine." What infinite resources we have in our precious Jesus—God manifest in the flesh. And though Jesus is now in resurrection, and ascension glory, He delights as ever to serve us. " Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise."
Oh, look at this scene: He who, as God, created all things, cometh and taketh, and giveth them Γ Do you thus know God in Christ? He, who had loved them, and died for their sins, could not cease to love them. Can He cease to love us? But do you think that fire of coals made poor Peter feel uncomfortable? I should not wonder but it did.. Does the remembrance of your sins, though you have repented, still make you feel uncomfortable, even in the presence of such infinite love? I should not wonder but it does. Oh, it is terrible to have sat with the world that hates Jesus—to have denied Him thrice.
Do not forget, however, to notice, Jesus did not impute their sin unto them; no, He had borne it on the cross. He had put away all that hindered God meeting them in perfect grace. It was so for them; it is so for us who believe through their word. But still, Jesus knew Peter far better than he knew himself; did He not? No doubt Peter had had this thought; " I belong to Jesus, I believe on Him the Christ of God. These Pharisees and priests, yea, and even these my brethren, may deny Him, but I will never;" and immediately Satan suggested thoughts of superiority. Now, brethren, be honest, has there not been something like this, nay, the very thing itself, amongst the children of God? Have we not said in the secret of our hearts, though all sects and denominations and churches of men deny Christ as Lord, yet will not we? Can anything be more offensive to our blessed Lord than, Peter-like, such airs of superiority? Well, He who knew the state of Peters heart, also knows our state; and the same question is equally applicable to him and to us. " So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" He said, "Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee" (or, I am attached to thee). This was indeed true, whilst, in humility and truth, he could not fully respond to the Lord's question. Yet he was attached to Christ. Can we even say so? Are we detached from all that is of man? Can we say we are attached to the Lord Jesus only? We may be even so; and, if so, the Lord's word is " Feed my lambs." Thrice had Peter denied his Lord, and now thrice, beside this fire of coals, with the proofs of Jesus' everlasting love, the question is put to him, to fit him to be the shepherd and feeder of Christ's lambs and sheep. A second time Peter says, " Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I am attached to thee." " He said unto him, Shepherd my sheep." And now Jesus alters the form of question, "Art thou attached to me?" Peter was grieved at this. What a searching question! Does it grieve us? Poor feeble, failing things as we are. Yet, is it not true that He has separated us to Himself? Can we say, " Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I am attached to thee"? " Jesus says to him, Feed my sheep."
Thus was Peter fitted to feed the sheep of Christ by the deep sense of his own failure. He was turned from dependence on himself and his own resolutions. All thoughts of self-superiority must be leveled, before he or we can be fitted to serve the Lord, and to feed His sheep.
Now, though this wondrous display of the Lord took place a few days after His resurrection, yet it was recorded by the Holy Ghost after all the failure had come in. Men had arisen of themselves, speaking perverse things, to lead away disciples after them. In short, all had come in that grieves our hearts at this moment. Yet Jesus thus showed Himself. Some may be persuaded to get into their own boat, and, whilst toiling all night, and catching nothing, may be tempted to say it is all over, we have all failed, and there can be no more testimony. Come away, beloved brethren, from such gloomy thoughts; cast the net on the right side of the ship. Is not Jesus still the same? It is not enough to take the place of attachment to Him. He says, "Lovest thou me?" "Feed my sheep." Some of us have seen a great draft of souls taken of late, and the net is not broken. And if we love the Lord, let that love be shown in feeding, as we have opportunity, the whole flock of God. Did He not love the church, and give Himself for it? Then surely He cannot cease to love it. He says, "Come and dine." Let us, then, gather to Him on the shore. He wants our heart's love; and He wants us to be in the current of His love to the lambs and sheep of His flock. And when proud thoughts of superiority would intrude, may we remember the words of Jesus, "Lovest thou me more than these?"
There were just two things more. A Peter might be called to glorify Christ in death, and a John might remain until He comes. It is exactly so now. One may be called away to be with the Lord; another may remain until He comes. One thing is certain—He changes not. All things may change, He changes not. We may toil in Peter's boat, and get discouraged. His eye is on us all the night. And to think the morning breaketh. Soon we shall see His face. Forever with the Lord.