Have you ever been betrayed by anyone? If you have spent any amount of time with people, you know you have. The story of Easter is of course the triumph of Jesus over death (John 21:1-10). God can be trusted because He has conquered death, the most persistent and powerful of enemies against humankind and everything that stands for what is good. But this narrative of triumph is also one of betrayal. Roman Law betrayed Jesus; the spiritual authorities in place, including the high priest, betrayed Him; Judas famously betrayed Jesus; even His inner circle ended up betraying Him. Peter, before the rooster crowed, betrayed Jesus three times (John 18:15-27).
The Gospel of John has a special place for Peter in particular as a part of the Easter narrative. John carefully documents the number of times Jesus appeared to the disciples and to Mary after the resurrection (John 21:1-14). It is on the third appearance to the disciples (John 21:14) that Jesus circles back to Peter and asks him whether Peter really loves Jesus (the word “love” is expressed through affection-love and friendship-love). Peter, three times (the number of times he had betrayed Jesus) responds in the same way, “you know that I love you.” The setting of this wonderful restoration of a betrayed friendship is similar to the scene of Peter’s betrayal: around a “charcoal fire” (same word in John 18:18 and John 21:9). John wants us to have this image in our mind: the One who was betrayed now commissions this untrustworthy Peter character to become a shepherd of God’s people! What a powerful picture of rehabilitation!
With this early morning third encounter (John 20:1; 21:4), John makes it clear Jesus’ relationship with Peter ends just where it started: in Galilee and with the call to “follow me” (John 21:20) But now the “follow me” has reached its full significance. There is a ‘follow me’ “now” (prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection) and there is a ‘follow me’ “afterward” (after the resurrection; John 13:36). Peter thought he could follow Jesus then, but in fact he couldn’t (John 13:38). But after the resurrection and his own blatant betrayal, Peter has come to that place of real understanding. He knows what it means to follow Jesus, even if it means dying like Jesus did (John 21:18). Early church tradition confirms that Peter in fact did die crucified. The “truly, truly (= amen, amen) announcing Peter’s betrayal (John 13:38) is now traded for the “truly, truly” of his loyalty to Jesus unto death (John 21:18).
So the big idea is that to follow “him” becomes an essential part of the command. John had put it this way earlier: “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Paul chimes in and says that we do nothing of ourselves. Everything we do and are is “in Him.” In fact, Paul actually uses the language of the cross and resurrection of Christ, without which you and I cannot truly follow Jesus:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” To live out our lives and to follow Him is to die to self (our betrayal of Him) and to live in Him. This is what it means to follow Him for Peter and for all of us.
Thoughts for the week:
In our story of betrayals (as the betrayed and as the betrayer), it is time to figuratively “have breakfast with Jesus” just like Peter did. This week, take an inventory of all those times you have been betrayed and those times when you have betrayed others. It’s time to allow Jesus to rehabilitate us and put us on the right footing to truly follow Him.