Stephen Caswell © 2005
Strawberries & Cream
Sometimes things are better in pairs or threes. Bacon goes better with eggs. Strawberries are better with cream and meat pies need tomato sauce. So too in the Christian life, service needs to go together with love. One without the other is incomplete.
Believers are called to follow Jesus Christ. That’s what disciples do. Early in His ministry Jesus called some disciples to follow Him at the Sea of Galilee. They left their nets and followed the Lord for about 3 years. He taught them how disciples must live. At the close of Christ’s ministry on earth Jesus had a few last lessons to teach them. In John 21 we learn some important things about discipleship. We will see the marks of a disciple. The disciples learnt a lot about themselves and Christ their Master that morning on the beach. 1. Disciples Love Christ; 2. Disciples Serve Christ; 3. Disciples Follow Christ.
1. Disciples Love Christ
Love is the first mark of a disciple. In fact love is the greatest quality disciples share.
John 21:15: So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonah, 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.
After Jesus had provided breakfast for the disciples He publicly restored Peter to ministry. This was important since Peter was a leader in the early Church. Christ asked Peter if loved Him more than these. What were the these Jesus referred to?
1. Other Disciples: The DVD based on the Good News translation adds the word others implying the other disciples. The word other is not in the Greek text. Peter had promised to be faithful even if all others forsook the Lord; but then Peter denied Christ. Yet, how could Peter know if He loved the Lord more than the other disciples? Only God knew.
2. Fishing: Fishing had been his career until Jesus called him. In fact he went back to fishing again. This is the present continuous tense. I am going to keep fishing. After His failure Peter may have felt unworthy to serve Christ. Certainly he was returning to something he knew and loved. Did Jesus ask Peter if he loved Him more than his career?
3. Friends: Peter had some of his best mates on the beach that morning. They had spent many hours together fishing. Good friends are special. Peter enjoyed the company of his mates. Peter had gone back to fishing with His friends. He had forgotten His call to fish for men. Perhaps, Jesus asked Peter did He love Him more than his friends?
I think that 2 and 3 are the things Christ was referring to. Jesus wanted to know if Peter loved Him more than anything else. This included his career and his comrades. The Lord Jesus Christ wants first place in our lives. He wants us to love Him more than anything. Luke 14:26-27: If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. God doesn’t want us to hate our family, but to love them less than we love Him. The highest Christian love is not devotion to a work or to a cause, but to Jesus Christ. - Oswald Chambers. The thing that God wants more than anything else is your love. Do you love Christ more than your friends? Do you love Him more than your job? Do you love Him more than you family & possessions? Do you love me most? Peter replied, yes Lord you know I love You. When it came to the crunch, Peter loved Christ most. Do we?
John 21:16-17: He said to him again a second time, Simon, son of Jonah, 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 Jonah, 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 all things; You know that I love You. Jesus said to him, Feed My sheep.
Jesus didn’t leave it there. He asked Peter the same question 3 times. Peter do you love me. Why did the Lord do this? For a very good reason. Peter had publicly denied Christ around fire place in Jerusalem. He hadn’t been loyal as He said that He would. His love for Christ had been forgotten. Now the Lord asked Peter 3 times to affirm His love for his Master. Jesus wants both our love and our loyalty. God wants us to be faithful to Him. Luke 12:8-9: Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.
We can deny the Lord Jesus Christ verbally or by keeping silent when we have the opportunity to witness for Him. Praise God that past failures can be forgiven. Peter was grieved that Jesus asked him 3 times to affirm his love. But this godly sorrow led to Peter to forgiveness. Peter was restored to fellowship with Christ. One failure wasn’t the end.
Why should we love Christ? We love Him because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19 In this passage Christ commands Peter to care for the sheep. This reminds us how much Christ loves us. He loved us so much that He the Good Shepherd died for the sheep. John 15:13: Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.
The thing that God wants more than anything else is our love. Do you love Me more than your friends? Do you love Me more than your Job? Do you love me more than you family and possessions? Do you love Christ most? Are you loyal to Jesus Christ? Do you witness for the Savior? Or have you denied Him audibly or silently? Let us love Christ with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Let us love Him most.
The second mark of a disciple is service. Of course love must precede our service.
2. Disciples Serve Christ
In John 21:15-17: Jesus gives Peter 3 commands; Feed My Lambs, Tend My Sheep, Feed My Sheep. Each command was given in response to Peter’s affirmation of love for Christ.
If Peter was going to care for others the way he should he must love Christ most. Christian service springs out of love. In fact love is essential for our service. Without love our service is mere duty. Christ rebuked the Ephesian Church for leaving their first love. Their service continued but not out of love. That kind of service brings burn out. It will eventually cease because it robs the believer of his joy. The Ephesian Church closed; they didn’t heed Christ’s warning. Love must be the motivation for our service if it is to be effective and if it is to last. John 14:15: If you love Me, keep My commandments.
Husbands who kiss their wives every morning before leaving for work usually live five years longer than those who do not. A kissing husband has fewer automobile accidents, loses up to 50 percent less time from work because of illness, and earns 20-30 percent more than a non kissing husband. No statistics were available for benefits to kissing wives. Love for Christ always leads to action. This love will also keep us active.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15: For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
Because Peter loved Christ, he was commissioned to care for the flock. Peter was to feed the flock, protect it and care for the lambs. The flock is God’s. Jesus refers to believers as my sheep and my lambs. Only love for Christ will motivate us to do this. Every sheep is important and must be cared for. We are all called to meet one another’s needs. Although pastors have greater responsibility and authority as seen by the commands given to Peter, we must all serve. If you love Christ you will prove it by serving Him. As we serve Christ let us be careful to love Him most. Our service must spring out of love for Christ.
