************ Sermon on John 21:15-19 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 15, 2004
"Do You Love Me?"
Topic: LoveThe old man did what he did because of his great love for God.
Subtopic: For Christ, Examples of
Title: Love Wrought It
On one of the arches in a magnificent cathedral in Europe is sculptured a face of wondrous beauty. It can be seen only once a year when the sun is in a certain position, for then its rays streaming through a small window illuminate the exquisite carving. According to legend, when the structure was being built, an old man came and begged permission to work on some portion of the great church. He had been a well-known artist, but now his trembling hands and failing sight caused the architect to fear that he would mar the beautiful edifice. Out of respect for his age and reputation, however, he allowed the artisan to chisel a design under the shadows of the vaulted roof, thinking no one would ever see it there. After months of painstaking labor, the elderly gentleman could hardly work his way up to the platform high above the floor, yet he insisted on one more climb to make a few finishing touches. When he failed to come down by nightfall, a workman went up and discovered his lifeless body. His tools lay beside him, and his sightless eyes were fixed on the marvelous face he had wrought in the marble. Although he thought it would never be seen, he had given his all to produce a masterpiece. An authority on sculpture recently declared, "This is the most magnificent work of all."
In our Scripture reading Jesus turns to Peter and asks, three times, "Do you love me?"
"Do you love me?" This question gets right to the heart of the matter. It deals with the central issue between us and God. God doesn't ask what church or kingdom activity we are involved in. God doesn't want to know if we are a theological conservative or liberal. God detours around our stand on church issues like women in ecclesiastical office and inclusive language. God doesn't question the amount we give to church and Kingdom causes. [Though all of these are important spiritual markers, they are not the most important.] Rather, God focuses on our hearts. He asks if all that we do and say and are flows out of our love for Jesus Christ.
In the movie "Fiddler On The Roof", a man asks his wife if she loves him. In response she reminds him of everything she does for him: cooking, sewing, cleaning, bearing and raising his children, washing, and so on. But the man wants to hear more. He wants to hear if her heart has any passion for him. Jesus, too, is feeling our pulse for a passionate, burning devotion. He wants to know, "Do you love me?"
Along this line, notice the first question asked of those who professed their faith this morning:
"Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God sent to redeem the world, do you love and trust him as the one who saves you from your sin, and do you with repentance and joy embrace him as Lord of your life?"
I The Reason for the Question
A We all know why Jesus asked Peter this question. The reason goes back to what happened in the high priest's courtyard after Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Three times Peter was asked if he was one of Christ's disciples. Three times Peter denied this because he was afraid: he was afraid that what was happening to Jesus would happen to him; he was afraid he would be arrested; he was afraid he would be slapped and beaten; he was afraid he would be condemned to die by crucifixion.
But notice what Jesus does: not once does He bring up Peter's fear and denial; not once does He remind Peter He had predicted this would happen. You see, Jesus is not interested in the fruit of the denial tree; rather, He is interested in its root. So Jesus does not ask, "Simon, why did you deny me?" Rather, He asks, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"
B The lesson here is obvious: Jesus is telling Peter and us that all moral failures point to a collapse of love. Faulty behavior, wrong behavior, immoral behavior, disobedient behavior all reveal an imperfect love. Pick any saint and any sin. Think of Moses striking the rock. Think of Samson and his relationship with a heathen woman like Delilah. Think of David and his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. Think of Ananias and Sapphira and their lie against the Spirit of God. Think of Paul's persecution of the church. Everyone of their failures, everyone of your failures, everyone of my failures, points to something lacking in love for God and Christ.
"Do you love me?" If your love is lacking, then you are bound to fall.
C But there is also another lesson here. If all moral failure points to a collapse of love, then all moral triumph points to a flourishing of love. Pick any saint and any moral triumph. Think of Joseph as he faced Potiphar's lonely but lovely wife. "Come lie with me," she said. Joseph got out of there before he sinned against God and Potiphar. Think of Daniel praying to God at the open window facing Jerusalem even though such prayer was against the law. Think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego remaining on their feet while everyone else bowed before the golden statue. Think of Elijah and the 7,000 who refused to worship Baal. Think of King Josiah who repaired the Temple, reestablished the Law, and restored the priesthood. In each and every case their moral triumph indicates that their love for God was alive and real and flourishing.
