The Bible study I’ve been attending has been working its way through the Gospel of John, and it’s been very profound to be studying Holy Week for the past couple months now, leading up to the story of the crucifixion this week. Some reflections leading into Good Friday:
Boy, what a motley crew.
The gospels record that they had been fighting over who was going to be greatest in the bunch or most powerful when Jesus brought down the new kingdom He kept talking about. They had to have everything explained to them two or three times (although I’m a little thankful for that – because we get to eavesdrop on the expounding, which I also need). They were slow, angry, prideful, glory-seeking, doubting, awkward Sons of Thunder that were so precisely human in all the ways we try our best to hide from one another, that to ponder it is to have our hearts filled with praise – if God can favor these men, then surely there is hope for me. Jesus is present with them, patiently but pointedly answers their annoying questions, guides them in the truth, challenges them in love and in their identities before God.
After three years of living with each other, studying at His feet, praying together, singing together, eating together, the Hour had come for Jesus to get down to the business of dying. So there, in the garden of Gethsemane, at night, waiting for his betrayer to show up with the lynch mob, He asks if they could pray and instead the boys keep falling asleep on Him. Judas had sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver, shows up with a small army and betrays Him with a kiss, of all things. Man, if Judas had done that to me, I’d be steaming mad. But Jesus, in His response, doesn’t push him away, doesn’t yell, doesn’t cuss him out.
He calls him “Friend.” Like what even?
Grace upon grace, siblings. Do you see it?
He is so patient in His love, so comprehensive in His care.
Probably one of the more touching stories we’ve read this week, although there are many, is regarding Simon Peter, who is mellow-dramatically swearing his life and limbs to Christ. “I’ll die for you, Lord! They’ll have to get through me first!” But Jesus sees right through his fickle friendship and tells him straight up – “Peter, you’re gonna pretend you don’t even know me when it starts getting ugly around here. You’ll deny me. Right now. Tonight. Three times before the rooster crows in the morning.”
As Jesus is arrested and led away, the disciples scatter, and Peter follows the crowd from a distance. And I bet you can guess what happens next.
“Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?” a servant girl asks Peter.
She’s not really any kind of a threat to him, but still “I am not,” is his response.
As Jesus is being shuffled around from one illegal trial to another in the middle of the night, Peter went to warm his hands by a fire outside and someone asked “Aren’t you with that Jesus guy?”
“I am not,” he says.
As dawn breaks, Jesus is in the courtyard, having some philosophical conversations with the church leaders and getting slapped around a little, when a soldier who had been at Gethsemane confronts Peter just outside – “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?”
And Peter is swearing mad now and yells defiantly that “I do not know the man!”
In a goosebumps kind of moment, even before Peter finishes his sentence, the rooster crows at the rising sun. And in that very same instant, Luke says, the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter from across the courtyard. Jesus, already having been beaten up a bit, allowing Himself to be so for the sake of Peter, among us all, turned and looked at him in his moment of shame, in denying that he ever knew the Son of God.
The greek word for “look’ here is emblepō. Strong’s Concordance translates it as “properly, stare at with a ‘locked-in gaze’; look at in a sustained, concentrated way, i.e. with special interest, love or concern.”
He loved him.
Even after Peter abandoned Him and treated Him like He was less than. Knowing that torture and death, emotional and spiritual agony were just a few hours away, things He would endure for Peter’s sake, He loved him.
“In that moment, Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And Peter went outside and wept bitterly.”
But cheer up, friends, I’ve read ahead and I can tell you how this little part of the story ends.
Jesus visits His friends in His resurrected body days later. One morning, after some of the shock of seeing Him again has worn off (a little) and they’ve enjoyed some fish breakfast, Jesus has a moment with Peter in which He asks him – “Simon Peter, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
Again He asks him, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
“Yes, Lord, You know that I do,” Peter answers again.
Then He asks a third time. “Simon, do you love me?” And Simon Peter was sad that He had to ask three times. But you know what, I’m not. I think it’s a beautiful, tender gesture. Because I see how the Lord is faithful to pursue us to the very end, how He is after our hearts and restoring our brokenness (three times affirmed for three times denied) and how even in our shame and anger and weakness, and when we are so precisely human in all the ways we try our best to hide from one another, He looks from His wounded eyes to ours with love.