The Comparison Game, John 21:15-25, 1 December 2013

Big Idea: There is no reason to compare yourself to others—only Jesus, the One who loves and accepts you.

God wants you. Jesus said to Peter, “I still want you.” He still wants you, regardless of your past.


The comparison game.
We’ve all played it. We look at someone and judge ourselves better or worse, richer or poorer, more physically attractive or not as good looking, more or less mature, talented, smart, …the list is endless.

Am I the only one that does this?!

It used to be the first question asked at a pastor’s conference after, “What is your name?” was “How big is your church?” In other words, are you more or less successful than me based upon Sunday’s attendance. Can you see anything wrong?

I recently heard someone say every
reality TV show is designed to make us feel really good about ourselves or really bad. If you’ve ever watched an early season episode of American Idol you know what I mean. They tend to highlight the best and worst singers, placing viewers in the middle.

This happens among Christians, too. There’s a never-ending temptation to gauge the spirituality of others, either feeling smug and arrogant toward “sinners” or we screw up and feel inferior to others who have their act together—or so it appears. We either commend or condemn ourselves.

Let me remind you once again…

Nothing you can do can make God love you more.
Nothing you can do can make God love you less.

This is how I feel about my kids. They are mine. They will always be mine. I love them. I will always love them. Sure, they will disappoint me, but my love is unconditional. I always want what’s best for them.

When they screw up, there’s no shame. There’s not guilt. There’s forgiveness and grace. At least on my better days!

We are all messed up…but loved. If you don’t believe me, imagine denying Jesus…three times?

Back in John 18, Peter tastes his foot. Three times does exactly what Jesus said he would do—deny Him (John 13:38). These denials are so significant they are recorded in all four Gospels.

Have you ever hurt someone? How did you feel the next time you saw them? Guilt? Shame? Avoidance? Even if the interaction included an apology, it’s often uncomfortable for a while, right?

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (15a)

Jesus had given Simon the name Peter (Matt. 16:18) which means “rock.” If you recall, last week Jesus had cooked breakfast for him and six other disciples. Now the conversation Peter knew was inevitable was occurring. He had denied Jesus three times and it’s time for reconciliation. The aroma of charcoal is still in the air, reminding Peter of that dreadful night.

What is “these?” The other disciples? Fish? The other disciples’ love for Jesus? We don’t really know, but clearly Jesus is engaging the one who denied Him three times. He asks Peter, “Do you love me?” The Greek word for love here is “agape,” the highest expression of love in the New Testament.

Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Peter actually uses a different Greek word for love, “phileo” or brotherly love. This is why Philadelphia is called the city of brotherly love. These words were likely used interchangeably.

Jesus said,
“Feed my lambs.” (15b)

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a workshop led by Dr. Gary Chapman. Some of you may be familiar with his classic book
The Five Love Languages. It is essential reading for everyone. He talks about how each of us speaks one of five primary love languages, though our spouse or others may not and, therefore, we need to discover their love language in order to effectively communicate with them.

Chapman has discovered there are five languages of apology:

a. Expressing regret with "I'm sorry that I..." but explain what and why you are sorry without "but" in the apology; erase the but! Luke 15:21; Psalms 51
b. Accepting responsibility. "I was wrong..." 1 John 1:9. This is the first step in teaching children to apologize
c. Making restitution. "How can I make this right?" Luke 19:8
d. Genuinely repenting. "I don't want this to keep happening." Acts 2:38
e. Requesting forgiveness. "Will you please forgive me?" Psalms 51:2

Not long ago my wife and I read about the importance of restitution. Often just saying “sorry” is insufficient; further action is required. This is clearly the case with Peter. Jesus could have simply said, “Peter, are you sorry for denying me?” and Peter could’ve said, “Yes” and the story would have ended, but Jesus wants more than an apology; He wants Peter to take action and feed His lambs.

Last week was about fish. This week Jesus talks about lambs. Jesus is the Good Shepherd (Psalm 23) and He wants Peter to be a good shepherd, too. He wants Peter to take care of
His lambs. Jesus Himself is the Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, including ours and Peter’s.

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said,
“Take care of my sheep.” (16)

It’s amazing that after such a dramatic failure, Jesus would entrust His sheep to Peter. He would entrust the responsibility of His mission to this knuckle headed disciple and his ten ragamuffin colleagues.

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. (17)

Three denials, three questions, three response, three commands.

Notice the heart of the question is love for Jesus. If you are going to do anything for Jesus, you must love Him first. It’s so tempting to “do great things for God” and lose your first Love in the process. It’s easy to play religious games and fail to know and love Jesus. Sadly, I say this from experience. Each day I need to examine my own heart and my love for Jesus and let my “ministry” and life flow out of it.

Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (18-19)

Jesus may be referring to crucifixion. It is believed that Peter was sentenced to crucifixion for his faith in Jesus, yet refused to die a similar death and asked to be crucified upside down.

Jesus’ invitation to His disciples back in John chapter 1 was simple: “follow me.” In chapter ten He said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

This is what it means to be a Christian. It is not about how often you attend church or how much of the Bible you have memorized. The true measure of your faith is how you follow Jesus. It might lead to martyrdom and death as it did for Peter.

The problem is we are easily distracted. We start comparing ourselves to others that are less mature and we commend ourselves. We get prideful when we should be looking to our perfect Example, Jesus.

It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others that are less mature—or more mature, in which case we condemn ourselves. One of the great hindrances of coming to God with child-like faith is shame. We know how we’ve screwed up and we wonder if God still loves us. The story of Peter is a great reminder that we’re sons and daughters by birth, not worth. Jesus says, “You’re mine. you’re forgiven. I love you I’m with you.”

If you get nothing out of this message, get this: ignore the temptation to play the comparison game. You will always lose. Revel in the fact that Your Daddy loves you. Period. Don’t commend yourself. Don’t condemn yourself. Just keep your eyes on Jesus. Listen to His voice and obey.
Follow Jesus.

John concludes with three final things.

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” (20-21)

Here we see Peter is still competing with John.

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (22-23)

Like the rest of the chapter, this is an interesting thing to include. Again, we’re quite sure the disciple Jesus loved was…John, the author of this Gospel. Of course, Peter and John both died.

Notice how Peter plays the comparison game and Jesus’ responds twice with the same question: “What is that to you?”

Have you ever envied someone else’s life? Have you ever wished you could be in their shoes?

Jesus has one invitation for you. He says,
“Follow Me.” He doesn’t say be religious, join a church, or be a professional Christian. He doesn’t say to follow Billy Graham. He doesn’t necessarily say sell everything you have and move to Africa. He says to follow.

What is He calling you to do today? It may look different than what He is calling me to do. It may look different than what He called you to do in the past.
When we compare ourselves to others, we take our attention off Jesus.

Next, John says,

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

John states again the truth of his experience and testimony. This is not a novel. It is an historical record of real events and a real Person. He takes a solemn oath of truth. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus never wrote a book? In fact, we only know for sure of one thing He wrote and that was in the dirt in the midst of religious people accusing a woman of sin (John 8).

Finally, he recognizes the impossibility of recording everything Jesus did.

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (25)

Jesus was and is larger than life. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

And with that, we conclude the Gospel of John, the good news biography of Jesus Christ!!! He experienced Jesus like no other. He suffered as a result, but appears to have no regrets. He wants everyone to know—even us 2000 years later—that Jesus is good. Jesus is God.

Unlike other biographies, we don’t have to rely exclusively on second-hand information. Jesus is alive and He wants your life to become a book in which His love is written on your heart. He doesn’t want you to compare yourself to others, but rather follow Him.

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