We have all heard that God loves us because He is love. But we all desperately need to feel that love, to be overwhelmed by the affections of the one who loved us so much that He gave up even his own life to have us. But how do you convince God to come to you and wrap His affections around you? How do you allow yourself to believe again that He will come to you without fear of disappointment? Can you entice Him to pursue you?
The Pains of Love
Peter understood this fear of disappointment and the pains of wanting to know that he was truly loved. Even though he was certain that the Scriptures proved God’s love for him, he still needed to feel it. He needed that same personal attention that we all desire. Peter had denied the Lord three times at His crucifixion, but it wasn’t because he wanted to abandon Jesus. It was simply because he was afraid and intimidated. Now the pain of those last hurtful moments before Jesus died haunted him. His heart was grieved as he wished that he could go back to that moment and express his true love one more time. I believe that all he wanted was one more chance to say, “I’m sorry”. One more chance to hear, “It’s okay,” and “I love you!”
When Jesus appeared to him and six other disciples, Peter came face to face with the emotions of his own heart and the unwavering, loving heart of Jesus. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples since He had been raised from the dead (John 21:14). The disciples were on a boat fishing but catching nothing. Jesus called to them from the shore and told them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. When they did, they found such provision that they were not able to haul it in. This is when they recognized that it was Jesus who spoke to them. He had made Himself available to them, standing on the shore where He had breakfast waiting. They came to Him, dragging the net full of fish with them. “… [But] when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.” (John 21:7 ESV). When Peter thought that a personal encounter with Jesus was possible, he threw himself into the sea of repentance to receive it, like a baptism into the death of deliberate surrender.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:15-19 ESV
Three is Symbolic of Love and Restoration
I have heard several theories about why Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him, all of which may be valid. But there is something very interesting about the symbolic meaning of “three”. The Hebrew letter representing the number three is a picture of a rich man pursuing a poor person to give them charity. Pursuit is a deliberate act of the will, a decisive action. The letter is Gimmel, and it signifies both nourishing until ripe and being weaned. It is the image of both giving and receiving love. Three is significant of love.
It is also suggested that Gimmel looks like a camel with a long neck. In fact, the Hebrew word for camel is very similar. Traditionally, the camel itself is symbolic of not only nourishing and weaning, but also of restoration. It sustains itself over long journeys after being sufficiently nourished and is able to carry someone to safety. When someone rides a camel, it kneels down on the ground and then lifts them up. This lifting up is symbolic of restoration. Three is symbolic of restoration.
Jesus willfully came and nourished Peter and the disciples. He pursued them and gave them charity. Jesus came as the rich man demonstrating love with every fiber of His being, portraying love in every detail of His life. By asking Peter three times if he loved Him in return, He very deliberately painted the picture for Peter that he was being pursued and restored by love.
The Waiting Father
Jesus had illustrated this very same thing with the parable of the prodigal son. After losing everything through reckless living, the son was hungry and hurting. When he realized that personal restoration with his father was a possibility, he decided to throw himself at his mercy through repentance and humility (Luke 15:17-19). When he was returning, his father saw him “while he was still a long way off” (Luke 15:20). His father was waiting for him, just like Jesus at the shoreline. He was looking for his son to come to him. He was making himself openly available to him. When his father saw him coming, he “felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20). His father ran toward him to give him charity. He deliberately pursued his returning son whom he had been waiting for with anticipation.
It was only when the son came back to his open arms that “the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:22-24 ESV). At the first site of his son returning in repentant surrender, the father pursued him to pour out his affections and nourishing love. This is the way God loves us.
To receive the feeling and effects of God’s great love in your own life, you must realize that He is already waiting for you. He is standing on the shoreline looking for you, anticipating your return to Him. To personally receive that nourishing love from God, you must throw yourself at his waiting mercy. It is the repentance and humility of the prodigal son in action. It is the death of surrendering everything to receive the life-giving nourishment that only your father can provide. It is like Peter coming to the place that he is ready to glorify God by releasing control of his own life and destiny. You see, love is not only surrender to another, but it is selfless, deliberate surrender.
Look and see for yourself! A personal encounter with Love Himself is possible if you only go to Him, leaving everything in the past behind you. He’s waiting for you with anticipation.
Jeremy Caris is the founder and president of Caris Ministries. Since he is called as a prophet and gifted as a teacher, much of his focus involves equipping believers to hear, know, and follow God in their own daily experience. He teaches the foundational truth of the Word with simple clarity, while revealing deep things of the spirit in practical ways. He has the unique ability to demystify the supernatural side of real relationship with a living God and make it an embraceable and accessible reality for all believers. Jeremy has been married to his best friend, Mandy Caris, for twenty years, and is the proud father of two boys.