3 Easter, proper C3                                                                                     
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 21:1-19 Sermon                                                                                                                 
April 14, 2013

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
191 "Christ The Lord Is Risen Today; Alleluia"
210 "The Strife Is O'er, The Battle Done"
436 "The Lord's My Shepherd"
193 "Christ The Lord Is Risen Today"

(NOTE:  Due to the death of Pastor Dan's mother this past week, today's message is an encore sermon from 2010)


TEXT (vs. 17-19): “15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"  "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."  Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."  16 Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"  He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."   Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."  17 The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."  Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.”

            One of the television programs that I have enjoyed down through the years is Dragnet.  It's a police crime drama that reenacts real situations; however the announcer reminds the viewers that "the names have been changed to protect the innocent."  

            The show is quite old, having its beginnings in the days of radio, and then carried through to television.  You can still catch it once in awhile being re-run on different stations, especially cable stations, but not as much as it used to be.

            The show has two major stars:  Harry Morgan plays the part of Officer Bill Gannon, and Jack Webb place the part of Sergeant Joe Friday.  Both of these men portray detectives in the Los Angeles police department.  It's their duty to work together to solve a variety of different crimes.

            The Joe Friday character is a very stoic and serious individual, dressed in an off-the-rack suit.  One of Joe's classic lines is, "just the facts, ma'am, (or "sir" as the case may be)."  This is his classic response to a witness who seems to be going all over the place with their answer.  Joe Friday doesn't want to waste a lot of time with meaningless dialogue. He wants to know the facts so he and his partner Bill Gannon can put the pieces together to solve a crime.  Just the facts, and not a lot of fancy double-talk.  That's what Joe Friday is after.

            I'm sure you've had it happen to you.  You ask somebody a direct question.  And instead of giving you a "just the facts" direct answer, they dance all around the question, perhaps with the hope that you'll somehow be befuddled enough to accept their answer, and not appear stupid.  Politicians use this tactic all the time.

            Politicians have the tendency to create intelligent sounding and flowery statements where a simple "yes" or "no" or even an honest "I don't know" would suffice.  This is what people want to hear.  They want to hear the facts without having somebody create a condescending answer.  They want an answer they can understand--just the facts, please.

            Everybody has been faced with questions they just don't want to answer, or they want to give the type of answer that is ambiguous enough to satisfy somebody without having to commit themselves.  I think we have all fallen into this category a time or two in our lives. 

            Think of little Johnny sitting at the dinner table.  He's looking at a big pile of broccoli on his plate.  Johnny hates broccoli.  So he passes it off to the dog who has positioned himself by his lap.

            Mother asks, "Did you eat your broccoli?"  Little Johnny smiles and answers, "See!  My plate is clean!"

            Mother replies, "Yes I see your plate is clean, but that's not what I asked you.  I want to know if YOU ate your broccoli!" 

            Oh yes, mother knows.  She's on to her young son's double-talk and his evasive answers.  This kind of thing happens at a very early age, as any mother can tell you.

            In our text for today which is toward the end of our Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus has engaged Simon Peter in a dialogue.  Jesus is asking some very direct and pointed questions, and he expects Simon Peter to give him direct answers.  Just the facts Peter, just the facts.

            As we look at Jesus' questions and Peter's answers, it looks for the world like Jesus is being ridiculously redundant.  Jesus asks Peter if he loves him.  Peter then makes the reply that yes, he does indeed love him.  It seems simple enough--asked and answered as they say in court.  And Jesus not only repeats it a second time, but a third time as well.  It's no wonder that Simon Peter was getting a little irritated with all of this quizzing.

            However there's way more to all this than what meets the eye; in fact, we have to dig a whole lot deeper and go into the Greek to actually see what's going on here.

            I know we've talked about it before, but it bears repeating.  In English speaking circles, we have one basic word we use; and that word is "love."  However the Greeks have four words they use for love, three of which are in the Bible.  And that's where this section takes on a whole new meaning.

            The four Greek words for "love" are:  “eros,” “philos,” “storgay,” and “agapaos” (or “agapay” if you prefer the verb form).  Each word has it's own unique meaning. 

            "Eros" refers to an erotic type of love, which is more selfish or self-serving.  It has a strong relationship with lust, and is most often used to describe a sexual attraction or desire. 

            Then there's "philos," which is described as better than "eros," but still second-rate, merely consisting of the love between friends, which can be deep, meaningful, and directed toward somebody besides one’s self, but which cannot compare with "agapaos."  Incidentally, the city of Philadelphia is named after this Greek word "philos," which is why they call the city "the city of brotherly love."

            The one Greek term for love that isn't in the Bible is "storgay."  This is a nurturing, almost instinctive type of love, such as between parents and children, or other similar relationships.  However every time the word "storgay" might be applied in the Bible, God has opted to use a higher form of love, "agapaos” or “agapay" instead, because it better describes this kind of relationship.

