Do You Love Me (Mark 14 & John 21)
1. What's the worse question you've ever been asked? For me, it's "Do you love me?" I can't remember how many times I've been asked that in my life. First, it was from my beloved betrothed. She wanted to make sure that our parents had made a good choice for us. Then she became my wife and that question seemed to underlie everything that she asked from the day of our marriage forward. But, alright, I expected her to ask me the question. And it's really not her asking of the question that bugged me so much. It was the fact that a couple weeks after Jesus' resurrection He appeared to us after we had spent all night fishing and asked me that question not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES!! It distressed me, but I knew EXACTLY what He was driving at. He was pointing out my sins and offering me absolution. Absolution for my arrogance and my fear.
2. My arrogance seemed to always get in trouble. I was arrogant because I was one of the oldest, if not THE oldest, of the Apostles. So I thought I was the wisest and hadn't a problem showing that. I wanted to be an example to the younger disciples so that they had someone to look up to when Jesus wasn't around. We knew there was going to be a time when Jesus wasn't going to be there anymore. He had told us many times that last week before His death. There was that Tuesday in Bethany when we were having dinner with Simon the leper. Lazarus' sister Mary had come in and anointed Jesus. We weren't very happy with this expensive waste. There were other things that could have been done with the money used to buy it. But Jesus told us, "You will always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have Me" (Mark 14:7). Two days later, He said it again with the words we heard first tonight: "You will all fall away ... but after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee" (Mark 14:27-28). His words stung me. "You will all fall away." Everyone of us. No exceptions. I knew that there would be nothing that would keep me from being at Jesus' side through everything. Nothing was going to keep me away from Him. I told Him, "Even though they all fall away, I will not." He replied that I would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed the next morning. I wasn't going to be stopped that easily. I said, "If I must die with You, I will not deny You" (vv29-31). He left it at that. He really didn't have a choice because Judas and the gang had arrived. We had two swords with us (Luke 22:38). I grabbed one and cut off Malchus' ear. I was going to live up to my pledge to die with Jesus if that was how God had intended it to be. My arrogance was at an all-time high. I would have taken on the entire world single-handedly to show Jesus my loyalty. I was going to do it.
3. But that's not where the evening ended. And that's not where my sins ended. The soldiers came and arrested Jesus. Just as He prophecied, we scattered. We fled because we were afraid. Jesus had canceled my surprise attack by rebuking me for resulting to violence, saying, "All who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 27:52). Everyone left. John and I had gone in similar directions toward Jerusalem. The soldiers took Jesus into Annas' house for trial by the Sanhedrin. John went into the house because he had had some business dealings with Annas in the past. I waited outside. I wanted to know what was going to happen so that I could help the others, but I didn't dare come into the building. I was too scared to be recognized by one of the soldiers or chief priests that had come out to Gethsemane. After a while, John noticed that I hadn't come in with him. He instructed one of the servants to let me in. I stayed in the courtyard so I could keep my anonymity among the rest of those who were still out at this late hour. Then came the stares and the recognition. At first, it was just a servant girl who had recognized me from earlier in the week. I told her she must be mistaken. It was just once. I wasn't going to deny it two more times. There wasn't going to be another chance. I moved on. It was getting cold on the day so several had started a fire in the courtyard. I made my way over to warm myself after a while. The same servant girl came back. "This man was with Jesus," she told everyone around us. I told here, once again, that she had mistaken me for someone else. But there was one there who wouldn't accept it. He said, "Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean" (Mark 14:70). That was the final straw. I couldn't take it anymore. I said, "If I am a follower of this Jesus, may God strike me dead on the spot!" You know what happened? He didn't. I had kinda wished He did because right after that came out of my mouth the rooster crowed twice. I remembered what Jesus had said to me just a few short hours earlier: "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny Me three times." I glanced toward the room where Jesus was standing trial and His eyes were locked on me. What else could I do? I ran from the courtyard crying because I had failed my Lord. I had such a simple task--don't deny Jesus. Don't be called out as a disciple. Maybe if I had just left and not gone into Jerusalem that night. Maybe if I had gone to Bethany or Bethphage where Jesus had friends. Maybe, maybe, maybe. What I should have done was stand up for Jesus. Stand up and take whatever might have come my way. What could it have been? I don't know. I'll never know because I didn't choose that route. I chose the route of fear and denial to cover myself so that very little bad could happen. All my bluster and arrogance and I turned out to be nothing but a coward.
4. Fast forward three weeks. We're on the beach after a night of fishing. We've eaten breakfast and Jesus pulled me aside. Once, twice, three times He asked me the same question. It stung at first, but then I began to understand what He was doing. He was forgiving me for each time I had denied Him! He was telling me that I still had a vital part in His kingdom! I was to be His undershepherd for the people who would come after us. I was to feed His sheep in the faith that had been instilled in each of us Apostles. That was our responsibility in the kingdom of God--to spread the Word of God to the four corners of the earth. Jesus had forgiven me so that I could also display that forgiveness as in the prayer that He taught us: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." I had been reinstated to the ministry He had given to me from the very beginning of my following Him. But with that He gave me some disturbing news.
5. I answered Him the third time, "Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You" (John 21:17). He forgave me once again but added how I would glorify God and fulfill what I had arrogantly promised in the Garden of Gethsemane: "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" (v18). I was sure that He was prophesying my death, a martyr's death, for the glory of God. I knew that Jesus wanted me to fulfill my arrogant pledge, whether I truly meant it or not at the time. I was going to die with Him, but the major part of that statement is that I would die WITH HIM. As St. Paul writes to the church in Rome, "We were therefore buried with Him through Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead ... we too might walk in newness of life" (6:4). I would die with Jesus, just as I had promised, but I would also live with Him since He had also been raised from the dead. So I went proudly and boldly through my ministry throughout Judea and Galilee. I went to Rome and preached there for a short time before I was executed just like my Lord--crucified. I had no doubt that my death would be for the glory of God the Father through Jesus Christ because I no longer denied Him but openly proclaimed His message to anyone and everyone who would listen to me. May this Lententide, with its many guests in your midst, bring you to a place where you can also openly proclaim your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.