Christianity 201

May 5, 2022

What Does Greater Devotion to Jesus Get You?

Thinking Through John 21:15-19

by Clarke Dixon

If we are more devoted to Jesus than others, we should get more privileges, right? Or perhaps we don’t want to compare ourselves to others. If we are more devoted to Jesus than we were five or ten years ago, there should be advantages, right? The following conversation between Jesus and Peter will help us discover what a greater devotion to Jesus does, and does not, get us. So here we go:

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

John 21:15-17 (NLT)

We might wonder what “these” refer to when Jesus asked Peter “do you love me more than these.” One possibility, since Peter had just been fishing, is “do you love me more than these things?” that is, this fishing gear. It could be “do you love me more than you love these disciples?”. Or it could be “do you love me more than these other disciples love me?”. This last possibility is seen by many Bible scholars as the best given that Peter always seemed to be first among the disciples. He was the one who asked to walk on water with Jesus, he was the one who at first refused to have his feet washed by Jesus, he was the first to say he was willing to die for Jesus.

Let us consider what Jesus did, and did not, say to Peter:

Jesus did not say to Peter “if you love me more than these then why did you deny you knew me when I was arrested and put on trial?”

Jesus did not lecture Peter about he should have done, or what he could do better moving forward. There was no interrogation. Jesus did not even mention Peter’s sin against him. But the fact that Jesus asked three times by a fire “do you love me?” would have reminded Peter of the three times he denied Jesus by a fire.

The message was clear; Jesus had not forgotten, but he had forgiven.

Jesus did say “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” Jesus forgave and was ready to move forward in their relationship.

Greater devotion to Jesus does not get us greater forgiveness. Greater devotion to Jesus does open up the opportunity to move forward in forgiveness already granted.

Jesus did not say “since you love me more than these, then I will love you more than these.”

Jesus said “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” Jesus called Peter to this task, not out of greater love for Peter, but out of great love love for all the sheep.

Jesus also said, “follow me.” Follow where? In the path of the shepherd, in the path of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. If you love me more than these, then love them just as I do!

Greater devotion to Jesus does not mean we will be loved more by Jesus. It does mean we will love more like Jesus.

Jesus did not say “since you love me more, you will get special treatment.”

It is natural to think that if we love Jesus more than others, or more than we used to, then we should be rewarded with greater privileges. If we pray more, read the Bible more, do more religious things, and become better followers, we should receive a more privileged place, right?

Jesus said “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.”

Greater devotion to Jesus does not lead to greater privilege, it leads to the privilege of greater service.

Jesus did not say “since you love me more, you will get more power and authority.”

Jesus said “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.”

Jesus used a verb meaning “shepherd” which some may jump on as a reason to claim power and authority. After all, sheep need the shepherd to guide them to better pastures. The shepherd knows best, right? But it is translated here as “take care of” and in some other translations as “tend” since it should be taken more as caring for the sheep and being responsible for them, rather than ruling over them.

In fact Jesus pointed out the kind of power and authority Peter would enjoy in the future:

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”

John 21:18-19 (NLT)

You might think that Jesus, in establishing the Kingdom of God, would have called together powerful people and instructed them to grab after more power for the sake of the Kingdom. That’s how empires work. That’s not how Jesus works.

Jesus told Peter to “follow me.” Yes, Peter was called to be a shepherd, but he was called to remain a sheep, following the path of the Good Shepherd in the way of the cross, in the way of putting the needs of others first.

Greater devotion to Jesus does not mean greater power and control over others, it means greater opportunity to care for others.

Jesus did not say, “since you love me more, everyone should be just like you.”

Jesus did not say “create a community of Jesus-loving-Jewish-fishermen,” but “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.”

Peter would go on to discover that the sheep were all quite different from each other, especially so once it became clear that non-Jews were invited into the Kingdom! The sheep were people from all different kinds of backgrounds and situations. Some were rich, some poor, some Jewish, some not, some were male, others female, some were Pharisees and some were Romans.

Peter’s role was not to make everyone just like him, but to help everyone live out the Kingdom pivot in their lives, in their context, just as he was doing in his own.

In my years of being a pastor, a shepherd, and we are all shepherds to someone, I’ve discovered that the sheep are all quite different. Some of the sheep vote conservative, some liberal, some are introverted, others are extroverted, some have easily trusted the medical professionals, some have not, some think the government should provide more care for people, others thing the government should play a lessor role in our lives, some think abortion is the taking of life, some think abortion can be a means of health care, some drink only tea, some enjoy Guinness, some like long sermons, some don’t like sermons at all, some love the Bible, some have great difficulty making any sense of it, some are straight, some are gay, some are well off, some are not far from poverty. Jesus did not say “make everyone be like you,” but “feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” That means all of them. Even if we are not called to vocational ministry, we have the opportunity to take care of people who are different, and think different, from us.

