When I was a child I knew for certain I was loved. There was never a doubt in my mind about the love my parents had for me and my siblings. Yet that love was rarely expressed in words, almost always in deeds. I’ve never dwelt on that too much, but in my heart, I’ve always found value in the additional expression of love in three simple words:
“I love you.”
Now married with my own kids, my wife and I have made it a point to express to one another, and to our children these all important words.
By themselves these are just words. But when coupled by our actions they’re activated, becoming the catalyst of life that restores, forgives, bonds, grows, encourages, strengthens, inspires, brings hope, serves, surrenders, and transforms. These words become a living reality in our lives and in the lives that they touch.
Life happens at the intersection of love and action.
When our kids were younger, they saw the contrast of how love and actions were lived out in our home and expressed in their grandparents home. They picked up on the fact that the words “I love you” were rarely expressed directly, rather love was mostly expressed through actions. They understood that their grandparents loved them dearly, just as I knew that they loved me as their son. Not willing to let this observation go to waste they decided to made a game of it, particularly with my Dad. They wanted to see if they could get Grandpa to say the words “I love you” more frequently by prompting him somehow.
Going forward, when our visits with my parents would conclude, our kids would make it a point to express their sentiments in words and in the form of a hug. (Bridging action and words.) At first it was a bit awkward, I don’t think my Dad knew exactly how to respond. But then something interesting begin to happen. It was almost as though he was given permission to respond in kind, and he often did. “I love you” became easier to say. What was always in his heart found expression in words.
In the Bible, Luke captured the close relationship that Peter and Jesus shared. Peter, by nature was somewhat impulsive and prone to act before thinking, but during their time together, Peter developed a greater appreciation for what it meant to love another.
Life is hard, there is no escaping that reality. But through our many life experiences, if we are patient and seek God with an expectant heart, we will know what it is to be loved by our Lord; we will experience the vast richness of his enveloping love for us.
During the last supper, Peter expressed that he was willing to show by action his love commitment to Jesus by declaring to Jesus that he would be willing to “go to prison” or perhaps even being willing “to die” with Jesus if things came to that.
But Jesus knew something about Peter; he knew that Peter’s statement had more to do with Peter’s pride and independence of heart, than with grasping the true meaning and significance of genuine love. Peter was moving so fast in life that he hadn’t paused to deeply understand the sincere depth of Christ’s love for him.
In life, one of the greatest expressions of love is when a parent recognizes that moment when their child might be in harms way and takes action to intercede on their behalf. Children often fail to recognize an immediate threat, and when a parent intercedes, a child may complain of the intersession. But a wise parent, with real life experiences will intercede in the life of their child to protect them from serious harm, regardless of the child’s response.
We who have placed our faith in the saving power of Jesus are God’s children, and Jesus loves us so much that he intercedes for us on a regular basis. In fact, the greatest form of intercession was when Jesus willingly died for us on the cross to provide for us, via unmerited grace, eternal life with him.
Luke recorded a time when Jesus, because of his love for Peter, interceded on Peter’s behalf. Recall that Peter’s given name was Simon. It was when he met Jesus that Jesus gave him another name, “Peter.” When translated, it meant “Rock.” Think of it as a kind of a nickname. (Petros is the Greek word of “a piece of rock or stone.” )(1)
Jesus shared with Peter:
““Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”” (Luke 22:31–32, NLT)
Here was Jesus sharing with Peter, God’s child, how he interceded on his behalf knowing that Satan was out to bring great harm to Peter.
And what do you suppose Peter’s response was?
“Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”(Luke 22:33 NLT)
Peter’s response to Jesus seemed to say, “Lord, I don’t need your intersession, I can handle this on my own, in fact, I’m strong enough that no one could dissuade me from you; I’m even willing to show you that; by either going to prison with you or even dying!”
Did you sense the pride in his response! The “Rock” showing off his self-sufficiency and ego. Jesus knew Peter’s heart to be filled with pride and self-sufficiency. We can infer this by how Jesus responded to Peter’s statement:
But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”” (Luke 22:33–34, NLT)
Notice when Jesus responded to Simon he did so by his nickname, “Rock.” I don’t want to infer more than needed here, but as the reader, I sensed that it was almost as though Jesus was saying, “Hey Mr. Tough Guy, Mr. Rock, let me tell you something, before the rooster crows…”
Not much later we see the entire prediction of Jesus unfold before our eyes. Luke captures the moment when Peter denied his association with Jesus for the third time:
“But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.
At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter.
Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.” (Luke 22:60–62, NLT)
How crushing this must have been for Peter! The heart of the Rock and been reduced to pebbles.
The moment the rooster had crowed, Peter had been close enough to Jesus for them to make eye contact. In that instant, the Lord’s prediction replayed in Peter’s mind, imploding Peter from the inside. One could only begin to imagine the humility and anguish that Peter experienced as he looked into the hurting eyes of Jesus. No words were exchanged, yet everything was said.
If that had been the end of the story this would have been a horrible tragedy. Peter would have no doubt replayed this event over and over and wished that he had handled things differently. He no doubt felt like he had let Jesus down, that he had abandoned him in his hour of need. In Peter’s mind, the Rock was no longer, he was incapable of ever leading anything, much less the new church.
Fortunately for Peter, Jesus’ actions would soon be followed by words of restoration and redemption from Jesus himself.
Shortly after the resurrection, the disciples had all encountered the risen Jesus multiple times in one venue or another. Yet the words of restoration and love from Jesus to Peter came at a later encounter, just prior to Jesus’ return to heaven. It was during this encounter that Jesus publicly restored Peter. This critical conversation took place along the familiar shores of the Sea of Galilee soon after the risen Jesus had finished having breakfast with his beloved disciples.
The apostle John captured the moment between Peter and Jesus:
“After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
For each prior denial of Jesus that Peter had made, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. In the the end, Peter acknowledged that God knew all things, therefore Jesus had to also know of Peter’s true heart of love. Gone was Peter’s selfish pretense and pride, replaced instead with a servant’s heart of genuine love and humility for his Lord.
These words publicly spoken by Jesus before Peter and the other disciples fully restored Peter. These were deep constructive words that assured Peter not only of Jesus’ love, but of Jesus’ confidence in Peter’s role as a servant leader to the early church.
Similarly, as we go about our daily lives, our view of love needs to be like that of our Lord. We need to be prepared to build up those closest to us and to never underestimate the value of expressing those critical three words to those closest to us:
“I love you.”
(1) John F. MacArthur Jr., Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness, and What He Wants to Do with You (Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group, 2002), 34.