Do You Love Me?

Why did Jesus ask Peter three times, “Do you love me?” How would you respond if Jesus asked you, “Do you love me?” Do you really love Jesus? Is there any evidence you could point to that would confirm that?

Do You Love Me? ~ April 28, 2019 ~ John 21:15-17

It was a difficult week. What began as a celebration when Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph, ended up with Him on a cross. Even worse for Peter was when all of the disciples met for the Seder meal up in the upper room, and Jesus said that He would be betrayed. And to make matters worse – Peter could not believe that Jesus said it would be one of them that would do it. It was so not possible, from his point of view. Even after Judas leaves early from the meal, no one suspected anything of him. They trusted Judas, implicitly. Judas was the treasurer. They trusted Judas with their money. They had no idea that Judas was going to do what he was going to do. And yet, still the hardest part for Peter was when Jesus said to Him that he would deny he even knew Jesus. Peter just could not, would not believe this, even for a minute. As he said, he was willing to go to prison if he had to, to die for Jesus if necessary. He was not like Judas. He was Cephas, the rock. And yet, we know the story, right? He did fail. He denied knowing Jesus, or anything that was connected to Him, not once, not twice, but three times. And Peter was crushed for his failure. He just was despondent beyond words. How could he have done such a thing?

I don’t know if you notice, when Jesus appeared in the upper room after the resurrection Easter Sunday, He didn’t mention it. He didn’t mention Peter’s betrayal. He didn’t actually talk directly to Peter at all. Peter was thinking to himself, “Why would He? I wouldn’t.” And Peter ends up leaving Jerusalem. He goes back to Capernaum, returning to the only thing he knew he could do and do well – fishing. And how could Jesus ever forgive him for betraying Him? Why would Jesus ever forgive him?

And then one day, as he’s out fishing on his boat, a person calls from the shore and he starts talking back and forth to the disciples and Peter in the boat – and Peter realizes it’s the Lord! So, impulsively he jumps off of the boat into the water, swims to shore, and when he gets there, Jesus is cooking breakfast for the disciples. And that’s where we pick up our story this morning in the gospel of John. Would you please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the word of God? Let us pray.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

So, they’re on the shore. John 21:15:

After breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question:
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
A third time he asked him,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said,
“Then feed my sheep.”
(John 21:15-17)

Now, unlike the Last Supper, this time, Jesus does directly address Peter. Why did He ask him three times, “Do you love me?” How many times did Peter deny Jesus? Three times.

This story, in Scripture, is known as “The Restoration of Peter.” Jesus knows what Peter did. He knew he was going to do it – He’s God! And yet, after doing so, even still, Jesus does forgive him. He restores him. He tells him to get back to His original mission – “Feed my sheep” – in other words, He’s saying, “Go and make disciples of all the nations,” just as He did before He left. He’s telling Peter and the disciples, “Share this message, share the gospel.”

How do we do that? Well, it’s called evangelizing. Sometimes we do it face to face, using words. That’s what my doctoral ministry project was all about, was creating an evangelism ministry here at South Congregational Church. We had some training, we got some of what I call EMTs, members of our Evangelism Ministry Training Team, who are out on the street preaching the gospel, inviting people to come to South Congregational Church. I know that Jordan and Kyle are out there every week talking to people about the Lord and asking them to come. And I promised them when I was done and the weather got better (because I’m a wimp), that I would join them again. So, I’ll be out there soon as well. That’s one way to share the gospel – to tell people the story.

Another way is to meet people’s physical needs. If they’re hungry, feed them. That’s what we do on Saturday mornings here at Sparrow. We don’t ask people what their income level is, we don’t care what religion they are, or if they have any religion at all. If they’re hungry, feed them. That’s what Jesus did. There were 5,000 – 10,000 people hungry, He fed them. The disciples were fishing all night long, He’s cooking breakfast. Feed them. That’s what He means. “Feed my lambs.” “Feed my sheep.”

