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LOVE JESUS; FEED HIS SHEEP

John 21:1-21:23
Key Verse: 21:15

Happy New Year! Many things have happened in our personal lives and God’s ministry last year, including our centre change. When God brought 46 people to this new centre, we were surprised. We have seen what we have not seen thus far. It was God’s encouragement and hope for us. He is a faithful God. Only he is reliable and trustworthy in this ever-changing world. And he is the God of hope and we can have hope and great vision because of him and according to his will. Striving to follow his leading and expecting great things from God, at this New Year Day we want to listen to him through this passage in John’s gospel. This is a forever beautiful conversation between Jesus and his top disciple Peter. We want to study this passage with the title “Love Jesus; feed his sheep.” This is a core teaching of the Bible for Christian life, and this is our direction for 2013. We ask God for his overflowing blessing on this direction.

First, “Do you love me?” In 21:1-14, Jesus restored Simon Peter from his failure by helping him to catch a great number of fish and invite him to an unexpected warm breakfast prepared by Jesus. Thus Jesus showed his unfailing love to Simon Peter. After this, what did Jesus do? Look at verse 15a. “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter ‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’” Jesus could have said after the restoration, “Now strengthen your brothers,” as he had said in Luke before predicting Peter’s denial, “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:32). When Jesus said, “Do you truly love me more than these?” it seemed that Jesus returned to the basic, the fundamental, the essential. Jesus once said that to love God is the first and greatest commandment (Mt 22:37). Loving God is human beings’ unspeakable privilege and divine obligation. The greatest commandment was given through Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” God himself did not directly say, “Love me, the LORD your God…” It is the command through his servant Moses.

But here Jesus said in the epilogue of John’s gospel, in the last chapter of the gospel story, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” Here we can think of who Jesus is. In John 20, after seeing the Risen Jesus, Thomas confessed, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28) And the author said in verse 12 of this chapter, “...None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” And John 1:3 says, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” He is God, the Lord and the Creator. This Jesus intervened in Simon Peter’s life three years before. It was when Peter reached his human limitation in despair and frustration. One day he worked hard all night but caught nothing. At that time Jesus came to him and helped him to make a great catch of wish. It was beyond his experience and human reason. Peter met God in Jesus and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8) But the Lord Jesus embraced him and gave him a new life direction as his disciple. In Jesus he could find the words of eternal life (Jn 6:68). He followed Jesus faithfully while many others left. Undoubtedly he loved Jesus, even saying, “Even if all fall away, I will not…Even if I have to die with you…” (Mk 14:29,31) Yet, it was based on his human loyalty and zeal. He also had a strong human ambition for the messianic kingdom he thought Jesus would establish. Anyway, his love for Jesus miserably failed when he denied Jesus three times against his wishes. Now Jesus asked him, “Do you truly love me more than these?” Here “love” is in Greek “ἀγαπᾷς” (pronunciation: ag-ap-ah’-o), which is translated to “truly love” in NIV. And Jesus said, “…more than these (do)?” This time Jesus demanded an absolute love, the foremost, exclusive, whole-hearted love. Jesus wanted to newly establish love relationship with Peter.

Jesus asked this question three times, saying again, “Do you truly love me?” and again, “Do you love me?” Why? Jesus’ speaking is always concise. He does not need repetition in his perfect speech. He once said to his disciples, “Who do you say I am” One time of the question is enough. But here the triple repetition of the question shows how important the question is. It seems that Jesus pressed Peter very hard. Yet, through this consecutive question, Jesus wanted Peter to be sure of his love for Jesus, even overriding three times of his past terrible denial of Jesus. We remember that when God’s love was doubted in the Garden of Eden, everything was broken. When Jesus asked again and again, Jesus wanted to establish love relationship with him, true and firm.

At the question Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He could not say, “Yes, Lord, I love you” emphatically like when he said, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” Yet, this was his sincere love confession, meaning, “You know my heart.” Again he said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” On the third time, though he was hurt, still he said, “Lord, you know all things; You know that I love you.” In this way Peter made a love confession to Jesus.

Here we can think of how Peter could make a sincere love confession. It was because this time he could accept Jesus’ love, which was unchanging and unfailing, particularly through the beach party at the Sea of Tiberias on that day. When he failed both as a disciple and a fisherman, Jesus did not abandon him or punish him. Rather, Jesus visited him and restored from his failure and embraced him with a warm heart. Then he could realize that Jesus’ love had been all along there in the whole path of his life with Jesus. Through this acceptance and realization of Jesus’ love he could make a love confession. Certainly, when Simon Peter made this love confession, this must have been God’s immeasurable grace to him. This confession was not based on himself, his good merits, but on God, that is, Jesus’ love. Before, he did not really accept Jesus’ love. His attitude was “I should serve my master always.” When Jesus wanted to wash his feet, at first he refused it, saying, “You shall never wash my feet” (Jn 13:8). He always thought that he had to do something for Jesus, even dying for him. Then the love relationship could not be established. Now when he accepted Jesus’ love for him, he could make a true and sincere love confession and so the love relationship would be truly and rightly established between Jesus and himself.

