It’s so easy to drag on Peter. After all it seemed like every time he opened his mouth it was to remove one foot and insert the other. (Which is just one of the big hints we have that the Bible really is true.) But sometimes picking on Peter is the way we avoid dealing with an uncomfortable truth. We’re a lot like him. And because we’re a lot like him, he helps us see how Jesus loves us.1
Confused questioning and compassion
Prior to giving his new commandment, Jesus told the Eleven that he was going to leave them. It was time for him to be glorified, to return to the glory he had in the beginning (John 13:31–33). He was going to return to his glorified state at the right hand of the Father. After Jesus gave the new commandment, Peter spoke up.
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? I tell you the solemn truth, the rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times!”John 13:36–38, NET
In reading this, it seems like Peter almost glossed over Jesus’ commandment in his response. “Okay, yes, love one another. Got it. Now, where are you going?”
And the truth is, Peter didn’t get what Jesus was telling him. Like the religious leaders before him in John 7:36, Peter couldn’t grasp what Jesus was telling him. His understanding of the Messiah was too small.
So Jesus answered him, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later.” It’s tempting to read this as a rebuke. But I don’t think that’s right. Jesus seems to be encouraging Peter to be patient.
Peter didn’t understand was Jesus was going to do. That he was about to accomplish the work that only he could uniquely accomplish. Jesus was (and is) the unique Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
This wasn’t something Peter could do because only Jesus could be Jesus. Even so, Peter would follow Jesus in death. He would join him in glory. But it wouldn’t be until a long time had passed.
Confidence and the correction
Peter still didn’t get it, but it did begin to dawn on him that danger was ahead. So he said, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!” What I love about Peter is how genuine he is. When he said he would lay his life down for Jesus, he merely talking big. He was ready to go to war for Jesus.2
He may not have fully understood what was happening, and he didn’t fully understand who Jesus was, but Peter truly loved Jesus.
And Jesus loved him by correcting him. “Will you lay down your life for me? I tell you the solemn truth, the rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times!”
Jesus loved Peter, even as he corrected him and challenged his good intentions. He knew that Peter would fall short and his intentions would fail. But throughout, Jesus didn’t leave him wallowing in sorrow for what would happen. Instead, before he even said a word about his denial, he told Peter that he would be with Jesus in glory.
And Jesus loves us this way too.
Yes, Jesus loves us (the Bible tells us so)
I need that kind of assurance from Jesus. Chances are, you do too. After all, if we are Christians, we all have good intentions when it comes to our faith. We want to follow Jesus in big and small ways. We want to glorify God in every part of our lives.
But we fall short. Our reach exceeds our grasp. We are distracted by the cares of the world, or, more often, by something shiny. And what do we do when we fall short? Most of us default to a kind of transactional relationship between us and God. We assume that God is mad at us. That his love is actually conditional or transactional.
But Jesus’ word for Peter is also a word for us. Jesus loves us in our failures. He loves us when we fall short. So where do you and I need that grace today? Where do we need to be reminded of his love for us—and to allow that knowledge to change how we approach tomorrow?
- This article, like the previous two, is based on my sermon at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee, on September 17, 2023.
- And if we had any doubt, remember: when Jesus was arrested, he drew a sword and cut off a man’s ear in John 18.