Lipstick on a pig?
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19 ESV)
If you’ve never been to a county fair, especially a rural county fair, you have yet to experience life. The sights, smells and experiences are just unequaled. You can see and admire some of the best crafts by some extremely skilled men and women. You can eat some of the best foods you’ve ever tasted. You can even have the thrill of kissing a pig. Yes, kissing a real, live pig. I’ve been to my share of these events and “pig kissing” is the epitome of winning an event you wish you hadn’t won. By the way, putting lipstick on the pig doesn’t really help. It’s still a pig. You ought to try it sometime… you’ll love it.
Love is such a misused and misunderstood term and emotion these days. We love a particular ice cream brand or flavor, we love our favorite sports teams and we love our wife and children. We get upset with our team when they lose but we continue to hope and anticipate a comeback and a championship, but we somehow stop loving our spouse and lose all hope of relationship restoration. We claim to love, but I’m not sure we really know what that means.
In the passage we will consider today, Jesus challenges Peter’s claim to love Christ more than the others. It is important for us to understand what Jesus is doing and why. First, His response to Peter is in direct contrast to Peter’s claim and subsequent failures on the night of Jesus’ arrest. Peter had made a bold declaration of his love for Christ and his willingness to die for Him (see John 13:37). It was following this bold declaration of Peter’s love and sacrificial devotion that Jesus warned Peter that he would, in fact, fail miserably in his devotion and would deny Christ three times before the next morning.
It is seems easy to read this passage, be reminded of Peter’s claims and subsequent failures and to think that Jesus is rubbing Peter’s nose in it. But, that’s really NOT what’s happening. As a matter of fact, the exact opposite is taking place. While Jesus does appear to be referencing Peter’s denial, He does so not to condemn and ridicule Peter but to gently lead him to repentance and restoration. Let’s take a look…
After a nice breakfast on the lake shore, Jesus begins to ask Peter about his love. Notice the way he asks the first time, “Peter, do you love me more than these?” I think Jesus’ question is like a cannon blast in Peter’s ears. I think it leaves Peter a bit stunned and taken back. I also see at least two possible meanings. First, Jesus could be asking if Peter really meant it when he claimed he loved Jesus more than the other disciples (see Matt. 26:33). Peter, do you love me more than these other disciples?
Peter is definitely not the shy, reserved type. If Nathaniel, Matthew or even John thinks they love Jesus more than Peter, well they’d better check again because Peter is never going to be outdone. Peter’s motto seems to be: “you may be good, but I’m better.” Peter makes very bold claims and then fails just as spectacularly. But he’s not so different than us… we make bold claims, too.
Jesus has reminded us several times in His teachings that we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, the Great Commandment. But one thing that’s often overlooked in His teachings is that if you truly love God the Father then you will also love His Son, Jesus. In fact, in John 8, the Pharisees declare their love of God but Jesus challenges them and states emphatically “if God were truly your father then you would love me!” (John 8:42 http://bible.com/59/jhn.8.42.esv) To illustrate just how important our love for Jesus must be, Jesus even compares it to loving our father, our mother and even our own children…
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37 ESV)
Jesus doesn’t leave us any wiggle room in that statement. In all honesty, he’s pretty blunt about where He should fit in our lives and where others should fit and there’s little doubt that He definitely comes first.
Not worthy of me… Hmmm. I think we struggle with that concept. Our tendency is to use our love of family as evidence of our love of God. But truthfully, the opposite is what Jesus intended. Our absolute love of God must be evidence of our love of family and must motivate and drive our love of family. If we keep them in the correct order we will absolutely succeed at both, but If we get those backwards we will fail at both. Why?
When our love of God slips out of first place then we can easily substitute love of self into that position and when that happens it has a domino effect on everything else. Love of self over love of God gives us permission to abandon our marriage vows, neglect our parental responsibilities, and even turn a blind eye to the needs of our parents.
The second way in which Jesus could have meant the question regarding Peter’s love is, quite literally, all around them. Peter had gone home and gone fishing. They were back in Peter’s comfort zone. So, Jesus’ question might not have been referencing the other disciples, per se, but Peter’s home, profession, and personal passions. Do you love me more than these things, Peter? (see Lk 18:28-30) Do you love me more than fishing, more than home, more than your comfortable life? Do you really love me, Peter? Will you leave these things behind and stay on task with what I’ve called you to do?
