Christ Still Asks: “Do You Love Me?” 4/20/97

John 21: 1 – 17
Page 1590 Come Alive Bible

JESUS CHRIST often endures our embarrassing abuse, denial, and betrayal only to come back compassionately to restore us to an even more meaningful love relationship with Him.

On the eve of His crucifixion His disciples showed no staying power when pressure was applied by the accusing Romans who came to arrest Him in Gethsemane. They became instant mutineers. They betrayed, denied, and abandoned Him. They were a disgrace to their declared devotion as they fled for their lives.

Before we become too condemning we would do well to review our own record. When was the last time you passed the test of stick-a-bility? Has there been a social setting when Christ’s modern day accusers were so in control of the moment that you, feeling the heat, betrayed Him? Have you been caught in a circumstance where you were the minority and rather than lose social or business acceptability you forsook Him? Has there been a time recently when you found it easier to be Politically Correct than Biblically right.

The disciples who deserted had made impressive prior commitments to Him. Only hours before, Peter said, “‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny you!’ And so said all the disciples” (Matthew 26: 35).

What a commitment! What a shallow commitment!

Commitment is essential in order to achieve anything. However, behind public commitment must be the personal resolve to fulfill the intent.

Commitment is the capacity to carry out the intent of a decision long after the emotion that inspired it has faded.

I have seen many make life-changing commitments. Some have made dramatic commitments resulting in radical lifestyle changes. I am inspired each week to look into a sea of faces of those who dare to be different – people of commitment.

I appeal to you not to refuse to make a wholehearted commitment to Christ because some do not live up to their commitments. Many do.

Others fail miserably and are motivated by their failure to renewed resolute commitment that changes them into becoming inflexibly faithful.

Let’s review the aftermath of the disciples’ disgraceful debacle in Gethsemane.

Peter, the bold spokesman for the group in the upper room, left Jerusalem after the crucifixion and went back home to Galilee. Critics of the big fisherman say he gave up and quit. I am persuaded that was not true. The resurrected Christ told the women to whom He appeared to go tell the disciples that He was going before them into Galilee.

Where had Peter fished all of his life? Galilee! When Peter said, “I’m going fishing” what he was saying was, “I am going where Jesus said He would be.” Let’s pick up the drama at that stage. The account is full of illustrative and figurative details. Observe them with me and learn from them.

Fishing can be fulfilling or frustrating. The mother of two young children said to the 12 year old son, “Take your little sister down to the pond fishing.” Reluctantly, but obediently he did only to return a short time later with his little five year old sister. “Why didn’t you stay longer?” asked his mom, “did your little sister make too much noise?” “No,” he said, “there was no need to stay after she ate the bait.”

It helps to get the mood and mentality of the moment in order to understand the event. The disciples had fished all night without catching anything. An unsuccessful fisherman is not a happy camper. There is only one thing more frustrating to a devoted fisherman than not catching anything and that is being embarrassed by being asked if you caught anything. Here they were, casting their nets and mumbling about their miserable state when someone on shore shouts a question: “Have you caught anything?”

Doubtless with a bit of colorful negativism the response was, “Nothing.”

Then the shore side stranger gives them instructions of what to do. “Cast your net on the right side of the ship…” (John 21:6). Some must have thought, “Wise guy. If you know so much about where they are, why aren’t you out here catching them?”

Doubtless there was a moment of deja vu. Where had they heard that before? Right here on the same sea at a happier moment Christ had given them the same instruction and it worked. Again they tried it and caught so many fish in their net they could hardly pull it in and were fearful it would break, it was so full.

Then it dawned on Peter who that was on the shore. Though it was impossible by human standards, it was Christ. The resurrected Lord was actually there with them.

Peter was the first to recognize him. Strange as it may seem to us, they were, in accordance with the custom of the day, fishing nude. Peter threw his cloak around himself and jumped in and started to swim toward Christ. Imagine the exhilaration of the moment. Christ who died was now alive. Peter’s mind began to hyperventilate.

“This is the Christ I saw feed the five thousand on these shores. This is my Lord who walked on these waters. This is the Jesus who healed along the banks of these waters. Here He, this very one, stilled the storm with only a verbal command. This is the Christ — the Christ — the Christ I denied three times.” At this point his approach to Christ must have slowed.

Finally, Peter and the other disciples, who had in Gethsemane formed a post graduate class in failure, gathered on the shore with Christ. Then there was – – –

Now let’s begin to observe various parts of the interchange and see their significance.

Jesus said, “unto them, come and dine” (Vs. 12). The expression “unto them” is dative of advantage, meaning it was to their advantage to do as invited. Whatever Christ asks us to do is always to our advantage.

In the Greek text, “come” is a participle of exhortation. It was the strongest word of instruction He could use.

It is plural and thus the invitation was to all the disciples.

The appeal to “dine” is in the imperative mood, noting it as a command.

It is aorist tense, inferring it was to have future results.

The active voice stresses that each must do it for himself.

These same principles are inherent in all of Christ’s invitations to us.

In the AKJ verse 12 reads, “And none of the disciples durst ask Him, who are you?” “Durst” is old English for “dared.” They knew it was Christ.

