I was thinking this morning about how kind the Lord was to Peter during His trial and crucifixion and then of course when He appeared to him after His resurrection. It struck me how different Jesus’ behaviour towards Peter was from the way that one might expect the leader of a group of young men to be with his friend, after he had been let him down so badly by him.
Peter is there in the courtyard, when the chief priests are trumping up false charges against Jesus. Jesus is being mocked, and vilified, and Peter, in Jesus’ hearing, denies knowing Him, or having anything to do with Him three times in quick succession, just as Jesus had predicted. It is not difficult to imagine that, had Jesus not been who He was, He might have yelled at Peter, “Tell them you know me, tell them I’ve only done good for people.” Had it not been Jesus, Peter may well have heard cursing and shouting unleashed over him, not because his leader hated him, but because he was experiencing pain and humiliation. The feelings of betrayal and abandonment might have caused him to rage, not just at his tormentors, but at Peter too.
But Jesus just ‘looks’ at Peter, and whatever it was that Peter saw in His eyes, we can be sure that it was not anger, bitterness, or hatred. Whatever Peter ‘saw’ in His face was not ugly, or tortured, there was no sign of Jesus wanting to hit out, or get revenge. In fact whatever it was that Peter saw, broke him. I think it may have been sorrow that he saw in Jesus eyes. Yes sorrow, not for Himself, but sorrow for Peter in his hour of failure. There was compassion, and yes, I believe Peter saw ‘kindness’ too, because Jesus knew the remorse that Peter was going to have to live with over the next few days. (Luke 22:54-62).
Then, after Jesus rose from the dead there is ‘that conversation’ that Jesus has with Peter by the lakeside. (John 21:15-19). As we listen in, we don’t hear any recrimination from Jesus, no harsh words, or even questions like, “Why on earth didn’t you listen to my warning?” or “What were you thinking Peter, to bail on Me like that?” We don’t even hear, “Well if you are going to be reinstated as a leader you’ll have to prove to me that you have learnt your lesson, and that you won’t let me down again!!”
No! The conversation that Jesus and Peter had was so simple and yet so tender and kind. As Jesus recommissions Peter, instead of a pep talk, He gave Peter three opportunities to declare his love. Three opportunities to make up for his denial, and Peter, who had reached a new level of self awareness and honesty, didn’t speak beyond where he was at. So in answer to Jesus first question, “Do you ‘agapao’ me more than these?” Peter says, “Lord you know that I ‘phileo’ you” with no claim now that he had any greater love than the other disciples. He has stopped trying to put himself forward as the best and bravest, and so he uses the ‘friendship’ word for love, not the ‘agape’ word for ‘sacrificial love’ used by Jesus.
Peter’s answer has shown Jesus that Peter has learnt that this is not a competition, and so the second time Jesus asks, “do you ‘agapao’ me?” He leaves out the part about being more loving than the others, and Peter replies again “Lord you know that I ‘phileo’ you”. He is not going to be tempted to go beyond the frailty he now recognises in his own heart. Then the third time Jesus asks the question He uses the friendship word Himself, “ Do you ‘phileo’ me’ and Peter, although we are told he is grieved at being questioned for the third time, responds again with, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I ‘phileo’ you”. He had reached that place of reality. He knows that Jesus ‘knew’ the answer to His questions all along. This was an exercise in helping Peter to be honest about himself.
We can only guess at the look in Jesus eyes as He asked Peter these questions. I even wonder if Peter was able to hold his gaze. I think probably, yes he could. Jesus had led Him, without rebuke or chastisement, to a place of honesty and humility. Jesus has restored him by kindness and compassion and can now disclose to him what his future role will be. Jesus commissions him with the task of looking after His ‘flock’. Now that is some restoration. It reminds me of Paul’s observation to some early Christians that it is God’s kindness that leads a person to repentance. Romans 2:4.
So how about us? God is so kind, but if we haven’t grasped that truth, we can sometimes be expecting a harsh rebuke from Him when we mess up like Peter. But Jesus was not looking for perfection before He tells Peter His plans for him, just honesty.
Activation….. Give God thanks today for His kindness. Your thanksgiving will enable you to live in His kindness. Then you can tell your story, and like Peter, let others know how good it is to be a follower of Jesus.
Thank you for drawing out, in these two passages of scripture, the way that Jesus so lovingly dealt with Peter, bringing him to repentance and reconciling Peter to Himself with forgiveness and kindness. A lesson perhaps for many of us to aspire to.
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Thank you for your lovely comments. I should add that this post was written by the wonderful Stella Doggett-my apologies for not mentioning this in the text.