John 21:1-9

“Do you love me?” This question is asked in almost every human heart. We all have a deep need to feel loved and to know we’re loved. We need to hear that we’re loved.

“Do you love me” can be a painful question for us to be asked, especially when it comes from those with whom we are close. It implies we have not communicated our love very well. When a wife asks a husband, or a child asks a parent this question, it’s painful.

I am reminded of a funny story I heard about a Scandinavian couple named Ole and Lena.

Scandinavians are not exactly known to be very demonstrative. Well, Ole and Lena had been married forty years, and Lena was barely surviving on a starvation diet of affection from Ole.

One day she broke down at the dinner table and said, “Ole, do you love me?”

Ole responded sternly, “Lena, when we were married, I told you I loved you. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

Poor Lena. ☺

“Do you love me” is a question being asked by Jesus in today’s story. It was early morning a few days after Jesus had shown the disciples that He was resurrected from the dead. Seven of the disciples had been out on a fishing trip all night. A misty fog hovered over the waters as they headed toward shore with no fish to show for their efforts. They had gotten skunked. Suddenly they saw this figure. Someone was standing on shore and shouted out to them, “Catch any fish, boys?”

“No, they responded. Then He told them to throw their net on the right side of the boat and they would get some fish. Surprisingly, they did! The next thing they knew, the net was full of big fish, and they were having trouble hauling it in.

John, who liked to call himself “the one whom Jesus loves,” said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” Peter immediately jumped out of the boat and swam to shore on his own leaving the others behind with a huge catch of fish. He’s in a rush to get to Jesus.

When they got to the beach, they saw Jesus who was cooking fish and bread over a fire. “Bring some of your fish and let’s eat breakfast together,” Jesus said. They sat with Jesus around the charcoal fire quietly eating breakfast, but they didn’t dare ask Him Who are you? for they knew it was Him.

It strikes me as odd that they’d even want to ask the question for they had already encountered Him twice since the empty tomb, according to John’s Gospel. He was obviously transformed physically in some way after the resurrection.

Then came Jesus’ question to Peter – and not once, but three times.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

The first two times Peter responded, “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.”

After the third time, Peter was grieved. “You know everything! You know that I love you.” I wonder, if something was coming back to him as he smelled that charcoal fire. He was being asked this question in front of everyone else. It’s like he had been in this place before. It was uncomfortable.

Notice also, three times Jesus also gives a commission, an important job, to Peter. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” In other words, Take care of my Church and bring others who are not yet in the kingdom of God so they might know Me and be rescued for eternity.

It is important to notice of what is actually happening in this scene. Peter, you remember, denied knowing Jesus three times as he stood around the charcoal fire in the high priest’s courtyard the dark Thursday night when Jesus was arrested and stood trial. A rooster crowed after the third time, just as Jesus had predicted.

Now Peter stands among the other disciples and three times he is publicly asked, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter replies, “Yes,” and Jesus gives him an important ministry to carry out as a disciple. An absolution is, in fact, taking place. Peter is receiving forgiveness and grace as he is given a second chance and restored into the community of disciples.

I think it was Max Lucado who entitled a chapter about the story in one of his books with these words: “The Lord of the Second Chance.” It’s true, Jesus is that. But He is not just Lord of the second chance, but also Lord of the third and the fourth and the fifth and sixth and seventh chance as well. His mercy is freely given to us when we let Him down.

At this outdoor breakfast meeting, we see Peter receiving restoration, forgiveness, and a very meaningful job – preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. He will be pastoring the people whom the Lord wants to rescue. He will be watching over them and nurturing them into becoming effective disciples of Christ.

Jesus concluded the conversation with a prediction that must have caused Peter and the others to take a big anxious gulp. The future would not be easy, Peter is told. Jesus said it this way: “I tell you the truth (this is what’s going to happen).” He describes Peter’s own crucifixion, which will glorify God.

Then came the words Peter had heard three years before when it all started for him with Jesus: “Follow me.” It’s in the present imperative, meaning, Keep on following me, no matter what – even if there’s a cross. Spend the rest of your days following me daily. Be willing to ultimately sacrifice your life to bring glory to God.

As we know from the New Testament, Peter faithfully did just that. He did not do it perfectly. He was constantly being faced with his shortcomings – sinfulness and pride – as we all are. Like us, he was a saint and a sinner who still had much to learn about kingdom living. Yet God used Peter in a mighty way as He filled him with the promised Holy Spirit of God and let him loose on a surprised world. What an impact Peter made for Jesus Christ!

As a follower of Jesus. I find this story to be both relieving and challenging. Let me explain . . .

I find that I let Jesus down frequently, in a variety of creative ways. However, as with Peter, undeserved forgiveness from Jesus awaits me. For instance, each time I have a time of confession, I am reminded that, although I profess love for Jesus and promise to love my neighbor, I don’t do a very good job of showing love. Like Peter, I can be self-serving, afraid, prideful, lacking in faith, looking out for my own safety and survival. The truth is, I am a mess before a holy, perfect, righteous God.

But it’s not the end for me – or for you for that matter. Just like Peter in our story, I find absolution – words of forgiveness made possible by the cross of Christ where my sins were paid for once and for all. I have the assurance that I still belong to Jesus and to His Church. He loves me, weak and sinful person I am. Awe. I find such freedom and relief in this absolution! Thank you Jesus.

I am also recommissioned and reminded that I have been redeemed by God for a purpose, just like Peter. I have been given the privilege to once again do important, meaningful work that matters – kingdom-of-God work. I will work to bring the Good News of Jesus to others around me beginning with my children, my grandchildren, my friends, others in my family and those with whom I work. I am considered “on call” for Jesus, to go public for Him. I will let my light shine before others showing love and kindness, then put in a good word of where that love and kindness is coming from: Jesus working in me.

This story holds good news for you and me. Jesus doesn’t give up on us. When we fail Him as His disciples, He forgives us and continues to call us His own. He counts on us to carry out the ministry. He has forgiven us right where we are.

I’d like to get personal with you as Jesus did that morning with Peter.

Do you love Him?

I’m not asking if you like Him or admire Him or are a fan, or feel warm fuzzies toward Him. I’m asking if you love Him to the place where you would sacrifice anything for Him.

Is He your all in all?

Will you follow Him, serve Him, and do His will? Because friends, He loves you! He died on a cross and rose again to pay for your sins and purchase a place in heaven for you. That’s how far His love goes.

If you do love Him, His word to you this day is, Go, do something about it. Because love is more than words and feelings; love DOES. You are surrounded by people who need what Jesus has to offer. He is counting on you to do something to make this life-giving connection happen. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer