Whenever I read the Bible and encounter Peter's thrice denial of Christ, I almost always come away in disbelief.
'How could he possibly deny his involvement with Jesus? He's been following Him around for years. He's seen more miracles than nearly anyone. Yet three different people ask him if he knows Jesus, and he says no every time? Peter, what happened to your courage?'
Peter's love and defense of Jesus was so strong that immediately before he denied Jesus, he wielded his sword and cut the ear off one of the men trying to arrest Jesus. Let me say that again.
Peter loved Jesus so much, he physically harmed one of the men that was arresting Him in hopes that they would leave Him alone.
If that's not love and loyalty, I don't know what is. Jesus, of course, scolded Peter for his actions, asking him, "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (John 18:11, NIV). He then proceeded to heal the man's ear (Luke 22:51). Ever the mediator and executor of the Father's will, Jesus had to keep Peter in check.
It's bad enough that Peter denied knowing Christ after such a hearty defense of Him earlier in the day, but this came right after Jesus warned him about it. Jesus straight up told him, "before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!" (John 13:38).
Peter, how could you doubt Jesus like that? How could you defend Him in one moment, and distance yourself from Him in the next?
It took me a long time to realize that I'm Peter. I'm the one who gets all worked up when Jesus is insulted. I'm the one that wants to accomplish great things in His Name. I'm the one that wants to put my (ideally) unfailing trust in His character and His Word.
But in moments when I'm forced to claim His Name, and I have something to lose, I often take the coward's way out. I don't know if I've ever blatantly denied association with Jesus, but I sure have manipulated the conversation away from promoting Him.
Why? Why do I do this? I know I'm not alone, as Peter clearly demonstrates, but what is it within us that cowers when we're confronted with an opportunity to proclaim Him?
For me, it's fear. It's fear that the people I'm in conversation with will think less of me because I follow Jesus. It's fear that if I confirm my love for Him, I'll miss out on opportunities, both professional and personal.
Let me just tell you how ridiculous that is. Though it may not seem like it at the time, I will never regret owning up to my faith in the Lord. Jesus will never make me stand on my own. If I lose opportunities because of my faith, I didn't want those opportunities anyway.
Luckily for both Peter and myself, Jesus offers redemption in the relationship. He restores what has been broken.
The book of Luke tells us that immediately following the third denial, "The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him. . . and he went outside and wept bitterly" (Luke 22:61-62). After this occurred, he didn't get the chance to ask Jesus for forgiveness before He was crucified. I can only imagine that Peter, thinking his Lord was gone forever, was beside himself with guilt.
When Mary Magdalene went to His tomb and found the stone rolled away, she went straight to Peter and John. Upon hearing the news, they ran to the tomb. They ran to where Jesus was supposed to be. Peter had to see Him. He just had to. Alas, He was not there.
However, a little bit later on, Jesus appeared to His disciples and He gave Peter the chance for redemption.
"When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?' 'Yes, Lord,' he said, 'you know that I love you.' Jesus said, 'Feed my lambs.'
Again Jesus said, 'Simon son of John, do you truly love me?' He answered, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.' Jesus said, 'Take care of my sheep.'
The third time he said to him, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?' Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, 'Do you love me?' He said, 'Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.' Jesus said, 'Feed my sheep. . .' " (John 21:15-17).
Three denials? Three opportunities for redemption. The beautiful thing is, Peter didn't let his shortcomings stop him from carrying on in his love for the Lord. In fact, he would go on to further the Kingdom long after Jesus ascended into Heaven, his teachings and proclamations of the Gospel reaching us even today.
Why is this important? Why does it matter that Peter was a screw-up just like you and me?
Because in his weakest moments, in his cowardice, in our cowardice, Jesus reigns. Jesus still loves us. I don't know anyone on earth that would forgive me if, on three separate occasions, I publicly denied being their friend.
Jesus rises above it. Jesus sees the big picture. Jesus knows what we're capable of and what He has for our future, and He uses our shortcomings for His glory. He uses them to minister to others.
Don't be afraid to fail. But when you do, don't give up.
Don't hide from Jesus. Run to Him.
I want to leave you with something that continually brings perspective to me when I'm feeling like Peter did in that time between his denials and Jesus' redemption. I've needed this and listened to this so many times over the years, I can repeat it verbatim.
Trust me. Give it a listen. It just might be what you need to hear.