Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail. And when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren. Luke 22:31-32.
When Jesus challenged Peter with these words, he responded, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” But the Lord knew the power of Satan. And He knew the weakness of Peter.
In the three days that followed this incident, Peter did fall away from the Lord. He was not ‘ready to go with’ the Lord. He denied Him completely ‘three times’. There followed a sense of failure, helplessness, grief, doubt, anger, despair. But as the Lord foretold, he returned to Him. He became ready to see in a new way. His faith and confidence in the Lord were restored.
Of course, we are ‘Peter’. These three days are symbolic of our own process of regeneration, in which we fall away and then return to the Lord. The message of Easter is that the Lord alone can conquer hell and rise into heaven. We are able to do so only from Him, by humbly accepting His power, His priorities, His goals.
But there is another Easter message in the Lord’s words to Peter. He said to him, “When you have returned, strengthen your brethren.”
The Lord prays for each one of us, as He did for Peter. He longs for our salvation. He longs for us to experience His love for the neighbour - the love He feels for people outside of Himself. We experience that love in serving others, in building them up, in strengthening them. And we are able to do this only so far as we are humble.
When we recognise that of ourselves we fail, and that it is by the Lord’s mercy that we are restored, then we are in a position to give to others.
How do we strengthen one another? What strengthens you? What brings out the best in you?
Simple kindness (coming from a place of compassion) is grateful… It’s nice to be listened to and respected in that way… It’s affirming when someone lets us offer our insights or help in some way… It feels good when someone expresses appreciation for what we have been going through, for the efforts we have made. All of these things are gifts that we can give to others to help strengthen them.
Peter’s ‘brethren’ refers literally to his fellow disciples. It is the disciple in others that we are called to support. Ultimately what each one of us needs most is support in living as a spiritual person. This is what brings the greatest and most enduring kind of happiness.
It follows that the most profound way we can ‘strengthen our brethren’ is to nurture and support their love of God - providing ‘space’ and safety in our presence to express their beliefs, to offer insights, to share their service.
But, at whatever level we are able to engage with others and support them, the Lord’s encouragement to Peter applies. When we have learned the humble lesson that the Lord alone is our Saviour, we are to find ways to ‘strengthen our brethren’.
The Easter story is not complete without this element of going out to give to others what we have received. Immediately after His resurrection the Lord sent forth His disciples to preach the gospel.
As you reflect this Easter, on the mercy that the Lord has shown you, and the ways He has taught you and led you back to Himself, remember His words to Peter:
...when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.