I wrote this earlier this year at Easter and published it on my old blog, which I’m in the process of doing away with, and wanted to include it here before next Easter and the message is relevant all year round, so here it is.
When Christians think of Easter, we often think of Christ’s rising from the dead. A worthy thought to be sure, as it is, indeed, the reason for the holiday and the thing that sets Christianity apart from all other faiths – a risen Savior. It is, probably, the most important aspect of the fulfillment of the mission of Christ. His death reminds us that we are redeemed, saved from sin unto Christ and saved from our own way – the way of destruction – but His resurrection conquered the grave, giving us a way to do the same. I think most of us are so caught up on our own redemption (and for good reason) that we neglect to notice the redemption of one particular man who happened to be very close to Jesus.
This morning in children’s church (and in night church, as well), we watched a video about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, with an emphasis on the resurrection. As I was watching, it dawned on me that my redemption from sin was not the only lesson in this story.
We are told in John 13:36-38:
“Simon Peter said unto him, ‘Lord, whither goest thou?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards.’ Peter said unto him, ‘Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. Jesus answered him, ‘Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, the cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.”
What a shock that must have been for Peter. To be, at the time of his speaking, so sure that he would be ready and willing to fight and die for his Lord and then be told by that same Lord he would blatantly deny Him, not once, but three times before the next sunrise? I know I would have been. I’ve been sure of so many things – that I would do (or wouldn’t do) something, only to find that I didn’t (or did) wind up doing them anyway. But imagine how it would feel to be told in advance by someone I had pledged allegiance to that I would turn my back on them, especially when they needed support most (not that Jesus needed Peter’s help here, but from a human perspective, I’m sure a kind word from His friend would not have been turned away at that point). I think you would be shocked and probably trying to convince that someone they were wrong. With Peter’s penchant for foot-in-mouth disease, I’m sure he tried to convince Christ that what He said was wrong – that he, Peter, would never in a million years do such a thing.
And for a while, it stuck. If you recall, Peter was there in the garden when Christ was arrested and stood firmly by his Lord long enough to cut the ear off of a servant of the Ciaphas. Christ rebuked Peter for getting in the way of His mission – to go as a lamb to the slaughter, without fighting, yelling, or an escape attempt. Peter even followed the group of soldiers who were escorting Jesus to His trial (if you can legitimately call it that) from a distance and waited outside the high priest’s house while the “trial” went on inside. We are told in Luke 22:54-62:
“Then took they Him, and led Him, and brought Him into the high priest’s house. And Peter followed afar off. And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them. But a certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him and said, ‘This man was also with Him.’ And he denied Him, saying, ‘Woman, I know Him not.’ And after a little while another saw him, and said, ‘Thou art also of them.’ And Peter said, ‘Man, I am not.’ And about the space of one hour after another confidently affirmed, saying, ‘Of a truth this fellow also was with him: for he is a Galilean.’ And Peter said, ‘Man, I know not what thou sayest.’ And immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew. And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said unto him, ‘Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.’ And Peter went out and wept bitterly.”
Can we blame him? In his fear of being recognized with Christ, he had done just as Jesus said he would, and exactly what he said he would never do. Imagine what shame Peter felt when he heard that rooster crow and saw the gaze of his Master rest upon him. He had failed Him, and he knew it.
But God was not done with Peter. Not by a long shot.
