In his book, Inexpressible, Michael Card explores the multifaceted definition of the Hebrew word for God’s grace or loving-kindness. In Hebrew, it’s hesed. Card says God’s hesed “has an over-the-top quality about it.” After ten years of studying the 169 words and phrases used to translate hesed, Card defines it this way: “Hesed: When the one from whom you have the right to expect nothing gives you everything.”
Grace is what Jesus offers us when he invites us to follow him. Grace is what he offers when we fail and repent. Grace is what draws us – propels us – toward him after we’ve been restored.
The overwhelming relief and undeserved favor of God is what made Peter throw himself into the water. And when he got to shore, he found that Jesus, just like the father of the prodigal son, had prepared a meal.
While we are wondering where in the world Jesus is, and what he’s doing, and whether or not he has any use for us, Jesus is collecting the wood for the fire, striking the flint to light it, and cooking the fish and bread so it’s ready when we arrive. He is always ready to fellowship with his followers.
Does that shock you? We might have expected him to say something like, “Now that I’ve helped you with your fishing predicament, why don’t you guys cook up some of those fish for me.”
Instead, it went something like this:
Jesus Fellowships With Failures
Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught (wink, wink) and come and have breakfast.”
Peter raised an eyebrow at Him. The fish we just caught? He jogged to the boat and climbed on board to help drag the bulging net out of the water.
They heaved fish and nets, ropes, and baskets onto the shore to begin the work of untangling fins and sorting fish by species and size.
Peter draped the net from the bow to stern to mark the repairs. He found no rips. No overstrained knots. No place for fish to escape. None had been lost.
“153 keepers!” Andrew shouted. Peter looked up to see him drop the last basket on the beach.
Jesus waved them over. “Come and have breakfast.”
As they stood around the crackling fire, they all saw the unmistakable scar on the hand that stirred the coals and turned the roasting fish. And no one dared ask Him, “Who are you?”
They finally knew. Then, just like on the night they had deserted him, Jesus served them. He took the bread and gave it to them, and he did the same with the fish. (See John 21:13)
I kind of want the story to end here. “And they all lived happily ever after.” So it’s a little surprising that while they’re brushing crumbs from their beards and tossing fishbones into the fire, Jesus looks around the circle of men, and, in front of everyone, he asks Peter, “Do you truly love me more than these other disciples?”
His question surprises me because it seems that Jesus is picking at the scab of a wound he’s already healed.
But, in the same way he pointed to their inadequacy before he filled their nets with fish, once again, he points to their inadequate loyalty because he’s about to blow their minds again.
Two Types of Love
When Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” he used the Greek word agapao for love. “Peter, do you agapao me?”
Agapao is the kind of love God showed to us. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love [agapao] for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Agapao is an unconditional kind of love. It’s a decision of the will—which is to say, you choose this kind of love. Agapao is expressed through action, regardless of whether the loved one is lovely or lovable. It’s love that is expressed by self-giving and self-sacrificing, even if it hurts the giver.
But there is another kind of love, which is translated from the Greek word phileo. Phileo is a love that springs from emotion and affectionate feelings. It’s an emotional response to a sense of pleasure.
Think back to one of the best times you’ve had with a friend. Maybe you said, “That was so much fun. I just love you!” That’s phileo love. Interestingly, God also has phileo love toward us. John 16:27 says, “the father phileos us because we phileo Jesus.” Put another way, God has an affectionate delight toward his followers, who have an affectionate delight toward his son Jesus.
So when Jesus asked, “Peter do you agapao me?” Peter understood him to be asking, “Do you love me the way I have loved you—unconditionally, with a kind of love that sacrifices itself?”
The answer, as they all knew, was no. None of them had loved Jesus with agapao kind of love. Peter had not sacrificed himself, though he had promised to. He knew it would be ridiculous and dishonest to claim that he did.
But he honestly did phileo Jesus. He had tender affection for Christ who found him, forgave him, and was at that moment fellowshipping with him. So Peter answered in humble honesty, “Yes. You know I phileo you like a best friend.”
Jesus asked a second time, “Do you agapao me?” and Peter, determined to answer honestly, replied the same. “Yes. You know I phileo you like a friend.”
But when Jesus asked a third time, he changed the question, and it grieved Peter. He said, “Peter, do you phileo me like a friend?”
Perhaps Peter felt as though Jesus had to sink to his level, but at least this time, Peter had been honest about it. In Peter’s distress, he answered Jesus: “Lord, you know all things.” You know what I did, where I fled, how I wept. You know that is not the kind of love You have for me. Your love is without limits and without fear. You know that I only phileo you with the tender affection of a best friend.
And if it were anyone besides Jesus, we might expect to read, “Oh well, then never mind. I need someone who’s more committed.”
But it is Jesus, and it’s as if Jesus answers Peter’s confession of phileo love, “Peter, even if you don’t agapao me yet with a self-sacrificing kind of love, your tender phileo affection is still precious to me. Follow me, and I will teach you how to love as I’ve loved you.”
Do you sometimes feel like you’ve messed up too much to be of any use to God? Or that your love for him is second-rate, and your faith is weak?
Maybe you feel like your family situation lands you on the Christian B-team.
Maybe there’s something in your recent or distant past that you can’t bear to reveal because you fear that if anyone knew, they would reject you. Avoid you. Dismiss you out of hand. And do you know what? People might, but Jesus Christ will not.
In John 6:37 in the Amplified version, we hear Jesus say, “The one who comes to Me I will most certainly not cast out, [I will never, never reject anyone who follows Me]” (John 6:37 AMP).
Peter’s honest assessment of his love for Christ didn’t change Christ’s hold on him.
The same is true for us.
Jesus Delights in Choosing Failures
Jesus is still holding on. He still chooses you. He invited you to follow him because he wanted you. He invades your darkest moment because he wants you to know he’s keeping you, and he does all of that because he WANTS TO!
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.Ephesians 1:4, NLT
Do you believe that? Do you know that he is not rolling his eyes when you come to him? Jesus assured you that when you approach God in prayers of repentance, questioning, confession, or praise, he is not plugging his ears and closing his eyes like a toddler who doesn’t want to listen. He keeps you because he wants to, and it gives him great pleasure.
But he also keeps you because you’re his. You belong to him.
The Waiting is the memoir of Minka, a woman who became pregnant as a result of rape in 1928 at the age of 16. As was the custom at that time, she was sent to a home for girls “in her situation” where she delivered a healthy baby girl she named Betty Jane and relinquished her parental rights.
For the next eight decades, she would not and could not forget her little Betty Jane.
When Minka was 93 years old, she received a call from a woman who claimed to be her daughter. As it turns out, it was Betty Jane, asking to meet her. Do you think Minka wanted to see Betty Jane because she suspected some potential? Do you suppose she wanted to see Betty Jane because she’d accomplished great things or had few failures?
She wanted to be with Betty Jane because Betty Jane was hers.
Jesus keeps you because he wants to, and it gives him great pleasure. He invited you to follow him because he made you. He invades your darkest moment because he wants you to know he’s keeping you, and he does all of that because it’s what he wants to do and it delights him.