Grace Upon Grace
2017, Oil on Canvas, 30in x 30in
The inspiration for this painting is the story of Simon Peter, a disciple of Jesus Christ. The more I studied Simon Peter in the Scriptures as I painted, the more I saw glimpses of my character reflected in his life.
“For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).
I think one of the many reasons Jesus chose Simon Peter to be one of his closest disciples was because we can all relate to him on some level…we may not all be fishermen but who hasn’t ever fallen short of a promise or disappointed one you love? Or rushed head-first into something only to find you should have thought it out further? Or maybe you are one who asks a lot of questions? Or you are a natural born leader? Or you were created to be a devout follower? Or you have chosen a career path only to find out later down the road that God had a totally different plan for you?
Simon Peter experienced a life and a heart transformation by the grace of Jesus as he lived side-by-side with Him. Jesus first met Simon Peter on the shore of the Lake of Gennesaret and chose to get into his boat. He asked Simon Peter to put the boat a little way off shore so he could teach the crowd on the beach. He then turned to Simon Peter and told him to “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets’” (Luke 5:4). As an experienced fisherman, Simon Peter knew that the only time to catch fish was during the night when they would come to the surface to feed…there would be no fish during the day due to the scorching heat…but Simon Peter was not driven by logic, he was quick to act.
Sure enough the nets miraculously began breaking because of the large catch of fish. “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will be a fisher of men’” (Luke 5:10).
When they returned to shore, Simon Peter left everything and followed Jesus. He was all in from the get go; he had a repentant heart and a teachable spirit which Jesus would use to build His church upon. If Christ could use Peter, he can surely use me too.
Simon Peter’s character is highlighted throughout the Gospels by his intimate relationship and close proximity to Jesus. He was quick to act before thinking and always asked questions, can I get an Amen? He seemed to jump first and then assess the situation. Comprehending the “why” often came after understanding the “who”, “what”, “where”, and “when”. Jesus knew this about His ambitious friend and daily placed Simon Peter in situations that targeted a heart transformation over a behavior modification.
In John 13:24, “Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’” (who is going to betray Jesus??) Continuing with the questioning in John 13:36-38, “Simon Peter asked him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.’ Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!’” Simon Peter didn’t understand until he heard the rooster crow with his own ears on the night of Jesus’ crucifixion and he was devastated by his own sin.
Peter wanted so badly to obey Christ, but his heart was sinful… I can empathize…and so can Paul for he writes in Romans 7:14-15 “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…”
Jesus’ grace abounds with Simon Peter because Christ knew the reason He came into the world: to defeat the sin that Simon Peter could not overcome alone…that no one can defeat alone. Simon Peter spoke courageously about this truth after the resurrection of Jesus Christ before the Sanhedrin, “For salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Christ used Simon Peter’s curiosity to challenge his thinking beyond the face-value; always directing him back to the reason and the heart of the situation. We see this played out on the Mount of Olives in John 18:10-11 when Jesus commanded Peter to put away his sword after impulsively cutting off the ear of a high priest servant, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me!” And again we see Simon Peter’s zeal play out after Jesus’ death as he ran straight into the empty tomb, giving no notice to the disciple John who stood reverently outside. Even after seeing the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head, Peter still did not understand that Jesus had been raised from the dead until Jesus appeared to the disciples later in the week. Jesus had blatantly told his disciples what would happen and why he needed to die, yet (like most of us) they needed many reminders and even miraculous signs.
After Jesus had appeared to his disciples and proved his resurrection from the dead, they again found themselves back on the beach of the Lake of Gennesaret. How often do we find our lives come full circle? This time they sat there not as uneducated and unaware fishermen, but as disciples and eye-witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But what did they do? “‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing” (John 21:3-13).
Simon Peter was a natural leader and others easily followed him, but his quickness to act often had to be redirected by Christ. Jesus had commissioned Simon Peter to leave his old life and put on a new life. He told him to no longer go out to the sea, but to go out the world and be a fisher of men. By the unending grace of God, Jesus would not let Peter stray too far for that next morning as the boys were coming in from their discouraging night of fishing Jesus met them on the shore…
“‘He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven't you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water” (John 21:5-7)
As always, Simon Peter was the first to jump in, to leave everything at hand, to ignore the duty of hauling the boat and large catch of fish to shore…in order to be nearer to his Savior. While Simon Peter failed throughout his life to obey Christ, there was never an end to the grace God extended to him. Jesus chooses the unworthy, the unequipped, and the under-privileged to be near to Him and to glorify His Kingdom.
