David and I are once again in Israel, the “Beautiful Land,” as the prophet Daniel described it.
Tabgha also has another church built around another significant stone. The experience of being there, and praying, Dave and I both knew Capharnaum was the right next place to visit.
Upon This Rock …
One of the more impactful moments in Peter’s life came when Jesus said to him,
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.Matthew 16:18
A close reading of Matthew’s Gospel places this event closer to Caesarea, where a site actually called the Gates of Hades, a natural cave, famously existed. Worshippers had gone there for centuries to offer sacrifices to Pan and believed this deep fissure in the earth really was a gateway to the underworld.
But Jesus’s statement to Peter affected him so deeply it would later form how Peter understood what Jesus was doing with the church. Peter described believers as living stones, and the church as a great edifice built up with believers, each perfectly fitted with the other in a temple that was squared on the cornerstone of Christ.
Interestingly, John remembered a similar conversation taking place by the Sea of Galilee in the days following Jesus’s stunning miracle of feeding thousands of people with God’s heavenly bread.
Where Would We Go?
John alone explained the spiritual meaning of Jesus’s miracle with the loaves and fish. Jesus is the true Heavenly Bread, Jesus is personified in the manna God sent down from heaven for the forty years the tribes of Israel wandered in the wilderness. Jesus is the True Bread that gives life forever rather than sustenance for a journey that will end, and for a life that will pass away.
John’s Gospel provides startling details about how Jesus taught the eager crowd on why He had fed them, and what being His followers would truly mean. In the end, many could not stomach the teaching, and were no longer willing to be this strange rabbi’s adherents. As the crowd began to thin, then noticeably dwindle, Jesus turned His gaze to His closest disciples.
I imagine the Lord looked at each one, His eyes full of love. Finally, I hear Him asking his disciples, “And do you all not want to withdraw?” In their response, each person must have instead drawn closer, leaning into the circle around their rabbi.
John remembered Simon Peter speaking for them when he said, “Sir, who can we go off to?”
As hard as this teaching was, as shocking as it was, as difficult as it was to receive it, to whom else would they go? Jesus was presenting an entirely new way of relating to God, and what He was proposing literally turned upside down everything they had ever believed or done. And yet,
“You have the words of eternal life.” Peter said, and everyone, it seems, must have nodded in agreement. Peter continued “And we believe, and know that you are the holy one of God.”
Who else was God?
Who else had the truth?
Against every hard teaching, they kept asking themselves the same question: to Whom else would we want to go?
In the face of either receiving a hard truth because it comes from God, or rejecting a hard truth and therefore having to reject God, Peter spoke for himself and ten of his companion disciples when he said they would accept Jesus as a package deal.
The Peter Stone
The Church of the Primacy of Peter marks a stone much closer to the place where it is believed Jesus fed the five thousand, and later fed His disciples after His resurrection.
It is a famous scene.
Do You Love Me?
Simon (son) of John, do you love (agapeo) me more than these?
Yes, sire. You know that I love (phileo) you.
Graze my lambs.John 21:15
But then Jesus asked the same question again “Do you really love me, Peter, with selfless love?” and Peter answered again in the same way, “Yes, sire, you know my deep brotherly affection for you.” Peter again added his phileo to Jesus’ agapeo, for it was the warm bond of heartfelt love that made selfless sacrifice for Jesus come naturally, as a pleasure for Jesus’s sake. “Shepherd my flock,” Jesus replied. Make fires to warm each other, feed each other, fellowship with each other. Take care of each other.
And again a third time, “Peter, do you love me from the -heart-?” Jesus had now used the word phileo as well, the kind of heart-tie that made blood thicker than water, the loyalty and faithfulness of family, that when the chips are down you know who you can count on—those who phileo you.
Jesus’s words to Peter transformed the fisherman into a shepherd. And not only would Peter graze the lambs and sheep of Christ, but he would also teach them how to love with Christ’s supernatural bond, by the divine working of the Holy Spirit.
Love From the Heart
Peter insisted that true Christian love was not merely outward acts of grace and kindness, but rather something that welled up straight from the heart.
our souls being purified and sanctified in obedience to the truth, into unfeigned (sincere and genuine, authentic) brotherly mutual love (philadelphia) from the heart, love (agape) one another fervently.1 Peter 1:22
This is one of those verses that stands alone in its density and high calling.
You and I have been purified, made ceremonially clean, acceptable to God through obedience to the truth of the gospel.
The characteristic feature of this new life is love.
- Sincere means without disguising our true feelings under a feigned appearance.
- Brotherly mutual love is philadelphia, fraternal love.
- Fervently means intensely, zealously, instantly, earnestly, strenuously.
Peter was saying you and I must have a genuinely deep, intense, zealous, instant, earnest fraternal love for each other that is not affected, that is not faked, that is not just being nice when underneath you really do not like this person at all.
It can only come from Jesus’s own heart living within each believer.