A Shepherd’s Life

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
5 February 2017 / Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany
John 21:15-25

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[A midrash, not a manuscript.]

After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Peter experienced a faith-crisis. Even though Jesus had called him to leave his career as a fisherman, Peter decided to return to his boats and nets, and some of the disciples followed him. One morning, after a long night of fishing, Peter and his crew saw Jesus standing on the shore of the lake. He called the disciples to come eat the fish and bread that he had prepared. And when they had finished breakfast, Jesus and Peter went for a walk.

Just the two of them.

In the last episode of John’s Gospel, I suggested that Peter was stuck in limbo between worlds. From the night he denied Jesus three times until now he had not been able to speak with Jesus one on one — to patch things up, work things out.

This is where he finally gets his chance to confess his sin and seek forgiveness and make peace.

But (as we will see) he gets more than he bargained for.

Our sermon text for today is John 21:15-25. If you are willing and able, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word. The word of God reads:

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.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

The word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God!) May God add his blessings to the reading, the hearing, and the preaching of his word. All the church says: Amen!

Personal Story – Headline: Church Gets New Pastor; Response: You know you’re not a pastor, right?

Three Truths from the Text for Pastors and Elders: Calling, Cross, and Charge

+ The Shepherd’s Calling

When they had finished breakfast = men’s breakfast / Monday

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love ( ἀγαπᾷς ) me more than these [ = fish not disciples]?” 

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love ( ἀγαπᾷς ) me more than these [ = fish not disciples]?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love ( φιλῶ ) you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

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

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

Jesus did not need to hear Peter’s answer to know whether he loved him or not. Earlier in John’s Gospel Jesus told some people that he knew that they they did not love God (5:42; 8:42).

Jesus posed these three questions to echo Peter’s three denials — and reverse them. Peter denied Jesus, but Jesus is still devoted to Peter. Peter rejected Jesus, but Jesus still receives Peter.

The question “do you love me” = will you keep my commands? Not = do you feel all warm and fuzzy about me.

Remember what Jesus taught his disciples in the upper room the night before the crucifixion in John 13-15.

John 13:34 – A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:35 – By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 14:15 – If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

John 14:21 – Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.

John 14:23 – Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

John 14:24 – Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

John 15:9 – As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

John 15:10 – If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

John 15:12 – This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:13 – Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:17 – These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

No wonder Peter answered the way he did: Lord, I Peter’s answer was an expression of humble realism. In the past he made proud boasts and claims that he was not able to keep. Here, he makes a meek and humble confession: I brotherly-love you like a brother.

Jesus takes Peter right where is, not where he should have been, and he leads him where he needs to be.

Book of Church Order Vows

TEs: Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart, to seek the office of the holy ministry from love to God and a sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?

A shepherd’s first calling is not to vocational ministry; it is to love Jesus by obeying his word. And that leads him to love the flock of God under his care.

+ The Shepherd’s Cross

“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.”

In the OT, stretch out your hand signified an act of prayer, judgment, deliverance, or healing. Here it signified the kind of death by which Peter was going to glorify God. = crucifixion.

Sadly, many modern pastors treat the ministry as a profession, not a vocation — a career, not a calling. So, when they get bored, or the church doesn’t support their vision, or times get rough, they often feel God call them to them bigger and better things.

Not so with Peter. He was given a rod and staff to defend and protect the flock of God. In the end, that rod and staff took the shape of a cross.

Peter was called to love Jesus and live a cross-shaped life. He lived, moved, and served with the knowledge that when he got over the hill, beyond any mid-life crisis, he would forfeit his life on a cross.

Stranger Than Fiction quote “if the man does know he’s going to die and dies anyway, dies willingly, knowing he could stop it, then… I mean, isn’t that the type of man you want to keep alive?”

Peter was called to be a shepherd and he will shepherd God’s flock from now until the day he lays down his life as a martyr on a cross.

Book of Church Order Vows

TEs: Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?

And that brings us to the

+ The Shepherd’s Charge

And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” 

John 10:27 – My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

John 12:26 – If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

John 13:36 – Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” John 13:37 – Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

John 18:15 – Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. (But only so far…)

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 

Like Peter, we need to worry less about what the Lord is doing — or plans to do — with other shepherds / sheep and just mind our own business which is this: Follow Jesus — no matter where he leads, and no matter what anyone else does.

Follow me = as a shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, as a martyr all the way to death by crucifixion.

Book of Church Order Vows

TEs: Do you engage to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties as a Christian and a minister of the Gospel, whether personal or relational, private or public; and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before the flock of which God shall make you overseer?

In other words, follow Jesus.

I would be remiss if I did not resolve the tensions in this story by sneaking in one last thing:

+ The Shepherd’s Crown

Towards the end of his life, Peter the shepherd sent these words to churches scattered all over the middle east:

I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:

shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4)

I spoke with some pastors at presbytery who told me that they often wonder if their ministry is worth it. After years of bearing the cross and trying to fulfill their calling and charge, they feel like there is next to nothing to show for it. I can totally relate to that. We all want a little taste of the glory.

To all that Peter the Elder says, “Take it from an old, cross-shaped pastor — you will receive the unfading crown of glory when your true and better Shepherd comes.”

So always remember and never forget:

The Lord is your shepherd; you shall not want.
    He makes you lie down in green pastures.
He leads you beside still waters.
    He restores your soul.
He leads you in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.
Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    you will fear no evil,
for He is with you;
    His rod and your staff,
    they comfort you.
He prepares a table before you
    in the presence of your enemies;
he anoints your head with oil;
    your cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you
    all the days of your life,
and you shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. Psalm 23

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