Do you love Jesus?
So Jesus had met his disciples by the Sea of Galilee and had provided breakfast for them and helped them find a bumper catch of fish to sell at the markets to support themselves. But the deeper message was one of trust and providence. An even deeper understanding was then required to be communicated to the disciples. What was to be expected of them? John was the eye witness of what happened next.
Jesus said to Peter do you truly love me more than these? The more probable meaning of this was do you love me more than these valuable fish, these nets and this fishing boat and your lifestyle as a fisherman? Do you love me more than your sense of self dependence, personal independence, being in control of your own life? That is the first and most elementary step in the Christian life. That you give up your life and time to Jesus Christ, to love and serve him and trust in him for all that you are, all your responsibilities and all of your future. That is a spiritual transaction that takes place and results in a dedicated, committed and surrendered life. Have you made that first step?
The words of Judson de Venter's hymn express this well.
All to Jesus I surrender; All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live.
I surrender all, I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Saviour, I surrender all.
Peter replies in a kind of matter of fact way. Yes Lord, you know I love you. Jesus had asked Do you truly love me. Peter did not reply Yes – I truly love you. He only said Yes you know I love you. Then why was Jesus asking if he already knew. Love and true love are not the same thing. Being a Christian and being a true Christian are not the same thing. Peter did not fully realise what is was going to cost him to truly love Jesus. What Jesus wanted of him was more than he wanted to give or was prepared to give at that moment.
Jesus then gave Peter a command. Feed my lambs. The fisherman was to become a shepherd – of human lives, of people, of souls, of the new Christians who were soon to be. Did Jesus mean this literally? Was Peter to be the provider of food for the members of the infant Church? Peter was to look after and care for the followers of Jesus. It must have meant both physical and spiritual caring, shepherding, pastoring. That was a big ask. Peter was to be the head of the new Christian family – an awesome calling. Why did Jesus describe his people as lambs? Was it because they were to be like him, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? Was it because they would become sacrificial lambs themselves, some of them, many of them – suffering and dying for Christ and for their Christian Faith? It was an expression of innocence in a harsh and brutal world. Peter was to be their protection – their strong man – without violence – but trusting in God's favour and providence.
There was an interesting discussion in some of the London newspapers recently about the fears of Christians in Britain today. It was being said that Christians are fearful of mentioning their Christianity. The idea was that fundamentalism associated on one hand with Islam and its violence and on the other with Christian creationism which suggests that the world is only a few thousand years old was discouraging middle of the road Church going people from talking about God and confessing the name of Jesus Christ for fear of being ridiculed, mocked or insulted. There is no doubt that enmity towards Christianity is more voluble today than it has been for some time. There is a definite distancing of Christianity from the centre of political life at national, regional and local levels. The Scotsman and The Herald newspapers do not deal with Christian issues in any way comparable with The Telegraph and The Times.
Alex Salmond has made no claims that Scotland is still a Christian country and there is most obviously no intention of any political party in Scotland to seek to create a Christian commonwealth in the future. So have Christians in this land become lambs? Are we innocents abroad? Are we in danger from our hostile surroundings? Maybe we are and we just don't realise it because we do not think that way. We don't think sufficiently of ourselves as truly loving Jesus, of being serious Christians.
Jesus asked Peter the same question again and Peter gave him exactly the same answer. Jesus commanded him Take care of my sheep. Was this the grown ups, spiritually speaking, the other disciples, the women who had faithfully followed Jesus, the camp followers on the fringes who made up the larger circle of first Christians? Probably. You care for my people, said Jesus to Peter. I need you to do this. Jesus asked Peter a third time the same question. This time, Peter became exasperated and hurt. He was suffering from Jesus penetrating interrogation. Jesus was getting through to him, past his nominal replies into more serious and deeper personal space. But Peter’s reply was just the same. Jesus – you know everything – you know I love you. Jesus commanded him Feed my sheep.
Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep. Peter had made a three fold affirmation of his devotion to Jesus and thus was mentally and spiritually cleansed from his three fold denial at the time of Jesus' arrest. This is called catharsis. It is a Greek word and means cleansing. More technically today catharsis means the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, a psychotherapy that
encourages or permits the discharge of pentup emotions so as to result in the alleviation of symptoms or thepermanent relief of the condition. Jesus was healing Peter's mind and memory to liberate him for the rest of his life from the burden of his failure as a disciple so that he could be an effective leader and apostle. Jesus' confrontation with Peter was not a comfortable experience for Peter but it helped him. We have phrases such as 'clearing the air', 'things needed to be said' and 'putting it all on the table'. Instead of avoiding issues, we need to confront them. The danger is that people react negatively and fall out and things become even worse. In congregations there are undercurrents and hidden agendas. There are disguised enmities and there is passive resistance and non-cooperation. Our worship should be, can be and often is cathartic. This is our release. We bring our frustrations and disappointments and our own sense of low self esteem and failure and miraculously we are uplifted and restored by the very power of the Living Lord who loves us, cares for us, feeds us and shepherds us faithfully and continually. How many suffering souls are there out there who do not give themselves the chance of such healing and peace?
Jesus then fronted up with Peter about what his profession of love for Jesus would mean for him later in life. That he would suffer as Jesus himself had done. And he looked him in the eye and said Follow me. The Bible is about real people with faults and failings just like ours. But God called them into his service and made them significant people. The Bible is honest and it is honest here. Having received this large calling and commission and having been told that he Peter would share in the sufferings of his Lord, Peter then asked Jesus what was going to happen to John. Still the rivalry. Still the jealousy. Even at such an intense and momentous moment, Peter remained ordinary man with ordinary motives. You all know how in family life if one child gets a present and another does not – or – since they are incredibly alert – if one gets a present of less value than the other – they make an issue of it. We know that sibling jealousies can last into adulthood and throughout life. We know of social and friendship rivalries which have edges to them. There is even competitiveness among ministers of the Church. Peter was no different. Is John to suffer like you and me? He was asking. Is John's calling as great as mine?
Jesus rebuked Peter and indicated that John would not suffer the same way but would live to be an old man. Records show that John lived to be 82 years of age. Peter as you know, died in the persecution of Nero probably about 64 AD at the same time as Paul, though he, being a Roman citizen was spared crucifixion and was simply beheaded.
Do you love Jesus? He is not I think asking you or me to be crucified or to give up our lives necessarily just for him. But he is asking more of us than we are giving, more than we want to give, more than we ever thought we'd have to give. Above all, he is asking us to stop pretending, to stop hand wringing, stop shedding crocodile tears, stop false worrying – and trust and obey him in the little he asks of us.
Well – do you love Jesus?