Lovest Thou Me?




John 21:15-17

15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.


Two Southern gentlemen from Kentucky had a keen interest in horseracing and a keen rivalry. Each spring they both entered a horse in a local steeplechase. One of them thought that having a professional rider might give his horse an edge in the race, so he hired a hotshot jockey. Well, the day of the race finally came, and as usual, their two horses were leading the race right down to the last fence. However, that final fence was too much for both of the horses. Both of them fell, both riders were thrown, but that did not stop the professional jockey. He remounted quickly and easily won the race.

When he got back to the stable, he found the owner of the horse fuming with rage. The Jockey could not figure this. He asked, “What is the matter with you? I won the race, didn’t I?” The red-faced owner nodded, “Oh, yes, you won the race, but you won it on the wrong horse!”

That jockey had the best of intentions. He intended to win the race, but he made a bad decision, and, after that, things only got worse. Sometimes the same thing happens to our walk with Jesus. We want to succeed in the faith. We desire to be faithful followers of our Savior, yet, things go wrong and we go wrong.

I remember going to a conference in the Wesleyan Church when I was a young preacher. The oldest pastor in the district was introduced. He was in his 80’s. He gave his testimony. It went something like this, “I am a lay pastor of a small church which is getting smaller. I am not seminary trained. I failed out of college. I am divorced and remarried. At times people irritate me, and I hide from them. I am impulsive, which causes me to say things I should not and to make promises I cannot keep. I am inconsistent. My walk with Christ is a stuttering, stumbling, bumbling attempt to follow him. At times, the presence of Jesus is so real I cannot stop the tears, and then, without warning, I cannot seem to find Jesus anywhere. Some days my faith is strong, impenetrable, immovable, and some days my faith is weak, pathetic, helpless, knocked about like a paper cup floating on the ocean in the middle of a hurricane. I have been a Christian for 65 years. I am familiar with the vocabulary of faith, and people ask me to give advice about matters of faith, but I am still a mess. I am a flawed, clumsy, unstable follower of Jesus—a bona fide failer.”

How is that for a Christian testimony? As you can tell, it made an impression on me. I still remember it forty years later.

Have you ever felt like you let somebody down? A spouse, a boss, a team-mate; it’s not the best feeling in the world, especially when you had boasted how they could always depend upon you no matter what. You could be trusted; you would not let them down. but you did, but you did. That brings us to Peter.

In days immediately following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Peter was on an emotional roller coaster. He boasted that he would never leave Jesus, but when the temple police showed up in the garden to arrest Jesus, he ran like a scalded dog. Then his curiosity got the best of him, and he followed at a distance, close enough to see Jesus, but not to close to be seen with Jesus. That is kind of like a lot of people. They want to see Jesus, but not get too close.

And as Jesus was being tried in the kangaroo court of the High Priest, Peter stood outside and warmed himself by the fire. Three times he was recognized, three chances he had to say, "Yes I know Jesus, I am one of his disciples." But he did not say it. Three times he denied that he even knew this rabbi from Nazareth. And when the rooster crowed, scripture says, that Peter wept bitterly. He was a "bona fide failer."

Yet three days later, the women came with news of something astonishing. The tomb is empty, and then Jesus appeared to Peter and the others. I wonder what was going through Peter’s mind. Imagine it this way, suppose you have a good friend who is accused of a crime. You know she is innocent because she was with you at the time. Your testimony can save her, yet you are afraid to testify and even though your friend is counting on you, the day of the trial you are not there. Suppose further that your friend manages to beat the charges anyway. She wins her case, is freed by the court, and you meet her in the street later that day. You might be happy for your friend, but how is she going to feel toward you?

I think Peter was happy for Jesus, but he may have thought that any relationship he had with Jesus was forever damaged, perhaps destroyed. And we need to ask ourselves if we stand in Peter’s place. Have we betrayed Jesus? Have we damaged or destroyed our relationship with him? That is what sin does. It weakens our relationship with Jesus. When we sin, we wonder can God still love me after all that I have done. Is there still a place and purpose for me in His kingdom?

As we look back at the opening verse of chapter 21, we learn that the disciples had returned to the sea of Galilee, and they had gone back to their old job, but without much success. V3 says that “They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Then it says in vs. 5 that, he called out to them, "Friends, haven’t you any fish?" "No," they answered. He said, "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.”

Notice the similarities between Peter’s first calling to follow Jesus and this account. Both occurred on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; both times Peter could not catch a thing; both times Jesus told him to throw his nets into the water; both times there is a miraculous catch. It is almost as author of the gospel is replaying that first call of Peter, but this time it is a recall and a renewal. Jesus is going to offer Peter another starting point, a second chance to make things right.

To continue with the scripture, after a meal together, Jesus confronts Peter. I suspect that Peter was dreading this more than anything else in the world. He was in agony over his betrayal. He thought that Jesus would say, "Peter, why did you deny me?" Yet Jesus had too much compassion to push the knife of guilt any deeper into Peter’s heart.