We’re often willing to follow God and obey His calling and commands as long as they fit within our existing goals and priorities. God I love you. Here are my plans for life. Thanks for blessing them. Wait. Let’s go back to those verses I cited above from Matthew 10… look at the next two verses:
“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39 ESV)
We act like all we need or want from Jesus is just a little fix for a few problems we find annoying. Sort of like an antibiotic for an infection. We just need a little boost to our immune system for an annoying spiritual infection. But in reality, that’s not what we need. We know that! That’s like putting lipstick on a pig. It doesn’t really help. We act like God’s just tagging along for when we really mess things up. Jesus says we don’t really find life until we lose it for Him. If we approach love of God like this then we don’t really love God, we love ourselves.
In fact, I think that’s precisely what Jesus is doing with Peter. He asks, Peter do you love (agape) me above everything else? Peter answers, Lord you know I love (philo) you like a brother. He asks him twice using that same phrase, then on the third time Jesus asks, do you love me like a brother? He changes the question to reflect Peter’s reply and asks a third and final time. Peter is devastated because Jesus had asked him three times. While John doesn’t specifically mention the reason why Jesus asked three times nor why Peter was grieved, it isn’t hard to guess why. Peter’s denial at the High Priest’s home is still a gaping wound in Peter’s soul.
It is easy to put on a mask and make everyone think everything is fine with our lives when we we are really dying inside (just lipstick on a pig – a dead pig, in fact). We feel lost, confused, unsure or just downright broken and we don’t know what to do. These feelings can come from struggles at work, or struggles at home. They can leave us empty and hollow or they can leave us seething with anger. We try and smile and fake our way through the day, but we are just about to collapse in emotional exhaustion. Our smile is nothing more than lipstick on a pig. We’re just covering up the painful truth of a broken life. Just like Peter… But notice what Jesus did with Peter.
First, Peter needed to face the truth of his denial. Jesus didn’t ask this same question three times just for repetition, it was painful but it was also intentional. Physical and emotional wounds won’t properly heal if you simply ignore them. First, the wound needs to be cleaned out. Sometimes that’s almost as painful as the initial injury, but it is necessary. It can cause the wound to bleed, again. But blood is necessary for cleansing and healing. Peter needed to face the fact that his denial was out of fear, but the truth of the resurrection can drive out all fear. We need to face the reality of our own failures, too. Painful? Yes, but necessary.
Second, Peter needed to know Jesus’ love was greater than Peter’s failures. Peter wasn’t discarded because of his actions. Peter, do you still love me more than these? God’s grace isn’t for those who are morally and spiritually perfect and Jesus’ healing isn’t for those who are healthy. God’s grace is poured out on those who are fully aware of their failures and Jesus’ healing is for those who know they need a physician. Jesus didn’t come to rub sand in Peter’s wound, He came to pour the healing salve of love all over it. He also doesn’t expose our sin just to irritate them, or us. He exposes them so God’s love and grace can be poured on them.
Finally, Peter’s wounds and failures didn’t disqualify him from fulfilling his ministry. Peter’s purpose and calling had not been cast aside. He might bear a few marks or scars, but Jesus covers our unrighteousness with His righteousness. He also uses our failures as ministry connections with those who are hurting. Peter is called to feed and tend Jesus’ lambs and sheep. Experience tells him that these sheep are going to need grace and unconditional love. It isn’t hard to see how this event shaped Peter’s ministry going forward. His gruff, hard hitting, type “A” personality will get a good dose of love and grace and he, thus, learns how to be more graceful and loving. Your failures, when properly cleansed and healed by Jesus, don’t disqualify you from ministry, either.
So, let me end by pointing out the obvious… you are a lot like Peter. You’ve failed God so many times it isn’t even funny. But, He hasn’t given up on you and He won’t. Maybe you’ve made similar statements like Peter. Maybe you’ve declared your loyalty and love and then crashed and burned. Jesus hasn’t abandoned you and He won’t abandon you, now. If you’ll come to Him and be open and honest then the wounds can begin to heal. They will likely require some painful cleaning and a lot healing love salve and grace, but He won’t discard you as useless and hopeless. Let Him do His work.
Oh, and remember this… putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t make the pig any more beautiful than before. It’s still a pig. What you really need isn’t just a little bit of antibiotic for your wounds. You need a new heart. A new purpose. You need a NEW life and that comes from loving Jesus above everything else in life. Put away the lipstick…