Jesus is having a post-resurrection dinner with his disciples and friends and he turns to Peter, after the dinner and asks him a question,
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” John 21:15
Such an interesting question, especially to ask to Peter, presumably the lead disciple; the one that Jesus had told, “On you I will build my church.” Peter had been so zealous in not only following Jesus but in defending Jesus.
Peter seems stunned by the question and doesn’t just say, “yes.” He says, “Lord you know, I love you.” That’s his way of saying, why are you even asking when you already know the answer. But Peter is in for a rude awakening because Jesus asks 2 more times – he asks the same question a total of 3 times.
Each time Peter responds with yes, Jesus gives him a charge – feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep – this is seen as this recommissioning as a leader of the movement of Jesus (after the denials at the cross). More than that, though I want us to see something else – the evidence for love of Jesus is doing what Jesus says, in this case, feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep. Jesus not only asks us to love him, he tells us how.
God has never made this a secret – from the very beginning God has said that what he wants from us is our love – he loves us, and he wants that love returned. The guiding value for the Israelite people of God was called the Shema:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5
This is reinforced in the New Testament by Jesus, when he is asked by an expert in the Law what is the most important commandment and Jesus replies:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. Matthew 22:37-38
Here’s the thing, when we hear Jesus’ question to Peter, “do you love me,” we have to get the idea of emotion out of our heads – do not hear Jesus asking Peter if he feels love toward Jesus. We need to hear Jesus asking Peter if he is willing to love Jesus – if he will make the decision to love Jesus.
Many of us are operating with different definitions of what it means to love. Some are operating on the emotion idea – that love is something we feel, and when we don’t feel it any more, we must no longer be in love and it’s time to move on. Some are operating on the idea that love means unconditional acceptance of everything about me with no expectation to change or grow. So, if we challenge or push the people we love, or seek to hold others accountable we are being un-loving. We are all talking about love without a common understanding of what we mean by love.
Fortunately, Jesus helps us here. Earlier in the gospel of John, Jesus is preparing his disciples for all that is about to come and his departure from them. He tells them,
“If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth…. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. John 14:15-17a; 21
Later in the New Testament, in 1 John 5:2-4 we hear again,
This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 1 John 5:2-4
For Peter, the command was to feed lambs and take care of sheep. Peter would have known what Jesus was talking about because he knew Jesus – he spent time with Jesus, he was a friend of Jesus so the command would have been understood. How do we know Jesus’ commands for us? We have to know Jesus, we have to spend time with Jesus, in his word, in prayer, in seeking the in-filling of the Holy Spirit.
Friends, life is better in Christ – not easier, in fact it’s harder…but it’s better. In a world that has boiled everything down to simple black and white, polar opposite, sound bite answers- the way of Jesus is just a better way. Saying to the world I will not be pigeon holed into this box or that box of our modern American culture – the Jesus of the Bible is bigger than these boxes and I choose him over all of this other stuff.
There are questions that can cause us to stop and think and then there are questions that can change our lives. Jesus turned to Peter and asked, “Do you love me?” Peter might have thought it was an unnecessary question, but obviously it wasn’t – Jesus knew what he was doing and it would change Peter’s life as he would lead the Jesus movement in the power of the Spirit after Jesus ascended to the Father. Jesus not only asks us if we love him, but he tells us how we can do that. He’s not trying to trick us or confuse us – he has given us the expectation and the Spirit to lead and empower us to make it possible. Friends, let this question change your life this year. Make a decision to spend time with Jesus, knowing him and his commands so that we can do life together reflecting his goodness and glory.
Watch the full sermon online below
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