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Feed My Sheep

John 21:15-17 “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.”  

This passage has suffered analysis, exegesis, eisegesis and parsing.  It has been translated and re-translated countless times by preachers.  We have asked why Jesus put the question to Peter three times.  We have been informed of the difference between agape love and phileo love; we have speculated why Jesus first spoke of lambs and then of sheep; we have read into the text alternative views whether or not Jesus was chastising or commissioning Peter.  There is probably a goldmine of truths in any of these viewpoints, and they are all worth pursuing, but today, I want to back up and simply look at the truth on the face of the Scripture.  Sometimes, we leave precious, obvious truths alone that lie in plain sight because we think the deeper truths hide out in some obscure corner of the Bible and only the greatest scholars and theologians can ferret them out. 

Let’s let the theologians fuss over the Greek and the hermeneutics, and the interpretations.  I just want to look at this little phrase that Jesus used, “Feed My Sheep.”  Feeding.  Food.  Eating.  Dinner.  Bread.  Fish.  Potatoes.  Vegetables.  Now, that’s something we don’t need a lot of Greek to understand!  Whatever else Jesus was talking about, He tied it all back to this concept of eating.  (I probably just complicated it by calling it a concept!)  Jesus was just telling Peter, “I want you to pay attention to food.  I want you to make sure my flock gets food!  In fact, I’m telling you that if you don’t feed my sheep, you don’t love me!  Feeding and loving go together!” 

Ask any mother with a newborn baby.  Her ears are attuned to the particular cry of her infant.  One cry means he’s tired.  Another cry means his tummy hurts.  Another cry says, “Change me!”  But the cry that means the most is the one that says, “I’m hungry!  Feed me!”  You can rock him, bounce him and twirl him around, but he’s not going to stop wailing until he gets fed.  A pacifier won’t satisfy a hungry baby.  “I want real food and I want it now!”  And so it begins.  We all like to eat and we can all blame our mothers for making us this way!  Some moms do an especially good job with feeding their children. 

When I was growing up, supper time was nearly as sacred as church time.  You could eat breakfast alone.  You could eat lunch alone.  But you never ate supper alone.  We all ate together as a family.  Everyone had a particular place at the table.  There was mom and dad, Carol, Jenny, Vicky and me.  Five of us.  If all of us were home, we sat and waited until everyone was at the table.  If someone wasn’t there, my Dad would holler, “We’re waiting!”  You didn’t play ball, read a book or talk on the phone at supper time.  You ate with the family.  It didn’t matter what we were eating.  That wasn’t the important thing.  It was a family thing.  If you didn’t like the food, that didn’t matter either.  You sat there and picked at what you wanted, but you didn’t leave the table until everyone was done.  Besides that, if you left before everyone was done, you weren’t getting a piece of Mother’s fudge icing cake or banana pudding!  An old song put it into these words: 

When I was but a boy in days of childhood; I used to play till evening shadows come.
Then winding down an old familiar pathway; I heard my mother call at set of sun
Come home, come home; its supper time; the shadows lengthen fast.
Come home, come home; it’s supper time; we’re going home at last.

Jesus has already told us in the parable of the marriage feast how much importance he attaches to supper time. Matthew 22:4-10 “Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. 5 But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: 6 And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. 7 But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8 Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. 9 Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. 10 So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.” 

That parable is a pretty broad hint not to take the King’s feast lightly!  So, what was behind the command of Jesus to “Feed My sheep?”  More to the point, what relevance does it have to an anniversary celebration for a church? 

1.  First, we need to understand that God likes sequence and rhythm.  We can go all the way back to the beginning and talk about the rhythm of life.  Evening and morning.  Revolving of the earth around the sun.  Spring, summer, fall and winter.  Sowing and reaping.  Waking and sleeping.  Male and female.  God did not intend for His creation to be a vector that started with “Let there be…” and continued without interruption or deviation on out into infinity.  Rather, He created us to live in cycles and seasons.  He causes nature to double back on itself in endless iterations.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-21 “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”

2.  If we live in a paradigm of cycles and seasons, there are other implications that follow.  It means that you and I will run out of stuff.  We don’t have inexhaustible resources.  We need to restock, we have to be replenished.  One meal isn’t enough.  One battery charge isn’t enough.  One harvest isn’t enough.  One boost isn’t enough.  The supply of energy runs out and has to be built up again.  When it comes to eating, it’s a daily business.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:9-11,”After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread.”

