The coach stopped at a place called Tabghe in Galilee. We walked down to the lakeside past a church called the Church of the Primacy. Despite the fact there were groups of other pilgrims from around the world, the lake itself was calm and peaceful. Just in front of us, a group of seabirds dived in and out of the reeds. In the distance, the hills stood calm and tranquil. For a brief moment a small bird of prey hovered overhead, while to our left in a wall running down to the shore, a colony of rock badgers looked on with curiosity. We sat and we took in the calm, and we listened to these words of Jesus from John 21:
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
For me, it was a very special moment. It was almost as if I was sharing breakfast with Jesus and He was renewing my call to feed His sheep. It was one of those powerful occasions that will stay with me for a long, long time.
That’s all very well, you may say, but what’s that got to do with me? And what has it got to do with Palm Sunday?
Well, we all know the story of Palm Sunday. It is the story of how the crowds welcomed Jesus as he rode down the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley, and into Jerusalem. We hear in our reading today how they acclaimed Him as King, as the Son of David. It’s a wonderful, joyful story. And yet we know there is a shadow looming over the scene. Because in five days what will most of the crowd be shouting? That’s right – “Crucify! Crucify!” It’s a reminder of how fickle human nature can be, how easily the emotions of a crowd may turn.
Now I’m not suggesting that any of us are like the crowd, but consider this: next Friday, after a hard week at work, maybe a stressful time with family or friends, what will your love for Jesus be like? Maybe it’s just me, but I find that in the pressures and strains of each day my love for Jesus tends to grow cool, that I forget all that He has done for me. And that’s a problem. God warned the church in Laodicea in Rev 3:16 that because they were neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, He would spit them out of His mouth. It’s a dramatic warning and a dramatic picture of what can happen when we allow our love for Jesus to be squeezed out and drained by our everyday circumstances.
So maybe we need to examine again what it means to say that we love Jesus. And I have five points beginning with D.
The first one is Decision. Because love starts with a decision. In under two weeks, William and Kate will be getting married. I don’t know exactly what forms of words they will use in the service, but when William is asked whether he will take Kate to be his lawfully wedded wife, His answer will not be, “I suppose so”. “I’ll give it a go”. It will be “I will”. Love starts with a decision. And the same is true when it comes to following Jesus. You cannot follow Jesus unless you first decide to accept Him as your Lord and Saviour. Is that you have done? If you haven’t, then there is something you need to do this morning.
The second D is Desire. How people here love chocolate? As I thought, quite a few. If you love chocolate, the chances are you think about chocolate. You want to get hold of chocolate. You want to eat chocolate. Chocolate is an important part of your life. What about loving Jesus? Do we have a desire to know more and more of Jesus? Do we think about Him? Do you long to spend more time with Him? I believe there are some here this morning who have made a decision for Jesus in the past but whose desire has been crowded out by other things, by other pursuits. If that’s the case for you, then I would challenge you to think just how Jesus is Lord over your life, how much you want Him to have authority over you.
The third D is Devotion. From time to time you hear in the news those really cute animal stories in the news, for example about a dog who sits on his master’s grave for weeks or even months after his owner has died. They may be cute, but they also teach us a real lesson about devotion. Devotion is about being prepared to follow someone through every circumstance, even to death and beyond. You may remember Jesus said to His disciples: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”. (Luke 9:23). How far are we prepared to follow Jesus? Are we willing to be known as His followers whatever the cost, whatever other people think of us? Increasingly that’s a question which in this country demands a hard, practical answer.
This leads on the fourth D which is Discipline. For those of who have ever fallen in love, you may remember that when you first met your beloved, you tried to spend as much time with him or her as possible. Your whole life revolved around seeing each other as often as possible. Later on when the relationship settled down, you may not have seen each other quite as much, but I hope you still tried to arrange regular time when you could share time one with the other. And that’s what it should be like in our relationship with Jesus. If we love Jesus, then we need to allow time and space for our relationship with Him to grow. We need to read our Bibles, to pray, to worship together with our other believers. These are essentials parts of being His follower.
Because finally the fifth D is about being a disciple. You’ll heard a lot more about being a disciple over the next few months at St Michael’s. Because our faith isn’t something we keep in a box or under the table to be brought on Sundays or special days. Our faith is something alive and growing. It’s about learning to love Jesus more and more each day, and allowing Him to have more and more authority over our lives.
Decision, Desire, Devotion, Discipline, Discipleship. I hope you can probably see there’s a lot more to loving Jesus than perhaps you realised before. And if you’ve never thought about loving Jesus in those terms today, then today is a chance to make fresh start, to declare your love for Jesus either for the first time or to make a new commitment.
Back to those crowds in Jerusalem. You see, they hadn’t really made a decision to follow Jesus. They simply caught up in the emotion of the occasion. They didn’t have a desire to accept Him for all He truly is. They wanted a Saviour who would do what they wanted Him to do, not do what their Saviour asked of them. They certainly didn’t have the devotion to follow Jesus all the way to the cross. And they didn’t have the discipline to listen to what He was really saying.
And yet, do you know what? Even though so many of Jesus’ followers deserted and denied over the next few days, after the resurrection Jesus offered them once again the opportunity to become His disciples. That’s what the breakfast down by the lakeside in Galilee was all about. That’s why the question Jesus specifically asked Peter was “Do you love me?” Because the wonderful good news is that even when we deny Jesus, even when we fail as disciples, Jesus so often gives us a fresh start. And if that’s what you need to hear this morning, if you are conscious that you failed to love Jesus as you ought, you too can once again become His disciple. That is the wonderful good news of the Easter story. Accept it today.