by Marc Bastawrous
“If you had just 5 minutes with God, what would you say to Him? What would you do?”
That was the silly question posed to me by a close friend of mine once; a question I admit I paid very little attention to on the basis that it was extremely flawed. For starters, God is not limited by time, so by restricting His time to mere ‘minutes’ bothered me. Furthermore, what could I possibly do or say to God in a short 5-minute period that would effectively change Him or change the way He looks at me? I wouldn’t even entertain the thought of responding to such a scenario. It was an ignorant, thoughtless question that no one could realistically answer and I let my friend know it (we’re still close don’t worry).
That was until passion week some years later, when I finally came across someone in a position suitable to reacting to this very scenario. This person is the beloved disciple and friend of Christ, Peter. Let me explain. Following the death of Christ, the disciples were in apparent hiding for 3 days. Not much is said about this time spent in secrecy and even less is said about their thoughts and feelings regarding the events that had transpired. However, one thing is for certain. Each disciple carried with them a level of guilt and anguish over their actions on the Lord’s last day (all but John). They all bore a sense of responsibility for what had happened to their Master. Of the 10 who remained in hiding (John was probably caring for Mary and Judas, well, he was ‘out of the picture’), 9 of them carried an equal amount of accountability for forsaking Him in the garden. The other one, was Peter. Peter’s forsaking of Christ was a much deeper betrayal. The wound he carried with him post-crucifixion was one of denying His Master and best Friend. And now, he was left in a wilderness.
Often when you lose someone close to you, the one thing you value above all else are the last words you shared with each other. Let’s explore the last words Peter and Christ shared before the Crucifixion:
Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”
Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are [g]made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”
Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”
Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”
And so said all the disciples.
His last words to Christ were a promise. “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” There is no doubt that these words haunted Peter in the days after Golgotha. And when I put myself in his shoes all I could imagine him thinking was: “If only I could have those words back, if only I had 5 more minutes with Him.”
Peter is the ideal candidate to answer this question because his time with Christ was ‘up’ as far as he was concerned. But what exactly was his answer?
I imagine Peter didn’t arrive to a conclusive answer immediately. After all, what would you say to Someone you had just denied? Perhaps in the days after the Lord’s death, Peter went back to Golgotha where the Cross may still have been raised. “If I had 5 more minutes with Christ, I would sit in silence at the foot of His Cross,” he may have thought to himself.
Or maybe Peter wandered away from the disciples and went to the Garden of Gethsemane. “If I had 5 more minutes with Christ, I would watch,” he may have contemplated. It’s all speculation but one thing is for certain, Peter yearned for 5 more minutes with his Lord. He desired it above all else and probably, above all others. How can we say this for sure?
On the third day post-crucifixion, Mary Magdalene returned to the place where the disciples were staying and shared the news of the empty tomb. Peter’s response is as follows:
“Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first.”
He ran. He didn’t wait to hear any more details, he didn’t ask any questions, he just ran. He was in a rush to see Him. Three days of agonising over what he could have said differently, what he could have done differently, and now, a glimmer of hope. “Maybe now is my chance to change everything.” The other disciple who ran with him is thought to be John and, being the younger of the 2 of them, outran Peter to arrive at the tomb first. Although, in spite of his age, I can still picture Peter running to the point of gasping for air. No pain or hurt could compare to the anguish he had just gone through and, even if he had to do it through wheezing breaths, he would tell the Lord exactly what was on his mind. Alas, the tomb was empty, and the Lord was nowhere to be found. Peter would have to wait for his 5 minutes.
That same evening, the Lord appeared to the disciples and revealed to them His risen body. He encouraged them and told them of the Promise of the Father (the Holy Spirit) that would come and endow them with Power. He appeared a second time 8 days later because Thomas was whining that “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Still Peter could not find the opportunity to speak to Him. Maybe it was during this time that he second guessed himself. “What could I even say to Him?” Peter would still have to wait for his 5 minutes.
And then finally, a few days later while the disciples were out fishing, the Lord reveals Himself (miraculously) to them once more. This time, Peter would have his 5 minutes one way or another. Being out at sea, “he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea” (John 21:7). Picture it. A man of old age, diving into the ocean and swimming to shore like a maniac. I don’t think Peter even knew what he would say to Him, but he would have his 5 minutes with the Lord. He would have the chance to right the wrongs of the last words they shared with each other. It’s what he had been longing for all this time. It can’t wait anymore.
When Peter arrives at shore, the Lord asks him the one question capable of driving a sword into his heart, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” (John 21:15)
I guess this needs a little explaining. In the Greek language, there are three words used to define ‘love’ – and each word carries with it a specific connotation. The word not often seen in the bible is “Eros”, used to describe a lustful type of love (which we know is not really ‘love’ at all). The word most commonly used in the Gospels is “Agape”, which refers to the self-sacrificing, unconditional type of love that the Lord Himself showed on the Cross – the type we should all aspire for. Then there is another commonly used word, “Philio” – this is the type of love that is used between friends. It describes a fondness more than a feeling of deep affection.
When Christ asks Peter, “Do you love Me?” He uses the word “Agape”, the type of love that is ready to lay its life down.
So, what He is really asking him is, “Simon, are you ready to lay your life down for me? Do you love Me enough to sacrifice everything?”
Imagine the shame Peter felt in that moment. The agony of his final words to Christ coming back to haunt him once more. “Even if I have to die with You, I will never deny You!”
“What do I say to that? I can’t make the same mistake. What if these are my last 5 minutes with Christ?”
And so Peter, probably through tears, probably through a voice that has cracked from the heavy emotions weighing on him in this very moment, looks into the eyes of the Lord and says to Him:
“Yes, Lord; You know that I love (Philio) You.”
Philio, not Agape. For the first time, Peter pours out his heart to the Lord, in truth. This time, there is no deceit, no lies. Peter, in his 5 minutes with the Lord, uses it, not to cunningly express his boundless love for Him, but to express just how little he has for Him. He uses his 5 minutes with Christ to give Him his heart.
Peter tells Him, “Lord, I can’t give you the love You’re deserving of. I can’t promise that I would lay down my life for You. I can’t even tell You that You’re the most important part of my life. But what I have I give You. Here’s my heart and all it’s truths. It’s not much but I want You to have it.”
Peter decided that if this was to be his last 5 minutes with his Lord, then he would be honest with Him. In psalm 15, King David asks: “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?” And a single verse later answers with: “He who walks uprightly, And works righteousness, And speaks the truth in his heart.” In psalm 51 he also writes to God, “behold, You desire truth in the inward parts.” But perhaps, most beautifully, Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 2:19:
“Arise, cry out in the night,
At the beginning of the watches;
Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.”
Pour out your heart in truth to Him. No matter what garbage exists in there, no matter how little love – pour it out like water before Him. It was no coincidence that the Lord chose these 5 minutes to restore Peter. It was this scene that corrected my ignorant understanding of the question posed to me by my friend. Yes, while God is not limited by time, I am. And while nothing I say or do will change Him, it will change me and the relationship I have with Him. It paints the picture of true prayer.
“Prayer does change things, all kinds of things. But the most important thing it changes is us. As we engage in this communion with God more deeply and come to know the one with whom we are speaking more intimately, that growing knowledge of God reveals to us all the more brilliantly who we are and our need to change in conformity to Him. Prayer changes us profoundly.”
R.C. Sproul (The Prayer of the Lord)
So, after all, it’s not the most unreasonable question in the world. And no doubt this is not the only reasonable answer out there. But it’s mine. What’s yours?
+Glory be to God. Amen+