Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?”
Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.”
Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.”
Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.”
A few hours later…
“One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with Him?’ Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.”
You are all probably familiar with that passage. The event took place on the night before Jesus was crucified. Peter’s denial.
On the night before the crucifixion, had you been in Peter’s place, what would you have done? It would be very easy for me to stand up here and say, “Peter needed to have more faith. Courage, man!” But it was Socrates who said, “Know thyself,” and I do, at least a bit. The part I know says that I would have stood beside Peter and boldly declared, “I will never deny you” and would also have ended up alongside Peter in torment over my failure.
Yet, for each of our failures, Jesus comes to us and restores us to himself just as he did Peter. From our Gospel, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” “Feed my lambs.” “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” And again, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” Three times Peter denied him and three times Jesus restored him.
What I find interesting about this event is that in restoring Peter to himself, you would think that Jesus would not have asked Peter, “Do you love me?,” but would have instead said to him, “Peter, I love you.” This seems that it would have been much more soothing to Peter’s soul, but then again, Jesus had already shown Peter how much he loved him. As we pray during Morning Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace.”
Because of his failure, Jesus knew that Peter was doubting his love for him. So, Jesus knew that it wasn’t he who needed to convince Peter of his love by saying, “I love you. I love you. I love you” – Jesus had said that as loudly and clearly as he possibly could from the hard wood of the Cross. What Peter needed was to convince Peter – himself – that he loved Jesus. Only then could Peter go out and do as Jesus had commanded him to do and feed his sheep.
The great Anglican priest we celebrate today, Charles Simeon, wrote, “We shall do well ever to remember, that Christianity is not a mere speculative theory that is to inform the mind; but a great practical lesson, to renew the heart, and to bring us back to the state from whence we are fallen.”
Many times, like Peter, we will stumble and fall and deny Christ by our words and actions. It is through God’s grace and love that we are restored to Him. Through the Cross he has proven his love to us. The greatest barrier to receiving that grace is not God or the world – it’s us. Through the Cross Jesus has said, “I love you.” He then asks each of us, “Do you love me?” It is in answering that one question that we find true strength and courage.