"Do you love me?" If your love is flourishing then you are bound to lead the victorious Christian life.
D "Do you love me?" What happens when we answer: "Yes. Yes, God, I love You. Yes, Jesus, I love You. Yes, Spirit, I love You." What happens? Notice the final two words Jesus says to Peter: "Follow me!" Do you see the connection? I can follow Jesus only when I love Him. I can be His disciple only when I love Him. I can deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him only when I love Him. I can profess Him and join His church only when I love Him.
Have you ever wondered how fans can stand in line for hours to buy tickets to a rock concert or a football game? It is because they love the band or the football team. Love makes sacrifice a privilege, service an honor, suffering a joy. We see that in the life of the Lord Jesus. We see that in the life of the disciples. We see that in the life of the Apostle Paul. We see that in the life of the first century Christians.
E "Do you love me?" The bottom line is this: the Lord Jesus wants our love. Think of the Great Commandment that God gave and recorded in the Old Testament: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength." God, in Christ, wants our love. And, He wants our love no matter what. He wanted Peter's love, even though Peter denied Him three times. The Lord Jesus wants your love: no matter how faithful or faithless you have been, no matter whether you denied Him or professed Him, no matter how strong or weak your faith may be, no matter how you have fallen into sin or practiced righteousness, no matter what!
"Do you love me?" What is your answer?
II The Test of our Love
A Whenever I start my computer it does a self-test. It checks that everything is working before I can start working on it. It checks the ROM, the RAM, the hard-drive, the graphics card, the floppy controller and drives, the internal clock. They all have to work before the computer will proceed. In the same way I need to do a self-test to make sure that all systems are go. I need to do a self-test to determine my answer to Jesus' question: "Do you love me?"
What do I look for? What test do I give myself? How do I know if I love Him?
The first part of my self-test is the Peter test: do I confess Christ before men or do I deny Christ before men? There is a reason Jesus asked Peter the same question three different times: do you love me? do you love me? do you love me? Jesus didn't have to remind Peter of the awful thing he did. The three questions mirrored the three denials in such a way that Peter was cut to the heart. Jesus didn't say it, but Peter certainly was left thinking, "If I love Jesus how could I deny Him three times?"
If I love Jesus then I confess Him and do not deny Him. I think of what Jesus says in Matthew 10:
(Mt 10:32-33) "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. (33) But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.Those who love Jesus are not ashamed to confess Him before men. If we love Jesus, if we truly love Him, then we do not deny knowing Him the way Peter did. If we love Jesus, if we truly love Him, then we stand before the world and the church and say what we hear this morning: "I believe in Jesus. He is my Savior and my Lord."
B How do I know if I love Jesus? The second part of my self-test has to do with good deeds. Do I have a history of good intentions, warm fuzzies, and spiritual feelings or do I have a history of real deeds? Are my good deeds left undone or do I actually reach out in love? My brothers and sisters, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This saying is not found in the Bible but it could be and maybe should be.
Max Lucado illustrates the kind of love taught by Jesus by relaying this experience:
The best example of love that I can think of occurred at the death of my own father. I remember a lady who was a distant relative of our family. She drove six hours to get to the funeral. She walked in the house and went immediately into the kitchen and began washing dishes. I didn't even know she was there. She straightened up everything and helped prepare for the meal. She came to the funeral. After the funeral, she came back and did the dishes again, got in her car and went home. As far as I know, she never said a word. She never introduced herself. But when I looked around, I realized that love had been in our house.
C How do I know if I love Jesus? The third part of my self-test has to do with obedience. Jesus says,
(Jn 14:15) "If you love me, you will obey what I command."I think here of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis because of his testimony. Bonhoeffer was willing to follow Jesus, even if it meant death.
