There is a humorous scene in the movie Forest Gump where the title character, Forest, sees a friend, Lieutenant Dan, with which he had lost contact for a while. Forest is by himself on a moving shrimp boat near the docks when he looks up and sees Lt. Dan sitting on the dock. Forest’s joy is evident as he stands up and waves at his friend. Then, without any thought, Forest dives right into the water to swim to his friend. A few minutes later, we see the empty shrimp boat crash into another dock.
I really enjoy that scene because it reminds me of the time when Jesus Served Breakfast by the Sea (John 21:1-14) and Peter did something similar. Unlike Forest, Peter didn’t leave an empty boat behind, but he shared a similar urgency and desperation to be with a friend – Jesus in Peter’s case.
I just wonder what was going through Peter’s mind in that moment. We know that Peter was…let’s just say impetuous. I have to imagine that as it occurred to Peter that it was Jesus on the beach all he could think about was being with Him. And who wanted to wait the time it took to row the fishing boat to shore? So into the water he went!
Peter’s impulsiveness often let him down; but not this time. This time it reflects his honest, child-like desperation for Jesus. And I can only pray that God produces that same desperation in me.
I love what happened next on the shore that morning. After Jesus and the disciples finished breakfast, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him more than “these.” We don’t know what, or who, “these” refers to. Some believe that Jesus was asking Peter if he loved Jesus more than the other disciples loved Jesus. Others believe Jesus was asking Peter if he loved Jesus more than he loved the other disciples. Still others believe that Jesus was asking Peter if he loved Jesus more than the fish and fishing nets.
Whatever Jesus meant, He asked Peter three times. And three times, Peter responded that he did indeed.
Three questions. Three answers. Three.
Some people believe that this account is yet another failure for Peter. They base this in large part on the different Greek words used for “love.” Agape, a deep love of the will, is used for Jesus twice while phileo, a friendly love, is used for Jesus the last time and Peter all three times. The argument is often made that Peter didn’t love Jesus as much as he could have and should have. He should have agaped Jesus but could only phileo Him.
That doesn’t sit well with me for a few reasons. First, this very well could have been John simply varying the words he used here for readability. Notice that he changes between sheep and lambs as well, but there doesn’t seem to be a deeper point to that. Second, if there is significance to agape and phileo, it could have been a result of Peter’s recent failure. Perhaps in his humility and with his three-fold denial of Jesus fresh in his mind and on his heart, he could not bring himself to claim that he loved Jesus on that level. Third, remember what Peter had just done. The man had clothed himself (most likely out of humility and respect for Jesus, surely not for an easier swim) before jumping into the water to swim to Jesus. That sure sounds like love to me.
So what was going on in this exchange then? If it wasn’t a failure by Peter, what was it?
I would offer that this was a gracious gift to Peter from Jesus.
Jesus was providing Peter the opportunity to use the same mouth that had denied Jesus three times shortly before this to profess love for Jesus three times instead. Three denials replaced by three professions. Remember that Jesus had heard Peter’s denials – or at least the last one. Now, He heard three professions of love from Peter instead. The grief Peter experienced when Jesus asked a third time then could have arisen as Peter connected Jesus’ three questions with his own three-fold denial.
Now, if that is what happened that morning, I want you to notice something. While Peter moved toward Jesus to be physically nearer to Him, Jesus moved toward Peter in a much deeper, more profound way. Jesus prompted this conversation to help show Peter that things were good between them. Yes, Peter had failed. But that failure was forgiven as were all of Peter’s failures and sins.
Jesus is always overflowing with love, mercy, and grace to His own.
And that is why Peter was desperate to be with Jesus when he saw Him that morning. Because Peter knew this, even if Jesus had to help him bring it back up to the surface. Peter loved Jesus desperately. But still not as much as Jesus loved His friend, Peter.
As you prepare to walk your kids through this passage this week, don’t lose sight of the beauty of Jesus. Don’t miss the obvious here – that Jesus was spending some wonderful time with His dear friends that morning and that Jesus loved these men and these men loved Him. Spend some time pondering Christ’s love for you and your love for Him. Then consider the love that Christ has for your kids. Are you desperate for Jesus? Are your kids? Pray that God uses you to help your kids see the beauty of Jesus so that they become more desperate for Him today than they have ever been before.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the May 10, 2015 session (Unit 33, Session 3) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay in 2014. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian and his wife, Tara, and their three children – Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb – live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 1-3 graders at City Church.