The following is the Monday evening sermon during the 2022 Biennial Convention by Pastor Brandon Pangman. You can also watch a video of the sermon at the end of this article.
Imagine that you are sitting across from Jesus, and he asks you this question: “Do you love me?” How would you respond?
There is an awkwardness to being asked a simple question that I know the answer to, when the person who’s asking me the question also knows the answer. I sit back and wonder, “Why are they asking me this? Are they trying to trick me? Is there more to the question?” My heart begins to race. My mind starts to wander, starts to go through all the possibilities, because I don’t want to get something wrong. I don’t like to get answers wrong, especially if it might be embarrassing to me.
Jesus liked to ask a lot of questions. And not only that, when someone asked him a question, he would answer with another question!
According to Google, the Gospels record Jesus asking 307 questions. He’s looking to see the heart of human beings. He’s looking to see what they’re thinking, and how people will respond to him.
We’re looking at the same question that Jesus asked Peter three times, and we’re going to see Peter’s response. But more important than Peter’s response is Jesus’ reply to Peter’s words.
JOHN 21:15-19 (ESV)
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.”
Jesus simplifies something that we make so complicated. Most people would link multiplication to people coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
But how does a church grow? Starbucks coffee and donuts are cool, and you can get me to come to events by offering me free food. But that’s not multiplication. Multiplication is giving person after person, neighbor, friend, family member, and stranger, something that you already have and believe. That’s the gospel. In this text, we see Jesus simplify multiplication.
They had finished having breakfast. Jesus looks over at Simon Peter and says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” It’s a familiar text, but imagine that you swap Peter out of the text and allow yourself to be sitting across from Jesus. How would you answer?
We see Jesus looking at a friend, a brother, someone Jesus loves. And Jesus says, “Do you love me more than these?” Notice the word “these.” Who or what are “these” that Jesus is talking about? Some people think that he refers to the other disciples. Some say that “these” means these things—this moment, being with the disciples, the fishing, the eating, breaking the bread. But I think there is an even bigger picture here. Just a few verses earlier, Peter was fishing with six other disciples, and they’d caught nothing. Then Jesus delivered them a haul, as Peter and the others were blessed with 153 large fish.
This is where my sinful heart imagines being back on the boat. You’re on the water, surrounded by buddies, doing what you’ve grown up doing. You just crush the morning catch. Then it’s off to the market to sell these fish, to make some good money. And in my mind, this is “these.” It’s the simpler life. It’s the opposite of multiplication. When you’re in the boat, there are only six other people. “These” is less people. And that means less problems in life.
People who go fishing enjoy catching fish, but ask them how they’re doing, even on a day without a catch, and they’ll still say, “It’s okay. Because I got away.” Peter is coming off some hurts in life. His Savior didn’t do things the way he wanted. His Savior was beaten before his eyes. Then Peter denied his Savior. His Savior was crucified. And now Jesus is about to call Peter to go and tend his sheep.
I’m not saying he’s abandoning his call, but Peter’s in a place where he’s hurting. And life on the boat seems just a little bit easier.
Jesus is calling Peter to get off the boat again. “Peter, do you love me more than these?” Jesus goes on to ask this of Peter two more times. Each time Peter confesses his love for Jesus, and Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep.” Jesus is calling Peter into mission, to partner in the gospel. He’s telling Peter that the qualification has been met. “Do you love me?” “Yes.” “Great, feed my sheep.” That’s it. That’s the qualification.
This doesn’t mean, “You say you love me, so prove it.” It’s simply, “You say you love me. Now go and proclaim it.” We are called to proclaim the good news, to tell the world of the saving grace that Jesus Christ has poured out onto us. Jesus is calling people to come and be fishers of men all over again.
My favorite parable is the Sower and the Seed. The man scatters seed—he’s just throwing it everywhere. He’s giving it away. And that’s what Christ is calling us to, to proclaim the gospel to a lost world, to our neighbors, our loved ones, our coworkers, the lady in the grocery store, the boy walking down the street.
As Christians, we are called to proclaim Jesus Christ through the darkness, through the sin of the heart of mankind. And when we preach those words, they permeate the heart and the mind and the soul of that person. And then we leave it up to the Holy Spirit. And we pray, “Lord, make that seed grow in them.”
Jesus redeemed us from the darkest of all places. Do you believe that? Through the preaching of the gospel, hearts and minds and souls are changed because of the Savior.
We don’t naturally love the adulterer. We don’t naturally love the drunkard. We don’t naturally love the person who wears baggy pants and listens to rap music too loud, or who steals from us, or lives next to us and doesn’t cut their grass, or has three dead cars parked in their driveway.
We don’t love the gay person, the Democrat, the Republican, the racist, the person who had an abortion. Do you want me to go on? All these labels are ways to excuse ourselves from loving people. And we put up this blockade against them. But God loves them, and God loves us. That is the heart of God. He has a heart for the broken, because we are his children.
Look at the three questions that Jesus asked Peter. Nowhere does it say “Simon, son of John, do you love them?” This is a hard calling, but Jesus is saying, “Out of the love that you have for me, go and tend my sheep.”
Church of the Lutheran Brethren, do you love Jesus?
Then tend his sheep.
Rev. Brandon Pangman is Pastor of Emmaus Road Church in DeWitt, Iowa.