In my years of being a shepherd, I have been grateful for sheep that have been different, and who have helped me to see things from different perspectives. Sheep can shepherd shepherds! In fact the sheep depend on the shepherds being sheep and following Jesus.

Greater devotion to Jesus does not give us the right to strong-arm people into becoming just like us, it means serving people, all people, helping them become more like Jesus even if they are nothing like us.

Do we love Jesus more than ever?

I hope we do, but it does not give us greater forgiveness, love, privilege, power, or make us the shining example of what following Jesus looks like.

Greater devotion to Jesus does give us the opportunity to move forward in forgiveness, and a greater opportunity to love.

Jesus asks us as he did Peter, “do you love me.” If so, let us commit to loving and serving others.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. You can read more at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

May 3, 2016

Dancing with the Wrong Partner

John 20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” …

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

In the process of digging deeper here at Christianity 201, we usually eschew certain types of illustrations, but every once in awhile there is one that really makes you think. That was the case when I read this article by Canadian pastor and fiction author Matthew David Brough. Click the title below to read this at source.

May I Cut In?

Today  I came across an idea I had written about three years ago for a sermon on the same bit of Scripture as this coming Sunday’s. Here’s the thought – stick with it to the end.

John 20:19-31 describes a group of frightened men locked away in an upper room on the first Easter evening. They’re afraid that they will meet with the same fate as Jesus did three days earlier. Will the authorities start rounding up his followers? Will the authorities find out that they were indeed his disciples?

Suddenly, though the doors are locked, Jesus appears among them. He shows them his hands and feet and says “peace be with you” – their faith in him is renewed.

How did Jesus suddenly appear among them? I guess Jesus’ resurrected body must be able to just disappear and reappear and pass through walls. That’s pretty awesome, but it’s not the point (at least not the point today). The point is that Jesus wanted to be in that room with his fearful followers. He chose to come to them. I imagine that if Jesus wasn’t able pass through walls, he would have found some way into that room – he would have broke in if he’d had to.

I think Jesus is like that with us. Ever been afraid? Ever been discouraged? Ever been full of doubt? Beaten by life? Jesus wants to break in and say “peace” to you.

Another way of thinking about this…

You may have seen this scene in an old movie or something. A man and woman are dancing and there is this other man on the sideline, watching. The man on the side knows in his heart that he is supposed to be the one dancing with the woman. She is so beautiful to him – he just knows they are meant for each other. She is dancing with the wrong partner. He walks up to the couple and says “may I cut in?”

That’s what Jesus does. He sees you for who you truly are – you are beautiful to him. He doesn’t judge you – he just despairs that you are dancing with the wrong partner. You’re dancing with fear, with greed, with ambition, with doubt. But Jesus knows you are meant to dance with him. Fortunately, Jesus is even more persistent than the romantic lead in the old movie.

He interrupts your dance and says “may I cut in?”

Then, it’s your move.

Incidentally, the disciples were still hiding in the same room a week later. You know what Jesus did? He showed up again. “May I cut in?” “Peace be with you” were the first words out of his mouth.

March 31, 2016

Fishing, Failure and Reconciliation

Today we introduce a new writer, Dottie Parish who I discovered online and asked if she would submit some articles for us. You can read more of her writing at Faith Notes.

Often we spend the forty days before Easter focusing on Christ’s journey as he sets his face toward Jerusalem and crucifixion. What about the forty days after Easter? Scripture describes a number of Jesus’ resurrection appearances including the fact that he appeared to 500 people. (1 Cor. 15:6-7) His resurrection was no delusion by a few ardent disciples.

He talked with them, ate and drank with them, showed them his nail scarred hands and wounded side. And he taught them, loved them, and prepared them for his Ascension. And He prepared them to be His Church on earth.

One of the most compelling resurrection appearances (John 21:1-17 NIV) describes a fishing excursion of Peter and six other disciples. They caught nothing after hours of fishing. Early in the morning Jesus greeted them from the shore asking if they have any fish. They reply, “No” and he tells them “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they do, they are unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

John (recognizing Jesus) says, “It is the Lord.” Peter jumps into the water and swims to shore. (So eager!) The other disciples follow in the boat, towing the net full of fish.

They have breakfast with Jesus on the shore and Scripture says, “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” I think they knew it was Jesus, but they were ashamed of their failure – their abandonment of him after his arrest. And Peter was ashamed of denying him three times.

The Scripture continues (John 21:15-16 NIV)

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.”   

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.”

          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.” 

Jesus lovingly questions Peter’s commitment and he questions it three times to give Peter the opportunity to affirm his devotion three times – thus erasing the failure in Peter’s mind (already erased by the cross).

Peter is identified as the overseer of the church. Feed my lambs, feed my sheep, take care of my sheep – all refer to his being the shepherd entrusted to feed the Word to the sheep – to the Church.

Take time to read and study his Word today and teach it to those in your care.


Here’s another article by Dottie Parish which deals with post-resurrection appearances of Jesus: Resurrection Doubt? No, He’s Alive!