Greater Love Hath No Man

Greater Love Hath No Man

Every time the people of the Lord meet to remember Him in His own appointed way, they celebrate the greatest love ever known to man. “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Jn. 15: 13. In laying down His life for those He loved, our Savior has demonstrated a love that passes knowledge, (Eph.3:19), a love that is stronger than death, which many waters cannot quench, neither can the floods drown it, (Song. 8: 6-7).

Love that no suffering stayed
We’ll praise true love divine,
Love that for us atonement made,
Love that has made us thine.

On the other hand, we know that “We love him because he first loved us” 1Jn. 4:19. Our love for Him is simply our hearts response to His own love for us. How does our feeble, vacillating, changeable love compare with His strong, immovable unchanging love? Should we have confidence in our limited love or in His immeasurable love?

In the last few chapters of the Gospel of John, two disciples, Peter and John, appear to have a prominent part during the last hours of the Savior’s life on Earth. They originally came from the same background, and as partners in a fishing business they left all and followed Him. They both loved their Lord with fervent love. And they both were willing to do anything for Him at His bidding… But that is where the similarities end , the big difference was that one of them was resting in the Savior’s love and confiding in it, it was therefore no surprise that he was described five times as ‘ the disciple whom Jesus loved’. The other one loved the Lord with equal intensity yet, he seems to have put his trust in his own love for the Master, and his confidence in his own ability to serve Him, follow Him and sacrifice for Him. Jn.13:37…

In the Upper Room scene in John chapter 13, we see John leaning on the Savior’s breast. When the question arose about whom the betrayer was John was able to learn from the Master Himself who it was. Being so near to Him and basking in the sunshine of the Lord’s love he was able to know the mind of the Lord regarding this matter. Jn.13:26. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him” Ps 25:14.

In that very same setting Peter is heard stating confidently not only his ability to follow the Lord but also his willingness to lay down his life for Him. And we should not doubt Peter’s sincerity in this matter. He was intent to carry out what he said he will do for the Lord, not realizing his own weakness. Sadly however the Lord, who knows our frame, would tell Peter that before it dawns that night, he will deny three times that he knew Him. What a revelation that must have been to the disciple who trusted in his own love for the Lord? And what a lesson he had to learn not to trust his own abilities.Jn.13:36-38.

Next we see Peter in Gethsemane, using a sword to defend his Master, and ends up cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest. The Lord would then heal the servant’s ear and rebuke Peter for his lack of understanding. Was not Peter’s action here motivated by his love for the Savior? No doubt it was, yet it is obvious that Peter’s love for the Lord had to be refined and redirected Jn. 18:10-11.

The next scene is in Anna’s house, John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, is found inside, where the Lord is, perhaps not willing to lose sight of Him. He probably remembers what the Savior had said earlier: “If any man serve me let him follow me, and where I am there shall also my servant be” Jn.12:26. Peter on the other hand, is said to have “followed Jesus” but he remains outside until he is brought in by John. The scene of denial is all too familiar to us. Peter finds himself in the company of the Lord’s enemies, and is almost surprised by his own inability to stand up for Him. Repeatedly he denies any association with Him. And then when the Master looks at him, he realizes the futility of trusting in his own love to the Lord. He then goes out and weeps bitterly.Jn.18:15-17, 25-27, Matt.26:75.

At the cross of Jesus, we do not see any of the other ten disciples; Peter is prominent by his absence. There is no mention of his whereabouts, was he still mourning the denial of his Lord? We are not sure, but we can safely assume so. The disciple whom Jesus loved however is there, in keeping with his determination to follow the Lord wherever He went. There is no doubt to whom the care for the grieving mother of Jesus would be entrusted. No one else but the disciple who rested and confided in his Master’s love, was worthy of such privilege. His dogged adherence to his Lord in all situations, and his relying on His mighty love to sustain him, earned him this place of nearness to his Lord… Jn.19:26-27