So he said in v15, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” Notice the name change here. Jesus calls him Simon, not Peter. “Peter” means “rock” in Greek, and that title no longer fits. A rock is durable, constant, dependable; Peter is none of those things. "Simon, do you truly love me more than these?” More than what? The verse seems a little confusing, but Simon knows what Jesus means. Simon had boasted in the Upper Room that even if everyone else deserted Jesus, he would not, but then he ran, just like everyone else. Now Jesus asks, “Simon, are you still willing to make that claim?”

Simon was not. He responds by saying, “"You know that I love you," he makes no comparisons. He does not boast about his superior commitment. Maybe Simon through his mistake has learned humility. Maybe Simon knows that he is not Peter, not a rock.

Another minister was telling me about an uncle of his whom he did not like very much. It seems that the uncle had married a grieving widow for her money and the family was ashamed of him. Anyway, one day the uncle told my minister friend that he did not go to church because he did not need it. He said, “What is that preacher going to tell me that I already don’t know.” Well that is not the way to endear yourself to a preacher obviously.

But Simon had been like that. He knew it all. He knew what he would do and what he would not do. He was sure that he would never do what he did. Many of us are sure that we will never do what that other person did, but we never know. David never thought he would commit adultery; Solomon never thought he would worship idols; Peter never thought that he would deny Jesus. That is why 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, "If you think you are strong, you should be careful not to fall."

In these verses from the gospel of John, Simon is working through a muddle of emotions. Yes he has failed Jesus, and Yes he does love Jesus, and he is trying to work through that. He is being honest with himself. Maybe that is the first step. How often are we honest about our spiritual condition? Think back to that old preacher’s testimony that I said I remember after 40 years. I remember it primarily because I thought the man was completely honest. We all respect and admire honesty. We despise dishonesty. Certainly, dishonesty is a disaster to any relationship.

An aged farmer and his wife were leaning against the edge of their pigpen when the old woman wistfully recalled that the next week would mark their golden wedding anniversary. “Let’s have a party, Homer," she suggested. "Let’s kill a pig." The farmer scratched his grizzled head. "Gee, honey," he finally answered, "I don’t see why the pig should take the blame for something that happened fifty years ago." Honesty in relationships is important, but sometimes it is also difficult and it is easier to let things slide.

Take an example, husband and wife both have jobs. When she comes home, she gets together supper, helps the kids with their homework, straightens up the house, and tomorrow she gets to do that all over again. Sometimes she feels like screaming, but when her husband asks, “Honey, how are you doing?” Her response is “Fine, just fine.”

A man sits talking to his friend from out of town. He has been passed over for a promotion for the third time; his career has stalled, and with the company downsizing, he fears a layoff at any moment. Yet when his friend asks, “So, how are things at work?” He responds, “Fine, just fine.”

A Christian, as he enters the church on a Sunday morning, feels that God is a million miles away. He no longer has the urge to pray and he no longer hungers for God’s word. He has for weeks known that he has terminal cancer, and he is angry at God. He feels that God has betrayed him. Yet on Sunday morning, when the pastor asks the question, “How is it with your soul this morning?” the man replies, “Fine, just fine.”

Let me ask you, how is it with your soul this morning? Is it “fine”? Let us stop pretending. If your relationship with Christ is not fine, maybe you ought to say that. Moreover, let me add, it is okay to admit that. AA says that the first step in recovery is to admit you have a problem, to be honest about it, and here within this church, this is the place to say that.

The church is not a pretty place for pretty people; the church is a place of dirty, hurting people who need mercy and forgiveness. The purpose of church that we come together to help each other and draw closer to God, but we need to admit that we need that help.

Jesus says to us, do you love me. Maybe our honest response is, I am trying Lord, but I am not there yet. When we say that, Jesus says, “Good, now I can help you.” Three times Simon failed; three times he was restored. And now he is truly Peter, truly the Rock.

And these verses speak straight to us.

No matter how many times we have failed Jesus. Jesus is ready to forgive us. Jesus is ready to restore us and use us for his purpose. Remember that Paul persecuted the church and even participated in the murder of Stephen. He was a “bona fide failer.” Jesus restored him and he became a giant of the faith.

But in our verses today, we observe that Jesus offers a practical solution for Peter’s restoration. Feed my sheep. Take care of my people. Take care of my church. Do not just talk about how much you love me. Show how much you love me by your concern for my people. The same message applies to us. We are “bone fide failers” like that old pastor. Jesus forgives us, lifts us up, and then says to us, take care of the church. Be with my people, lift them up, comfort them, help them. He said it often, in so many words, If you love me, you will love each other. Let us show how much we love Jesus then, by loving each other.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last Modified: 05/02/13