“You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” [a servant girl] asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”
John 18:17 (NIV)
One of the themes I’ve been watching in John’s biography of Jesus is that of identity. John’s entire biography is thematically told around seven metaphorical “I am” statements that Jesus made paralleled by seven major miracles. These are not casual choices on John’s part.
When God revealed Himself to Moses, Moses asked God to identify Himself. God identified himself as “I Am.” Jesus’ seven “I am…” statements with their metaphors are a subtle proclamation John is making as to the complete divinity of Jesus as the Christ, while the miracles form a complete witness to divine power Jesus displayed in that claim of divinity. The number seven in the Great Story is the number of “completeness” (e.g. seven days of creation).
The seven “I am” statements:
- “I am the Bread of Life” (6:35, 48)
- “I am the Light of the World” (8:12; 9:5)
- “I am the Gate” (10:7)
- “I am the Good Shepherd” (10:11, 14)
- “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25)
- “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life” (14:6)
- “I am the True Vine” (15:1)
The seven miracles (before His death & resurrection):
- Changing water to wine (2:1-11)
- Healing the official’s son (4:43-54)
- Healing the disabled man by the Bethesda pool (5:1-15)
- Feeding the 5,000 (6:1-14)
- Walking on water (6:16-21)
- Healing the man born blind (9:1-12)
- Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-14)
But the theme of identity is not confined to the identity of Jesus. John is careful to choose stories that point to the identity of the religious leaders, the identity of those whom Jesus spoke to, the identity of those whom Jesus healed, and the identity of those who followed Jesus.
In today’s chapter, what struck me was how Peter’s denials stood out in stark contrast to Jesus’ claims. I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that Peter was not only the appointed leader of The Twelve, but his given name was Simon and Jesus gave Him a new name and a new identity: No longer the fisherman from Capernaum, Jesus gave Simon the identity of Peter, “the rock” on which I will build my church.”
Yet as Jesus, the “I Am,” is arrested and tried, the “rock” crumbles with three contrasting claims: “I am…not.”
I find something beautiful in the human fragility of Peter’s trinity of “I am not“s. As a follower of Jesus, it echoes the fragility of my own faith, the cracks in my own witness, and my own major failures that stand in stark contrast to the proclamation “I am a follower of Jesus.”
As Jesus fulfills His mission to suffer for the sins of the world, I find “the Rock” there as my representative. How apt that the Divinely appointed human “leader” of Jesus’ followers becomes the designated representative of human weakness.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself sitting in humility of my own humanity. A lyric from Bob Dylan’s song Every Grain of Sand comes to mind:
Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake,
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.
Peter’s story has the same ebb-and-flow as any follower of Jesus. A new direction and a new identity followed by a long life journey that include both miraculous highs and humiliating set-backs. It’s not just Peter’s story. It’s my story. It’s the story of every human being who sincerely answers Jesus’ offer to take up your own cross and follow. As the murderer and persecutor of Jesus’ followers Saul, given the new identity of Paul, follower of Jesus whom he persecuted, said:
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.