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Said the Master to His disciple, “Do you love Me?”
And the disciple, who had earlier pledged that he was ready to die with his master, said, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.”
Jesus said, “Feed My lambs.”
Said the Master to His disciple a second time, “Do you truly love Me?”
And the disciple, who had earlier denied he even knew his master three times, said, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.”
Jesus said, “Take care of My sheep.”
So for a third time, the Master said to His disciple, “Do you love Me?”
And the disciple, who by now was surely feeling the guilt of his earlier denials, said, “Lord, You know all things, You know that I love You.”
Jesus said, “Feed My sheep.”
And the commission to Peter, which three years earlier was given to him as fishing for men, is now renewed as feeding or tending; literally taking care of sheep.
Says the Master to His disciples today, “Do you truly love Me?”
How do we measure our love for Jesus?
Is it based upon a subjective feeling or emotion that moves upon our hearts when we hear the old, old story or sing some old, old hymn? In other words, is it the affection we feel for the One who has done so much for us?
How do we know that we love Jesus? We believe we love Him. Most of us had no problem saying or singing, “I love You Lord.” If Jesus were here to ask us, as He did Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” we too would probably respond, “Lord, you know all things . . . ”
But is there a way to gauge or measure our love for Christ? Today’s text in John’s gospel implies that there is. According to Jesus, there is a definitive method to measure our love for Him. Our willingness to be involved in the feeding of sheep is the litmus test by which we can know whether or not we love Jesus.
“Do you love Me?”
“Lord, you know I love you.”
“Feed My sheep.”
Do you see that with the confession, “Lord, You know that I love You,” comes the commission, “Feed My sheep.”
We’ve been claimed by Christ. Jesus offers us the invitation to come to Him by faith. But no sooner do we come than He says, “Go, feed My sheep.” To respond to His invitation is to receive a commission.
Most of you have probably heard that old poem:
He has no hands but our hands to do His work today.
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in His way.
He has no lips but our lips to tell them how He died.
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.
We cannot claim to love Him unless and until we are willing to accept His call to in some sense tend His sheep.
But notice further, that feeding Jesus’ lambs is not always an easy thing to do.
Peter would find that out. (Read vs. 18 and 19) tradition records that like His Master before him, Peter was also crucified for feeding the Master’ lambs.
The Bible is chock full of examples of God’s people who risk for the sake of God’s sheep: Noah, Abraham, David, Daniel, and the greatest risk taker of all, the Apostle Paul. They risked friendships, reputations, ridicule, not to mention their lives in order to tend to God’s sheep.
We thank God that we don’t have to worry about risking our lives for the sake of loving others.
But even so, with the confession comes a commission that is not always an easy thing to accomplish. It is not always easy to set aside an hour of week of our already busy lives. It is not always easy to go to begin a relationship with someone you may not know, with someone who is struggling or suffering in some way. It is not always easy to take on the pain of another.
But when God’s people take risks to feed God’s sheep, great things happen for God’s Kingdom!
When I was 16 years old, my best friend, Andy, said, “Randy, our family is going to make our annual trek to Canada in a couple of weeks; how about taking my paper route over for me when I’m gone?” Every once in a while I would tag along and help Andy on his route and because it covered my street I pretty much knew all his customers. But one of them in particular still comes to mind from time to time.
Mrs. Stanley’s husband had passed away about 6 months before I took his route over. Andy told me she might meet me on her porch with an invitation to sit and have a glass of milk. Sure enough, the first day on my own, she was there with a glass of Coca-cola and an invitation to sit in one of the rockers on her porch. I quickly learned the routine: I would sit and drink while she talked. The widow Stanley mostly talked about her dead husband, Herb.
About the second or third day she said to me, “Herb and I went grocery shopping this morning over to the ACME store.” When she said that, the Coke went up my nose. I went home that day and told my dad how Mrs. Stanley talked about Mr. Stanley as if he were still living. Dad said she was probably lonely, and that maybe I ought to just sit and listen
and nod my head and smile and maybe she’d work it out of her system. So that’s what I did for those two weeks in August in the summer of 1967 until Andy came back from Canada. Turned out that dad was right; after about a year the widow Stanley seemed content to leave her husband down in Greenwood Cemetery.
After my short stint as a paper-boy, I didn’t see the widow Stanley for a few years. Then our paths crossed at a dinner I was attending down at the Christian Church. There she stood behind a table spooning out green beans and scalloped potatoes and looking radiant. Four years before, she had to bribe her paper-boy with a Coke to have someone to talk with. Now she had friends brimming over. Her husband was gone, but she eventually discovered that life went on.
I wonder how many people are simply craving for someone to nod their head and smile as they talk about whatever is causing them to hurt. I know that today some psychiatrists might call that ‘enabling denial’ but back when I delivered papers in the summer of 67, I think people called it ‘compassion.’