This story is really Good News for all of us. It really is. Why? Let me ask, have you ever denied Jesus? I have. You see, denying Jesus does not mean saying He doesn’t exist. I have never thought Jesus didn’t exist. From my earliest memories as a child, I always thought there was a Father, there was a Son, there was a Holy Spirit. I didn’t know who they were, I didn’t know how they interacted with each other. I was unclear on a lot of details, but I always remember believing that there was a person named Jesus. I never dabbled in Hinduism, or Buddhism, or Islam, or Mormonism. It was always just Father, Son, Holy Spirit for me. As far back as I can remember. But that does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that I was a good Christian.

I’ll explain that a little bit. Earliest memories of my life: I can only go back as far as when I was five years old. I remember, when I was five years old, I was living on Brattle Street in Holden, Massachusetts, which is a little suburb community of Worcester, Massachusetts. I was born in a hospital in Worcester. It was a neat little bedroom community, not all that different from, say, a Wethersfield. And I had a second-floor bedroom, which I shared with my brother – my little brother John – and we couldn’t afford air conditioning; so, in the summertime when it was hot, you’d open the windows and the breeze came through the screens. And I remember my next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman. Now, obviously when you’re five years old, everyone’s elderly, but I think this guy qualified, regardless. He was an older guy, retired. He was a phenomenal gardener. His name was Mr. Naptin, and he grew the most amazing lilacs. I remember this – it’s kind of what made me think of this this morning – I remember as a five-year-old boy, the smell wafting in through the window of Mr. Naptin’s lilacs, and to this day, that’s one of my favorite candle scents! Lilacs, because it transports me back as a five-year-old to Mr. Naptin’s garden.

I remember also going down the street from our house, almost within walking distance, maybe from here to the center of town, to St. George’s Roman Catholic Church. And I remember walking in and sitting in a pew with all these people around me, and standing, and sitting, and kneeling, and sitting, and standing… I don’t know why I was doing all these religious calisthenics, I just followed everybody else! And I remember the priest up front opened his mouth, and some sounds came out, but I had absolutely no idea what he was saying. And when he was done speaking, all the adults around me turned around and answered him in some foreign language I didn’t understand either! What the heck is all this going on? I didn’t learn until later it was Latin, because it was a Latin Mass. But I remember, even at that point, I would have been able to identify who Jesus was. I was five years old, I said, yeah, He’s the big guy hanging on that cross up front! Now, I would not have been able to tell you why He was hanging there. I was five. Cut me some slack. But my point is, from my earliest childhood memories, I cannot remember a time when I denied that Jesus existed.

What I mean when I say have you denied Jesus: If you go back to the beginning of John’s gospel, in chapter 1:1, John begins this way. He writes:

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
(John 1:1)

And in verse 14 he continues:

So the Word became human…

And the original Greek “flesh.”

… the Word became [flesh] and made his home among us.
(John 1:14)

What are words when you think about it? Words are sounds that we make with our vocal cords and our lips, and you can audibly hear. They are our expressions, our ideas, our thoughts, our proclamations. They take what’s in here [head] and what’s in here [heart] and reveal it to others. So, the best, most accurate expression of God the Father is Jesus the Son. He is God’s Word, His most accurate expression of God’s thoughts and God’s heart. So, Jesus, the Word became human and made His home among us. So, no disrespect intended to Peter Griffin, but the bird is not the word.

Jesus is the Word, and when we embrace the Word, we embrace Jesus. Correspondingly, when we deny the Word – “no, I don’t agree with that…” – yes, we deny Jesus.

So, have you ever denied Jesus? Well, have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something, taken something that wasn’t yours? Have you ever hit your thumb with a hammer and yelled out the Lord’s name in vain (that’s called blasphemy)? Every time we do that, we break a Commandment, we deny a teaching of God, we deny Christ. So, like Peter, and me, we have all denied Jesus. The truth is, I don’t know anyone who has not. In fact, it’s more common than you may think.

