“Greater Love hath no man than to give up his life for a friend.” Jesus spoke this to his disciples in John 15:13, foretelling his death upon the cross. The verse before is quite potent as well, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
Can anybody really love someone as much as Christ? Peter thought he could. He even went so far as to say in John 13:37, “Lord, why can I not follow you right now? I will lay down my life for you.”
Jesus’ response, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.”
Peter denied Jesus outside the temple, again while warming himself by the fire… and still again right before the rooster crowed. Turns out, Jesus was right all along… or was he?
Truth be told before the three denials, Peter was willing to give his life up to Jesus. When soldiers came to take Jesus away at the garden, Peter drew his sword and cut off a slave’s right ear (John 10:18). Jesus responds, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
Why was Peter chastised for wanting to fight and possibly die for Jesus, loving him enough to die for him? Jesus answers this in chapter 14 and the first part of chapter 15, directly after predicting Peter would fail him.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
“Come now; let us leave.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
And so we have reached the crux of our question. Peter was willing to lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus kept this from happening and instead laid down his own life for Peter.
On the outside Peter’s actions at the garden seem noble, saving the savior from death. But it was not Jesus’ will to be saved. It was his will to save us.
What Jesus explained in chapter 14 and 15 are the keys to Christianity. If we try, as Peter did, to love out of our own strength based upon our own will, than we will always fail. If we instead choose to receive Jesus’ peace and joy, to not let our hearts be troubled, to abide in Jesus’ love so that Jesus and the Father can make their home within us… then and only then can we learn how to love one another as Christ loved us. And even then we will need the Holy Spirit to teach and remind us of all of this.
In a nutshell, Christian love is not based upon your works, it is based on Jesus. You cannot do enough good to love another. True Christianity is based upon Christ’s work within us, loving us, keeping us, and making us more like him.
He commanded us to love one another as He loved us. Before that he commanded us to abide in his love so that his joy may be with us and that our joy may be full. Before that he said, “apart from me you can do nothing”. Before that he promised to give us his peace, not as the world gives. Before that he asked the Father to send the Holy Spirit to teach us and remind us of everything Jesus said. Before that he reminded us not to let our hearts be troubled.… And before all of that, Peter promised Jesus he would lay down his own life by his own strength.
Jesus wants us to be full of him and not ourselves. It is his work on the cross that saves us and not our own works of the flesh. This is the true meaning of grace. In John 15:14 Jesus continues:
You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.