Open your Bibles to John 21:15-25. Today we reach the end of this wonderful book of the Gospel of John, and what an ending it is, for it poses the most fundamental question that hangs over a Christian’s life, “Do you love me?” If you hear anything today, it is my prayer that the question of Jesus, “Do you love me?” rings in your ears and presses upon your heart. That it is a broken record playing over and over in your mind as you pick up your cross daily and follow him who died for you. So with that, let us read our text, pray and unpack the living and active word of our Lord.
- John 21:15-25 – “16 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.” 17 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. 18 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.” 19 (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.” 20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers[b] that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” 24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
Today, I am taking a lesson out of Preaching 101 and I am going to give you an outline and some alliteration in how this sermon will proceed, God willing. We will begin by understanding the context of this story, Then we will examine the Question, “Do you Love me?” Then we will examine the command of Jesus. Lastly, we will look at the consequence. Therefore, the basic structure of today’s sermon is 1) Context, 2) Question, 3) Command, and 4) Consequence. So let us begin with the context of these events.
This event takes place some time after the resurrection and before Christ's ascension. As John has laid out in his gospel, this marks the third time that Jesus has appeared to his disciples. The first time he appeared he gave the command, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Which marks the primary purpose of all followers of Christ, as Jesus was sent, so we are sent, to proclaim the Kingdom of Christ, and bring forgiveness and life to those who would repent and place their faith in Christ alone.
If you recall from last week, Peter and six of the disciples did a poor job of listening to the command of Jesus, for they decided to go fishing instead. Fishing was a part of their previous lives prior to being called by Jesus. For many of them, it was their previous occupation. This decision to pick up the nets that they once cast down proved to be unfruitful this particular night, which was no accident. For a life pursuing fleshly things, worldly things, is unsatisfying and empty. The seven disciples spent all night fishing and caught absolutely nothing.
Then the resurrected Jesus appears on the shore and calls out to them and commands them to throw their nets to the right side of the boat. They obey and they catch a very large number of fish, 153 to be exact. This causes John to recognize the person on the shore to be Jesus and cry out, “It is the Lord!” Peter then throws himself into the lake and swims to Christ. Where they warm themselves by the fire and eat breakfast after a long night fruitless toil. That is the brief context, let us now examine the question.
Jesus turns his attention to Peter. You will recall from last week, it was Peter who had the idea of going fishing. It was Peter who the six other disciples chose to follow after he made his worldly suggestion, and now it was Peter who Jesus looked into the eyes of and asked, “Do you love me?”
Jesus asks this question three times. Why three? One good possibility is that three correspondence to Peter's three denials of Jesus on the day of Christ's crucifixion. You will recall that Jesus predicted Peter would deny Christ three times, which he did. We are told in Matthew 26:75 that after Peter's third denial that he went out and wept bitterly. This is perhaps why Jesus asks three times, but I tend to think that he asks three times so as to get through to Peter.
If we know anything about Peter it is that he speaks without thinking. He just blurts out whatever first pops into his mind. Sometimes he is right and sometimes he is wrong. One particular time he so wrong that Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan.” When the Son of God asks the same question three times, by the third time it starts to sink in. In fact, you can see evidence of this in verse 17 where it tells us that Peter was grieved because Jesus asked a third time, “Do you love me?”.
So why is it that Jesus wants to make sure that this question sinks into Peter? It is because love for Christ is the foundation to following Christ. As Paul says in his famous love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” He goes on to say in that same chapter, verse 13, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
These words of Paul are very similar to the words of Christ in Matthew 22:37 when he was asked about the great commandment of the law, “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Everything hangs on love, first a love for God, and second a love for others. Without love you are nothing, but noise.
So why is this? Why is love so foundational to being a Christian? Why is “Do you love me?” the most important question Christ could pose to Peter, or to you, for that matter? Well, that is simple. It is because love is foundational to who God is. 1 John 4:8 tells us, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” God does not have love, he is love. And if we are truly followers of Christ, this means that the Spirit of Christ dwells in us, and if the Spirit of Christ truly dwells in us, we will love, for the Spirit of God is love.
If you do not have a love for Christ, then that is evidence that you are not saved from your sins, it is evidence that you are not a Christian. Instead you are a hypocrite. You are a Judas. You have the form of religion, but are denying its power. For as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died.” Loving Jesus is the wind to our sails, pushing us forward into do his will. Without loving Christ, you are merely adrift in hollow religion. Without a love for Jesus, you are a tare amongst the wheat interfering with the spiritual growth of true believers.
So as we close out the Gospel of John, the question for Peter is the question for us, do you love Jesus? Not, do you read your Bible. Not, do you go to Church. Not, do you pray. Not, have you gone on a mission trip. Not, do you teach Sunday school. Not, are you a pastor of a Church! The question for all of us today is “Do you love Christ?”
This leads us to our second point, the command. Peter answers yes to Jesus' question all three times, but that is not the end of the discussion. Out of this loving relationship between Jesus and Peter sprouts a command. Jesus commands Peter to feed his lambs, tend his sheep, feed his sheep. Who are these sheep and what does Jesus mean by feed and tend?
