April 22, 2018
Listen to the definition of the word, “surrender.” It means to “give oneself up into the power of another; to yield.” As you might imagine, surrender is not viewed in a positive way by most people. Who wants to yield their power over to someone else?
We are willing to yield to our employer because they are paying us, but even then we are very concerned about our rights as employees. Husband and wives often struggle over issues of power. It is difficult to surrender.
Last week we saw how Jesus provided breakfast for the disciples after a long night of fruitless fishing. In Jn.21:15-22 Jesus has a significant conversation with Peter, and it has much to with this matter of surrender. From these verses I want to point out that Jesus, our life-giving Savior, pursues our full surrender to him.
I. THIS IS A HEART-CENTERED SURRENDER. Jn.21:15-17
After eating breakfast Jesus looks at Peter and asks a penetrating question. It is not a religious question. Religion is concerned with rituals, traditions, and doctrines. Were you baptized? Are you meeting the obligations of our religion? Etc. It is not a question designed to bring overwhelming guilt and feelings of failure. That is not what Jesus is trying to accomplish. Nor, in this case, is it a private question. Jesus did not take Peter aside to talk with him in private. He asked this question in front of all the others. Jesus is pursuing Peter’s heart.
He looked at Peter and asked, “Do you love me more than these?” I do not think Jesus is asking, “Do you love me more than you love fishing?” Or, “Do you love me more than you love these other men.” It’s not that those would be inappropriate questions. Rather, I think Jesus is asking, “Do you love me more than these other men love me?” You remember that Peter boasted confidently of his absolute loyalty to Jesus in front of the other disciples. And yet, Peter was the one who verbally denied even knowing the Lord.
One other observation: When Jesus asks the question in v.16, he uses the word, “agape.” This is considered the deepest kind of love. It refers to an unyielding, thoughtful, purposeful, and selfless commitment to the welfare and good of another. When Peter responds in v.16 he uses the word, “phileo,” which refers to a spontaneous, warm, affectionate, familial kind of love. Some scholars make a big deal about the different words used here, as if Peter is saying, “Well, Lord I can’t go that far, but yes, I do love you.” But it has been shown that John uses both “agape” and “phileo” interchangeably. I believe it is better to just take the question as it is. “Peter, do you love me more than these?”
Jesus asks this question three times. Why? I believe he is intentionally awakening Peter’s memory of when he denied the Lord three times. That was a painful moment in Peter’s life. In addition to this, Peter was the recognized leader among the disciples. Jesus said that he would build his church upon Peter, the rock. It was important for Peter and the other disciples to witness the restoration of Peter in his relationship with Jesus.
If Jesus were to ask, “Do you love me more than any other person or thing,” what would you say? I mean this is the kind of question that husbands and wives ask each other if they think their spouse does not love them. It is a penetrating question. It is a question that requires us to go deep into our heart and soul. Underneath this question is the assumption that if love is present, it will be displayed in meaningful ways in every dimension of a person’s life. Each time Jesus repeated the question, Peter responded, “You know I love you.” Peter had a repentant, chastened heart. He was grieved. His grief revealed the depth of his love.
This is encouraging because we all know what it is to turn away from the Lord, to choose to go in a direction not in keeping with the Lord. But if we love the Lord, we will have a repentant, chastened heart. We will be grieved over our sin and we will desire to profess our love for Christ. In fact Jesus will be asking, “Do you love me?”
Each time Peter professes his love for Jesus, Jesus tells him to tend or feed his sheep, not Peter’s sheep, but Jesus’ sheep. It is surely a call to ministry from Jesus to Peter. Jesus uses broken people who love him. This is also instructive because it shows us that love for Jesus is expressed in our attending to and participating in and with the things that are important to Jesus. If we love Jesus we will prioritize the things that Jesus loves, which will certainly include his people, his church.
There are people today who attend church largely because church is in their background. For whatever reason, being in church seems like something they ought to do. And I think it is better to be in church than to not be in church, but whether or not these people love Jesus is another question. If Jesus has little involvement in their daily lives then he is more of an “add on” than a life giving Savior. Jesus asks, “Do you love me.”
Our relationship with Jesus is not like a business transaction or contract. It is not, “If I do something for Jesus he’ll do something for me.” Jesus gives his life for us and to us. In fact, this is what makes Jesus so compelling. Out of love for us, he died on the cross in our place, bearing our sins. In rising from the dead he has eternal life to give. It is the very life he has in himself. Life with Jesus is very personal. It is impossible to receive his eternal life in the Kingdom of God and live as if Jesus doesn’t exist. If we love him, his words, his actions, his interests, and his church will be front and center in all we do every moment of every day.
