Thursday, 2 August 2007

Loving Jesus

John 21:15-19

We’re looking today at Jesus’ question to Peter: “Do you love me?’

It is an unusual question.
Peter has denied, let down Jesus. Three times he has told people: “I do not know the man”

Jesus could have asked him:
Are you sorry?
Will you be loyal to me?
Will you lay down your life for me?

Instead, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you truly love me?”

At the heart of the Christian life is love for God.

It is the first and great command.

To know God, to trust God is to love God. Because God is love.

We do not love God because either we do not know God, or because we do not love love.

Ø When we look at the one who is completely other to us, who is eternal (beyond all ages), who is bigger than all our concepts or categories, who created us with a word, and yet who loves us personally and knows us by name – how can we not love him?
Ø When we look at the one who made us and this world, who gives us life, beauty, music, creativity – how can we not love him?
Ø When we look at the one who welcomes us, who forgives us, who accepts us, who gives us the right to become his children, to share in the intimacy that Jesus had with him – how can we not love him?
Ø When we look at the one who gives us his promises, so that even when we go through difficult and dark times, even when everyone else deserts us, there is hope – how can we not love him?
Ø When we look at the one who gave us his only Son, and with his Son gave us everything: identity, purpose, fulfilment – how can we not love him?
Ø When we look at the one who gives us his Holy Spirit, his presence to live in us, strengthen us and guide us – how can we not love him?
Ø When we look at the one who even when we deny him, in big ways or in little, goes on loving us and who gives us second or third chances – how can we not love him?


1. Jesus asks Peter to go back to the beginning.

Peter has made a fairly clear declaration of commitment to Jesus

He has said: “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you”. (John 13:37)

But Jesus does not want Peter to make a statement of commitment.
This is not the time and place.
Peter has made great statements in the past – and he has messed up.

Jesus, in his love, simply wants to give Peter the opportunity of saying to him, “I love you”

Peter does love Jesus

He is someone who has been touched by grace – and he has responded in the only way possible: with love.

When Jesus called him, Peter was given the gift of seeing himself as he was, and seeing Jesus as he was. He didn’t like what he saw. He said, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man”. But Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be a fisher of men”.

And Peter is devoted to Jesus:
He is the first to confess who Jesus is
He is horrified when Jesus tells them that he is going to be crucified
He pledges his undying loyalty to Jesus
When they come to arrest Jesus, it is Peter who takes out his sword and tries to defend him
When the others run away in the garden of Gethsemane, when they arrest Jesus, it is Peter who follows Jesus
It is Peter who is the first to get to the tomb when the women tell them that they have seen the risen Jesus
It is Peter who, when he sees Jesus on the shore, earlier in chapter 21, jumps out of the boat fully clothed to meet him.

And it is because Peter loves Jesus that he is so devastated that he has denied Jesus.

And now Jesus takes Peter back to the beginning:

He is not asking Peter to make a declaration of commitment, a statement that even Peter will not fully believe is possible
He is simply asking Peter to declare his love for him here and now

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

There is a time and place for commitments.

Preachers will ask people to make commitments. “Will you give your life to Jesus? Will you follow him for the rest of your life?”

But I am not sure that God is particularly looking for statements of commitment. What he does look for, particularly when we mess up, is a declaration of love.
He is allowing us to declare the love that we have for him, out of which commitment flows.

The question that Jesus asks Peter is a question that he asks each one of us: “Do you truly love me?”

And the answer that we give? With Peter we say, “Lord, you know ..”, but if there is spark of love for Jesus, a spark of gratitude, a glimpse of a recognition for what God has done for us, or even just a desire to love Jesus more, then I think that we can answer: “I love you”

That is all that God and Jesus need. They can work with that.

2. Jesus asks Peter to look at himself

Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me more than these?” – no doubt looking round at the other disciples. “Do you love me, more than they love me?”
Peter’s answer is significant. He simply says, “Lord, you know that I love you?”

Peter has given up making comparisons.

He may indeed love Jesus more than the others.
But he doesn’t know.

Please, we do not judge other Christians as to where they stand with God. We may agree with them on certain issues. We may profoundly disagree with them. But it is not our place to assess whether we love God or Jesus more or less than they do. Our job is to declare our own love.

Peter’s commission is to ‘feed the sheep’, not to judge the extent of the love of the sheep. That is between them and God.

The important question is not how much they love Jesus, but how much you or I love Jesus

So Peter gives up worrying about other people. Well, almost. In the next few verse, after Jesus has told Peter what will happen to him, Peter sees John. And Peter says to Jesus, “What about him?” And Jesus reminds Peter of that great spiritual truth: “Mind your own business”.

3. Jesus recommissions Peter

Three times Peter denies Jesus
Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”
Three times Peter says “Lord, you know I do”
And three times Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my sheep”

Jesus gives Peter a new calling. He is still to be an evangelist, “a fisher of men”
Now, he is to “feed my sheep”, to be a pastor and a teacher

I wonder what you imagine to be the qualifications for a pastor.
Based on our passage, I suspect that they are twofold:
Ø An awareness of their own sin
Someone once said to me that if I am ever shocked by someone else’s sin, then I do not know myself well enough
Ø An awareness of the love and forgiveness and redeeming power of God.

There is one more thing.

Don’t get me wrong. Declarations of commitment are important.

When we were thinking about working in Russia, we wondered whether God was calling us or not. We tried to push several doors and nothing happened. And then someone wrote us on a postcard a very simple message: “Say your prayers and make your commitment”. We did that, very consciously. Literally, three days later, out of the blue, we had a phone call from the States and a man said, “I’m hoping to set up a bible training college in Russia, and I’m having a conference in Riga in two weeks time. Can you be there”. And that was the beginning of the opening of doors.


Peter has said: “Lord, I will lay down my life for you”

The first time that there might have been the possibility of that happening, he bottled out: “I don’t know him”

But Peter continued to follow Jesus, and in the end he did lay down his life for Jesus. He laid down his life for Jesus in his death; but more than that, he laid down his life for Jesus by the life that he lived. He was sold out for Jesus.

And the reason that he was prepared to do that was quite simple. He knew that Jesus loved him; and he loved Jesus.

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