Craig Groeschel, Senior Pastor of Life.Church hit the nail on the head when he wrote a book in 2011 entitled, “The Christian Atheist.” Let that sink in for a minute. “The Christian Atheist,” believing in God but living as if He didn’t exist. See, when I was five, I may have known who Jesus was, but I didn’t live as Jesus would want me to live. And yet, when you mention a title like this, when you broach this subject, there are a lot of so-called Christians that get very defensive. “What are you talking about? I believe in God! You can ask my husband… or my boyfriend!”

Peter claimed that he was a follower of Jesus, but when it really mattered, he denied it. I mean, look, we all know it’s easy to be a follower of Jesus in a church on Sunday morning. That doesn’t take a lot of effort. That’s like telling people in Connecticut you’re a democrat. Ooh, risky! We’re all Jesus this and Jesus that, praise the Lord and Hallelujah on Sunday morning. What about when we are surrounded by less friendly people, like Peter was when a woman said, “You’re one of His followers! I know you, you’re a Galilean!” Say you’re surrounded by people you work with who aren’t all that thrilled with your Jesus-y stuff. Or, maybe you’re at school and your fellow students think that because you’re a Christian you think you’re better than everybody else! Or, strangers, as Peter was surrounded by, or sometimes, the hardest audience to be surrounded by is your family, because not everybody in your family is a believer.

The question is, how do we do then? Do we talk differently? Do we act differently? When somebody says, “Wait a minute, you go to church, I know you go to church. You’re always wearing that cross. Do you think that the Bible really says…” And you know the Bible says that, and you believe in the Bible, because the Bible is the expression of God’s thought and heart, and the Word is Flesh, in Jesus, but you backtrack. “Well, you know, it’s up to interpretation, and everybody can interpret it in their own way, and everyone has the right…” You know what you just did? You said, “I don’t know Him! I don’t know nothing about Him!” You deny the Word, you deny Jesus.

We all have. We all have.

Now, one good thing, one great thing about Peter being restored is the message it sends the rest of us. I mean, can you think of anything worse than utterly denying Jesus, other than denying Him when He’s in His hour of need? See, I really and truly believe Judas gets all the bad press. But there’s a difference between Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s betrayal. Think about it. They were both believers, they were both apostles, they were both followers of God, they both believed Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah. But Judas, after a while, I believe, began to get very frustrated. Why doesn’t Jesus just prove it? Have you ever wondered that? I mean, He walked the earth for three years. Why didn’t He just do something so amazing that everybody knew, and that was getting under Judas’ skin. So, he had a thought. I can kill two birds with one stone! I can get these thirty pieces of silver and retire to Boca Raton, and I can paint Jesus in a corner. I can put Him in front of the Sanhedrin, where they’re going to accuse Him of blasphemy, and He’s going to have to prove that He’s the Messiah. If He doesn’t, they’ll kill Him! And when He stood there silent as a sheep before the shearers, Judas was stunned. When He was convicted and sentenced to be crucified, Judas was distraught. How do I know this? Because he was so upset, he gave the money back and he went off and hung himself! If his goal was to kill Jesus, he accomplished his goal! Why is he upset? He got what he wanted! His motivation was to forward Jesus’ ministry. To prove – like He’d get in front of the Sanhedrin and clap His hands, and Bailey would drop dead. And everyone would be like, “Oh my Gosh!” And then He walks over and says, “Rise!” and Bailey would get back up. That’s what he wanted, some absolute proof. When Jesus didn’t do it, Judas was absolutely inconsolable. But the motivation was to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.

Now, let’s look at Peter. Peter denied Jesus, why? To save his skin. That’s the only reason. He said he would go to prison for Him, he said he would die for Him, and when it came time, when the going got tough, he got going. So, I think Judas may get all the bad press, but Peter’s sin, Peter’s betrayal was really worse in my book, because it was done out of selfishness. He wanted to save his own skin, and yet, what did we read? Jesus forgives Peter. The worst thing that ever happened. Jesus forgives Peter. What does that tell us? That no matter how big or how bad you think what you’ve done is, God’s grace is bigger. Believe me, I hear it all the time. “But you don’t know what I’ve done, Pastor, and I’m too embarrassed to even tell you!” You’re absolutely right, I do not know what you’ve done. The reverse is true too, you all don’t know everything I’ve done either. But do you really think God doesn’t know? Of course, He does! He knew what Peter did, He knew Peter was going to do it, just as He knew whatever it was you did, or are going to do, was going to happen too. And He still went to the cross for you, and for me, and for Peter.

