************ Sermon on John 21:15-19 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 5, 2016
"Do the Shepherds of the Flock Love Him?"
Installation of Office Bearers
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" But Jesus needed to ask this question because Peter had denied Him three times. Peter and Jesus had already met privately (Lk 24:34; 1 Cor 15:5), but since Peter had denied the Lord publicly it was important that there also be a public restoration before he could return to ministry and be commissioned to feed the sheep.
Jesus asks the same question of each one of us: "Do you love me?" If we want to know whether we truly follow Jesus, we must answer the question: "Do you love me?" If we want to know whether we are fit for church office, we must answer the question: "Do you love me?" Before we can feed the sheep and take care of the sheep, we must answer the question: "Do you love me?" But the answer Jesus is looking for may surprise you and even shock you!
As we look at our Bible reading we see three questions, three answers, and three callings.
I Three Questions
A First, we see three questions that Jesus asks of Peter. "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?"
Notice that Jesus addressed Peter as "Simon son of John." This must have cut Peter to the heart, to be addressed by his former name, his old name, and not the one that meant "the Rock." Jesus used the pre-Jesus name. Jesus was addressing the old Peter and not the new Peter. Jesus was addressing Peter the sinner and not Peter the leader and apostle. Did Peter, who had been ashamed of Jesus before men, really love Him? Peter had repented of his sin. Peter had wept bitterly and had returned to his Lord, fervently and zealously. But did Peter love Him?
Jesus did not ask if Peter admired Him, or honored Him, or obeyed Him, or feared Him. Jesus asked if Peter loved Him.
B Jesus asks the questions three times. Once for each time that Peter had denied Him before men. Notice how it was put the first time: "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" What does Jesus mean by "more than these?" More than what? Was Jesus asking, "Do you love Me more than you love these other men?" Not likely, because this had never been a problem among the disciples. None of them seemed to love each other more than they loved Jesus. Perhaps Jesus meant, "Do you love Me more than you love these boats and nets and fish?" Again, this is not likely, for there is no evidence that Peter ever desired to go back into the fishing business. Love of fishing did not seem to compete with love for the Savior.
"Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" We need to go back to Peter's boast before the arrest of Jesus: "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will ... Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you" (Mt 26:33,35; cf Jn 13:37). There is more than a hint here that Peter believed his love for Jesus was greater than the love of the other disciples for Jesus. So Jesus was asking, "Peter, do you still think this way? Peter, do you still think your love for me is greater than anyone else's love for me?"
C Jesus uses the word "agape" in verses 15 and 16. "Simon son of John, do you agape me?" Agape is the highest form of love, a sacrificing love, a giving love, a love that seeks the good of the other person without seeking anything in return. This is the word used for the love of the Father in John 3:16 – the love which made Him give His one and only Son for the sins of the world. This is the love shown by Jesus. This is the love that sent Jesus to the cross.
In verse 17, Jesus uses the word "phileo." We find this word in the name "Philadelphia." Phileo is the love of a friend, the affection found between two people who enjoy each other's company, who love to talk together, who love to spend time with each other. "Simon son of John, do you phileo me?" "Do you, at least, feel affection for me?"
II Three Answers
A Why this change in words? Why does Jesus move from agape love to phileo love? Here we come to Peter's three answers to Jesus' three questions.
Jesus moves from agape love to phileo love because phileo is the word Peter uses each time in response to Jesus: when Jesus asks about agape love, Peter carefully responds about phileo love. We see here that proud, arrogant Peter was humbled. Peter was humbled to discover his love for Jesus was not as great and as deep as he thought it was. Peter was humbled to discover his love was deficient. Peter was humbled to discover he was not willing to sacrifice himself for Jesus -- in spite of his boast. He received a big portion of humble pie.
We need to see ourselves in Peter. Like Peter, we all need to reach the point where we are humbled. We all need to acknowledge there is something deficient in our love. We all need to acknowledge we are not able to show the agape love which sent Jesus to the cross. Especially those who are in church office need to reach this point – for notice, Peter did not and could not take up his ministry until he reached this point by acknowledging his shortcomings, and throwing himself on the Lord's mercies.
So, in His third question and in response to Peter, Jesus asked about phileo love rather than agape love. Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is being gracious to Peter. He is being kind to Peter. Peter has shown that agape love is beyond him; and, the same can be said for the other disciples. Agape love is beyond the ability of unregenerate sinners. But, it is not beyond the Savior of sinners. So, knowing that He alone is the agape lover of sinners, Jesus asks Peter about affection.
B Did you notice that Peter does not directly answer the Lord's questions:
-"Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
-"Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
-"Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Peter doesn't answer directly because he doesn't dare answer directly. After all, he failed to show agape love when he denied the Lord three times. Instead, Peter appeals to the Lord's knowledge. He appeals to the Lord's omniscience. Each time he answers with, "You know ... you know ... you know."