The beauty of human life is also in the love relationship between the two. If one tries to rule and control the other even with a good motive or one thinks, “I should always serve at the feet of my master,” the love relationship cannot be established. When one accepts the other’s love, sincere confession can be made and beautiful love relationship established.

When Franklin Roosevelt became ill in his legs and confined in wheel chair because of the incurable disease, he asked his wife Eleanor, “I became disabled. Do you still love me?” she said, “Did you think that I loved your legs only?” Franklin Roosevelt was greatly encouraged and could rise up from his adverse human condition to become 32nd president of America, four times elected. This is a beautiful story of the relationship between the two human beings. In most cases two people can love each other, when they are lovely and in a favourable human condition. But Jesus’ love is that he loved us while we were unlovely, ugly and wretched because of our sins. He loved us when we were disgusted with ourselves and could not love ourselves. He loved us when we were most helpless and hopeless and worthless before God. He loved us when we were enemies of God and dead in sin being separated from the living God. He loved us because we were desperately and urgently in the need of his love. Loving us was not an easy thing for him to do, because it required of his very life and the momentary separation and abandonment from the loving Father God. But he did it. He loved us first. His love is initiating, sacrificial, true, pure and absolute.

I was dead in sin, sin of legalism and fear and self-centredness and inner lust. My heart was legalistic and cold, and my hands were cold, and could not love any one. I did not know the world of love. Although my parents were sacrificial, I did not truly accept their love and appreciate it. I was independent and indifferent and inwardly proud in the family, not knowing affection even with humanly close ones. I was dead in sin, especially in terms of love. I was not lovable at all before and even people, but wretched and hopeless in the sight of God. But when I heard the words of God through Bible study, my soul could be alive and began to respond to God’s love in Jesus, especially through his death and resurrection. But I realize that building up the love relationship with Jesus was not easy because I did not come to him in repentant heart with my sins and confess that you are my Saviour at each time, but rather tried to do something for him. This kind of attitude was also shown in my relationship with my wife. Instead of saying, “I am sorry” I tried to make an excuse for my good intension. I did not simply accept her love, but rather tried to do service for her. But the Lord Jesus had been very patient with this sinner who was legalistic and with whom anyone could hardly establish love relationship. In his long-suffering and enduring love I began to open my eyes to see the world of love and the importance of establishing love relationship. Thank God for my Saviour Jesus who died on the cross for this senseless and unruly sinner, shedding his precious blood for all my sins. Thank Jesus who saved me from all the consequences of my sins, Satan’s fear and ruling and eternal condemnation. Lord, my Savour Jesus, I love you.

Confession before God and people matters. Romans 10:10 says, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Confession with mouth confirms one’s belief and love from the heart. Confession of love makes the love sure and blossom. It will be meaningful if we make a confession of love to our Lord Jesus at this New Year Day.

Here one more thing we should know that when we love Jesus, we become like him. John Pipe wrote in his book “The Pleasures of God” that he was so much inspired by the one sentence in the book “The Life of God in the Soul of Man” by Henry Scougal: “The worth and excellence of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” It is true that we become like the one we love and admire. Psalm 135:18 says, “Those who make them (idols that cannot speak, see and hear and have no breath in their mouths) will be like them, and so will all who trust in him.” I meet some students in campus who say, “I worship the devil.” Their honesty is good, but they will become like the devil. A loving couple resembles each other knowingly and unknowingly. Considerate parents want their children to have good friends and shun bad ones, not because of discrimination but because of the inevitable influence. St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.” And all parents are very much concerned about whom their children marry, because they will be influenced irresistibly by their spouses. It is completely true that we become like those whom we love and are associated with.” Whom we love with admiration is critical in our lives.

Human beings can love each other. But no human being is the true object of our love. Without God the human object of love becomes an idol, a snare and trap, however excellent he or she is. We are to love God to be truly free and happy. Paul said in Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” God’s calling and saving purpose of us sinners is that we may become like his Son. God revealed his delightfulness in his Son again and again in the gospel story: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17), “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight” (Mt 12:18), “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Mt 17:5). How wonderful it will be that all his redeemed people become like His beloved Son Jesus! This is truly God’s marvelous purpose for his people in this world.

Second, “Feed my lambs.” What is the evidence that one loves Jesus? Jesus said in John 14:21, “Whoever hers my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves…” Again he said 14:23, “…If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” Obedience to Jesus’ command is a clear sign that one loves Jesus. When Peter confessed his love for Jesus, Jesus gave him a specific command, “Feed my lambs”, “Take care of my sheep” and “Feed my sheep.” This command is given not to everyone, but the one who has made a confession of love. In other gospels, Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection, “…make disciples…” (Mt 28:19), “…Preach the good news…” (Mk 16:15). But here in John’s gospel Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Love relationship with Jesus is between Jesus and me. That’s right. But here we see that in the love relationship with Jesus something else is involved. It is feeding his sheep. According to Jesus the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt 22:37-38). The two together is the greatest commandment. In the Old Testament loving God and loving the neighbor cannot separated. In the same way in the New Testament loving Jesus and feeding his sheep cannot be separated.

