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The Healing

Weekly Devotional for Preachers
The Healing
Image: Cyndi Monaghan / Getty

My Dear Shepherds,

Imagine the damage Peter’s denials had done to his soul. He must’ve been utterly bewildered. How could he defend Jesus with a sword in Gethsemane and then betray him under the suspicious questioning of a mere servant girl. And three times! Satan had sifted him indeed, only to reveal chaff. Jesus had urged him to pray that he wouldn’t fall into temptation, but he’d slept instead. His flesh was so weak. No wonder he wept bitterly. Or as The Message puts it, “He went out and cried and cried and cried.”

As we all know, it’s hard to get back up after our soul takes that kind of a beating.

When Jesus appeared on the shore after his resurrection, Peter sloshed frantically through the water to reach him, as desperate as the lepers who’d once cried out to Jesus. After Jesus served his disciples the bread and fish, his questions began:

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? ... do you love me? ... do you love me?”

I wonder if Peter was thrown off by the question, if in the back of his mind he was thinking, “Yes, of course I love you but what’s love got to do with it?” I imagine he was expecting what people now call a “come to Jesus” moment—penitence (“Lord, have mercy.”) and promises to never fail like that again.

If there was any way back into Jesus’ good graces surely there would have to be a hard conversation about that terrible night. But as it turns out, that is not how Jesus’ disciples access his good graces.

Jesus’ three questions were certainly counteracting the damage of Peter’s three denials. They functioned like a spiritual poultice—one of those pouches of medicine laid upon a wound to draw out infection. Jesus’ questions drew the toxins of failure out of Peter’s heart. That still works when we fail. Try it.

I wish we could hear the tone of Jesus’ voice here. I think we would pick up the overtone of his love, as if he was saying, “Do you love me? Because I love you so much that I died for you, Simon.” The Lord’s question isn’t accusing. It’s the wooing of our Bridegroom.

Jesus’ ministry to Peter that day was not so much forgiveness as restoration. I think Peter knew that Christ had died to forgive his sins, but nonetheless, I’m sure he felt utterly disqualified from serving Jesus as he once had. What was left for him but fishing?

Each time he was asked, Peter responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Same answer, but each time, I think his love was clarified, as if being run though finer and finer sieves. Inviting the Holy Spirit to ask us Jesus’ question will have that same purifying effect in our hearts.

For those who have never followed Christ, his leading question will be, “Do you believe in me?” But for disciples who have fallen on their faces or who’ve had the stuffing kicked out of them in ministry the restorative question is, “_____ (insert your name here), do you love me?”

We may feel our love for Christ is as tiny as a mustard seed, the way our faith was once. But the fact is, you do love Jesus. Not with all your heart and soul and strength, perhaps. But you do. So now pray for the “power … to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” for you. And remember what Peter learned from Jesus: “love covers over a multitude of sins.”

Be ye glad!

Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.

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