II. THIS IS A BODY-CENTERED SURRENDER. Jn.21:18-19
After this exchange Jesus goes on to say something that seems to spoil this Hallmark moment. Here is Peter expressing his love for the Lord from the depth of his heart, and Jesus informs Peter of how he is going to die. Really? Is that the way to follow up a tender moment? Obviously this is not just a tender moment. This is a life shaping moment. Look at what Jesus says, “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."
The Church Fathers understood the phrase, “stretch out your hands,” as a reference to crucifixion. Eusebius of Caesarea who died in 339 AD said that Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified under the persecution of Nero.
Now if I knew I was going to be crucified or martyred, I might be inclined to regularly be looking over my shoulder. In other words I wouldn’t want to rush into it and would prefer to spare my life. Few of us ever know how we will die and that is probably a good thing. But if you did know how you are going to die, wouldn’t you try to buy yourself a little more time? I mean, many of us try to eat healthy and exercise and take vitamins, so that we can live longer. Ever since I heard that coffee can ward off Alzheimer’s, I have taken that to heart, since my dad and both grandmothers had Alzheimer’s!
But there is something very important for us to recognize from these verses. Jesus is pursuing within Peter a body-centered surrender to Christ. At one time Peter had boasted that he was even willing to die for the Lord. But in his own strength he could not do it. He denied the Lord instead. The flesh is weak. Augustine writes, “After he was strengthened by Christ’s resurrection, Peter would do what in his weakness he had promised prematurely. For the necessary order was that Christ should first die for Peter’s salvation and then that Peter should die for the preaching of Christ.”
And do not miss what Jesus says in v.19. “This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.” Do you ever think about your death? Do you ever think about your death in terms of glorifying God? I’m not suggesting that we all start thinking about our deaths. But I am wanting to call us to consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus in terms of our bodies. These earthen bodies contain an amazing treasure, the very life of Christ. So Paul urges us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Paul tells us that our bodies are members of Christ and that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this he tells us to glorify God in our bodies. A person may claim to love Christ all day long, but if that love is not revealed in the way they use their body, that claim is suspect.
And so, seeing how Jesus willingly surrendered his body to the cross so that we might live in him, we surrender our body as living sacrifices. We surrender our eyes, our ears, our tongue, our mind, our hands and feet. Every part must come under the rule and Lordship of Jesus Christ. Whenever we sin, our bodies are involved. And so we are talking about a body-centered surrender. We are seeking to die to the sinful desires that are embedded in our bodies.
III. THIS IS A CHRIST-CENTERED SURRENDER. Jn.21:20-25
This was a sobering prophecy. In v.20 it seems that Jesus and Peter must have walked away from the others and John began to follow them. As Peter looked around and saw John, he asked, "Lord, what about this man?" Jesus’ response is very clear. “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!"
I don’t know how this strikes you, but it sounds a little, “in your face to me.” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Hey, what happens to John is none of your beeswax.” And in many ways that is exactly the truth. Peter had enough to think about let alone having to concern himself with what might or might not happen to John. Suppose it was Jesus’ will for John to remain until the second coming? How would that information be of any help to Peter, especially after Peter knew that he was going to be crucified?
Suppose you found out that a co-worker who has the exact same job as you, is making $10,000 more than you. Would that encourage you? It might make you feel unappreciated. Jesus was pursuing in Peter a Christ-centered kind of surrender. “Peter, you must keep your eyes focused on me. Do not be distracted by other disciples. They have their calling and you have yours. They have their challenges and you have yours. You will not fall short.”
Comparing ourselves with others is an activity that trips up many followers of Jesus. When we compare ourselves with others we tend either towards pride or despair. We make judgements about others that we are not capable of making because we don’t know the full picture. In Rm.12:3, Paul writes, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
This is more difficult and more important than we might think. And so, as followers of Christ in this world, our goal is to fix our eyes on Jesus. It seems that Peter and John both lived to be old. As far as we know John died a natural death. Peter was crucified. “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well. It is well with my soul.” The only way we will be able to say, “It is well with my soul,” in whatever our lot, is to keep our eyes on Jesus. So in whatever you do, simply seek to do the best you can and look to Jesus to sort it all out.
This morning, Jesus is pursuing this kind of surrender from you and me. In fact, every day we must engage and answer the call to surrender to Christ. That surrender will be a Heart-centered, body-centered, and Christ-centered surrender. The old gospel song asks, “Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid? Your heart does the Spirit control? You can only be blest, and have peace and sweet rest, as you yield him your body and soul.” Are you surrendered to Jesus? Amen