D How do I know if I love Jesus? The fourth part of my self-test has to do with priorities. Who or what do I love best and most? Am I first? Is it money? It is things? Or, is it Jesus? Those who love Jesus love Jesus first: not weakly, faintly, and intellectually but passionately, personally, and devotedly. Their love for Christ overwhelms every other love of life.
Topic: LoveThat is what Christ demands of us. Our love and devotion for Him must be so complete that the deepest love we have for anyone or anything else fades in comparison. Do you love the Lord Jesus like that? If you don't – or aren't willing to – you aren't really His disciple. If you don't – or aren't willing to – you do not really love Him.
Subtopic: To Christ, Blessings of
I read about a man sitting before a fireplace lost in thought. The drapes had been closed and the room was dark except for the flickering light of the dying fire. Finally the flames themselves disappeared, leaving nothing but a heap of gray ashes topped with glowing embers. One burning coal stood out brilliantly from all the rest because it was white hot. The man's gaze was transfixed upon it. Suddenly that brilliant white-hot coal turned completely black. The man was startled. What had caused the instant change? As he looked around, he noticed that the drapes had parted slightly and a shaft of brilliant sunlight had shot into the study and landed directly on the burning coal. The greater light had made the lesser light look black by comparison.
E How do I know if I love Jesus? The fifth part of my self-test has to do with feeding sheep and lambs.
Three times Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me?" Three times Peter answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Three times Jesus responded, "Feed my lambs ... Take care of my sheep ... Feed my sheep."
There is a connection between loving Jesus and feeding His sheep. Every time we reach out to feed and care for the sheep and the lambs we are loving Jesus. If we love Christ, we will find a lamb and feed it. Think of our youth ministry needs: leaders for youth group and Early Teen Ministry, counselors for Cadets and GEMS, teachers and helpers and song leaders for Church School, leaders for Story Hour, nursery attendants. By feeding the lambs we love Jesus.
But there is more. We feed the sheep and the lambs when we tell others about Jesus. Bo Barredo, a missionary, shares the following about his family life:
Topic: LoveThat's the way we show our love for God: by feeding the sheep, by bringing the good news – as we were reminded by Mission Emphasis the last two weeks.
Subtopic: To God, Examples of
I belong to a relatively prosperous family of lawyers. My mother died of cancer at age 45. Our family buried her a few days before Christmas. My father was never the same again. He turned his back to the world, left his business and law practice and became a full-time missionary evangelist among our own people. To date, per written decision slips, God has used my father to bring to His feet more than 200,000 souls. Seeing our father's great love for God and God's beautiful love for him, three of my brothers and I and our wives, plus our youngest sister also became missionaries, pastors and evangelists. God gave us much grace. Where before as lawyers we represented the criminals before the judge, now as missionaries, we represent the Eternal Judge before the "criminals."
"Do you love me?" Jesus indicates in our passage the kind of death Peter would die for the Lord. We know from church history that Peter died like the Lord: he was crucified. Imagine that: the one who loudly denied the Lord ended up gladly dying for Him. There is no doubt that Peter died loving the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength.
"Do you love me?" Jesus knew the answer. He knew Peter loved Him. And the apostles knew that too because Peter – fallen Peter – ended up being one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church. Here is a lesson that within the grace of God even the greatest of saints can have horrible sins and yet be a leader in the church.
"Do you love me?" God stops us in our tracks with that question. In our headlong rush through life He wants us to look at our hearts, to do a self-test.
"Do you love me?" I hope your answer is "Yes. Yes, God, I love You. Yes, Jesus, I love You. Yes, Spirit, I love You."
But, no matter how much we love Him, we can never love Him enough. Our love for Him can never match His wondrous love for us, a love which led the second person of the triune Godhead to die on the cross and be buried in the grave.
Subtopic: To Christ, Blessings of
Charles Spurgeon tells of a Mr. Welch, a Suffolk minister, who was noticed to sit and weep; and one said to him, "My dear Mr. Welch, why are you weeping?"
"Well," he replied, "I can't tell you." But when they pressed him very hard, he answered, "I am weeping because I cannot love Christ more."
"Do you love me?"
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