There is significant symbolism in the menu.

Christ had a fire built (Vs. 9). Biblically, fire always spoke of judgment. Jesus pictorially walked to the fire, typifying the fact He, too, was their, our, judgment on Calvary.

Ultimate destiny is something most think about often and dismiss immediately under the guise there is plenty of time to deal with that later. Tomorrow! Today, it the Holy Spirits word.

We can deal with Christ now as our Advocate, that is the One who before the eternal tribunal will determine our destiny. Or we can reject Him and stand before Him in that moment as our Adversary.

“He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

If you want proof of Christ serving as the Judge of destiny the celebrated resurrection is that proof.

I had conversation with a Universalists recently. That is a person who believes people are given a second chance after death to be saved. He spoke warmly of God’s prevailing grace that has no end. I marvel over and rejoice in God’s grace. However, Universalism denies God’s justice which is as much a part of His nature as grace.

From a Biblical standpoint our eternal destiny is defined by God’s grace in time only for “…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Bread was provided by Christ. Bread had always symbolized basic provisions. Christ “gave” it to them. This is emblematic of His provisions for us. His provisions make us operative.

Fish were also provided. Fish were a longstanding symbol of productivity.

Judgment always comes first. The fire was foremost.

Next, He provides provisions that enable us to act. He makes our productivity possible.

Sitting there, the eyes of Jesus and Peter must have given darting glances to one another. It is hard to face our disgraces. Finally, their vision met and locked on and Jesus spoke, “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love Me more than these?” (Vs. 15). “These?” “These” what? Speculation varies as to what the reference might have been. Perhaps it was a reference to – – –

Nearby, Peter’s fishing fleet rocked idly on the sea. They represented considerable wealth. A gesture toward them might have accompanied the question.

Never has the Christian community had greater cause to ponder this question. Our blessings are abundant. It is OK to have material possessions. Wealth is enabled by God. The question relates to priorities. Do we love Him more than the things He gives us?

Though we are citizens of a progressive society, we must not forget that paganism is often progressive. There are certain basic perils of progressive paganism: MATERIALISM, SCIENTISM, SENSUALISM, SOCIALISM, AGNOSTICISM, AND PANTHEISM.

Christ’s question might have related to loving Him more than other people love Him. Peter had boasted earlier of loving Christ more than the others. At Christ’s arrest they had deserted Him.

Do you love Him more than that?

There is a slight twist to this that needs application. The question might have referred to loving Him more than we love other people. Often, approving of Jesus means being disapproved by other people. Ouch, that hurts.

Many Christians live with the attitude: “I came, I saw, I concurred.” Capitulation is not a becoming characteristic of Christianity.

If loving Jesus gets you into hot water, be like the tea kettle — when up to its neck in hot water, it sings. Praise Him.

Now in consideration of the climax of this brief beach encounter, remember Peter had denied Christ three times.

John, the inspired penman who wrote this book, actually finished his account at the end of chapter 20. Then the Holy Spirit moved him to add this post script of chapter 21 to help us see the validity of a return and renewal of relationship with Christ as dramatized by Peter.

Jesus used the name “Simon.” It was his name before Jesus dubbed him “Peter,” the Rock. It indicated a stage of unbelief. It was a reference to Peter’s departure from fellowship.

Two words are used for “love” in this interchange. They have completely different meanings.

AGAPAO, is the Greek word for selfless love being issued from a pure motive. The prototype is God’s love for us.

PHILEO, is the word for brotherly love, fellowship.

To understand this interchange let’s use the Greek words. Got them? Agapao means selfless love. Phileo, means fellowship.

Jesus first asked Peter: “Do you agapao Me?” (Vs. 15). That is, “Do you keep on loving Me with a Divine type love?”

Peter responded, “Yes, I phileo You.” Meaning, “Yes, I am back in fellowship.”

Peter didn’t directly answer Christ question: “Do you have selfless love for Me?” Peter’s response was, “I have brotherly love for You.”

As though Peter had not heard correctly, Christ repeated the question. Peter’s response is the same.

Then Christ used Peter’s term for love and asked, “Do you phileo Me?’ That is, “Are you really back in fellowship?”

Peter’s use of the term “Lord” was the key. It implies submission and commitment.

In response to the three answers of Peter, Christ charged Him each time.

First Christ said, “feed my lambs.” This was an exhortation to minister to immature new converts.

The next two times Christ said “sheep.” Peter was to minister to mature and immature believers.

In His second response Christ actually said, “shepherd My sheep.”

The first and then the final time Christ said, “feed My sheep.” Food for His flock is the first and last need.

Shepherding (guarding) is the central action.

The third inquiry prompted Peter to say, “Lord, you know all things.” This is true. Why then did Christ question Him? To afford Him an opportunity to publicly profess His faith.

That is our reason for public invitations.

After this and other encounters with the resurrected Christ these cowering disciples became changed people. At the peril of their lives they went out and changed the world. Their transformed lives is one of the best proofs of the resurrection. People would not risk their lives to defend a lie or for that matter a disgraced dead man. He was alive and that gave their lives purpose. It does the same for people today.

He is Immanuel, God with us — daily. He still asks, “Do you love me?” What is your answer?