Summary: As He did with Peter, Jesus asks each of us, "Do you love Me more than these?" This sermon helps each of us identify our own "these." It is especially appropriate for preaching during Eastertide.
More than These?
“Peter, do you love me more than these?” That Scripture text that I have read a heard read hundreds of times pierced my heart around 10:00 a. m. last Friday, 08 April 05, as I was silent before the Lord in room 124 of the King’s House of Retreats across the Illinois River from Henry, Illinois. I was a participant in the Five Day Academy for Spiritual Formation co-sponsored by the Upper Room and our Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference.
I am a person who loves to hear the “booming voice of the Lord.” Harry can never play the organ too loud for me. I love the feel the vibration of the 32 foot pedal stop resonate through the sanctuary. I love to be present when God displays His power in dynamite fashion—I relish hearing him through the powerful wind, the earthquake, or the fire in similar fashion as Elijah looked for God in all these phenomena in I Kings Chapter 19, but like Elijah I am beginning to hear the Lord speak in that “gentle whisper” or “still small voice.”
If you ever get the opportunity to participate in a Five Day Academy for Spiritual Formation, do so; you won’t regret it, and you will certainly draw closer to Jesus.” Two Christian leaders are present to share spiritual teaching with you for the five days. Our teachers were Dr. Bob Mulholland, Professor of New Testament and former Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at my Alma Mater Asbury Theological Seminary, who spoke on “New Testament Spirituality,” and Presbyterian Pastor Pat Ashley from Florida, who spoke on “Spiritual Discernment.” They would each speak for one hour each day, and then give us one hour for silent meditation on their presentation to simply “be still before the Lord” and listen to His “still small voice” speak to our hearts. We were encouraged to write in a journal the things the Lord spoke directly to us. After one hour, we would come back as a group and share as the Holy Spirit led us the things God had personally revealed to us during our one hour of silence in our room.
Now let me interject here that I need more of these periods of silence before God to hear God speak directly to my heart and soul. I have definitely heard God’s voice speak to me on several occasions in my fifty-seven years on this earth—at my conversion, in my call to preach, during the Great Asbury Revival of 1970 that lasted 181 continuous hours, during a similar Revival at Sumner in the early 1980s, and on all the Walks to Emmaus in which the Lord has led me to participate. As a pastor, however, I so often get so “busy working for God” that I don’t have time to “be still and listen to God.”
As Bob Mulholland pointed out so clearly to us last week, we live in a society that wants instant gratification, a quick fix. We carry that over into our relationship with Jesus as well. If I miss a day of devotions, I’m not too concerned. I usually will take the time to read the UPPER ROOM devotional for the day, perhaps the daily reading in Oswald Chamber’s MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST, and my PSALM for this year. As I am now 57, my personal Psalm for this year is Psalm 57. After such a “quick” fix, I get on with my day.
Several times last week, however, during our times of “silence” to “be still and listen for God to speak to our hearts,” the Holy Spirit zapped me with His presence and spoke clearly to me in ways I had not had time to listen to Him speak for months and even years. Bob had mentioned in his lecture last Friday the question Jesus raised with Peter in John 21:15. Recall that verse with me: “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love Me more than these?’”
The word “these” can be a pronoun, but pronouns usually have to have a clearly stated “antecedent,” “a noun for which the pronoun stands” [--J. C. Tressler and Henry I. Christ, English in Action Course One, 7th ed. (Boston: D. C. Heath and Company, 1960), 399.] However, in our text we can not distinguish a specific antecedent for the word “these.”
To What “things” or “people” is Jesus referring when He asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” We can not tell from the text. This is Jesus third appearance to a group of His disciples since His Resurrection. We know from the opening verses of John 21 that there are a total of seven disciples, including Peter, to whom Jesus appeared that day on the beech and for whom He cooked breakfast. Could it be that Jesus was asking Peter, “Peter, do you love Me more than these other six disciples love Me?” Maybe Jesus is asking, “Peter, do you love Me more than you love these other six disciples.”