Caesarea Philippi, Church of Peter, and Capernaum
Primacy of Peter
There is a church near Tiberias called the Primacy of Peter, or Peter’s Church. It marks the spot along the Sea of Galilee at which Jesus appeared to His apostles after the resurrection. At this point in the Gospel story, the apostles had decided it was time to return to their former line of work. They couldn’t imagine that the period of their lives with Christ would continue. The spirit of evangelism seemed to have died with Christ’s death. Though He had risen from the dead, they had no schema for what might take place now. Perhaps everything would just go back to the way it was before – although they were not the same. They had been touched by Christ and would never be the same. But they couldn’t see the way forward. What now? They turned to the work they knew and understood. Fishing on the Sea of Galilee.
They neared the shore line after a night of unsuccessful fishing.
A man from the shore called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered no. It was a wasted night on Galilee. And then the man commanded them to try casting the nets on the right side of the boat. The suggestion seemed absurd. But they did it. And they lifted the nets to claim the greatest catch of their lives.
It was Peter who sensed something miraculous here. This was all too familiar. It reminded him of the day when the Son of Man called to him and bid him come, follow.
Peter looked at the fish. One hundred and fifty-three of them. How could this be? And just as quickly as he asked himself the question, the Holy Spirit inspired him with the answer.
Peter raised his eyes and looked at the man along the shore. Instantly, he knew it was the Lord.
He dove into the water, and swam to the shore. It is here that Jesus asked Peter three times, “Peter, do you love me.”
The questions are hard to hear. Peter feels anguish as he responds. But, it is time to clean the slate. Peter denied Jesus three times while the Lord was beaten and condemned to die. And the healing grace would come in the form of these three difficult questions from the One he had denied in the hours of His greatest suffering.
Yes, Lord. I love you.
You know that I do.
Then feed my sheep, Peter. Care for them – care for all of them.
And the one who had held the place of primacy in the list of the Apostles is once again the first among disciples. For all time, his name would be listed first. For all time, Judas Iscariot’s name would be listed last. Even Scripture provides a subtle word on Peter’s place. He is the first among brothers.
Our Lord’s question revealed many things. Though he would have a place of distinction among the Apostles, he would be called to a life of service to his brothers and to Jesus Christ. He would not be called to lord it over the brother Apostles. He was called to serve them, as Christ served them. He was called to love the sheep and seek the lost sheep and bring them back, as Christ had done.
Peter would be marked for a singular death – one that pointed back to the Passion. One that pointed forward to days of martyrdom-that-glorifies Christ. A death that leads through dying and speaks words of Truth as powerful as any Peter spoke. This Christ has risen, and the one Peter denied is worthy of everything – including death.
Peter had been transformed by the glory and power of the Cross of Christ.
There is a shore near Tiberias, along the coast of the Sea of Galilee. And on that site, there is a church. In the sand along the shore, just a few feet from the front door of the church, there are a number of rocks large enough to sit upon. Three of them are in the shape of a heart. They serve to remind us–
Simon, do you love me? Yes, Lord.
Simon, do you love me? You know that I do.
Simon, do you love me? Yes, you know everything about me, my Lord, and you know that I love you.
The rocks remind visitors to the church of the three exchanges between the risen Savior and the one who denied Him. Each rock stands for love. Each rock is a mandate to go – and to love to the point of death, as Christ has done.
The day we were on the shore near Tiberias, children played in the water, couples sat on the heart-shaped rocks, and off to the right, a man cast a fishing rod into the water. I was tempted to call out to him. “Child, have you caught anything to eat?” But instead, I merely pondered it all and smiled.
There was a time when I did not see anything special in Peter, nothing to distinguish him from any of the other Apostles. He was just one among many. And now, in this place where the Gospels seem to be alive, it is very clear.
Peter’s Primacy is clear.
From there, we visited Capernaum, and the lessons on Peter continued.
My journey to Peter’s Primacy began the day before – at Caesarea Philippi – where Jesus says to the Apostles, who do men say that I am?
To this, Peter replies, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And Jesus says to Peter, “And so, I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
Two thousand years have proved these words.
Peter is the rock.
And the gates of hell have not prevailed.
Thanks be to God!
Matthew 16 & John 21