A Powerful Question

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John 21:15–23 “So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19  This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. 20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? 21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? 22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. 23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”

Questions are powerful because they provoke our thoughts, and cause a person to consider what’s going on in their minds.

They can even be very simple questions, but when they are asked at the right time, the impact they can have on a person’s life is undeniable.

Let me give you a few examples of some questions, that when asked at the right time, can be extremely powerful.

  • If you could do this over again, what would you do differently?
  • How do you think you could improve the situation?
  • In the grand scheme of things, how important is this situation to you?

Here’s a powerful question I ask myself from time to time to affect my personal life, my family, and my work. It’s called a “dimensional question”.

  • What three actions can I take in the next ninety days that will have the most dramatic impact on achieving my objectives?

    • What three actions can I take in the next ninety days that will have the most dramatic impact on:
      • My marriage
      • My connection with my teenagers
      • My physical health
      • My personal outreach for Jesus Christ

So you see, questions are very powerful!

Here in our portion of scripture, Jesus asks Peter, a five-word question, that hit right at the heart of the matter.

It hit home because Peter was starting a new chapter in his life, and Jesus needed to shake Peter up a little bit, to get his attention and prepare him for his future ministry.

Up to this point, Peter had been pretty unpredictable. His level of commitment was doubtful since he had denied the Lord three times just a short time before this.

Let me set the scene. This is about two weeks after Jesus had risen from the grave, and it is the third time that he appeared to his disciples since then.

Peter and six other disciples had been out fishing when Jesus showed up again. This time he stood on the beach and called out to them, asking if they had caught anything.

When they said no, he suggested that they try fishing on the other side. It was then that they caught 153 fish in one net, and knew that it was Jesus.

So they were excited to see their risen Savior and hurried back to the shore.

It was in that situation that Jesus takes Peter on a little walk and asks him a powerful question that changed his life.

It was a question that actually followed some other questions. If you read the story you can tell that Jesus was unpacking Peter’s spiritual box, and Peter was a little bit frustrated by it.

Let’s read it again, and then we can learn more about it, and make some personal application.

Read – John 21:15–23 “So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19  This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. 20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? 21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? 22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. 23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”

Did you notice that Jesus asked Peter if he loves him three times in a row? Peter was getting frustrated by what seemed like an interrogation.

Look at – John 21:17 “He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me?…”

So Jesus really was unpacking Peter’s spiritual box, and Peter was getting uncomfortable about it. To be honest, any one of us would be uncomfortable in that situation.

So, why did Jesus ask Peter if he loved him, three separate times? Well, here’s a question, how many times did Peter deny Jesus?

Did you notice that it was after the third time that Peter began to sweat? Well, it says Peter was “grieved”, which literally means “to cause sorrow”.

However, let me point out one more detail about this exchange, and then we will get into some personal application.

If you dig into the original language, you will discover that there was more going on here.

In essence, Jesus kept asking Peter if he loved him unconditionally, and Peter kept replying by saying that he loved Jesus like a brother.

The Greek words are “Agape” and “Phileo”. Jesus asked, “Peter, do you AGAPE me” (unconditional love), and Peter would answer “Lord, you know I PHILEO you”. (brotherly love…like the city of Philadelphia….which means the city of brotherly love.

So now you can see a little bit better why I say that Jesus, was unpacking Peter’s spiritual box. He had to because Jesus knew that God was going to use Peter in amazing and incredible ways, and Jesus had to prepare him for that.

It was during this questioning, that Jesus predicted some things about Peter’s death. Again, we have to remember that Peter denied the Lord three times, as Jesus was being tortured and condemned to crucifixion.

Now, Jesus predicts some things about how Peter was going to die, and Peter wasn’t sure that was really fair. So Peter brought up John and asked what was going to happen to him.

It is here that Jesus asks an incredibly powerful question that would change Peter’s life forever.

Pick up now in – John 21:20–23 “Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? 21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? 22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. 23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

So let me take a few moments, and draw from these scriptures, some truths that we can make personal application with.

1. The Failure of People

When Jesus spoke of Peter’s death, Peter responded by pointing out some other people.

He brought up Judas, and then he brought up John. This is an interesting thing because there was no doubt about how much John loved the Lord. All of the others knew it.

But Peter was asking what about others that had failed Jesus, and what was going to happen to them.

It is here, that Jesus asked this powerful question. What is that to thee?

Jesus said to him, “what is that to thee, follow thou me”.

In other words, “Peter, don’t worry about them, you just follow me”.

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Now we are in a sensitive area. So many Christians look at the failures of others, as a way to justify their own spiritual mediocrity.

So many hide behind other hypocrites, so they can remain comfortable with their own hypocrisy.

But you have to remember: you are not accountable for the sins or spiritual failures of others.

It says in – Romans 14:12 “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

There will be no excuses when we stand before God, we won’t be able to point at the failures of other people and say, “What about them, God”?

You won’t be able to point at the spiritual failure of your wife or husband, your mother or father, or your friend or coworker.

What if others have spiritual failures in their life? That is no excuse for you to fail too.

Whether or not you follow the Lord, is on you.

2. The Offenses of People

Peter knew very well that he had denied Jesus in his most difficult hour. Let’s take a quick look at that event because it is such an important part of what is going on here.

About two weeks before this time, we see what happened in – Luke 22:54–62 “Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest’s house. And Peter followed afar off. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 But a certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him, and said, This man was also with him. 57 And he denied him, saying, Woman, I know him not. 58 And after a little while another saw him, and said, Thou art also of them. And Peter said, Man, I am not. 59 And about the space of one hour after another confidently affirmed, saying, Of a truth this fellow also was with him: for he is a Galilaean. 60 And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest. And immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew. 61 And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. 62 And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.”

So, Peter had a pretty rough time. He was scared, he was confused, and he was ashamed.

Now, Jesus is talking to him personally and what had happened is all coming up. Peter probably thought that this prediction about Peter dying a difficult death was some kind of a punishment.

So, Peter asks the Lord, “what about the one who betrayed you”? Peter was upset about whoever it was that betrayed Jesus.

He was suggesting that certainly whoever that was, deserves worse punishment than he did.

What about their offenses? What is going to happen to them?

But Jesus asks Peter, “What is that to thee”? Peter had his own offenses, didn’t he?

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I know of Christians that have done things that are offensive to God.

I also know Christians that drop out of church and drift away from God, because they were offended by what some other Christian did.

What is that to thee? Follow Jesus anyway!

3. The Pride of People

Peter brings up John, and ask Jesus, “Lord, what shall this man do?”

Peter wants to compare himself to John.

Lord, “if I am going to feed the sheep. What will John do?” – “if I am going to die for you. What will John do?”

Peter is wanting to know the Lord’s plans for John, so he can compare the Lord’s plans for him.

Jesus responds by basically saying “Peter, if I decide that John should never die, what business is that of yours”?

Later on, Paul tells us in – 2 Corinthians 10:12 “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”

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There are too many Christians that want to have a higher rank on Earth, than other Christians.

But that is not how it works, in God’s economy.

So, as we see, questions can be pretty powerful.

In the end, that question had probed so deep into the heart of Peter that spent the rest of his life living for Christ and telling other’s how to be saved.

Sure enough, Peter was such a powerful preacher and servant of Christ, that he was killed for it by the Romans.

They crucified him, but Peter refused to be crucified in the same way as his Lord was, so he requested to be crucified upside down.

….but “What is THAT to YOU”? – Follow Christ. Amen?