What can we say about the Lord's knowledge? Jesus knew ahead of time that Peter would deny Him before men (Jn 13:38). Jesus knows everyone's heart and what is in there. He knows what make us tick. He knows our innermost thoughts. Jesus knows. Jesus knows everything. He is omniscient. We see that with the fish, don't we?! After fishing all night, Peter and the other disciples didn't have a single fish. They caught nothing. Jesus appears on the scene and simply says, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish (Jn 21:6). The Jesus Who knows where the fish lie, also knows the lay of the heart.
But the knowledge of the Lord is not just facts. "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me ..." (Jn 10:14). How does He know His sheep? Because He has chosen them. He has picked them. He has selected them. Out of the entire human race He has lavished upon them His love.
"Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." We see that Peter throws himself upon the Lord's choosing love. "You know ... you know ... you know." No longer is it about Peter and his self-worth. No longer does Peter rely on himself. No longer is it about the greatness of Peter's love. Instead, it is all about Jesus. His love. His knowledge.
Again, you need to see yourself in Peter. Each of us need to come to the same place as Peter: in humility we need to throw ourselves upon the Lord and His mercy and His knowledge. Because we cannot find anything within ourselves to prove to the world that we love Him with a sacrificial love. We need Jesus. We need His love. We need His choosing and His grace.
III Three Callings
A This brings us to the three callings: "Feed my lambs." "Take care of my sheep." "Feed my sheep."
Peter had been fishing all night with the other disciples. But now he is going to be a shepherd. Fishing represents the old Peter, the pre-Jesus Peter. His old life. His old calling. Shepherding represents the new Peter. His new life. His new calling.
What is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying Peter is again the rock on whom He builds the church. Jesus is saying Peter is again an apostle and leader. Jesus is giving Peter a commission and a calling.
Jesus' conversation with Peter is happening in public. The other disciples were watching and listening and learning. Don't forget, they had failed the Lord after they too had boasted of their devotion (cf Mt 26:35). They watch and listen and learn. They hear Jesus' questions. They hear Peter's responses. They see and hear that a repentant Peter has been forgiven and restored.
B Notice the lambs. The little ones. The new in the faith. Beginning Christians.
Notice the sheep. The more mature in the faith. These have known the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ for a longer time.
Both the lambs and the more mature sheep need feeding and leading.
What is Peter's job? What is the job of the other disciples? What is the job of those in church office? "Feed my lambs." "Take care of my sheep." "Feed my sheep."
It is an awesome responsibility to be a shepherd of God's flock (1 Pet 5:2). There are enemies that want to destroy the flock, and the shepherd must be alert and courageous (Acts 20:28-35). By nature, sheep are ignorant and defenseless, and they need the protection and guidance of the shepherd. You brothers in church office, this is your job, your calling.
I want to especially highlight the lambs. They are the most defenseless. They are the most easily led astray. Be a wise and loving shepherd to the young. Guard them. Protect them. Watch over them. Love them with a self-sacrificing love – that is, with the love of Jesus Himself.
I've been talking to those in church office. But it is also true that each individual Christian must help to care for the flock. Each of us has a gift or gifts from the Lord, and we should use what He has given us to help protect and perfect the flock. Sheep are prone to wander, and we must look after each other and encourage one another.
C Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11), the Great Shepherd (Heb 13:20–21), and the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet 5:4). The Greek word for "sheep" at the end of verse 17 means "dear sheep." Our Lord’s sheep are dear to Him and He wants those in church office to love them and care for them personally and lovingly.
D Now, I want you to notice the sequence: Peter can care for the sheep only after he has been humbled and forgiven. Peter can care for the sheep only after he has thrown himself on the Lord's mercies. Peter can care for the sheep only when he stops relying on himself and relies, instead, upon the Lord. Peter can care for the sheep only when he looks to Jesus instead of himself.
That's the biggest requirement for those who look after the sheep. Know that a sacrificing and giving love begins with Jesus. Know your love is always lacking. Know that there is no room for pride in self or dependence on self. Know that to serve you need to repent and throw yourself upon Jesus. You cannot minister to others, brothers, when you are burdened by your own sin.
"Do you love me?" "Do you have an agape love for me?" We know how it ended for Peter, don't we?! The Peter who denied the Lord in the courtyard ended up dying for the Lord on a cross (Jn 21:18-19). So how does the story end? By the grace of Jesus and by the power of His Spirit, Peter did have an agape love, a sacrificing love, for the Lord.
Does it end this way for you too -- whether you are in or out of office? Do you have the love for Jesus that Jesus has for you?
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