It’s hard to believe, but today we will finish our study of the Gospel of John. Our very first study, the introduction to the Gospel of John, was on Sunday, March 10, 2013. That’s just crazy isn’t it?! It has taken us almost 4.5 years to get through our study, but I have to tell you that I’ve never learned more or been more amazed, and in awe, of Jesus. I’ve never been more convinced that Jesus is who He claimed to be, that His saving grace is for all who will trust in Him, and that He calls us to follow Him with absolute commitment into a broken world to share His story of reconciliation and saving power. I sincerely hope that you have learned, grown in your walk with the Lord, and had your faith deepened as we’ve studied God’s Word together.

Today is our last day of studying John’s Gospel. Last Sunday we began our study of John 21 as we read about Peter telling some of the other disciples, “I’m going fishing!” Peter had failed Jesus by denying that he even knew Jesus when the chips were down. He didn’t deny Jesus just once, he denied Him three times. Peter knew what he had done, it wasn’t a mistake, it was a miserable failure on his part and after the third denial we read,

75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75 NIVO)

Peter was shaking he was crying so hard. What had he done? How could he have done it? How would he ever wipe the horrible memory from his mind? And then Jesus appeared to Peter. Jesus was alive, but there’s no evidence that Jesus addressed what Peter had done until we come to our Scripture for this morning.

John tells us Peter and some of the disciples moved from Jerusalem to the Sea of Galilee and Peter said, “I’m going fishing!” He wasn’t killing time, he was turning back. While Peter and his friends were wrapping up a night of fishing, with not one fish on the stringer by the way, Jesus appeared to them on the shore. He said, “Cast your nets on the other side of the boat.” When they threw out their nets they were instantly filled to the breaking point. John said, “It’s the Lord!” Peter jumped in the water and swam to the shore while the other disciples made their way in the boat dragging the fish behind them. Let’s pick up the story by turning to John 21:15 and reading together.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” 20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” 24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. 25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:15-25 NIVO)

When Peter and the disciples reached the shore they noticed that Jesus had already prepared some fish and bread for them. Jesus fed His disciples and then He turned His attention to Peter. Did you notice how Jesus addressed Peter? He called him “Simon.” Simon was his old name, it was Jesus who gave him the name “Cephas” or “Peter.” It was Simon’s brother, Andrew, who first heard about Jesus. He, in turn, told his brother and took him to Jesus. We can read about it in John 1:42.

42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:42 NIVO)

“Peter” means, “Rock,” but Jesus didn’t call him “Rock” at this point in his life, Jesus called him “Simon.” John Stott writes,

Note that Jesus does not address him as Peter, the rock, for he had failed to live up to that name. Jesus is facing Peter with his own limitations so that he might entrust himself in a new way to Christ’s leadership. Simon on his own will always be Simon. He has no capacity to rise beyond that. But Simon trusting in Jesus is Peter-the-rock, from whose witness and leadership the church will receive its earliest foundation. (Stott, John. The Message of John. pg. 316)

Jesus doesn’t discount our sin. He doesn’t dismiss our failures. He wants to confront us with the sin that is destroying us. He wants us to see it for what it is, examine it, own it, and only then will He forgive us, completely forgive us, and restore us to a right relationship with Himself and others.

I want to take you to John 21:15 and show you something amazing that I learned this week. Read along with me.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15 NIVO)

Jesus asked Simon Peter the question, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”  There has been a lot of discussion through the years about what Jesus meant by “…more than these?”  There are three possibilities. First, did Jesus say those words while waving His hand over the boat, nets, and fishing gear that Peter had gone back to in his time of crisis? “Peter, do you love me more than your job? Do you love me more than what makes you happy? Do you love me more than what gives you definition as a person?” Secondly, did Jesus say those words while looking around at the other disciples who were gathered there? “Do you love me more than you love your friends, the people you hang out with, more than you love your fishing buddies?”  The third option goes like this: “Peter do you love me more than these other disciples love me?”

