Peter the Shepherd
During August we have been learning all about Peter and his relationship to Jesus. Peter was one of Jesus’ best friends. Peter was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. It is one of my favourite places in the whole wide world. I caught my largest fish on the Sea of Galilee. With my bear hands. Here it is… It had just died so it was something of easy catch.
Peter made a public promise to follow Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. For three years they were close friends and went everywhere together. Peter made a public declaration that he was willing to die for Jesus. But when Jesus was arrested, what did Peter do? He was afraid and denied even knowing Jesus. Not once, not twice, but three times, just as Jesus had predicted. Peter must have felt so awful. After Jesus died and rose again he found his friends by the Sea of Galilee once again. What was Peter doing? Fishing. He and his friends hadn’t caught anything and then this stranger on the shore called out and told them to fish from the right side of the boat. They put their nets down once more and caught so many fist they couldn’t haul them all in. It could only be Jesus.
Peter dived in and swim to Jesus as the others hauled the bulging nets behind the boat back to shore. Peter was so happy. What did Jesus ask him? Do you love me? Why do you think Jesus asked Peter this question? Let’s consider what Jesus was asking of Peter. First of all observe,
1. Jesus asks Peter Personally : “Do you love me?”
Peter the rock had become Peter the jelly. He had disowned Jesus, denied Jesus, repudiated Jesus. “I do not even know the man.” Peter had said when confronted by a servant soon after Jesus had been arrested. Jesus asks Peter personally because he wants Peter to be his friend again. Someone who will not fail Jesus again. Someone on whom Jesus can depend on in the future. Peter needed an opportunity to acknowledge his guilt and repent. What better way than to go to the core of their relationship. Why did Jesus asks Peter three times?
The bible says “Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him a third time.” (John 21:17). It hurt Peter because he was guilty. But I believe it hurt Jesus a whole lot more to ask. But ask he did and ask he must if Peter is to know he is loved and accepted despite his failure. Jesus is probing, digging, drawing out the poison from Peter’s self-inflicted wound. Jesus is inviting personal recommitment. Three denials. Three devotions. Notice Jesus does not ask Peter “will you follow me?” nor “will you serve me?” That would have been easy for Peter. To follow from behind. To serve from below, never needing to look at Jesus face to face.
No, first and foremost, Jesus looks for a personal response. “Do you love me?” Jesus is asking for nothing less that that which he has shown Peter. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). So Peter is being invited to express his commitment, his recommitment to the one who died in his place, to take away his guilt and sin and give him eternal life. So first of all, Jesus asks Peter personally, “Do you love me?” But secondly notice the context.
2. Jesus asks Peter Publicly : “Do you love me?”
According to John 21:15, this conversation took place “when they had finished eating.” Who are the “they”? According to John 21:2, Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John, the sons of Zebedee and two other disciples went fishing with Peter. I make that 8 for dinner on the shoreline including Jesus.
So they are not alone when Jesus asks Peter this intensely personal question. This is an important observation. Peter’s denial had been very public. It may not have been discussed by the other disciples (at least not in Peter’s presence), for they had also run away in the Garden of Gethsemane. They too needed to hear Peter respond to Jesus if he was to provide the leadership Jesus had predicted.
Public repudiation needs public repentance. Public denial needs a public re-dedication.
But we can press even deeper here theologically. For Jesus is also making Peter choose. To prioritise his love. Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me - more than these?” (John 21:15). More than these people listening to us. More than these your family? More than these your relatives? More than these your friends? Do you love me first and foremost?
Jesus did not say this because he was jealous or defensive. He asks in order to help Peter realise who Jesus is. Implicit here is the acknowledgement that Jesus is Lord. They all knew the first commandment. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27).
That is why Jesus asks Peter personally - “Do you love me?” - to restore their relationship. That is why Jesus asks Peter publicly - Do you love me more than these?” - to recognise his Lordship. But there is more here. Jesus also asks Peter to prove it. Jesus not only asks Peter personally and publicly but also,
3. Jesus asks Peter Practically, “Do you love me?”
Words are not enough. Jesus had already told them all, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) Each time Peter responds “You know that I love you.” (John 21:15,16,17), Jesus replies, “Feed my lambs” “Take care of my sheep” “Feed my sheep.” What does Jesus mean? Not long after this there was a famine in Jerusalem and the disciples collected money from the churches in Greece and Turkey and took it to literally feed the Christians in Jerusalem.
