What Does Love Require?
When it comes to Easter Sunday, many preachers are lured to the same Resurrection accounts. Many preach on Mary Magdalene's initial despair and subsequent astonishment as she is the first to see the Resurrected Christ. Many preach on Peter's first encounter with the empty tomb. And, of course, many preach on Thomas and his initial doubts regarding the reality of Christ's Resurrection.
Many preacher's commit themselves to presenting sparkling arguments on Easter Sunday, arguments that they hope will prove to the skeptics once and for all, that Jesus is indeed risen from the dead.
I refuse, at least this Easter Sunday, to engage in Resurrection apologetics. What I will say, however, is this: Good Friday is by no means "good" without the Resurrection. As the apostle Paul has said in 1Corinthians 15:17, "if Christ is not raised, your faith is worthless; and you are still in your sins". The reality is that Christianity collapses without the Resurrection. As Paul would say, if Christ is not raised "we are, of all men, most to be pitied"(1Cor. 15:19).
But we are not to be pitied. Christ has indeed risen from the dead. Jesus' 11 remaining disciples were so convinced of this reality that 10 of them were executed for proclaiming this very conviction. Jesus Christ is alive today, and He sits at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus Christ, who is alive today, loves us. What He requires of us, is that we love Him back. And we read about the call to love Jesus in today's text, John, chapter 21.
Let's be honest here. Life is complex. Life is busy. And because our life is so complex and because our life is so busy, we tend to lose site of the bottom line. For the Christian, the bottom line for our life is to love Jesus Christ.
We lose site of the bottom line, partly because we are so busy, but also partly because we live in a world with so many options. We live in a world where we have a plethora of choices.
People today, worry about what kind of food they eat, what kind of exercise program to choose, what kind of clothes to wear, what kind of education they will pursue, what kind of car they will drive, what kind of recreation they will engage in, and this list goes on.
So what is the problem? The problem is that the church has got meshed into our massive list of choices. Going to church, serving the church, has become as optional as choosing to go for brunch, as optional as choosing to watch TV, as optional as choosing to play golf. We have lost sight of the non-optional nature of our devotion to Christ.
If someone were to ask us, we would not hesitate to say that we love Christ. When we are in church, we enthusiastically sing about how much we love Christ. But the question is: Does our day-to-day life reflect our claims to love Jesus Christ?
Too often, we end up loving Christ the same may we love playing hockey, or the same way we love inviting friends over for dinner--we happily do these things, but only when we have the time and the opportunity.
The goal of this sermon, as you can see, is to help us re-focus on our attention on, and our devotion to, Jesus Christ. In light of His sacrificial death for us, in light of His life-giving Resurrection; what does God require of us? This very question is asked and answered in Deuteronomy, chapter 10, verses 12 and 13: "what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the Lord's commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?".
The Lord requires that we love and obey Him, but notice the last sentence of Deut. 10:13--loving and obeying the Lord is "for your (own) good". We are called to love Jesus Christ, but when we do that, we are the ones who benefit. I realize that few of us intentionally choose to disobey Christ. It is not that we consciously choose not to be committed to Him, it is just that we, too often, get diverted.
In John, chapter 21, we see that Peter has, once again, diverted from following Christ. To appreciate what transpires in John 21, it is necessary that we recall the instructions of Jesus to His disciples in Matthew 28. In Matthew 28, the Resurrected Christ appears to the disciples and instructs them to go to Galilee(Mt. 28:10). Not too difficult--Jesus simply says "go to Galilee and sit on this mountain and I'll meet you there"(Mt. 28:16).
If one were to read Matthew 28 without John 21 one might get the impression that Jesus arrives immediately on the scene in Galilee, but this is not the case. When we are reading Matthew 28, we should all scribble this note after verse 16: "Go and read John 21". For what we have in John 21 fits chronologically between verses 16 and 18 of Matthew 28.
In Matthew 28:16, we understand that the disciples were to go to Galilee, sit on a mountain, and wait for Jesus. In John 21, we read that the disciples do go to Galilee, but evidently, they get tired of waiting for Jesus. For in verse 3, Peter says to the other disciples, "I am going fishing". Tired of sitting on a mountain doing nothing, Peter decides he has "things to do" so he resolves to go fishing and the rest of the disciples give in and join him.
It is amazing to read in this same verse that the disciples didn't catch a single fish. Keep in mind that the Sea of Galilee was the sea that Peter had fished in his entire life. If anyone knew the Sea of Galilee, if anyone knew the swimming patterns of the fish, it was Peter. Yet, the text says "they caught nothing".