Jesus came to this world to shepherd God’s flock of sheep. The LORD God said in Ezekiel, “My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them” (34:6). Then he said, “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them…I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land…I will tend them in a good pasture...There they will lie down in good grazing land, there they will feed in a rich pasture.” (34:11,13,14). Then the LORD said, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd” (34:23). At the right time Jesus came into this world as a shepherd and tended them. He tenderly and sacrificially took care of them until he gave life for them. Jesus once said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life or the sheep” (Jn 10:11).

At the beginning of the messianic ministry Jesus called his disciples. In calling them he had a clear purpose to raise them up as shepherds for God’s flock of sheep. Living with them in the world, Jesus showed them how to shepherd God’s flock of sheep. On one occasion Jesus went through all the towns and villages, preaching the good news of the kingdom. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:35-36). Another time Jesus saw many of hungry people, numbering 5000. They were like sheep without a shepherd. So he fed them with the words of God teaching them many things. Then he commanded his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” It was an impossible command to carry out. But Jesus wanted them to learn a shepherd heart for the people and feed them by depending on God. After the command, Jesus fed the 5000 hungry people with 5 loaves and 2 fish.

Now Jesus was leaving the world to go back to the Father in heaven. He could not take care of God’s flock of sheep any more. He knew that there were so many abandoned and scattered sheep of God’s own who are his. When a man was about to die, he said to his most loved and trustworthy friend, “Please, take care of my children as I leave this world.” Likewise, Jesus had to entrust his children in this world to the most trusted one, his top disciple Peter. Now it was the very time to reinstate Peter as a shepherd God’s flock of sheep, after restoring him from his failure and confirming his love for Jesus the Lord. He said to Peter, “Feed my lambs”, “take care of my sheep”, and “Feed my sheep.” Jesus never pressed someone like this to do a certain task. But Jesus did it this time, in saying the command. Raising Peter as a shepherd for God’s flock was very personal and solemn. When Jesus called Peter, Jesus gave him a clear promise of God: “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter) (Jn 1:42). When Peter made a confession of Christ, Jesus said, “...you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” (Mt 16:18). The promise of God upon Peter had to be fulfilled at the right time.

Since then God has raised shepherds for his flock of sheep in history. Again, one qualification of being a shepherd is loving Jesus. There are no human titles or degrees involved. The most important role of a shepherd is feeding. Sheep are to be fed in green pastures, being protected from poisonous weeds and herbs. In his prayer to God Jesus said how he raised his disciples: “…I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them” (Jn 17:8). Generally speaking, we can feed God’s flock of sheep by teaching the words of the Bible. But more specifically we can feed them with the words we have received from God. In other words a shepherd needs to prepare God’s word at each time to feed his flock of sheep. Feeding them is different from delivering certain knowledge or information. Our time is the time of the flood of information and there are many harmful teachings that poison young people’s minds. Only the words of God revive the soul (Ps 19:7) and offer them salvation and eternal life (2 Tim 3:15; Jn 6:68). All things in the world change but only the words of God stand forever (1 Peter 1:25).

When Jesus told his disciples about the end of the age, he taught them how to prepare for his returning, asking, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?” (Mt 24:45) Jesus wanted his disciples to be faithful and wise servants who can feed God’s flock of sheep their food at the proper time. This is the way to prepare for his coming again, not taking refuge in certain places. As for us we feed God’s flock of sheep through 1:1. It is very meaningful in this time of mass production. A pig can bear its young 10 or more or less at a time. But human birth is mostly one at a time. 1:1 is very meaningful and biblical. God reared one man Abraham for 25 years. Jesus labored to raise one person Peter as his top disciples. In John’s gospel Jesus’ encountering one specific person is written in many occasions. We believe that 1:1 is very precious and valuable in God’s sight. To begin 1:1 with an unknown person is to love that person first, as God loved us first. How beautiful it is to serve 1:1 until Jesus comes again or until the end of our lives!

Look at verses 18,19. “‘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.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow men!’” A shepherd life is to give up his or her human freedom to take care of God’s flock of sheep. Yet, it is a glorious life. According to a tradition Peter was crucified upside down, because he thought he would not deserve to be crucified in a right way. But his life was a truly glorious one as Jesus predicted. For this Jesus said, “Follow me.” A shepherd life is indeed to follow Jesus personally and learn of him and know him better and love him more and more.

Thank God for granting each of us this new year, 2013. In this year may we give more love to Jesus and feed his sheep one by one faithfully and sacrificially out of love for Jesus and thus our life glorify God.

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