After Jesus rose from the dead, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, three times he asked Peter, who had denied Him three times during His trial, “Do you love Me?” The third time, Peter was grieved because He asked Him the third time, and said, “Lord, You know all things. You know that I love You.” Jesus said to Him, “Feed My sheep.” Then He said, “When you were younger, you girded yourself and went where you pleased. When you are older, another will gird you and stretch out your hands and take you where you do not want to go.” He said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then He said to him, “Follow Me.” Peter followed Him, and turned to see John also following. He asked Jesus, “Lord, what of him?” The Lord said to him, “What is that to you?”
When I first heard this story, it seemed obvious to me that Peter was glad about Jesus’ pronouncement (he was simply curious about everything and wanted to know what was none of his business). The idea that Peter did not like Jesus’ prophecy about his own death, and was a little jealous of John, is completely foreign to me. I do not understand how anyone can get it from the text. The night before Jesus died, Peter said, “Why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” It is obvious to me that Peter was happy about Jesus’ pronouncement. He wanted to die with Jesus. How vigorously had he insisted, “Even if all others fall away, I will never deny You!” Yet, on that bitter night which was the hour and the power of darkness, he denied his Lord whom he loved three times. Would he not be immensely pleased at this grace to stand where he had fallen? I think that when Jesus told Peter that he would be crucified, Peter felt completely, immensely, wonderfully forgiven!
When Jesus said, “Follow Me,” would not Peter have felt it to be the fulfillment of these words Jesus had spoken: “You cannot follow Me now, but you will follow later.” What he wanted, but could not then have, what he wanted, but had failed, would indeed be fulfilled. His inadequacy was not decisive. His failure was not final. Grace was greater. Forgiveness was victorious.
Whether true or false in its detail, there is reality behind the legend that Peter asked to be crucified upside down because he was not worthy of dying in the same manner as his Lord. It really does capture the feeling of Peter that one gets reading the Gospels and his own Epistles. It also captures the feeling of many other Christians.
The wages of sin is death, and as sinners no suffering and no death could ever be greater than the wages of our sin. As forgiven sinners, for whom Christ has made complete atonement, no punishment remains, and we deserve no suffering or death. As unworthy servants, we do not deserve to receive the tremendous privilege of suffering and dying for and with Christ. As those who are united with Christ, by grace made holy and righteous, we are worthy to receive that tremendous privilege, for it is not we who live, but Christ – the Worthy One – who lives in us.
Copyright 2018 Raina Nightingale