If we think whatever it is we’ve done is unforgiveable, what you are saying is that you are greater than God. Do you think you are greater than God? I have yet to meet anyone who has answered yes to that question. Then don’t presume for a moment that your sin is greater than God’s mercy. Nothing you have ever done, you have ever thought, you have ever said is worse than what Peter did, and he was forgiven. He was fully restored. So, no matter what anyone tells you, you are never beyond God’s grace either. Thank you, Lord. Without this story, my story might be more like Judas.

That’s why this is a Good News story for all of us. No matter what you have done, it is not beyond God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s forgiveness. For Pete’s Sake, if Peter is forgiven and restored…

However, after we have been forgiven, like Peter, we should also be ready to answer Jesus’ questions. So, how would we respond if Jesus asked us, “Do you love me?” Before we answer, let’s think. Is there any evidence out here, out there, to support what you’re about to say? How you answer that question? In other words, I like to put it this way. If Christianity, if being a Christian was a crime, would a police detective be able to do an investigation and find enough evidence to convict you of being a Christian?

Now, we know that deeds don’t earn our way into heaven. You can’t do enough good things to earn your way into heaven. That’s not how it works. But deeds are a reflection of our hearts. Deeds do reveal where our hearts are.

Jesus’ brother James, in the letter of James, writes this:

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor” – well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?
(James 2:2-4)

Does it reveal your heart? James goes on to say:

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” – but the you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
(James 2:14-17)

Do we look – I mean, look where we are, 277 Main Street in Hartford, Connecticut – do we look at the poor in Hartford differently than we do others? Do we treat them differently? Here’s a question we should ask ourselves: Am I doing anything to serve my community, or the wider Christian community anywhere in the world. Me! ME! Not my church. Me! It’s easy to hide behind our church. “My church does this, and my church does that!” Great. “But what do I do?” is the question we need to ask.

At the Last Supper, after Jesus finished washing the disciples’ feet, He said, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” He did not say, “I have given you an example to follow. Now, put some money in the offering plate so that someone else can wash feet in your place.” No, He says, “Do as I have done to you.” See, there are far too many churches who think, “Well, that’s what we hired the Pastor for! He has to do all that Jesus stuff!’ Pastors are not Jesus! The Bible says the CHURCH is the body of Christ. I am not Jesus. WE are Jesus. We are the modern expression of God on earth. That’s what the church is.

Yes, we should put money in the offering plates. It is a requirement of Christian faith. However, it’s not supposed to end with writing a check, or doing Pushpay, or downloading our awesome church app and paying through PayPal. Whatever, it’s great that you support Sparrow Ministries, or M25 for our Haiti Mission, or Covenant to Care for children. God bless you, Sparrow needs your financial resources. But you know what God wants? You know what Jesus wants? He wants you to come some Saturday, sit down and visit with our guests. I came in yesterday to pick up some things to bring down to the Daffodil Festival, and who did I bump into? Veronica Mingolelli and her daughter Maria. Now, Mary and Vicki, they’re there every Saturday. But it was so nice to bump into another member of our congregation serving on Saturday. Washing feet. Do as He did. That’s what He said.

Do you love me? Then feed my sheep.

I will just let you know, if you truly love Jesus, South Church has a number of ways that you can show Him you mean it. Just ask. We will plug you in. We will hook you up. And the amazing thing is this: you think you’ll be doing something for someone else, and you’ll discover in the midst of doing it, you’ll really be served more than you’re serving. You’ll be doing more for you than you will for them! It’s awesome. God works in mysterious ways like that.

Do you love Him? Would you stand and pray with me?