            Finally, we are left with the highest form of love, which is like I just pointed out, "agapaos” or “agapay."  John chapter 3 verse 16 begins, "For God so loved the world...."    This is the type of love that Jesus has for us, the type of love that sent him to the cross so that our sins might be forgiven and we would be redeemed children of God.  This is also the type of love between Christian husbands and wives, parents and children, and basically the type of love God wants us to have for each other.  In John chapter 15 verses 12-13 Jesus gives us a great definition for this type of love: "12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

            That's the type of love “agapaos” or “agapay” is.  It is a sacrificial type of love, a love that puts the welfare of somebody else equal to, or above that of yourself.  This is the type of love that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13.  In verses 4-7 we read: 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

            As we look at our text for today, people often get confused with the way this "love" dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter goes, especially when people know about the different words and meanings for love in Greek.  People automatically assume that Jesus is asking Peter about love on different levels, sort of stair-stepping up the ladder from the lowest to the highest form of love.  But this is not the case.

            In verse 15 of our text, Jesus poses the first question.  He asks, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"  This is “agapaos” or “agapay.”  Jesus wants to know about Peter's loyalty.  Does he love his Saviour more than anything else in the world?  Does he love him with a self-giving and a sacrificial kind of love?  Does Peter love Jesus in the same way that Jesus loves him?

            Simon Peter however responds with something to this effect:  "Well Lord, I love you like a friend (“philos”).  I want to be your friend, but I don't know about all of this self sacrificing sort of stuff.  I think we should call each other "friends" and treat each other in that manner.  So yes Lord, I'll love you like a friend."

            But then Jesus comes back a second time, with something to this effect:  "Peter, that's NOT what I asked you.  I didn't ask if you wanted to be my friend.  I asked you if you loved me enough to put me first in your life.  I want to know if you love me more than all of the worldly things that so easily draw our attention away from God.  Now Peter, I asked you a direct question, and I want a direct answer!  So Peter, do you truly love me with an “agapay” kind of love?"

            And what's Peter's response?  "Yes Lord, you know that I love you like no friend I've ever had before (“philos”).  I treasure our friendship, and we can be best friends forever."

            You can just sense Jesus' frustration.  He wants just the facts with a direct, no-nonsense answer from Peter.  Jesus wants Peter's undivided loyalty and love, and not just some sort of a pat-on-the-back, shake your hand kind of relationship.  It had to be deep and genuine.

            But recognizing Peter's insistence on using the term "philos" for "love," Jesus decides to scale this down a few notches and use Peter's terminology.  Now when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him for the third time, this time he chooses to use the word "philos" for "love."  So, in Verse 17 of our text Jesus asks: "Simon son of John, do you love me (“philos”)?"

            Now Peter is the one getting frustrated.  He has told Jesus that he loves him (“philos”) three times.  He is thinking that Jesus is being painfully intense with his line of questioning.  But this time his term for love and Jesus' term for love are the same, namely "philos."  So now Peter's answer agrees with Jesus' question.  But it is still obvious that Peter doesn't quite grasp all of the ramifications as to what it means to love Jesus even in a "philos" manner.

            The road isn't going to be an easy one.  So in verse 19 of our text, this is made abundantly clear to Peter.  We read “19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"   Peter's undying and steadfast love for Jesus would lead to his eventual martyrdom.

            When we understand love in the Christian sense, we suddenly realize that there really isn't any other type of love besides "agapaos,” or “agapay."  All other forms of love are governed by this “agapaos,” or “agapay” kind of love.  That's the underlying influence behind our actions.  In 1 John chapter 4 verse 11 we read: "11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."  And we know what that definition of love is.

            Continuing on in 1 John chapter 4, let's back up to verses 9 and 10:  "9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Soninto the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice forour sins."

            This is where we turn our attention to the cross, and the kind of love that caused our Saviour to subject himself to such punishment and torture.  We can talk a good game when it comes to the topic of love, but we cannot even begin to fathom the power of this love that comes from God himself. 

            It was God's love that sent his only begotten Son to this earth in the first place.  It was his love for all of sinful mankind, for people the likes of you and me that God was able to unleash his divine and holy justice upon his sinless Son.  And it is his love that accepts us the way we are, and gives us the robe of righteousness that comes through Christ and him alone.

            Furthermore, in love God sent his Holy Spirit to us through Word and Sacrament to bring us to faith.  God's love sought us when we were running away from him, and brought us into the arms of Jesus.  In Paul's first letter to Timothy, right in the first chapter, he gives this testimony in verses 15-16: "15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life."   

            This morning in our first lesson, we read about Paul's dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus.  He was a persecutor of Christians, and of Christ himself.  And yet, Paul was able to experience the awesome power of Christ's love in a most dramatic way.  That is a love that Paul just couldn't help but share.  It's that same love and that same Saviour that calls us through faith into a personal relationship with him.

            Today, Jesus asks each of us that very same question.  Do you love me?  Do you love me more than these?  What is our response going to be?  Are we going to try to come up with some slippery answer, or are we going to be straight-forward with just the facts?

            When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment in the law in Matthew chapter 22, he gives this reply in verses 37-39:  "37...'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

            This is an "agapaos” or “agapay" type of love that Jesus describes.  That's the love he has for us, and the love we are to share.  That's a fact, in clear and simple terms.