Most of us can relate to Peter. We know him as zealous, passionate, prideful and most notably…the one who denied Jesus. But can we relate to John? Peter’s identity was in how much he professed to love Jesus. John’s identity was in being the beloved of Jesus.
In the Gospel of John, he refers to himself five times as “the disciple whom Jesus loved:
“One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus” John 13:23
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” John 19:26
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” John 20:2
That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. John 21:7
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” John 21:20
I’ll be honest. There was a time when I was a little offended at reading this Gospel. I thought “What audacity John had to refer to himself in that way!” I felt it was a prideful to make it look like he was Jesus’ favorite.
Get Behind Me Satan!
The problem with finding our identity in our love for God or what we do for Him is that inevitably, we will fall short. Jesus told us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Even with all the striving in the world, you won’t reach that perfection through your effort. You have to find the source of power to live as Jesus required.
We love Peter’s zeal and his boldness but the source of it was misplaced. His zeal came from his own effort. Jesus gives him a number of rebukes (most notably Matt: 16:23) to teach him this lesson. Zeal and passion are great and I would argue, even necessary. But if it is rooted in the wrong place, you may one day receive a “get behind me Satan” rebuke from the Lord. I know I don’t ever want to hear that. Yikes!
The Power of His Love
I love how Kingdom principles are so counter-cultural and an absolute paradox to human thinking. Remember JFK’s famous quote about serving your country? I would say that Kingdom principles flip that whole quote on it’s head:
Say not how much you love Jesus, but how much He loves you.
I already see you ready to object! Isn’t that how we’re programmed? But before you do, answer me this: “Is there anything we can do for God apart from His power working in us?”
I believe John found the source of that power. He found that power in how Jesus loved him. I don’t think John believed that Jesus loved him more than the other apostles. John’s capacity to receive Jesus’ love was expanded. Once John allowed himself to receive His love, he began referring to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. That became his identity.
Intimacy With Jesus
I want to show you something from the first reference John makes. They are eating around the table, partaking of the last supper. John was reclining close to Jesus. Another translation says “reclining on Jesus’ bosom”. What an intimate gesture!
I picture that little boy that will not stay off his father’s lap. The one that does everything just to be close to daddy. Now I know we are talking about two grown men here, but take in this scene in your mind’s eye. John was leaning right up against Jesus as they ate. This is a seriously intimate friendship that he shared with Jesus.
Jesus had just finished saying that one of the disciples would betray him. Since John is in such an intimate place with the Lord, this is what happens:
“so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, ‘Lord, who is it?’” John 13:24-25
Jesus tells John but no one else. He must have whispered it into his ear since he was so close. You can deduct that he only told John because no one else knew that it was Judas. Otherwise, as soon as Judas dipped the bread after Jesus they would have said something.
When you are the beloved of Jesus, you have access.
John was so close to Jesus that he was able to ask Him this in secret. Jesus told John before anyone else found out. Peter didn’t have the same place of intimacy with the Lord at that moment so he had to ask John to ask Him.
How He Loves Us
If you listen to any kind of Christian music, the chances are pretty good that you’ve heard the song “How He Loves Us“. It was written by John Mark McMillan. Most have heard the David Crowder Band (edited) version. Some have heard Kim Walker’s version on the Jesus Culture album We Cry Out. Many have heard the version from John’s album “The Medicine.” None of these are my favorite.
The original version was from his album called The Song Inside The Sounds of Breaking Down. It is raw and has stripped down production. He chokes up at the end of the song and I love that it isn’t edited out. You hear the nakedness of his faith. It is exposed and without makeup. It is the sound of a man who realizes that he is loved.
This song changed my life. I don’t think I can listen to it all the way through without weeping. There is so much healing in this song because it marks a shift in my life. The shift from striving to receiving. I went from trying to be something for God, to letting Him love me. I’ve found my identity not in how I love Him, but how He loves me.
There is power in His love. His love enables us to do everything He’s asked. Not only does it enable us to do it, but because we’re loved, it’s easy.
I pray that today He expands your capacity to receive His love.
Do you believe that He loves you the way John did or are you striving like Peter?