Compassionate care as we see in the work of TearFund is an important ministry. But that is not what Jesus means here. In response to the temptations of the devil Jesus had said, “People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). On another occasion, shortly after Jesus had fed 5,000 people he warned his followers “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27). Shortly before his ascension to heaven, Jesus was now entrusting that work to his friends.
When Jesus said to Peter “feed my sheep” he intended us to understand he was referring to the Scriptures. King David referred to God’s word as “sweeter than honey” (Psalm 19:7) and in Psalm 119, affirms “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103). The writer to the Hebrews also describes God’s word as milk which young Christians need, and its deeper truths as “solid food.” “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (Hebrews 5:12)
Peter did indeed prove his love for Jesus, helping to write the Word of God, and then sharing the Scriptures at every opportunity as we see in the Acts of the Apostles. And as more and more people came to believe in Jesus and his flock grew in size, and spread to more and more places, others became shepherds like Peter and shared the responsibility for feeding and caring for Jesus’ sheep.
But it all began with a simple question.
A personal question. A public question. A practical question. “Do you love me?” Now I believe Jesus is asking the same simple, basic, profound question of you and me today.
A Personal Question: “Do you love Jesus?”
Have you heard Jesus ask you personally? “Do you love me?” Have you responded? Peter knew Jesus knew what was in his heart. “You know that I love you.” Jesus knows your heart too. But I still think he wants me to ask you on his behalf. He loves you more than you will ever realise. More deeply, more consistently, more than you will ever comprehend. The question is - have you responded? You may regard yourself as a believer in Jesus, a follower of Jesus, a servant of Jesus, but are you a lover of Jesus? Do you love him? Love him because he loves you? Until you do, you will be serving him for the wrong reasons. It’s a personal question.
A Public Question: “Do you love Jesus?”
But like Peter it is also a public question. If you love Jesus and you have told him, does anyone else know? Does your partner? Do your parents? Do your children? Do your friends? Do your neighbours? Do your work colleagues? It’s important that we go public. Its part of our witness. Indeed it’s the primary way others come to know Jesus also. Christianity is contagious - it’s infectious. That is why we hold baptism services. It is why we shall be holding a confirmation service here in November. To give those who have most recently come to know and love Jesus an opportunity to say so. If you have never gone public, maybe this is your opportunity. For if you truly love Jesus personally, you will be willing to tell others publicly. It’s a personal question. It’s a public question.
A Practical Question: “Do you love Jesus”?
And it’s also a practical question. If we love Jesus, we will want others to know him too, and we will want to help them become members of Christ’s flock also. If we love Jesus we will want to serve Jesus through his flock. We have lots of events going on here at Christ Church, lots of activities, lots of opportunities for service. Which are the most important? Which should be our priority? If we are to take Jesus words here seriously, I would suggest that first and foremost we need to be feeding on God’s word personally on a daily basis. I cannot think of a better start to the new academic year than 40 days of purpose - Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” You may have bought the book but have you read it. I met a lady this week that is seriously ill. She is reading it for the third time. When you know your time left on earth may be short you become very intentional. Not knowing I recommend you become very intentional also. In the Corridor you will find a free copy of daily devotional material that will help you read God’s word, digest it in small chunks and feed on it day by day, to grow healthy and strong.
But that is not enough. We also need to be in a small group feeding on God’s word together, learning from one another, shepherding one another. That is why we have ten home groups, two Community Bible Study Groups and a Saturday Morning Men’s Group. From September you will see from the “what’s on leaflet” that Wednesday nights are devoted to Bible study, prayer and fellowship - here in church twice a month and in one another’s homes twice a month. If you are not yet a member of one of our regular fortnightly bible study groups, please make it a priority in the next couple of weeks to sign up for one. If you are not presently a member, James can help you find one.
Besides feeding on God’s word and encouraging one another, we also need to find a place of practical service within Christ’s flock. Jesus said “feed my lambs”. Who are the lambs? Those young in the faith. If we are to take Jesus words here seriously, about feeding his flock, I believe our Sunday school and youth programme must be our highest priority. Our children and teenagers depend on us to feed them with God’s truth. Maybe Jesus would have you serve him in one of our Sunday school classes as a helper or teacher, weekly or fortnightly. If so or you would like more information please talk to Debbie Elsdon or one of the other leaders.
A personal question, a public question, a practical question. Jesus says “Do you love me?” Let’s pray.