We have to be renewed.  Romans 12:1-2. 1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Let me tell you why this church has survived for 85 years.  It has been open for dinner 52 weeks of every one of those 85 years.  That’s 4,420 Sunday Mornings, 4,420 Sunday nights, 4,420 Bible Study nights.  That’s 13,260 times you have convened for a service.  Add in special services and revivals, and it’s easily over 14,000 or 15,000 times people have returned for services.  Of the 15,000 sermons and Bible studies that have gone over this pulpit, chances are great that the same text was used many times over.  You may say that is boring.  Well, if it is, then fried chicken is boring because you’ve had it before.  Don’t tell me you are going to order another ribeye or pecan encrusted tilapia at Longhorn—that’s what you got last time!  It’s about time someone put grasshoppers and fish heads on the menu then, because we wouldn’t want you to be bored!  No, it doesn’t work that way.  We eat the same food meal after meal because we know it’s good! And, that’s why we eat the same spiritual food so often.  That’s why we keep coming back to the same spiritual kitchen. 

3.  If we have depleted resources that need to be replenished, then we have to return to the source of our strength.  The way we are created, the way we are designed, the undeniable facts of our existence forces us back to the source of our supply.  This is why God created us with a sense of hunger.  If we never got hungry, we may forget to eat.  Hunger, however, may be satisfied with anything.  So, feeding is not just a matter of filling our stomachs, it is necessary to eat the right foods. 

I don’t know about you, but I like to know what I’m eating, and I like to know who fixed the food I’m eating.  Have you ever been to a potluck dinner?  We have a lot of good cooks in our church, so I don’t have to worry too much, but sometimes I’m not real sure.  That’s when I ask, “Who made that?”  If I don’t know, I usually stick to anything my wife made, because I know what I’m getting!  I don’t want to get food poisoning. 

There are a lot of off-brand chefs out there today, serving up garbage and calling it spiritual food.  Someone told me the other day that she turned on the radio just in time to hear the preacher say, “There’s someone out there right now who needs a healing.  If you’ll just send in $300 of seed money to this program, you’ll get your healing, plus God will bless you with $30,000!”  I think he made a little mistake.  I think he meant to say that God was going to bless him with $30,000! Fortunately, this saint of God knew junk food when she heard it!  

Jesus said “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6 

Matthew 11:28-30 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

I never get tired of hearing about the message of the oneness of God!  It’s food for my soul.  Preacher, preach Christ and Him crucified!  Fix up a good meal of baptism in Jesus’ Name, the infilling of the Holy Ghost, living a holy life and getting ready for the rapture!  I know I heard it last week or last month, but each time I hear it I can sink my teeth into it because it is the Word of God!  Oh yes, we can try some different entrée’s along the way, we can sample a variety of side dishes, but give me the staples of my diet.  They make me strong and they satisfy my spiritual hunger! 

4.  If we are forced to go back to our source, that means we have to live close to the source.  That’s the way it works.  One of the tactics in warfare is to cut off the supply line of the enemy.  If the opposing army can’t get munitions and weaponry, let alone food and water, he can be defeated.  In fact, you can just wait him out.  Sooner or later, he will die without a source of supply. 

You need to stay close to your source.  I worry about people who move away from the church.  I’ve had people come up to me and say, “Pastor, I’m taking a job in such and such a state.”  I ask, “Is there a church nearby?”  They reply, “Well, I haven’t really checked that out yet, but I’m sure we’ll find something.”  

