‘Piercing sweetness’ was a phrase coined by A W Tozer to describe a personal encounter with the risen, living Lord Jesus. When a believer genuinely senses the challenging but ever-loving presence of their Saviour it is intense and life-changing, soul-wrenching yet exquisite at the same time.
We find examples in the Gospels. The two disciples joined by Jesus on the road to Emmaeus, whose ‘hearts burned’ as he spoke with them. (Luke 24v13-35) Christ gently revealing Himself to the distraught Mary Magdalene by saying her name, whereupon she flings herself down and ‘clasps his feet’. (John 20v10-18) And this achingly simple yet searching conversation with Simon Peter on the shore of Lake Galilee where it all began a few years before.
(It’s most certainly worth noting in our modern, sex-obsessed culture, how Jesus enjoyed deep, honourable, fulfilling but celibate friendships with both men and women! They really loved each other. There was no need for it to be sexual.)
After the anguish of the crucifixion and emotional intensity of the first resurrection appearances the Lord invites His disciples back to the familiar territory of Galilee where He reminds them of the first time they met, when they landed a miraculous catch of fish and he called them to follow Him and become ‘fishers of men’. (Luke 5v1-11) He invites them to breakfast on the beach, breaking the bread like He did when feeding the 5000 or at the Last Supper.
They remember, and there is comfort in the familiar.
But then comes a personal conversation with Peter, who just a fortnight before had buckled under pressure and denied three times he knew his best friend and Master.
Three times now Jesus asks Peter, ‘Do you love me?’
The parallel is painfully obvious, yet while this question is laser accurate it is not vindictive or intended to destroy. The devil is referred to as ‘the accuser of the brethren’, who will seek to discourage us at every turn. Jesus could have asked, ‘Simon, why did you deny me?’ but this is not an accusation.
It is an amazing offer of grace, forgiveness and renewal. It is a beautiful, knowing, loving offer of ‘his old job back’, leading and caring for the others and those who would soon join them. It cuts to the heart, but in order to heal, not to hurt.
Peter already hurt. The night it happened he had ‘wept bitterly’ and had probably done so frequently since! While happy to see Jesus alive, Peter must have wondered if there could be any future for him in the Lord’s service.
The wise and gracious way in which the Lord deals with His failed brother is not to offer recrimination but restoration!
Do you love me? Isn’t that why you feel broken inside?
Do you love me? Isn’t that what is beating, yearning in your heart?
Do you love me? Don’t you still want to be and do better?
Don’t you realise that I love you too, and I’m just as broken over your failure? Of course it hurts but I dealt with all of that the next day, Friday, remember? I did that so love could win, so you would know I have your back and always will.
I still want you to accept the calling I gave you on day one. You’ll still make mistakes but you realise that now, and you know I’ll be here to help and where necessary forgive as many times as it takes….
We may not hear Christ speaking in a physical voice like Peter did, we don’t have to. We do need to humbly and honestly open our hearts and minds to His Spirit, to scriptures like these and allow Him to speak forgiveness and healing into our souls.
And that will be a ‘piercing sweetness’.