Do You Love Me?



JANUARY 8, 2006

As usual, all last week I had been thinking and praying about what message the Lord wanted me to bring to you folks this morning. As usual, all last week, our Sovereign Lord allowed me to experience severe demonic opposition which came in the form of troubling thoughts and distracting circumstances designed to thwart the crafting of my sermon.

This morning I’m beginning my message with a heart filled with thankfulness because He allowed me to recognize this spiritual assault. Sometimes it felt as though I was being repeatedly attacked by hornets that were swarming all over me. They certainly had my attention last week.

I’m also thankful for Him inclining me and then enabling me to passionately plead with Him in prayer. I asked Him for all the necessary wisdom and strength, not just to continue with my sermon but to go on the offensive. Finally, I’m once again grateful that He always provides whatever crucial backup support I asked Him for. For instance, I’m very appreciative of those brothers and sisters in Christ who persistently lift me up in prayer as well as I am of those holy angels He has assigned to watch over me.

Last week’s terrible West Virginia coal mining tragedy brought my thoughts back to my New Year’s message. Those of you who were here may recall that I reminded you of something the officers in Joshua’s army said to the people on the day they were going to cross over the Jordan River and fight to take possession of the Promised Land.

Among the many divinely inspired commands those officers told the people concerning their future is something we needed to remember as we enter into this New Year. “You have not passed this way before” (Joshua 3:4). Those Jews were destined to have unique experiences which were just ahead of them and so is each of us throughout this New Year. They were warned that they must follow all of God’s commands or else they would experience very painful consequences. It behooves you and me to take Gods commands seriously.

I couldn’t help also thinking about the man I mentioned last week. I would describe his as some sort of a perverted pagan who believes that everything that happens in the course of human history is controlled by a fiendish god in such a way that no human being is responsible for his or her behavior.

The man views all of us as being mere puppets compelled to either do the things we do or don’t do. The puppet master delights in destroying some, not all, he does have his favorites, but he enjoys destroying some of his human puppets and then watching the suffering and misery of their loved ones that are left behind.

I believe that without divine intervention, the coal mining tragedy would simply reinforce this angry man’s fatalistic beliefs. Less than twenty four hours into the New Year eleven human beings had their lives suddenly snuffed our and their loved ones are indeed suffering horrendous grief.

The fact that one man survived probably reinforced  this angry mans conviction that god does indeed have his favorite people puppets. Unless this man had a change of heart, I also have every reason to believe that if he accepted my invitation and attended our Christmas service, he would have become angry and tuned me out after the first five minutes or so of my Christmas story.

Anyway, these are some of the things I experienced and thought about as I was working on this morning’s sermon. I continued thinking and pleading with the Lord to show me in an unmistakable manner what spiritual truth He wanted me to share with you folks today. The thought that kept popping into my mind was an exchange that took place between Jesus and the Apostle Peter. It occurred after His resurrection at a surprise breakfast the Lord cooked for some of His followers on the beach of the Sea of Tiberius. They had just come ashore after fishing all night.

John 21:15-17 (ESV)
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

In essence Jesus is telling Peter that if he truly loved Him Peter would watch out for His sheep and feed them nourishment with solid spiritual truth. However, I would like to suggest that there’s much more here than meets the eye. Let’s consider some of it.

The Lord also wanted to teach Peter and the rest of them that Peter’s three time public denial was not something to be taken lightly. Jesus wanted to drive home that truth for the benefit of Peter and the rest of those men and now you and me today.

Are you able to visualize that early morning beach scene? There’s Peter and the rest of them sitting around the fire silently partaking of the most enjoyable breakfast he had ever experienced? This normally outspoken impulsive man ate in silence. They all did. Can you imagine the thoughts that had been flooding through their minds ever since the death and resurrection of Jesus? Its mind boggling isn’t it.

And so suddenly, Jesus breaks the silence. But not in the way they or you or I would have imagined. There was no “how are you guys doing”? Or “I’m sorry I put everyone through such grief but I had to do it because I love each one of you so much.” On the contrary, Jesus broke the silence by asking: “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?

Do you folks have any idea how Peter must have felt? I sincerely hope you do! It was Peter alone that Jesus put on the spot. The man was thoroughly ashamed of himself for what he had done. Everyone knew about his denials. He felt awful and would much rather have put the remembrance of his sin out of his mind and move on. Does that sound familiar?

But Jesus wouldn’t let Peter forget his past sins anymore than He does you and I whenever there is a need for us to be reminded of where we are coming from. By addressing Peter as Simon, his thoughts would immediately have gone back to that memorable day when his brother Andrew brought Peter to Jesus.

There are good reasons why we have to be reminded of where we are coming from. Isn’t it easier to overlook someone’s wrong and to forgive him or her for sinning against us, if we remember Jesus loving forgiveness of us? For instance, with the Lord’s help, and only with His help, it can be a piece of cake for us not to allow ourselves to get angry.

The extent of a sinners appreciation for the depth and richness of the Lord’s love and mercy towards  them, will always result in that person having a heart which sincerely struggles to be submissive to the leading of the Spirit of Jesus.  There is no way in which they won’t truly do everything they can to put a bridle on their tongue instead of passionately lashing out at a fellow sinner whenever they are tempted to do so. In fact, such a Spirit led sinner would almost rather somehow loose his or her ability to speak than to continue sinning in this manner.

One of the most heartfelt desires of someone who is closely following Jesus is to treat their neighbor with patience and gentleness. Such a grateful, gentle and humble heart delights whenever they follow their Master’s example. This is one on the reasons why, like Peter, you and I need to be reminded from time to time of where we are coming from.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” Peter answered.” It’s as if Peter said: “Lord you know all things. You know how ashamed I am for having denied you, not just once, but three times. You know how many times I have broken down and cried like a baby because of what I did. You know that I consider my denial that I knew you to be greater that all of my other sins combined.” And the other disciples are sitting there around the fire silently taking all of this in and thinking of their own past sins.

