HOW DO I LOVE THEE, LORD?
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
3 MAY 1992
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Have you observed that there are many people who say they love someone, but when situations change, or when something happens, we see that their love had conditions attached to it, and that they are no longer there for the person who needs their love?
Their love was not unconditional.
But have you also noticed those quiet people, who don't speak much about their love, but when someone needs them, they are always there, no matter what the person in need may have done?
Their love is unconditional.
Unconditional love continues to function even after our loved one is no longer with us.
In John 21:1 and following, we have such a recording of events that speak to the degree of our love, and in specific to our love for the Lord and His desire for us to have His kind of unconditional love for others.
It is also a story about leaving our old way of life, and living our new lives in the will of the Lord.
What is taking place happens shortly after Jesus' resurrection.
1. After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way.
2. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples.
3. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will also come with you." They went out, and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.
Now, let's stop here for a minute, and reflect upon what is happening.
Their mind-set is still not upon the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.
They are seeing Jesus' ministry as having come to an end with His death.
They haven't yet come to realize that His, and their, real ministry began with His resurrection.
Thus they return to what they were doing before Jesus came.
They are returning to their old lifestyle.
They are returning to being purveyors of death (to the fish), rather than the bringers of life eternal, as Jesus called them to be.
When the Lord changes our lives, we are not to return to our old way of life; but we are to continue forward into life everlasting, and bring others with us.
Here Peter is leading the others back into their former way of life, symbolized by their being fishermen.
And as a result, their fishing has been unsuccessful.
They forgot what Jesus told them at the beginning of His ministry, when they were also fishing, and how they responded.
Note Matthew 4:18-22 –
18. And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.
19. And He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."
20. And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him.
"They immediately left their nets and followed Him."
Yet now, they have returned to their nets.
21. And going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them.
22. And they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him.
Immediately they left and followed Him.
They didn't give it a second thought, they immediately left and followed Him.
Jesus was showing them a way to mend more than their nets; He was showing them a way to mend their lives, and the lives of others.
These fishermen, for the most part, lived simple lives, that was not complicated with the politics of the religious hierarchy of that day.
And they must have also know that they lived worldly lives that centered around causing death.
They knew that the fish wanted to live, just as they wanted to live, so when Jesus offered them a way to change all this and bring life to the world around them, they immediately left and followed Jesus.
And I believe that this contrast between causing death and bringing life is one of the main reasons that Jesus called these fisherman, for more than anyone else, they would understand the difference.
And because they had no political axes to grind, they would do what they were called to do without a second thought.
But after Jesus' death, they returned to their nets.
Jesus is no longer dead, yet they have lost part of their first love and hope, the hope that caused them to follow Jesus without a second thought.
Jesus is not dead, and yet we likewise lose our first love and hope when things go wrong in our sight.
Jesus' love and promises to His disciples, then, hadn't changed.
And Jesus' love and promises to us haven't changed either, and they will continue to be the same in the future.
Let's go back to John 21, and pick up where we left off, at verse 4:
4. But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
Because their love had not yet been fully perfected, and their heart and soul was not fully set upon the things of heaven, their eyes were blinded to see Jesus.
But Jesus' love is unconditional, even when ours is not.
5. Jesus therefore said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" They answered Him, “No.”
Jesus did not want them to return to being fishermen.
He wanted them to be fishers of men.
He wanted them in the ministry of serving God.
He wanted them in the will of God.
He wanted them to no longer be purveyors of death, but to be givers of life.
What we do outside of the will of God will be unsuccessful.
But as we said, Jesus' love is unconditional.
6. And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch." They cast therefore, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.
They didn't need to catch fish, as we will see. They needed to get their heart and mind back upon the things of God.
Here Jesus shows them that all things are possible with God, so that they
would recognize Him.
7. That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” And so when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.
8. But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish.
Jesus doesn't want us to look or act foolishly when we come to realize we are in the presence of the Lord; and we don't have to show off to others, either.
We are to act responsibly and in love.
By behaving with so much dramatic zeal, Peter still shows immaturity in his love; for he left the others to do the work which the Lord Himself gave them to do.
It is also one of the major reasons that Peter returned to fishing, against the Lord's will.
This is not what Jesus wants, and He will wait for us to finish.
He wants nothing to go to waste, but at the same time, He wants is to live heavenly lives that bring life and not death.
When what we are doing is not of the Lord, we are to quit immediately – but without the dramatics.
9. And so when they got out upon the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid, and fish placed upon it, and bread.
10. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have caught."
11. Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus is showing them several miracles all at once, so that they will understand fully about the ways of God.
The appearance of the charcoal fire was a miracle.
The fish upon the fire and the bread was another miracle.
The catch of fish was a miracle.
The un-torn net was another miracle.
And Jesus' appearance was a miracle.
All of these miracles were manifested because of Jesus' unconditional love, so that they in turn would manifest that love to others, not by fishing, but by being His disciples that would bring life to the world around them, and way into the future.
12. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples ventured to question Him, "Who are You?" knowing that it was the Lord.
13. Jesus came and took the bread, and gave them, and the fish likewise.
14. This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.
But now, to try to show them the difference between His unconditional love and their normal brotherly love, Jesus questions Peter:
15. So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me [in an unconditional way] more than these?" [the fish] He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” [wholly, as “I love my brother”] "He said to him, "Tend My lambs." [the people that need My help]
We know that Jesus isn't questioning Peter about the difference in his love for other people.
He's using the comparison with the fish, because He would never do anything to cause strife between people.
This is hard for us to understand in the English translation, for we use only the one word for “love”; but Jesus and Peter are using two different words for love.
Jesus is using the Greek word, agapao, which means unconditional love; but Peter is using the word, phileo, which means a sincere brotherly love.
Obviously, Peter still doesn't understand.
So, not getting the response He wants, Jesus continues:
16. He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” [unconditionally] He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." [as my brother] He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep."
Jesus still didn't get the response He wanted; but because His love is unconditional, and not wanting to press Peter much further, He reverses His approach.
17. He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" [as Your brother] Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" [as Your brother] And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." [as Your brother] Jesus said to Him, "Tend My sheep."
Peter needed to do some more maturing in the Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And we know that this eventually happened.
We, likewise, need a closer personal relationship with the Lord, so that we too would fully understand what it really means to be wholly committed to Jesus, and to each other, in an unconditional loving manner.
And since we know ourselves, and the true intent of our heart, I want each of us to answer the question Jesus asked Peter.
Ask yourself, “How do I love Thee, Lord?”
I pray that what you answered is deserving of an Amen.
For if it is not, then reach out right now and say, "Jesus, I need You. Forgive me, and make me whole. I, too, want to love as You love.
If you mean it, another miracle will happen.
And just as Peter and the other disciples never again returned to their lives a fishermen, so we will hopefully never again return to our old worldly ways of life, but move on to live in the heavenly will of our Father.
Your Comments are welcome
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