One of my favourite passages of Scripture is found in John chapter 12. It’s where Jesus is preparing Peter to “rejoin” the group. At one point Peter, to his extreme embarrassment, had turned his back on the One he honestly believed he was ready to die for. However, when reality came knocking Peter betrayed his Lord. He’d thrown Jesus to the lions, so to speak. Now, risen from the dead, and after sharing a meal with the disciples, Jesus, lovely, wonderful, compassionate, merciful and patient Jesus is holding out his arms to Peter and saying, ‘Come on home. Let's get back to our original plan.’ Matching Peter’s three earlier denials of even knowing Jesus, Peter is asked three times by Jesus, “Do you love Me?” The first two times that Jesus asks, He uses the word agapas. This is a willed, volitional, desired love, a dying of self love that gives of oneself to the other. Agapao is the kind of love with which God loves us.
When the resurrected Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” my guess is that Jesus was sweeping His hand toward Peter’s worldly friends and maybe even his livelihood, the fishing boats and the nets hung out to dry. They were, after all, having breakfast on the beach when this all took place. In response to Jesus’ question Peter replied, using the word philo, meaning the love of a friend. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Peter, it appears, had learned a lesson. No extravagant claims of a love this time. No commitment that went beyond what he is able to deliver. The third time that Jesus asks, He also uses the word philo. He goes to where Peter is at.
Picture this! You’ve betrayed your best friend. Your closest confidant was falsely accused of something. He was in deep deep trouble and instead of supporting him, you disappeared. Afraid that you would be drawn into the scandal as well, you dropped out of sight. Now, with the scandal over, your heart is broken; both by what you’ve done to Him and also by the self-awareness of who you really are. One day you accidentally bump into your friend. He’s having a meal with the group associates that used to include you. Amazingly and against all hope, your friend stands up and reaches out to shake your hand. He puts His hand on your shoulder and He’s telling you that He wants the friendship restored. All is forgiven. Your cowardly betrayal is forgiven. He’s not going to reject you or punish you. Rather than retaliate, your best friend is trying to reestablish the kind of relationship that you had before this whole incident began. It's as if He knew all along what you were really like, and He loved you anyway. However, this time around He is in effect saying, “No more fooling around. I want to hear from you if you're serious about our relationship, and the work that we have to do.”
Walking with you a few steps away from the others, His eyes never breaking contact with yours, Jesus asks, “Are you going to put our relationship and our project before anything else? Where exactly do I stand with you?”
You try to project sincerity into your words, but that sincerity is betrayed by the fear in your eyes. You want your words to be true. “Jesus, You’re my best friend.”
He knows you better than you know yourself. “Yes, but you said that once before, Peter. We have plans that demand absolute trust in each other. Do you love Me enough to put everything else in second place?”
“Yes! I told you. You’re my best friend.”
And, now, to your chagrin, and in front of all your other friends, friends who know how human and fickle you’ve shown yourself to be, your friend says one final time, “Look at me! Are you really my best friend?”
And here Peter probably hangs his head or averts his eyes and replies, “Lord, you know everything, and you know exactly to what degree that I am able to love you.”
And then, wonder of wonders, Jesus leaves Peter’s admission right where it hangs and He lays out the incredible plan that He has for Peter in the Kingdom of God. God is going to use Peter and the other members of this ragtag group to change the world.
Jesus knows how pitiful our love for Him really is. He knows how fragile our commitment to Him can be. He knows how little it takes for us to deny our allegiance to God’s Kingdom. And yet, and yet, Jesus doesn’t turn His back on us. Instead, He challenges us to deal with the reality of our weakness, but at the same time, He asks us to come along side and do His work on earth with Him.
It isn’t our love, or the lack thereof upon which we should focus. Our focus needs to be on Jesus’ love for us, on His commitment to us, on His promise to never leave us and to never turn His back on us. He is determined to take the changes that He began in us and carry them out to completion.
What a friend we have in Jesus!