RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–It’s a simple question: “Do you love me?”
It cuts to the quick, demands a straight answer. When someone asks you such a question honestly, you respond from the heart.
When the Lord asks, can you do any less?
In one of the most beautiful and mysterious encounters recorded in the New Testament, the risen Jesus appeared one morning at dawn beside the Sea of Tiberias (John 21). Some of the disciples had been fishing there all night, but had caught nothing. A stranger on shore called out to them to cast the net one more time. They did — and couldn’t lift all the fish in the net. John, the beloved disciple of Christ, realized that the “stranger” was the Lord and told Peter.
Peter, true to form, plunged into the water and swam 100 yards to shore to greet Jesus. The others followed on the boat. As the sun broke over the water, Jesus invited them to a breakfast of bread and fish He had already laid atop a charcoal fire on the beach. One can only imagine the awe the disciples felt during this quiet meal by the sea.
Afterward, the Lord asked Peter, not once but three times, “Do you love Me?”
Most commentators focus on Peter’s responses (“Yes, Lord; You know that I love You”) and what Jesus told him to do as a result: “Tend My lambs…. Shepherd My sheep…. Tend My sheep” (John 21:15-17).
But think for a moment about the question itself –- and who asked it.
“Jesus needed to hear a human voice tell Him, ‘You know that I love you,'” wrote the late Brother Roger, founder of the non-denominational Taize Christian community in France. “Christ asks each of us the very same question, age-old and always new: ‘Do you love Me?'”
Here is a divine mystery. Does the Lord really “need” anything from us? Perhaps there is a better word to describe the yearning of a holy and eternal God. Yet at the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you …” (Luke 22:15). At Gethsemane, He cried, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me” (Matthew 26:38). Yes, these words came just before Christ’s suffering and death, when the weight of the world’s sin and impending rejection was upon Him. But on the beach, after His passion and glorious resurrection were accomplished, He still wanted to know … “Do you love Me?”
The desire of God the Son and God the Father is one. From the time He created us, He has expressed again and again His deep longing that we abide with Him, worship Him, love Him, adore Him. It is the very reason He created us –- not to bless us, though He does so in abundance, but that we might bless Him.
“We” means all of humanity, not just the children of ancient Israel or the inhabitants of “Christian” lands in our age. Jesus told Peter to “Shepherd My sheep,” to love and disciple His followers so that they, in turn, might love and disciple others among all nations who would glorify Him. He spoke of these generations of spiritual children in His priestly prayer to the Father: “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word … that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:20, 23b).
These are missionary passages of Scripture as surely as Matthew 28:19 and Acts 1:8. But they hint at the bottomless depths of God’s love and His desire to be loved -– both of which motivate His command that we go to all nations.
That’s why missions is an act of worship. Through missions, we sing glory to God in places and among peoples where He has not been glorified before. We make new disciples who will join in the everlasting song of praise and teach it to others. As John Piper reminds us, when the day comes that God is being worshipped among all peoples, the need for missions will cease. But worship will go on forever.
During 2005, Southern Baptist missionaries and their international partners began church planting among 104 people groups for the first time -– including 13 peoples with no evangelical churches of any kind.
“For these 13 people groups, for the first time in their history there is a church representing our Lord and Savior to an unreached people that have never heard the Gospel, don’t have a Bible in their language and have never known what church looks like,” explains Gordon Fort, International Mission Board vice president for overseas operations.
Put another way, these 13 peoples have been given the opportunity to join the vast, multilingual choir singing songs of love to the Lord.
“Do you love Me?”
Yes, Lord, You know that we love You. Help us to love You more by shepherding Your lost sheep home.
Erich Bridges is senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. To comment on this column visit CounterCultureBlog.com.
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