DO YOU LOVE ME?
John 21: 15-19
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (15)
This passage gives us an account of examining our love relationship with Jesus.
Do You Love Me? (15a, 16a, 17a)
Simon Peter was very loyal to Jesus. He impressed Jesus many times with his confidence: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” “You are the Christ!” But during the last supper, Jesus made a shocking prediction that disturbed him: “I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” Upon hearing it, Peter was so sad and resisted, saying to Jesus: “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” When Jesus was arrested and all the other disciples ran away, he followed Jesus, although at a distance. But at a critical moment when he was identified as one of Jesus’ disciples by a servant girl and his very survival was in question, he instinctively tried to save himself. He flatly denied Jesus as his loving master three times. He even cursed himself while denying Jesus (Mk 14:71). That night, Peter went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:62). Peter in his weakness failed. However, the Lord Jesus visited Peter and initiated the healing process after his glorious resurrection.
Verses 1-15 describe how Jesus revealed his unfailing love for Peter and other disciples after his glorious resurrection and appearance to his disciples. When Peter and the other disciples saw the risen Jesus, they were so happy, and their fear disappeared. However, despite the glorious resurrection and Jesus’ commission (20:21), Peter and six other disciples did not go on a mission. Instead, they all returned to their past ordinary life—they all went fishing together and caught nothing. The disciples hit another failure and felt all the world was against them. The loving Jesus, the Lord, however, did not fail them. Nor did the Lord condemn the disciples. Instead, the Lord called them, “friends” (NIV) or “children” (ESV, KJV, NASB). The Lord Jesus restored them from failures by helping them catch a large number of fish miraculously. He even prepared a warm breakfast for them. Despite their failures and shortcomings, the Lord Jesus still loved them unconditionally. His love was like a fire of burning coals at the shore. None of the disciples dared say a word, overwhelmed by his unfailing and unconditional love. They just kept eating the heartfelt dish again and again.
Look at verse 15. “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” Here the word “these” refers to something Simon Peter cherished dearly. It can be fish he had just caught, his ordinary life, his success, his dream, accomplishment, and, in a broad sense, his whole life. Therefore, by asking the question, Jesus is demanding from Simon the greatest love for him. “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” Jesus wants Simon as well as us to love him the most—more than anything else. He asks this same question consecutively three times very seriously. In a similar way, God wanted Abraham to love him the most by saying, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering…” (Ge 22:2) God wants us to love him the more than anything else (Deut 6:5).
None of us deserves such an intense love from others because we love ourselves the most. However, Jesus deserves such love from Peter as well as us because he had given us his life as a sacrifice on the cross. By His death on the cross, Jesus first demonstrated he had loved us more than anything else. God himself also deserves such love from us because he gave us his one and only son as a ransom sacrifice for our sins. So Jesus, our Lord, asks each of us, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Do you truly love Jesus more than anything else in the world? Do you love Jesus more than your desire of having a lovely boy or girl? Do you love Jesus more than feeding your sinful desire? Do you love Jesus more than your ego, your ambition, achievement, success, future security, husband, wife, children, parents, and people’s recognition and praises? Jesus asks, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” (15a)
The question of whom or which we love the most is very important. By what we love, our life, present and future, as well as eternal, is influenced and shaped. The Samaritan woman suffered greatly and was miserable because she loved human husbands the most. Her life was full of shame and sins and eventually ruined. When Zacchaeus the tax collector loved money the most, he became rich but unhappy and lost. When Samson loved a lover more than God, he consumed his life miserably. On the other hand, when Daniel decided to love God more than his own life by renouncing comforts in a palace, he lived a righteous life like a shining star in the sky and his life is still inspiring to many of us today. What about Joseph who decided to love God more in his miserable fate? By whom we love, by what we love, our life is determined. The Lord Jesus asks, “Simon son of John do you truly love me more than these?” (15a)
Not only did Jesus want Peter’s love, but he also wanted to help him to recover his wounded heart. To do so he helped him confess his love to Jesus. And here is why Jesus so tenderly helped Peter to confess his love for Jesus. The fact that Jesus loves us is not enough. We must love him back. Because of sin, we fail God and lose our confidence to confess our love to him. So Jesus began to help Peter restore his confidence that was lost through his failure. Look at verse 15: It reads. “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” As we know, Peter wanted to love Jesus more than anything else. But the day came when Peter should have proved his love for Jesus and he didn’t. He failed. So Jesus helped Peter say what his heart wanted to shout out but what his mouth could not say. Jesus led Peter to make a confession of love.
Something wonderful happens in our hearts when we open our mouth and confess to our Lord Jesus, “Lord Jesus, I love you.” When Peter said, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you,” it was more than a confession of love. It was a public declaration of his failure and his utter hopelessness as a lost sinner who had found endless mercy and forgiveness through the unconditional love of Jesus. It was Jesus’ love therefore, that empowered him and enabled him to confess his love to Jesus with all his confidence of a child of God. Sometimes we do not know whether we are able to love Jesus enough. There are many who cannot make a confession of love because they have not yet received the love of Jesus, freely. Today let us make a confession of love to Jesus, when we have accepted his forgiveness and love in our lives.