John 15:4-5.  “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” 

5.  We need to understand that feeding the sheep is more than just feeding the sheep!  God could have created us to run forever on a single charge.  He could have installed solar panels in our heads to convert the energy of the sun into food or a source of energy so we would never have to stop.  But He didn’t create us that way.  In His infinite wisdom, God said, “No, I want you to have to eat every day.  If you didn’t have to eat every day, you would never have to come back to the source.  You would forget all about Me.  You would think you could go it alone without my help.”  So, God devised regular feeding times.  Why?  So we would stay in fellowship with Him!  So we would develop a relationship with our shepherd and our fellow sheep. 

Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”   

6.  Feeding is a joint venture between the shepherd and the flock.  This may seem like an observation that has little significance, but stop and think about the dynamics at work here.  The shepherd supplies the food and the sheep feeds on the food.  Revelation 3:20 says “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” There is an interaction between the two that requires trust, cooperation, productivity and a right outcome.  Without the sheep, the shepherd has no purpose; without the shepherd, the sheep have no source of food.  

Every wife here loves it when, after she has slaved over her special meal, her husband sits down, takes a bite and says, “Oh, my!  Sweetheart, you are the best cook in the whole world!  This is absolutely scrumptious!” That means delicious, delectable, mouthwatering, tasty, appetizing, rich, savory, flavorful!  It means more coming from her husband than anyone else.  Why?  Because it is an expression of love and care.  

Acts 20:28 “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” 

7.  Finally, you need to know how much meaning was in the phrase that Jesus spoke to Peter, “Feed My sheep!” The first part of the scenario where this took place was Jesus on the shore. 

John 21:9-13 “As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. 10 Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. 11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. 12 Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.”   

Jesus was introducing what feeding the flock was all about.  And then we find out that it was meant to be more than an event that happens in this life.  There is a great moment ahead for the church.  A trumpet will sound and the Bible says that we will be caught up to meet him in the air.  It’s going to be a glorious day when we are ushered into the presence of the King of kings.  There’s going to be an immense banquet hall.  

Revelation 19:6-10 “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. 7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. 9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. 10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” 

The church that was fed on earth, the flock that gathered into the house of God on a regular basis, the same group that sat down to sup with Jesus as often as they could—guess what?  Our Father is going to announce “It’s time to eat!”  And we’re all going to sit down together, as one great happy family, at the marriage supper of the Lamb!  There will be a place for me at the table.  There will be a place for you at the table.  I believe that God, who sees the end from the beginning, saw this great feast.  And like every other great truth in the Bible, He foreshadowed it in every church service.  Every time the preacher get up to preach, he breaks the Bread of Life and feeds it to the flock!  

Keep having anniversaries.  Every anniversary means that the church is still open for feeding!  Preacher, keep serving up good food.  If all you have is chicken, you can fix it a hundred different ways—just make sure it’s still chicken!  I’m a preacher.  All I have to work with is the Word of God!  I might see what Adam Clark, or Matthew Henry, or the Expositor’s Bible has to say, but I going to come back to the Bible—the original text.  In the end, that’s what matters!  

At every ordination service, I give a charge to the ordination candidates.  It’s a solemn, sobering moment.  I usually read from 2 Timothy, chapter 4.  I want to close with this passage, but I want to paraphrase it from the saint’s perspective. 

2 Timothy 4:1-8 (Jordan paraphrase)  1  I charge you therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge everyone, both dead and alive, at his appearing and his kingdom; 2  Listen to the preached word; whether you like it or not, whether it’s convenient or not.  Endure reproving, rebuking and exhortation with even when it is hard to take because you need strong doctrine. 3 For the time is coming when churchgoers will not endure sound doctrine; but will go after televangelists, charmers, and positive mental attitude speakers because they like their smooth, sweet messages better; 4  And they shall resent being told the truth, and would rather hear fairy tales and lies. 5 But, let your shepherd watch over you, appreciate that he goes through tough times for you, encourage him to evangelize the community, and make sure he deals straightforward and honestly with you. 6 For your pastor will not always be with you.  7 Help him to fight a good fight, to finish his race, and to keep the faith: 8 If you do, there is laid up for him a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give him at that day: and not to him only, but you also if you love his appearing!” 

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