A Heart-to-Heart with the Risen Jesus (John 21:15-19)
Topic: John Passage: John 21:15–21:19
A Heart-to-Heart with the Risen Jesus
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
March 27th, 2016
I. Awe-Inspiring or Aloof
We don't necessarily have a lot of preconceived ideas about what resurrected people are like, do we? That's not a category any of us ever has to deal with...ever. People from other countries? Maybe. People who always think they're right? Definitely. People older or younger than us? Regularly. But people who have been raised from the dead? Never.
Therefore, when we come to the claims of Christianity, when we are confronted with the message of the New Testament, when we push past the bunnies, eggs, and days off work and zero in on the true meaning of Easter, I would expect us tp be interested in what the resurrected Jesus is really like.
If we were to put that question to the writings we call the New Testament, most of which we're written by eye-witnesses of the resurrected Jesus, we learn a whole host of things: we learn how the risen Jesus can appear inside rooms without going through the door (John 20:19), how the risen Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God in power” by his resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4), how the resurrected Jesus has “the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18), how he's “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent (that is, that he might have first place)” (Colossians 1:18), how Jesus told Mary, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17), and how the risen Jesus has been given “all authority in heaven and earth” (Matthew 28:18).
If we only knew these things, we might...we might think of the resurrected as truly awe-inspiring, but also aloof? Exalted, yes, but maybe exalted so high we have become nothing but tiny ants far below.
II. The Passage: "Do You Love Me?" (21:15-19)
But let me reassure you this morning, this is not at all true. Is the risen Jesus awe-inspiring? Yes! He is aloof? No way. Just listen to this story from John 21. Turn there if you would: John 21:15-19. This is one of the accounts the Apostle John preserves for us about what Jesus said and did after his resurrection. Follow along and consider what this passage tells about what THIS resurrected person is like:
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.”  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.”  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.  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Did you hear what happened there? The risen Jesus, the Son of God who holds the keys of Death and Hades, who was given all authority in heaven and earth...he's having a heart-to-heart with Peter, right there on the beach. Now, lest we think this very personal moment is so personal it has nothing to do with us, let's spend some time talking about what this story tells us about the heart and agenda of the resurrected Christ.
I think based on what Jesus has already said throughout the Gospel of John, how He has worked with a variety of people, in light of what the rest of the NT goes on to tell us about the heart of Jesus, and in light of the astounding fact that the risen Jesus is still risen, the fact He is alive and well today, right now, in light of all this, I believe what we see here tells us...
1. Jesus Wants to Talk About What Happened with My Heart
That's certainly how Peter would (and maybe one day will) describe this conversation. How do we know that? Well, there are certain clues in this passage that clearly point us to another story in the Gospel of John. One clue is actually found in verse 9 of this chapter, where John mentions how the disciples saw “a charcoal fire” there on the beach. There is only one other place in this Gospel, only one other place in the entire NT that mentions a fire like this.
The other clue has to do with the structure of the conversation between Jesus and Peter. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Clearly, this upsets Peter, as we see in verse 17. But it must also leave many readers scratching their heads. Why does Jesus keep asking Peter this question?
Well the answer that connects both these clues is found in John 18:15-27. You may remember the night Jesus was arrested, only hours before his crucifixion, Peter was in the courtyard of the High Priest's residence, just outside where Jesus was being interrogated. And in that courtyard he was warming himself by...a charcoal fire. And in that courtyard, sadly, but just as Jesus predicted, Peter denied knowing Jesus...not once but three times. How many times did Jesus ask Peter if he loved him? That's right, three.
I think Peter understood this connection between the present fire and this present morning and that fire and that morning when the rooster crowed just as Jesus predicted, that morning when Peter's shame hung heavy around his neck. I think this is part of why he is “grieved” in verse 17. Maybe upon realizing what was happening, he told himself, “Jesus wants to talk about what happened with my heart”.
But the risen Jesus is still risen, isn't He? And he still wants to talk with men and women about what happened with their hearts. This morning, the resurrected Christ, through his Spirit, wants you to see your past through His lens. He wants you and me to acknowledge the fact that like Peter, we have walked in fear and not faith.
Peter's denial of Jesus was not unique. All of us would have done the same thing because all of us have done the same thing. We have compromised and put our own skin before God's will. The details might have been specific, but the heart is the same; it's the one we all suffer with. It's what the Bible calls sin.
But there's something else here. We also see how this passage reveals that...
2. Jesus Wants to Talk About What is Happening with My Heart
The questions Jesus asks Peter serve to not only remind Peter of his past. They are also meant to get Peter thinking very clearly, very deliberately about the current condition of his heart.
Did you notice how the question is slightly different the first time Jesus issues it in verse 15? He asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (that is, more than these other disciples). Why would Jesus express it like that? Well, a clue might be found in verse 7 of this same chapter. When the miraculous catch of fish confirmed the identity of the man on the beach as Jesus, we read...When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.
This wasn't the first time Peter had seen a miraculous catch of fish by Jesus' command, and it wasn't the first time Peter had jumped out a boat to get to Jesus. But when he gets to the shore, Jesus wants to make sure that his swim to shore has not puffed up his head. You see, the Gospels tell us how Peter often tried to set himself apart; how he, on more than one occasion, acted as if he were THE disciple of all disciples.