Genesis 29:15; 18; 20: Then Laban said to Jacob, Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be? Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter. So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her. Love makes service a delight not a duty.
Always, love is a choice. You come up against scores of opportunities every day to love or not to love. You encounter hundreds of small chances to please your friends, delight your Lord and encourage your family. That's why love and obedience are intimately linked -- you can't have one without the other. -- Joni Ereckson Tada
We must realize that the flock belongs to Christ. He is in charge of the Church. The Good Shepherd continues to watch over the flock. He appoints others to care for the flock too. He called Peter and the 11 to do this. He calls us as well. But we must be dependent on Him in all things. Remember how the Peter and 6 other disciples went fishing. They toiled all night and caught nothing. They failed until they listened to Jesus’ directions. In John 15:5 Christ says: I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
They had proved these words to be true. We must depend on God in everything that we do. Unless we abide in Christ we will fail. Believers often make the mistake that the disciples did. They were fishermen and knew how to do their jobs well. They thought that they could succeed on their own. They didn’t think that Christ should be their master when it came to fishing. After all they had years of experience on their side. But they were wrong. They needed Christ’s help. I have learned this the hard way. God knows about computers, sales work and fishing. He knows about mechanical work, accounting, farming and secretarial work. He is an expert in everything. Jesus Christ must call the shots in our lives and our ministry if it is to be fruitful. He is our boss and we are His servants. Disciples must listen to their master. We must seek His help in all we do.
Does love motivate you to serve Christ? Has the love of Christ constrained you? Or is duty your motive for service? Has God’s love filled your heart with compassion for others? Do you depend on Him for strength and guidance? Does He direct your Christian service? Does Christ call the shots in your everyday life? Is He your master?
3. Disciples Follow Christ
The third mark of a disciple is they follow their master. He is their example for life!
John 21:18-19: Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish. This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, Follow Me.
The word disciple, μαθητής, is used 10 times in John 21. A disciple, is a follower, a learner, an apprentice. It referred to one receiving instruction from their master. Jesus called many disciples to follow Him. In the final 6 verses we see the word follow used 3 times. The word follow, ἀκολουθέω means to follow as a disciple. Jesus commanded Peter to follow him; and he did. To follow Christ means to walk the pathway He trod. Jesus walked the way of the cross. This leads to suffering, sacrifice and for some death.
The ministry that Christ gave to Peter would not be easy. It involved suffering. When you read the Book of Acts you find that the disciples were often beaten and threatened. Many times they were put in jail because of their testimony for Jesus Christ. Nevertheless Christ calls us to follow Him. Matthew 16:24: Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. It is through suffering that God refines His sheep and reproduces them. The Chinese Church has grown the most spiritually and numerically through suffering. The book, The Heavenly Man describes how God has done this.
A Chinese Sells Himself
Lough Fook, a Chinese Christian, moved with compassion for the coolies in the South African mines, sold himself for a term of five years as a coolie slave, and was transported to Demerara, to carry the Gospel to his countrymen working there. He toiled in the mines with them and preached Jesus while he toiled, till he had scores of whom he could speak as Paul of Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds.
Lough Fook died; but not until he had won to the Saviour nearly 200 disciples who joined the Christian church. Where in the centuries has that lowliest feature in the condescension of the Man of Sorrows — He took upon Him the form of a slave — been so literally reproduced as here?
John 12:24: Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.
Peter's ministry as a shepherd over the Lord's flock would one day cost him his life. If Peter didn’t love Christ more than anything else he wouldn’t have paid the price. But Peter responded to the call and became bold for his Lord as we read of in the book of Acts. Church history records that Peter died in Rome under the persecution of Nero. He was led away to be crucified even as Christ had said. This was Christ’s plan for him. But Peter’s death would not be a tragedy; it would glorify God!
John 21:20-22: Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, Lord, who is the one who betrays You? Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, But Lord, what about this man? Jesus said to him, If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.
Literally, Jesus said, Keep on following Me. Immediately, Peter began to follow Jesus, just as he had done before his great denial. However, for a moment Peter took his eyes off the Lord Jesus, a mistake he had made at least two other times. After that first great catch of fish, Peter took his eyes off his Lord and looked at himself. Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord! (Luke 5:8) When he was walking on the stormy sea with Jesus, Peter looked away from the Lord and began to look at the wind and waves; and immediately he began to sink (Matt. 14:30).
It is dangerous to look at the circumstances instead of looking to the Lord. Why did Peter look away from his Lord and start to look back? He heard John walking after Christ too!
The Lord had a special call for Peter. His plans included many years of ministry in the Church. His life would end in martyrdom around 67 a.d. Christ had called Peter to follow Him and he did. But Peter made a mistake. He heard someone else walking and following Christ and became distracted. When Peter turned around he saw John the disciple Jesus loved. He became curious what Christ had in store for John. So Peter asked Jesus what were His plans for John. Jesus gently rebuked Him and said it was none of His business. Jesus said what is that to you, you follow me.
Hebrews 12:1-2: Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Often we get sidetracked from following Christ by looking at other believers. We become jealous of what God does in other lives. Or we envy the way the Lord blesses their ministry. We need to heed Christ’s words to Peter, what is that to you? You follow me. God’s plan for each believer is different. We don’t need to worry about other disciples. We must follow Christ. If Christ wanted John to remain alive till He came what was that to him. John did remain alive until Jesus appeared to him on the Isle of Patmos.
Are you following Jesus Christ? Are you living the way Jesus lived? Have we taken up our cross and followed Him? Are we prepared to suffer for Him? Are our lives bringing glory to God? Have you become distracted by God’s plans for another believer? If so we must get our eyes back on to following Christ. We need to follow His plans for us.
Hebrews 13:20-21: Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.