Praise God, Jesus rose three days after His crucifixion. That morning, women came to anoint the body and found the tomb gloriously empty. Well, not so gloriously at first, as they were convinced someone had taken the body. When they saw that there was no body in the tomb, they ran immediately to John and – you guessed it – Peter, and gave them the news, saying “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid Him.” (John 20:2) John and Peter ran to the tomb, finding it as the women said. John arrived first, but it was Peter who entered to see the abandoned linen. We are told in John that after he (John) entered, he believed, but it says nothing about whether or not Peter believed. The book of Mark says that, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the eleven (all the disciples but the late Judas) as they sat eating (Mark 16:14). That would include Peter. Personally, I think, in his grief over, not only the death of his Lord, but also his betrayal, Peter was not ready to believe at the time of his seeing the empty tomb, but what joy he must have felt to see his Master appear in that room, even if He was berating them for their unbelief. I think this joy might have been mixed with some kind of fear as well. Not just because Jesus appeared to randomly materialize from thin air (which, truth be told, would have certainly scared me), but also from retribution. It is our human nature (and Peter’s) to want to react in vengeance when we are wronged. As far as Peter was concerned, this could be what was next for him after Christ’s return from the dead. Of course, we know that his sin of betrayal was already forgiven and that it is against Christ’s person to wreak retribution, but how was Peter to know, or if he knew, remember that? (I’m not a theologian, but it’s a thought. Feel free to argue.) Imagine his relief when Christ made no such move. The feeling of forgiveness.
Later we find that Peter and some of the other disciples have returned to their old career – fishing. They have been fishing all night and have caught nothing. From somewhere on the shore a man (later discovered by the disciples to be Jesus) calls out to them, “Children, have ye any meat [fish]?”
“They answered him, ‘No.’ And He said unto them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the ship and ye shall find.’ They cast therefore and now were unable to draw it for the multitude of fishes. Therefore the disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’” – John 21:5-7a
Personally, I don’t think Peter needed John to tell him that the man on shore was Jesus. Who else could have filled their nets after a full night of catching nothing, simply by casting their nets on the other side of the boat. I find it difficult to believe the fish were simply playing hide-and-seek with the fishermen and got tired of shifting to the other side of the boat when they put their nets down on one side. Jesus knew what would get their attention and got it most effectively.
Peter dove into the water and swam ashore to his Master, who I imagine welcomed him with open arms. Such is the way He welcomes any repenting sinner into his presence – He wants to renew the relationship.
While they ate, Jesus asked Peter some questions. Well, one question, really.
“So when they had dined, Jesus saith unto Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto Him, ‘Yea, lord; thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He saith unto him a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?’ He saith unto him ‘Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love Thee.’ He saith unto him, ‘Feed my sheep.’ He saith unto him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?’ Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, ‘lovest thou me?’ And he said unto Him, ‘Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love Thee.’ Jesus saith unto him, ‘Feed my sheep.’” – John 21:15-17
Three retractions for three denials. Whether Peter was grieved because of the repeated asking or whether he saw this significance, we’ll never know. Jesus, I’m sure, knew it. He knew that, even though Peter had failed, and failed miserably, he was worth giving another chance to do God’s work through his life. Peter was given the command, ‘Feed my sheep.’ God was willing to work through this broken clay pot – this masterpiece in the making – to accomplish great things for Him and His kingdom.
Peter is a perfect example of a man whose failures were elemental in making him into what God wanted him to be. He had failed, he was flawed, he was forgiven, and he went off, through God’s grace, to live true to Christ’s words – “And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 17:8)
I can’t count the number of times Satan has convinced me that, because I have failed, I’m of no use of God. How could God use someone like me, who messes up, some times worse than others, for His glory, other than to show an example of what not to do? And who wants to be that example? I admit, I have a problem with forgiving myself and forgetting my sins after I’ve confessed them – even if I know that God has forgotten them, removing them as far as the east is from the west. For some reason, it seems I would rather sit and sulk about my inability to “get it right” and beat myself up over my constant failure, than to simply accept God’s forgiveness. But I am reminded here, that no matter how badly I mess up and what my past might look like, that God has a purpose for my future, and, if I just let Him, my present as well. He hasn’t promised to build a church on my ministries, such as they are, but He has promised that what I do in His name will not go to waste, even if I do fall from time to time (or more than that). He has promised to forgive and forget and to continue working through my life for His glory if I get out of the way and allow Him to do so.