Peter thought that he loved Jesus. When Jesus told the disciples they would all fall away and be scattered because of the crucifixion that was about to happen, Peter answered him,
“Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. (Matthew 26:33–35)
Peter heard what Jesus said, but until it happened, he didn’t believe he would deny Jesus. At that point in his life, he was an “I’ll believe it when I see it” disciple. Most of us know what that is like.
After Jesus died and rose from the dead, He appeared to the disciples and made them breakfast. Then Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. Peter insisted that he did, but Jesus asked again, and then a third time.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:17)
There is some theological controversy about this narrative and how it might apply to Christians today. Without going into that, Chambers writes about the way this question hurt Peter. It poked at his declaration of loyalty that had proved to be not as deep as he had previously declared.
Chambers says that Peter loved Jesus as any natural man would love a good man. This is a love that is genuine enough, but not deep, not controlling the very heart and life. Such an overwhelming true love does not have to say much because it shows in everything that person is and does. By denying Jesus, Peter’s love was shown to be lacking. However, the hurt he felt when his shallowness was exposed had a far greater impact.
Chambers also says that hearing the Word of God and feeling it cut to the heart produces pain beyond any pain that comes from sin. This is because sin blunts our feelings and makes us immune to the damage it does.
This gives me pause. I tend to think that sin can excite, or thrill, or confuse, or produce sorrow, or make me cry my heart out. It does not seem as if it is blunting my feelings but intensifies them. However, sin does dull and blunt my feelings toward God. Sin dulls the passion that I have for Jesus Christ.
Oddly, that dulled passion is restored by the pain of conviction. To be hurt by Jesus “is the most exquisite hurt conceivable,” a natural pain, but deeply personal. The Word of God “pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit” and slashes out all self-deception. When Jesus speaks directly to me or asks, “Do you love Me?” I cannot answer lightly or say “nice” things about my dedication. I know who is speaking and exactly what He says and why He says it. The point He makes is sharp and unmistakable, revealing my sin and putting me before Him with a contrite heart. The pain of His probing penetrates all my pretense.
Yet there is something astonishing about the hurt of the Lord’s Word that is unlike any other painful rebuke; when He comes to me with it, I also feel more loved than at any other time. Like a surgeon’s knife, His goal is healing, not harm, and He is the only One who can deeply wound and lovingly hug at the same time.