But do you love me more than these Peter? What or who do you think Jesus is speaking about? Do you think it’s the delicious fish breakfast Jesus cooked for them? Or could it be Peter’s fishing occupation that he loved so much? No! That repeated question would have jogged Peter’s memory about something he proudly boasted about concerning his fellow disciples on the night the Lord told them He was going to be betrayed. Listen to Peter:

“Even though “they” all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14: 29).

Mark 14:30-31 (ESV)
30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

Jesus taught those followers a priceless lesson at that special breakfast. And they all learned it. With the exception of John whom Jesus had previously said would not die before certain events took place, every one of Jesus Apostles allowed himself to be murdered rather than deny their Master.

Jesus forced each of those men to look closely at their past sins so they wouldn’t fall again. Sure they were uncomfortable at this exchange just as much as you and I are whenever we are reminded of our past sins. None of us want to hear about them any more. But, for our own good and His glory, there are times when we must.

All of us must be enlightened about the true depths of our own sinfulness. If we are not, we will be content to arrogantly con ourselves into believing that we are not as bad as most of our neighbors. The degree to which we can remember the hideousness of our own sins, the deeper will be our joyful appreciation for Christ’s love and forgiveness of them.

Do you love me Simon Peter? Do you love me Simon Peter? Do you love me Simon Peter? It seems as though the thing Jesus is most interested in is Peter’s love for Him. Are you really sorry for what you have done Peter? Do you promise that, with My help Peter, you will truly struggle to overcome all future temptations to sin and to follow Me instead?

The first great commandment is to love God with all of our mind, and all of our heart and all of our soul and all of our strength. The second is that we love our neighbor just as we love ourselves. It goes without saying that there is no way that we can possibly truly love our neighbor if we don’t love God.

But how can someone possibly love God if he believes God is an evil fiendish puppet master? What is the only way in which someone can learn the truth about God’s love? You might say it’s by hearing the Word of God. But how can anyone hear something if they are not someplace where they will hear it?

Concerning this poor wretched man I spoke about earlier, I said that, “unless he had a change of heart, I have every reason to believe that if he accepted my invitation and attended our Christmas service, he would have become angry and tuned me out after the first five minutes or so of my Christmas story. I know that he would have left that service disappointed because he would have believed that I didn’t preach the Word of God.

This is another issue I have discussed with him many times over the years. He is convinced that although I allude to Scripture in my story, that’s all it is, just a story. To his way of understanding, the only Word of God are the actual words recorded in the Bible. Therefore, for the Word of God to be preached, those Bible verses must be quoted exclusively.

No matter how hard I tried to convince him that nowhere in the Bible is there a shred of evidence insisting that there is only one way to preach a Christian sermon, I kept striking out. It didn’t matter to this man that the divinely inspired authors of the Bible composed psalms, and sometimes gave vivid accounts of dreams and visions and historical events to communicate God’s Word.

Nor did my reminding him about a certain Man who communicated God’s Word by going all over the place telling stories such as the one about a kid that ran away from home and squandered his inheritance on wild women and booze, or about the poor guy who was mugged and left for dead and the equally fictitious man who gave a beautiful example of what love really is, or an apparently mentally challenged grape grower who devised a wacky way to pay his hired hands and lots of other stories.

I think we all would agree that the most important thing for this confused man to hear and learn about and then accept is God’s love for poor lost sinners such as him and you and me. But because he, and I’m sorry to say, even many Christian’s have been deceived into concocting an “accept no substitutes non existent seal of approval,” they are convinced that they couldn’t have heard God’s Word preached in our church on Christmas Morning through my story.[i] Allow me to share excerpts from an email I received from a close friend concerning my story.

I just got finished reading “A man who wanted to be like Jesus.”  This is beautiful!  There is one section that had me all choked up, it is when Todd is running through the snow clutching tightly his new bible that the pastor gave to him.  It is a beautiful picture of the power of God at work in the heart, Todd now has meaning and purpose for his life, and he is excited about living and learning about his Savior.

As ambassadors for Christ it is a blessing to see this miracle of regeneration transform peoples lives, it is also an inexpressible joy to experience the Love of Christ working in us and through us to the Glory of God our Father. The message you have written is saturated with this marvelous love.

My Christmas story was purposely designed to function like a stealth bomber, and to fly under the defenses of every one of those unsuspecting non-Christians who were here on Christmas morning and then suddenly drop its load right into their laps.[ii] Judging from the feedback I have received, the mission was accomplished. The rest is up to those non-Christians and God.

In closing I would like to remind you folks that every one of us has taste buds which are unique to each of us. For instance, some folks like scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast. Others prefer a couple of fried eggs over hard and plain white bread. The end result is that the same amount of nutrients is consumed for our body’s nourishment.

We also have spiritual taste buds which are unique to each of us. For instance, some Christians prefer sermons which are based on a verse by verse exposition of a particular Book of the Bible. Others prefer messages which are based on a particular topic. Then there are those who love to hear stories.

All I can say is so what! It’s not a big deal, unless we allow ourselves to be conned by Satan into believing that it is. The most important thing is that we consume spiritual nutrients to nourish our spirits. And that blessing can only come from hearing the Word of God communicated to us in a way that we can understand.

[1] I wish to acknowledge my appreciation to Robinson & Robinson for this idea in their work “It’s All In How You Tell It”.

[1] Ditto.

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