When Can “This is How You Will Die” Be Encouraging?

Posted: June 20, 2011 in Church, Crosspoint, Perspective

Have you ever felt like you have let God down?  That in spite of all that he’s done in your life, you have still turned your back on him.  That you’ve neglected the gifts he’s given you.  Maybe even…denied Him.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with this daily.  Sometimes, it’s because I’m overwhelmed by how great a sinner I still am.  Other times, it’s because I look at myself and I see wasted potential – that, though I haven’t denied Christ directly, I’ve denied the power of Christ by neglecting to nurture the gifts he’s given me when it comes to my career, my family, and even how I relate to people one-on-one.

Then I re-read this:

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?[e]

   “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

   “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

   “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

   “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

   Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

   Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

 “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.”   Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”   (John 21:15-19)

For years, I’ve read this and thought, “Ouch… that is harsh.”  As if Jesus is saying to Peter, “Okay, buddy… you denied me, so guess what.  One day you will have to die for me.”  It almost reads like Jesus is scolding Peter.  (And given Peter’s response of “What about him?”, it’s easy to think so).

But the more I reflect on this passage, the more I feel like Jesus wasn’t trying to discourage Peter, but encourage him.  Don’t think so?  Then bear with me a second.

Peter, in spite of repeated promises that he would never deny Jesus, did – in fact – deny Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted he would.  Seeing what was happening to Jesus – being arrested and held for trial – it’s safe to say that Peter’s loyalty was overshadowed by sheer fear that he would face the same consequences.  So he denies Jesus, and now Jesus – resurrected from the dead – is walking with him down the beach, posing a simple question:  “Peter, do you love me?”

Can you imagine what Peter is feeling?  On the one hand, he’s certainly thrilled and amazed to see his Savior alive again.  But on the other, he’s carrying around this incredible guilt at his denial of Christ.  And he’s obviously defensive and scared about what Christ is telling him will happen to him.

But you have to look deeper:  Peter denied Christ to save his own skin.  Yet here is Jesus, telling Peter that one day he will – in fact – die for Christ.

Jesus is telling Peter that even though his character and loyalty failed him, and he denied Christ in the past, that one day he will not run or deny Christ, but die for him – that even though he’s failed to live up to his faith in the past, he will not fail in the future.

“Peter, one day, you will be the kind of man you want – and I designed you – to be.”

I hear those words encouraging me, because I’ve denied Christ.  I’ve denied his power in my life.  I’ve denied what he’s designed me to be.  I sin.  I wimp out in my faith.  I cower in fear when confronted.  I neglect the gifts he’s given me.  And looking back at this track record, I think I’d be scared to death if Jesus called out to me and said, “Kevin, do you love me?”

But I pray to hear the same thing Peter heard – that one day I will have the courage and the will to be the kind of man of God I’m designed to be.  All that is left for me to do is to decide:  Shall I dwell in a mediocre faith, too immobilized by fear and selfishness to truly make a difference?  Or will I choose to truly love Christ, and do whatever it takes to make the message of his love known?

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