Peter disobeys a simple instruction to go sit on a hill and wait. His priorities got messed up. Rather than wait patiently for Jesus, Peter becomes more concerned about being productive. Yet, as Christ often does when we go astray, He prevents Peter from being productive.
Now Jesus doesn't cause us to fail so He can say, "I told you so"; Jesus causes us to fail to demonstrate that true success comes only from Him. We read that Jesus called to the disciples from the shore(v.4). The disciples did not recognize Jesus at the time and we read that they were about one hundred yards from the shore(v.8). Jesus instructs them to "cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat" and promises that they will catch fish(v.6).
And catch fish they did! They caught so many fish that they struggled to haul them in. This, of course, was a scene familiar to the disciples(Lk. 5:4), and so we read that the disciple "whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord'"(v.7). When Peter heard this, he put on his outer garment, dove into the sea, and anxiously made his way to shore.
Keep in mind the chronic disobedience of Peter here. Peter has once again failed Jesus, but here he is swimming towards Jesus. And how does Jesus respond? Does Jesus respond with a sharp rebuke, "I told you to wait for Me on the hill!". No, Jesus did not respond harshly. Rather than greet the disobedient disciples on shore with a whip, Jesus meets them on shore with breakfast(v.12). "Come and have breakfast", Jesus says(v.12), and He proceeds to serve them bread and fish(v.13).
There is a lesson here for us. When we fail Christ, when we fail to devote ourselves wholly to Him, do we hurry back to be restored? Or when we fail to fully devote ourselves to Christ do we throw up our arms and complain that we are "too busy"?
The issue for the Christian is not whether we fail, but whether we return to Christ after we have failed. And this passage should encourage that kind of repentance since we see that Jesus does not wait for us with a whip, but He waits for us with "breakfast". The good news of Easter is that we worship a Resurrected Saviour who initiates restoration.
Peter, who has disobeyed Jesus countless times, and who has denied Jesus publicly 3 times, gets a new start. Jesus presents Peter with yet another opportunity to prove his love for Him. "When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?' Peter replied, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to Peter, 'Feed My lambs.' Jesus said to Peter a second time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' Peter replied, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to Peter, "Shepherd My sheep.' Jesus said to Peter the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him a third time, "Do you love Me?' And Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to Peter, 'Feed My sheep.'"(v.15-17).
This is a fascinating discourse, and what transpires cannot be fully appreciated in the English translation. The Greek word Jesus uses for love has a much different meaning than the Greek word Peter uses. Jesus uses a common Greek word for love, agapao, while Peter uses the word, phileo, which means "to be a friend".
Jesus begins by saying, 'Peter do you agapao Me?'--'do you love Me?'. Peter's response is 'Lord; You know that I phileo You'-- 'You know that I like You a lot'. Jesus asks again, 'Peter do you agapao Me?'--'do you love Me?'. Again, Peter's response is the same, 'Lord; You know that I phileo You'--'You know that I like You a lot'.
But in the last question Jesus puts to Peter He says, 'Peter do you phileo Me?'--that is, Jesus questions whether Peter even likes Jesus a lot. Peter's grieved response then, is not because Jesus asked him the same question 3 times; Peter is grieved because "Jesus said to him the third time, 'Do you phileo Me?". Peter had failed and disobeyed Jesus so often and so significantly, that Jesus questioned whether Peter even 'liked Him a lot'.
Could the same question be asked of us? I wonder if our actions, I wonder if our attitude, I wonder if our level of commitment demonstrates that we truly love Jesus Christ. Or do our actions, does our attitude, does our level of commitment, cause others to question whether we even 'like Jesus a lot'?
Jesus was asking Peter if he loved Him, and then He proceeded to tell him precisely what that love required. Love requires obedience. Love requires unwavering commitment. Love means not running off fishing when there are sheep to be fed. Peter, like many of us, was preoccupied with material things, but Jesus wanted him to prioritize his spiritual obligations. Jesus wanted him to prioritize his obligation to feed and shepherd Christians.
Jesus is calling us the same way He called Peter. On Good Friday, Jesus demonstrated His love for us by submitting Himself to be nailed on a cross for our sins. But now, Christ is Resurrected. Christ has demonstrated His love for us and now He wants to know if you love Him. And if you love Christ, you must place your commitment to Him above all of your earthly commitments.
Leave behind your failures of the past. You have, like Peter, the opportunity to start over with a clean slate. The time to repent and to re-commit yourself to Christ is now. And I assure you, Christ is waiting for you--not with a whip or a rebuke, but with 'breakfast'. Amen.