Several of the Bible teachers I’ve read this past week have narrowed those three options down to the one they think best fits the scene, but I think there’s value is examining all three. How would you answer Jesus if He asked you, “Do you love me more than you love your profession?” It’s easy to answer “Yes! Of course!” but if following Jesus conflicts with what you are given to do in your work, would you walk away? Is your identity, your reason for being, rooted in who you are in the office or is your identity in Christ alone? How about the second scenario? Do I love Jesus more than I love my friends or my family? Is their approval more important to me than living out Jesus’ call on my life? Do I seek the approval of people more than I seek the approval of God? Those are powerful, very important questions for you and me to ask of ourselves. Let’s move on, how about the third scenario? “Peter, do you really love Me more than these other disciples love Me?” Now that’s an interesting question for Peter considering the things he had said before he denied he knew Jesus. Turn with me to Mark 14:27-29.

27 “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: ” ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” (Mark 14:27-29 NIVO)

Do you know what’s really interesting? Each of the four Gospels record Peter’s denials of Jesus. Neither Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John swept Peter’s denials under the carpet. Nobody said, “Let’s give him a pass.” And now, at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus said, “Peter, do you really love me more than these guys love me?” Ouch! Jesus asked Peter the same question, “Do you truly love me?” again in verse 16, and a third time in verse 17. Three times. And how many times did Peter deny that he knew Jesus? That’s right, three times. Peter learned that no matter how horrific our sin may be, no matter how covered in shame we find ourselves, God is more than willing to forgive us, cleanse us, and use us in His service. Rita Snowden wrote, in her book, “I Believe In The Dawn,”

You ask me what forgiveness means; it is the wonder of being trusted again by God in the place where I disgraced Him. (Snowden, Rita. “I Believe In The Dawn.”)

Peter discovered the glorious, unimaginable forgiveness of Jesus. We don’t forgive like Jesus forgives my friend. We would have never let Peter forget what he did if we had been in Jesus’ shoes. Jesus went to Peter at the Sea of Galilee for the purpose of forgiving him, but Jesus had bigger plans for Peter than merely to forgive him.

I want you to notice each of the three places where Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me?”  Peter answered Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus asked Peter three times. Peter answered Jesus three times. Then Jesus responded to Peter each time with a follow-up response, “Feed My lambs” (vs. 15), “Take care of My sheep” (vs. 16), and “Feed My sheep” (vs. 17).  The word “feed,” which is found in vs. 15 and vs. 17, is the Greek word, “?????” (bosko), it’s a verb, in the present tense, which let Peter know he was to continously feed Jesus’ lambs or sheep.  This Greek word is taken from the fields, from the profession of the herdsmen who tended to, cared for, protected, and fed their sheep. Jesus forgave Peter, but He didn’t simply forgive Him so Peter could be free from the guilt and shame. Jesus forgave Peter and commanded Him to be about His business, to carry on Jesus’ work.

Jesus’ calling Peter to be a shepherd and to feed His sheep is a totally different task than what Peter knew as a fisherman. Fisherman hunt fish. Shepherds protect sheep. Fish don’t need fisherman, as a matter of fact they do everything they can to avoid fisherman. Sheep need a shepherd, they can’t live for too long in a hostile environment without a shepherd to look after them. Fish feed the fisherman, but shepherds feed the sheep. Jesus’ words were chiseled into the heart and mind of Simon Peter. For the next 30 years he cared for Jesus’ sheep, taught them, protected them, counseled them, corrected them, and loved them. Thirty years after Jesus met Peter on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and spoke these powerful words to him, Peter wrote,

1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers– not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:1-4 NIVO)

Did you hear that? “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care…” Down in verse 4, Peter calls Jesus the “Chief Shepherd.”  Every follower of Jesus would do themselves a service to be reminded of these two truths daily. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. If you are a follower of Jesus then you are a shepherd of those He has placed under your care, in your circle of influence. You are not “my” sheep. Britton Christian Church is not “my” church. You are Jesus’ sheep and this is His church. I’ve been called to care for, feed, and love each of you in the same way the Chief Shepherd cares for, feeds, and loves you. Those the Lord has led into your life are not there for you to use for your advantage. They have been brought into your life for you to shepherd them like the Chief Shepherd cares for you.

Jesus said, “Feed My sheep.” We can be fed any number of things, but our greatest need is to be fed the Word of God. Not just read it, but study it, meditate upon it, and apply it to our daily lives. There are many activities that go on here at Britton Christian Church, but the foundation of them all is the teaching of God’s Word. This is our greatest need, our greatest resource, our nourishment and lifeblood. Peter wrote,

2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3 NIVO)

There’s one more thing I want to make sure we talk about before we leave here this morning. Take a look at John 21:18-22 with me.