On the beach, Jesus turned once more to his dear friend Simon Peter and asked, “‘Simon son of John, do you agape love me more than these?” And humbly yet honestly Peter replied, “‘Yes, Lord, you know that I phileo love you.’” Peter was honest with Jesus…again he wished he was a better man; he wished he could respond to Jesus’ question with “Yes, Lord, you know that I agape love you”…but he knew that he had just denied his Savior three times; his love for Jesus was not the same unconditional love that Jesus had for him. It was a friendship kind of love. And that was ok. Jesus knows the deepest desires of our hearts and he knows that we were born with a sin nature constantly at battle within us against the spirit of righteousness. Jesus didn’t scold Simon Peter for denying him; He didn't embarrass Simon Peter for being a coward; He didn't disqualify Simon Peter from being His disciple…Jesus did the opposite by extending grace. By definition, grace is receiving that which we do not deserve and have not earned. Jesus gave three commands to Simon Peter after he confessed three times that He only loved Jesus with a brotherly love: to “feed my lambs,” “take care of my sheep,” and “feed my sheep” (John 21:15-19). Peter received grace upon grace as he devoted his life to serving Christ and His Kingdom.
Jesus’ first and final command spoken to Peter was, “Follow me!” (John 21:19). It’s that simple. Simon Peter chose to follow Jesus and his life reflected whom he followed; the same trials, pains, and suffering of his Master, but also the same joy, courage, and glory of his resurrected Savior. He spoke the word of God with great boldness; he performed healing miracles in the name of Jesus Christ; he surrendered to the work of the Holy Spirit in his life and the lives of both Jews and Gentiles were changed forever.
The story behind this painting is Simon Peter’s story. Jesus gave Simon the name Cephas (Peter) which translates to “rock” in Aramaic because he was to be the rock on which the Christian church was built. This uneducated fisherman was purposed by God to be the foundation of the church of Jesus Christ. The memory that came to mind as I began praying through the life of Simon Peter was from a small port in Marseille, France. I found a photograph that I had taken of that small, commonplace port from a trip that my husband and I took the summer before we were married. One morning we spent exploring the Basilique Nortre-Dame de la Garde and after wandering in search of a small cafe for lunch we found ourselves completely lost. Without our phones, google maps, or directions we were clueless of the right way home… not to mention neither of us spoke French. With humble confidence my husband assured me that he’d find the way. I admit the heat of the summer sun was wearing on me and I was suddenly aware of the miles we had walked that day by the soreness of my feet. The intrigue and beauty of the city had faded in the moment and all I wanted to do was find our way to the port near the apartment and plunge into the refreshing water. Aware of my condition, my husband assured me that there was no need to worry, all I needed to do was follow him. He had never been to this foreign city before nor walked any of these streets prior but he was asking me to just trust him. I questioned along the way, yet remained by his side in faith. I doubted, yet felt secure. I was uncomfortable, yet persevered. When we arrived I was surprised, yet his promise was fulfilled.
I can relate to Simon Peter. I will run head first on an adventure but the moment it gets uncomfortable I’m prone to worry, fear, and question. By His grace, Jesus chose to use Simon Peter not despite his failures, but because through his failures Jesus knew Simon Peter would begin to rely less and less on himself and more and more on His Savior. The same man who denied Jesus three times, unashamedly stood before the masses proclaiming Jesus’ name.
The fishing boat is a reminder of the life Simon Peter lived before Christ and the passenger boat represents the life Peter lived after Christ. He chose to make his living catching fish, but was chosen to live in such a way as to bring men onboard to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. The mast of the fishing boat (old way of living) bows toward the mast of the passenger boat (new way of living) and both symbolize the crucifixion by which both Simon Peter and his Master died. The small port is representative of the great commission given to Simon Peter and the rest of the disciples found in Matthew 28:19, “‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’” The rock foundation of the ancient Roman bridge is a symbol of Jesus’ blessing over Simon Peter, “‘I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it’” (Matthew 16:18). Peter’s life was transformed by Jesus Christ. He was used mightily to display the Lord’s power and glory. His desire to be always near Jesus even after His resurrection carried him through a very difficult, unglamorous life of ministry, evangelism, and ultimately persecution unto death. But death for Peter was not the end; as is true with every believer in Jesus Christ, death is the beginning of life eternal - face to face with God the Father.
Grace Upon Grace.