First, the sheep our those Jesus has already discussed in John 10. In John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The sheep of Christ are those who have, or will, hear the Word of Christ, the gospel, and repent and follow Jesus. Remember, Jesus has commanded them to go into the world, just as Jesus went into the world. When they are eventually obedient, and actually go and share the gospel instead of being consumed by their love affair with this fleeting world, people will actually come into the flock of Christ. Once they become followers of Christ, the work is not over. In fact, it is just beginning. These sheep, are just that sheep. The need care, they need nourishment.
How is this done? First, it is done in community. Sheep do not live away from the flock, they live in the midst of the flock. A lone sheep, is a wolf's lunch. Christians need community, Christians need accountability. Peter was to fulfill the role of overseeing this small flock that had sprung up in Israel. This is what we call a Pastor, or Elder in a local Church. Pastors are to tend to the followers of Christ, not out of compulsion, but out of love for Christ and love for the sheep.
Second, the green grass of the pasture, the food for the flock, is the living and active word of God. The teaching and preaching of God's Word is the sustenance that the sheep of Christ need. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is exactly how Peter understood this command. For if you flash forward to Acts 6, we see the early Church being called to care for widows, the disciples response to this was, yes help feed the widows, but the 12 disciples said in Acts 6:2, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” The primary purpose of a Pastor is to preach the Word of God, for the sheep of Christ must be fed.
If you go a building on Sunday morning that does not have the preaching and teaching of God's Word as front and center, then you are in the wrong place, and you need to abandon ship before they make a shipwreck out of your faith.
The irony of this passage is how the Catholic Church twists this text. They ignore the main teaching point that a Pastor is suppose to feed sheep with the Word of God and attempt to use this text to establish the false teaching of the Papacy. The Catholic dogma argues that this is evidence that Peter was the first Pope. Once again, this could not be farther from the truth. This is yet another example of when the Catholic Church gets the gospel wrong, everything falls apart.
And how do we know what Jesus didn't establish Peter as a Pope at this moment. Simple. We just need to read the two letters that Peter wrote. Specifically 1 Peter 5:1, Peter writes this, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;3not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Peter was not the chief Shepherd, Christ was. Peter was just one of the guys. He was just a fellow elder. Peter makes clear that each elder within the local Church was accountable to Jesus, not to Peter. There is no middle management when it comes to Pastors. We report directly to Christ.
So this passage has nothing to do with the establishing of a Pope, but what it is about is that out of a love for Christ flows an obligation. For Peter it was to Shepherd the first Church. For each of you it may mean something else, but no mistake there is a call upon your life. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Every single Christian is this room has work assigned to them by the Almighty God. If you claim to love Jesus, don't just talk the talk, but walk the walk. If you love Jesus, God has work waiting for you.
Which leads us to our last point for this morning, the consequence. First there was the question, do you love me. This was followed by the command of Christ. Lastly, this command comes with a consequence. The command of Christ would cost Peter his life. Look at verse 18, “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.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)”
Most likely, the Gospel of John was written after the death of Peter, hence why verse 19 is present. Church tradition claims that Peter was crucified upside down while he was the elder in the Church in Rome during the time of Nero's reign. We don't know for sure if that is true, but what is true is that obeying the command of Jesus to tend and feed the sheep of Christ would literally kill Peter. And the death of Peter was not inconsequential. It was ordained by God and it was for the glory of God.
And this was the reality for eleven of the twelve disciples. Loving Christ and obeying Christ leads to suffering for Christ. Only John died at a ripe old age, but it was not without suffering. He was exiled to an Island of Patmos, which was a prison camp for Rome and most likely lived in a cave and forced to do hard labor. Perhaps someone should have told the disciples about the Health and Wealth Prosperity Gospel, the Word of Faith Movement, the name it and claim it garbage of Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers, and TD Jakes. Perhaps if John would have named a mansion, he would have avoided the cave.
The reality of a Christian walk of obedience is not comfort, it is narrow and it is hard. The Apostle Paul understood this reality more than anyone. He described his life of ministry as being a sheep to the slaughter, always suffering, wasting away, being poured out as a drink offering. Paul's life was a life of suffering for the glory of Christ.
And this consequence, this cost, is not reserved for only the Apostles, it is true for all of Christ’s followers. In fact ,Paul was known for preaching this truth to all the Churches that he planted. In Acts 14:22 we are told that Paul went through the churches “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Paul taught the reality of suffering. It was the food the sheep needed to continue in the faith.
So let us work backwards. Is your life full of tribulations for the name of Jesus? If not, is it because you are not obeying the command of Christ? If not, is it because you do not love Him? Jesus tells us point blank, if you love him you will obey his commands. Jesus tells us point blank that in this world we will have trials. No trials, no obedience, no obedience, no love. No love, no salvation.
Is it possible that your obedience to Christ will cost you your job? Absolutely, but Jesus is worth it. Is it possible that your obedience to Christ may cost you your family? Absolutely, but Jesus is worth it. Is it possible that your obedience to Christ may cost you your life? Absolutely, but Jesus is worth it.
I will end with a short story that I have told before. Around the year 1732, Johann Dober and David Nitschmann felt Christ commanding them to go and share the gospel to slaves in Africa. In order to do this, the story goes that they sold themselves into slavery. And as they boarded the slave ship and it pulled away from the docks they cried out to to family and friends on the shore, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!"
May those words be our words.