The way Jesus asks the same question is also significant. Although Jesus knew that Peter loved him, he intentionally asked the same question three times in a digressive manner so that Peter could see if he truly loved Jesus. Jesus asked Peter from “do you truly love me more than these?” to “do you truly love me?” and to “do you love me?” although Peter said “Yes Lord, you know that I love.” This hurt Peter because Jesus expressed plainly that he had no confidence in Peter’s human love and loyalty to him. Peter’s human love was imperfect that he had failed completely. To admit this failure before Jesus was painful and humiliating before the other disciples. The rejection of love was hurting. But Jesus intended for him to die to his human confidence, pride, and passion. Thus, Jesus healed Peter’s broken heart and built a new foundation for a love relationship with him, based on Jesus’ grace and love alone so that he could truly love Jesus more than his life. We need to know this. We cannot love Jesus on our own. As 1 John 4:19 says, “we love [Jesus] because he first loved us.” When we realize that Jesus loved us first, we can love Jesus. “…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Ro 5:8)
Peter’s answers reveal his change. Three times Peter answered, “you know that I love you” (15-17). It is a simple statement. Peter was known to be outspoken. He was boasting his love for Jesus by saying, “Even if I die, I will not disown you” But here, he answered quietly and humbly, acknowledging his fragile weaknesses. In Greek words, Peter used the word, “phileo” meaning friendship or brotherly love when Jesus meant “agapao” meaning divine love in the first two questions. Peter was admitting his limitation of love toward Jesus quite honestly. Love is not loud like a resounding gong. Love does not boast; it is not proud (1Co 13:4). It is rather a quiet confession followed by action and sacrifice that demonstrate love like Mary who broke a jar of expensive perfume and washed Jesus’ feet.
Feed My Sheep (15b, 16b, 17b)
Look at verses 15-17 again. Acknowledging his confession of love, Jesus helped Peter to love him practically. In brief, Jesus wanted him to be a shepherd for God’s flock. Jesus not only pressed Peter to confess his love for him three times, but Jesus also pressed him to express his love for him in a very practical way—in God’s way. How then can Peter love the Lord Jesus practically? Every time Peter said, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” Jesus commanded him, “Feed my lambs,” or “Take care of my sheep,” or “Feed my sheep.” Jesus was not just giving Peter a mission, he was expressing his deepest concern for his own flock that live in this world of endless suffering under the power of sin and Satan. Jesus loves his flock more than his own life. Jesus wanted Peter to share his heart’s concern for his flock. He wanted Peter to demonstrate his love for Jesus by feeding his sheep. Simply, Jesus wanted him to be a shepherd.
There are many who claim to love Jesus. But they love Jesus in their own ways. Jesus wants to be loved in his way. Those who love Jesus must learn how to love Jesus in his way— by taking up the cross of mission. It is not easy to love one wounded person suffering from the devastating influence of sin. It is easier to feed a pet dog. It is easy to think that a few kind words spell out the Christian life. But a true shepherd loves and serves God’s suffering flock with the word of God. He teaches them the Bible, he prays for them, he serves them until they too can come out of their sins and failures, accept God’s love for them and grow to be shepherds as well. We must love Jesus’ sheep and take care of them no matter how difficult they may be. This is true love. This is how we can love God practically.
Living in this ministry, we often heard the phrase: feed sheep, so we may mistakenly understand this word as a duty. However, when you carefully mediate on this word, it is not about an obligation in essence. Jesus’ heart and love is found in this expression, “feed my sheep.” Feeding sheep is not a policy of an organization. It is about love. If we love a person, we are concerned about what that person is concerned about in his or her deepest heart. Likewise, if we love Jesus more than anything else, we care about what Jesus cares about. By feeding his sheep, we demonstrate such love to Jesus.
Some of us feel it is difficult to take care of God’s flock or find a lost sheep on campus. Some of us may think that their character is not a good fit for feeding sheep. Sometimes, feeding Jesus’ sheep seems impossible practically, for we are limited very much by full-time work, late work schedule, heavy assignments, and sweeping mood changes. Some of us feel hesitant to feed God’s flock, for they know what it is like to serve God’s flock endlessly as if you pour water into a bottomless jar. Feeding sheep is not an easy job. It required the very life of our Lord Jesus. It is a way of sacrifice, suffering, inconvenience, rejection, and self-denial. The Apostle Paul even said this mission-centered life was participating in the remaining “afflictions” of Christ (Col 1:24). Only the people who truly love Jesus more than anything else can feed his sheep. However, at the end, they will all participate in the glory of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Jesus’ calling also manifests his hope for Peter. Peter and the other disciples failed. They denied Jesus in their weakness. Even after witnessing his glorious resurrection, they withdrew to this past ordinary life without mission. The Lord Jesus could find other candidates—better ones, smart and faithful ones. Instead, the Lord Jesus revisited Simon and the other disciples. Jesus did not even say a word of disappointment. Jesus knew and embraced their weaknesses and failures. He covered their failures with heartfelt love. And he wanted Simon and the other disciples to have his heart toward other lost souls. The Lord Jesus again and again said Peter, “Feed my lambs”, “Take care of my sheep”, “feed my sheep.” The Lord even restored Simon as the leading disciple of the Church. Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” (Jn 15:16). Despite failures, the Lord Jesus still manifests his hope for his chosen ones.
Simon Peter, in his love for Jesus, accepted this call. He did not know where to go and how to feed God’s flock. He did not have a clear idea how to serve and succeed Jesus’ ministry. By faith, Peter just accepted and made every effort to obey Jesus’ command despite his weaknesses and shortcomings. Peter just followed Jesus, serving his God-given mission from that time on. Many years later, when he was old, Peter said in his letter, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).
In conclusion, let us read verse 15. “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (15) Let us love Jesus more than anything else, remembering how Jesus has lavished his love on us. In return, let us love Jesus by feeding and taking care of his sheep all the more, overcoming the challenges and difficulties each of us faces.
Our Lord Jesus understands each of our circumstances. He does not come to condemn us when we fail in our Christian life nor if we fail in our capacity to love him and to serve him as we should. Instead, he comes to confirm his love for us and to restore anyone who is willing to humbly ask for forgiveness with a repentant heart. Mostly we need to learn how to extend the love of God to others until their wounded hearts fully heal in Jesus.
October 19, 2014