On resurrection morning the two of them are notified of the disappearance of the Lord’s body by Mary Magdalene. Both of them start running to the sepulcher, we are told that John outruns Peter, was it only because John was the younger of the two? Possibly, but could it be because he was the more eager? On arrival to the sepulcher John stooping down sees the linen clothes, but does not enter in. Peter then arrives later and enters the sepulcher, and looks inquiringly at that most amazing sight; of the grave clothes left behind when the Body was raised. These two were at Lazarus tomb, a few days earlier, when the Lord raised him back to life, and they remember clearly how he that was dead walked out of the tomb still wrapped up in his grave clothes. But this time they are amazed at what they saw, this is a resurrection unlike any other. The first born from the dead is now risen, as He said He will, and now lives by the power of an endless life, He has no need any more for grave clothes. No wonder when John enters the sepulcher the scripture says “He saw (not just inquiringly but he saw with understanding this time, because that is the meaning of the word in the original Greek) and believed”. Jn. 20:8 for until then they knew not the truth of His resurrection.Jn.20:9. But we observe how the one who had the better understanding here was the disciple whom Jesus loved.

The final scene in this Gospel takes place at the Sea of Tiberias. Peter is again taking the lead position, and with six other disciples goes back to fishing again. After a night of futile toil, in which they caught nothing, the Scriptures say “But when the morning was now come, Jesus appeared on the shore, but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus” Jn.21:4. So as His custom is the Great Shepherd appears at the right time to care for his tired, disappointed and hungry sheep. And what a morning it was to dispel all the fatigue, hunger and disillusionment. A probing question follows “Children have ye any food?” The miracle of the draught of fish follows. But who of the seven discerns that the obscure figure on the shore is indeed the Lord? None but the disciple whom Jesus loved, who has been so close to His loving heart as to recognize Him instantly, and with conviction he says to Peter “It is the Lord”.Jn.21:7

Breakfast is served courtesy of the creator Himself, for the fish and bread provided there were not the result of man’s labor. After the meal the Master, starts a step by step process of refining the love of His faithful, yet faltering disciple. This was the Lord’s way of restoring Peter to full fellowship with Himself. It is instructive to us to note how His questions were pointed and His words deliberately chosen, in order to bring about such a result. “Lovest thou me?” asked three times with different emphasis on the meaning of the word “love”. The third time the Lord uses a word that means in the original “are you fond of me” Peter answers the first two times in the affirmative, but when it comes to the third time he abandons any more attempts at defending his own love of the Lord . The grieved disciple says ”Lord thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee” Jn.21:17. The commandment is again repeated for the third time “Feed my sheep”. Perhaps that was the defining moment when Peter’s love for the Lord was indeed refined and redirected. And from there on the Scriptures bear witness to Peter’s faithful service for his Lord.

Before this chapter closes we are made aware of a final conversation between Peter and His Lord. Seeing John following the Lord as well, Peter asks what about him? Note that the word of God again reminds us of John‘s privileged position, being the disciple whom Jesus loved. The Lord, who loved them both and who sought to prepare them for the ministry that will be entrusted to them, directs Peter’s mind to the truth that the prime concern of any servant of the Lord is to follow Him. And not to be occupied with what his fellow servants may be doing for the Master.

Those two faithful servants of the Lord demonstrate to us the need to rest only in the Savior’s love. Never relying on our own love for Him or our presumed abilities to serve Him. The words of the Savior himself bear this “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you; continue ye in my love” Jn. 15:9.

Love that bore the stripes and sorrow
Love that suffered on the tree
Love that shares the bright tomorrow
With its loved ones you and me
Then dawned at last that day of dread
When desolate yet undismayed
With wearied frame and thorn-crowned head
He now forsaken and betrayed
Went up for me to Calvary
And dying there in grief and shame
He saved me blessed be His name
– Author Unknown

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Dr. Boushra Mikhael

Boushra Mikhael, MD, was born in Assyout, Egypt. He studied medicine in Egypt and England and eventually settled in Ottawa, Ontario Canada where he practiced as a urologist for 35 years. In addition to running a busy medical practice, Dr. Mikhael served as an elder at the Rideauview Bible Chapel and was chairman of Galilee Bible Camp and a board member of a variety of Christian ministries including Counsel Magazine, Ontario Workers and Elders Conference and Rise UP International conferences. After retirement he moved to Richmond Hill (Toronto) Ontario where he was active in itinerant ministry at camps, conferences and local assemblies until his home call in January 2012.