Is there a more relevant and necessary question that Jesus could ask us as we close out 2020 and launch into a new year? Jesus asked this question of Peter, one of His closest disciples, during a major transition in the up-and-coming apostle’s life. Peter was transitioning from his weak and self-interested life before the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus to his Spirit-filled life after the crucifixion and resurrection. So Jesus asked him, “Peter, do you love Me?” Peter was surely painfully aware of his failures in the past, most specifically his denying that he knew Jesus. When he should have testified for Jesus, his human courage, faith, and love failed Him. In those moments, Peter loved himself more than he loved Jesus. We all have had those times of weakness, haven’t we? If Peter was like many of us, Jesus’ question, especially since He repeated it three times, likely produced a twinge of fear in him. You can read these episodes in Peter’s life in John 18:17-27 and 21:15-19.
Like Peter in the First Century, we also are now going through some major transitions, are we not? Not only are we closing out 2020 and stepping into 2021, but we are still processing and working through the COVID-19 season and all the changes it has brought into our lives. It appears (although it’s still unsettled) that there will be major adjustments to be made if a different president is inaugurated in January. The coming four years look ominous. Many are also adjusting to job changes, and some are grieving the loss of loved ones. Many questions arise in our hearts during times of testing, trials, and transitions. Just as Peter and the disciples had many questions after Jesus’ death and resurrection, so we have many questions as we peer into the coming year. What if Jesus were to appear to us this week? What if He were to put the same question to us as He did to Peter: “Do you love Me?”
How would you answer that question? Would your response be similar to Peter’s? As we look more closely at the way Jesus asked this question three times, we notice that He moved the goal line a little as He pressed into Peter’s heart. Twice, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him with an “agape” type of love –– the sacrificial love that comes from God, which seeks the well-being of others, regardless of their response, and treats them accordingly. That kind of love was a bridge too far for Peter, who replied that he loved Jesus with a special friendship type of love (phileo). The third time Jesus questioned Peter, He asked if Peter loved Him with a phileo type of love. He lowered the bar, so to speak, to the place where Peter was able to respond positively at that point in his life. So although Peter testified that he did love Jesus in that way, Peter realized in that moment that what really mattered wasn’t his own evaluation of his love for Jesus, but Jesus’ understanding of what was really true. Peter humbly answered, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Peter’s remark about Jesus knowing all things begs a more important question for us than “Do you love Me?” That question is, “What do you think Jesus would see and say about our love for Him in 2020?” Like Peter, we might also say to Jesus that He is special to us, even while we are cognizant of our failures to love Him deeply and purely. Or perhaps, if we recognize that Jesus “knows all things,” a more perceptive and honest answer might be the confession that Jesus has seen us live for ourselves rather than with Him. For instance, there may be people we haven’t forgiven or for whom we feel an enduring, deep, unresolved resentment and hostility — the exact opposite of the kind of “abiding” we most long to experience. There may be any number of uncomfortable answers when we look at ourselves through His eyes. If that suggestion strikes a chord with you, I hope you’ll take a few moments to pause and respond to these questions with, “Lord, You know all things.” Then ponder what He knows about your love for Him. Ask Him to show you what He sees about your love for Him.
“Love My sheep with Me.”
Even though Peter had failed Him in the past, Jesus had a purpose for Peter that went far beyond his failures and led him into effective apostleship. The same is true for you, regardless of your failures. Peter’s sins hadn’t separated him from Christ, and neither will yours if you trust and love Jesus. The power of Jesus’ death and resurrection removed Peter’s sin and made it possible for him to transition from living and loving with Jesus as he walked with Him to living and loving with Jesus who dwelled within him. That power also removes your sin and makes the same transition possible for you. Three times Jesus commanded Peter to love and care for His sheep. Why? Because to live to love others with Jesus is the same as loving Jesus.
Read the words of Jesus very carefully now with the question in mind, “Do you love Me?”
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17).
“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” … Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me” (John 14:21, 23-24).
When Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him and then called Peter to feed, tend, and care for His sheep, He was equating loving the body of Christ with loving Him. It’s the same for us as well. Do you love Jesus? You do if you love the body of Christ –– your brothers and sisters who are believers in Jesus. To love them is to love Him!
Loving Jesus isn’t the same as loving to sing worship songs, going to church regularly, reading your Bible daily, or being a nice person. These things can easily be done so we feel good about ourselves. Loving Jesus isn’t something that just happens by accident or every once in a while or on a good day. Loving Jesus is intentional! It’s why you breathe, sleep, eat, work, and do whatever you do. God intends for it to be our all-consuming purpose in life, because to know and love Jesus is eternal life (John 17:3).
Live to love with Jesus
What did you live for in 2020? Who did you live for in 2020? Jesus knows. Ponder the truth. How much of what you did was for you and your self-interests? What will be different for you in 2021? Nothing will be different unless you realign your purpose with God’s purpose for you — to love Him by living to love others with Him. That’s why I invite you to begin each day intentionally to love and know Him by living to love with Him. That’s the Live to Love adventure to which God calls His followers. Consider the impact of praying this prayer each morning for the next year –– and even for the rest of your life!
Father, thank You for another day of life to live to know and love You and to live to love with Jesus. Fill me with the Holy Spirit, the presence and power of Christ, so that I can love and trust You and love those You put in my path today, for Your glory.
Of course, there’s much more to be said to the Lord in a morning prayer, but this sets the tone for the day, and the year, and your life. It’s an attitude of love toward Jesus. It’s your answer to His question, “Do you love Me?” By the end of 2021, if Jesus asks if you love Him, you’ll not only be able to say, “Jesus, You know all things,” but you will also be able to add, “and You know that I love You.” By His grace, your love will be more of the “agape” kind, as well as the “phileo” kind. More importantly, as you daily resolve to set your heart, mind, and life on this kind of love, then when you come to the end of your life, you will not be afraid of this question.
Is it possible that through the current pandemic and political and cultural upheaval, God is shaking everything that we love and desire more than Him (see Hebrews 12:26-29) so that we will repent of living for ourselves? Might He be showing His people the emptiness and destruction that come from thinking they have a right to pursue their own happiness more than loving Him? Might He be doing this by unraveling the selfish foundations of this nation? Consider this powerful anchor for your faith: “For all things are from Him and through Him and to Him. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).
If, for example, He removes the U.S. Constitution as a pillar and foundation of our lives and allows lawlessness and corruption to undermine it, won’t that move His people toward making Him the true pillar and foundation of their lives? Will it not accomplish His goal of purifying His Bride? It is apparent that Jesus’ church is getting a wake-up call! Do we love our comfort more than Jesus? And has the church embraced the world’s systems and values to the point that we have denied our Lord and ignored or watered down His holiness? Is it possible that you are among His children who need to repent? If you are feeling the Holy Spirit prick your conscience with these questions, then ask the Lord to purify your heart and give you His presence and power to trust and love Him in the ways that He has saved you to do. I hope you’ll do so now, without a moment’s hesitation. I encourage you to start with praying the Live to Love prayer above and then allow the Holy Spirit to take you from there. Jesus promised to fill with His joy those who live to love with Him. Now that’s hope for a glorious 2021.