As leaders we must embrace the New Covenant in its fullness. Many times we fall into the trap of embracing a New Covenant message while still holding on to Old Covenant methods of implementing that message. Many times we embrace an Old Covenant message in a New Covenant time and then think we are ok because we attempt to implement that message in a New Covenant way. We must embrace the full package of the New Covenant to lead in a New Covenant way.
The Old covenant took people by the hand and led them. We cannot simply preach New Covenant truth and take people by the hand in implementing New Covenant truth. This means a different type of discipleship. We must be willing to allow those we lead to fail. We must demonstrate mercy that ends the past for those we lead. We must also demonstrate grace in allowing them to be empowered for New Covenant life. We cannot hear God for those we lead, but we must expect them to be empowered to embrace the responsibility of hearing God for themselves. This doesn’t mean that we sit back while they seek a self-gratifying, self-fulfilling, or self-gratifying life. We lead to see them sincerely embrace being led by God’s Spirit in their lives. Helping those we lead define boundaries in their lives is legitimate. Giving commands from sincere love within the context of our leadership responsibility is legitimate. Not empowering others to be responsible is not legitimate.
The disciple Peter was zealous to rebuke Jesus for talking about dying, when he had a revelation that Jesus was the Messiah. His revelation was hindered by his interpretation of that revelation. Although Peter was strong in his verbal support of Jesus, something in Peter was willing to bend to the pressure of natural sight and fear. His own heart was destined to deny Jesus, but the heart of Jesus was destined to support Peter even in his failure. Jesus didn’t judge Peter by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He believed in Peter by embracing the tree of life on his behalf. Jesus told Peter that a conversion would happen in his life whereby he could strengthen his brothers.
Luke 22:31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
It was Peter’s return to the Lord in his heart that qualified him for the responsibility of New Covenant life in God’s church. After Jesus had risen from the dead He found Peter fishing. Peter had returned to his former trade and it seemed he was hiding in his past for being disqualified through his denial of Jesus. Jesus called out to Peter and gave him the familiar words of casting his net on the other side of the boat. Peter recognized the voice of His Lord and soon found the fruit of an abundant catch of fish and His friend waiting for him on the shore with a fresh breakfast for a new day. It was then that Jesus demonstrated the power of New Covenant grace. Peter’s heart was humble and he was tender in his heart toward Jesus.
John 21:15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
Jesus addressed Peter as Simon Peter – the ‘little rock’ who ‘bends like a reed’ or the ‘little rock’ who ‘hears’. His salutation to Peter no doubt touched the tenderness of Peter’s heart. Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him and He used the Greek word agapao, a giving love or a sacrificial love. Peter responded by using the Greek word phileo, a love that is a friend or affectionate toward another. The honesty of Peter was matched with the grace in Jesus’ words. He told him to ‘feed His lambs’. The key was the truth and honesty in Peter’s words and the New Covenant life in the words of Jesus. Jesus was empowering Peter with grace. Peter wasn’t expecting anything. He was being honest and the love of God was melting his heart.
Jesus asked Peter a second time, but this time His salutation was even deeper.
John 21:16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
His salutation to Peter was the same as when Peter had received the revelation that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Mt. 16:17). These words implied that Peter was the one who hears God by the Holy Spirit, as Simon means ‘one who hears’ and Jonah means ‘dove’, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him this second time and He again used the Greek word agapao, a giving love or a sacrificial love. Peter responded again by using the Greek word phileo, a love that is a friend or affectionate toward another. The honesty of Peter was once again matched with the grace in Jesus’ words. He told him to ‘tend His sheep’. I believe that the key was once again in the truth and honesty in Peter’s words and the New Covenant life in the words of Jesus. Mercy was kissing the heart of Peter and grace was empowering him for the responsibility of life.
John 21:17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.
This third time Jesus changed the word that He used for love when asking Peter if he loved Him. This third time Jesus used the Greek word phileo, a love of friendship and affection. This is what caused Peter to weep. He knew that he wasn’t qualified. He wasn’t expecting anything and Jesus was giving Him everything. Peter responded in honesty by acknowledging to Jesus that he knew He knew all things and that he did love Him with a phileo love. Jesus acknowledged Peter’s acceptance of mercy by again empowering him with grace. He told Peter to ‘feed His sheep’.
Jesus then went on to tell Peter what His grace would do in Peter’s life. He prophesied of the day that Peter would die.
John 21:18 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”
Church tradition says that Peter was crucified in Rome over twenty years later. On the day they crucified him, Peter requested that they crucify him upside down since he was not worthy to die in the same manner as His Lord. God’s grace had empowered the one who had denied Jesus to love (agapao) Him in his death. This is the power of New Covenant grace! Peter didn’t expect anything, but God empowered through everything. He was empowered to give his life for the Church and for the love of His Savior. Peter never demanded mercy or grace, he simply responded to the voice of his Friend with tenderness, willingness, and a heart to receive all that God expected of him. This is New Covenant life.
Food For Thought,
Ted J. Hanson