18 I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” 20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:18-22 NIVO)

We can guess what Jesus meant when He asked Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” but there’s no question what Jesus meant in this section of John 21. John tells us Jesus was letting Peter know what kind of death he would experience in the future. Then Jesus said, “Follow Me!” I love Simon Peter. I can relate to him so easily. When Jesus said, “Follow Me!” Peter looked around, saw John, the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” and said, “What about him?” Can any of you relate to Peter’s response? Let me create a scenario for you and see if you can make a connection. You find yourself going through an agonizing trial. You’ve prayed and prayed, but there doesn’t seem to be any relief, any change, in sight. Your mind suddenly is filled with thoughts of, “Why me? Why am I going through this? Why does James or Joanna or Dana have such an easy life?” Or, something wonderful happens in your friend’s life and you are secretly jealous and wonder why nothing good ever happens to you? Have you ever thought those kinds of thoughts? Isn’t that the same line of thinking as Simon Peter? I think so and I am guilty as charged.

I get to talk to lots of people who are going through difficult times and I tell them, “You’ve got to stay in your lane. Don’t compare what you are going through to those around you. Don’t allow your mind to deceive you into believing that everyone else has got it made and you’ve been given a raw deal. Stay in your lane, keep your eyes focused on Jesus, not your circumstance, and trust God to give you the grace you need to make it through this day.” I’ve given that advice so often I can recite it in my sleep, but when trouble comes my way, I have to follow the truth I’ve shared with others. It doesn’t come naturally to me, it’s not second nature. Jesus says, “It’s none of your business what is going on in other’s lives, you must follow Me!”  

I love what John Piper says about this section of God’s Word because there is pressure in the ministry to perform, to grow the church into a megachurch, to be the talk of the town, and I’ve not achieved any of those things. Comparing myself to other pastors or our church to other churches can be deadly. I guess I’m not the only pastor to have ever struggled with this because Pastor Piper writes,

Jesus’ blunt words—“None of your business, follow me”—are sweet to my ears. They are liberating from the depressing bondage of fatal comparing. Sometimes when I scan the ads in Christianity Today (all ten thousand of them), I get discouraged. Not as much as I used to twenty-five years ago. But still I find this avalanche of ministry suggestions oppressing. Book after book, conference after conference, DVD after DVD—telling me how to succeed in ministry. And all of them quietly delivering the message that I am not making it. Worship could be better. Preaching could be better. Evangelism could be better. Pastoral care could be better. Youth ministry could be better. Missions could be better. And here is what works. Buy this. Go here. Go there. Do it this way. So I was refreshed by Jesus’ blunt word to me (and you): “What is that to you? You follow me!” Peter had just heard a very hard word. You will die—painfully. His first thought was comparison. What about John? If I have to suffer, will he have to suffer? If my ministry ends like that, will his end like that? If I don’t get to live a long life of fruitful ministry, will he get to? (Piper, John. What is That to You? You Follow Me!)

The overwhelming impulse we pastors feel to compare ourselves to others is an impulse all of us experience in some form or another. You may be a mom who compares herself to one of the moms you know who seems to have it all together while you feel like you are coming apart at the seams. You may be breaking your neck to do a good job at work and you haven’t gotten a raise or promotion in years while it seems like everyone around you just keeps climbing the ladder. You may be a high school athlete who has worked harder than you’ve ever worked before and the coach doesn’t seem to even know your name. You may have decided to get serious about your relationship with the Lord, but it seems like you take two steps forward and one step back each and every day while your friend seems destined for sainthood. The scenarios are endless, but the result is the same: comparing ourselves to others will drain the life out of us. Comparing ourselves to others will discourage us from continuing to be faithful to what Jesus has called us to do. Please, please hear Jesus’ words to Peter, “You follow Me!”

We must close this study but before we do I have to urge you, plead with you, to hear Jesus’ words spoken to Peter as His words spoken to you…”You follow Me!” Are you doing that? Have you asked Jesus to forgive you of your sin? Have you surrendered your life to Jesus? Have you said, “Lord, I will follow you no matter what?” If not, then I want to urge this morning to do that right now before you leave this sanctuary.

Mike Hays

Britton Christian Church

August 20, 2017

“Follow Me!”
John 21:15-25
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