So in light of his past failures, and in light of the temptations that still might trip him up, three Jesus asks the most important God could ask us, “Do you love me?” Jesus of course knows the answer. It's Peter who needs this conversation.
We also need this question put to us. And the resurrected Jesus still asks it...in fact, many, many, many times throughout the day. As we are enticed by the world's pleasures and possessions, as we are tempted by the call of fleshly prestige, position, and power, Jesus is always asking, “Do you love me?” As fallen, gripped, stubborn, rebellious, sinful human beings, we give our hearts away to so many things. But such attempts are always futile. Why? Because our hearts were made for God.
And so even this morning Jesus is asking us this question, “Do you love me?” We must come to grips with what HAS happened with our hearts. But that should always lead us to what IS happening, with the very present reality of our desperate need; with our need to respond to the love of God in Jesus. Many, many years later, Peter would rejoice over those who answered that very question in the positive, who placed their faith in the risen Jesus:
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,  obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:8-9)
But there's one more thing we need to see here. This passage also reveals...
3. Jesus Wants to Talk About What Will Happen with My Heart
The response of Jesus to Peter's response to the three questions is always the same, although expressed in slightly different language: (v. 15) “feed my lambs”, (v. 16) “tend my sheep”, and (v. 17) “feed my sheep”.
We might expect Jesus to not respond until the last question, and maybe then to say something like, “I know, deep down in that fisherman's heart you really do love me, Peter.” But instead, he responds with a command. But why? Well, if Jesus has talked to him about what happened with his heart, AND about what IS happening with his heart, then this command is all about what will or should happen with his heart.
Jesus is in essence saying, “Peter, if you love me (and I know you do), then in humility, get your eyes off yourself and do what I taught you to do, do what I exemplified for you, do the very thing I called you to do: love people; care for them; have a heart like my heart; care for what I care so deeply for. Truly live for me, not just the version of faith that's all about you.”
The risen Jesus, who is in fact at work even now, still responds with commands. As with
Peter, He always wants to talk with me about WILL happen with my heart; about what my profession of faith and confession of love for Him will really, really look like. Not surprisingly, his command is summed up in the central command of a master or teacher to his disciple; it's the command we find in verse 19: And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Did you know that everyone who truly loves Jesus follows Jesus? Perfectly? No. Passionately? Not always. Persistently? Absolutely.
Jesus knows your heart, just like he knew Peter's. He knew that in spite the struggles, in his heart-of-hearts, Peter truly loved him. He knew the crucible Peter endured after denying Jesus those three times really had, by the grace of God, changed him. It had set him on a new path. How do we know he knew this. Because in verse 18, he tells Peter about where that path will lead:
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)
In his later years, Peter's path would end in martyrdom. His love for Jesus Christ would be proven, it would be abundantly evident in dying for the One who died for him.
Jesus knows your heart as well. And he knows the path your on. He knows where it will lead.
III. This Easter and After Breakfast
So what have we seen this morning? What has this post-resurrection story about Jesus shown us? How is God speaking to you...and me? First and foremost, I hope you see that the resurrected Jesus is not some ethereal, mysterious, aloof being who sits in heaven just chomping at the bit to come back and reward the religious while destroying the disobedient.
He is coming back. And He will judge. But right now, right now the heart of the risen Jesus is to have a heart-to-heart with you...just like He had with Peter.
He cares deeply about what happened, is happening, and will happen with your heart. He knows that apart from him, apart from the cross where He suffered for our sins, apart from the empty tomb where he defeated death, apart for His offer of forgiveness and new life, what happened and is happening with our sin-sick hearts will determine what will happen.
But maybe, just maybe, this whole episode Peter comes across as some kind of guilt trip and interrogation. Maybe the love of Jesus is not coming through loud and clear. If that's the case, I don't want you to miss, God doesn't want you to miss the opening words of this passage, opening words that tell us something wonderful about the setting for this heart-to-heart between Jesus and Peter. Look again at verse 15...When they had finished breakfast...
Sounds kind of mundane, doesn't it? But look back at verse 4 of this chapter and listen to the whole story:
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.”  He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.  That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.  The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.  When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread.  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”  So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, the firstborn from the dead, victor over the grave, keeper of the keys of Death and Hades, the Author of life...made them breakfast. Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that amazing? Doesn't that make you want to shout and cheer? Why? Because it is one more reminder, one more affirmation, that God loves and takes care of His people; that Jesus can and wants to provide for all our needs.
He doesn't just speak to our hearts. First, he fills our stomachs. His love was evident in both his meal for Peter and his message for Peter. As John revealed earlier in this same book, truly Jesus Christ is “the bread of life”.
Raise your hand if you ate breakfast this morning, even if it was just a banana. You see, like Peter, he wants to reminds you that was His gift to you; that it was Him who has provided everything you have ever needed to make it right here, to the place where He wants to talk to you about your heart.
This Easter we must see Jesus as awe-inspiring. How could we not. He did what no one else has done or could ever do. He defeated death. But we should also be in awe of His love, love that cares about your heart. Ready to talk to the risen Jesus? He's more than ready to talk with you about what matters most.
More in Easter Messages
April 5, 2015Easter and the End of the World (Revelation 1:17, 18)
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April 20, 2014ReLife: Where It Comes From (Romans 6:1-7)