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October 17, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“Jesus asked a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ . . . So he told Jesus, ‘Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.’ Jesus replied, ‘Feed my sheep.’”—John 21:17 (CEV)
There’s so much to say about Jesus and Peter that it’s hard to know where to begin. One thing you’ll notice when reading through the Gospels is Peter was a bit of a brash, act/speak before you think sort of fellow. From being told “get behind me, Satan” to also being told he would deny Jesus three times, it seems Peter sometimes had a hard time staying out of his own way.
You could argue that Peter was the ultimate fixer upper. The difference between Gospels Peter and Acts Peter is so stark. In the Book of Acts, Peter delivers such powerful and profound messages, so eloquent and convicting. He became a strong, wise leader for the early Church, deeply connected to the heart of Jesus—a man used by God tremendously.
So, what changed? How did he go from “get behind me, Satan” to “a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ”? Where was the shift in his story? How did he turn the page? If you were to try to pinpoint a specific, pivotal moment in Peter’s life, it would have to be his denial of Jesus and subsequent restoration.
You know the story. After the last supper, Jesus tells His disciples they will all desert Him. Peter hastily interjects, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:33 NIV). It was a bold statement, which Jesus countered by telling Peter he wouldn’t just desert him, but he’d also deny Him three times that night.
You can almost imagine Peter thinking, No way, that’ll never happen. I’ll never fall away like that. But fall he did. And as he remembered the words of Jesus, he went away and “wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62 NIV). The Greek word for bitterly refers to a deep, heart wrenching, and miserable grief.
After His resurrection, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him three times—hardly a coincidence—and then proceeds to tell him to feed and tend to His sheep. It’s here that Jesus restored Peter and reaffirmed his calling by showing Peter he was forgiven. This opened the door for Peter to move forward in redemption.
It’s not hard to imagine that Peter was likely haunted by the memory of that rooster crowing. In fact, this brash apostle probably didn’t sleep much until this moment when Jesus showed him that He wasn’t done with him. Here, we see an amazing exchange take place where Jesus takes Peter’s darkest failure and uses it to cement his great calling.
Martin Luther, the great reformer, once wrote: “It is a great comfort the Bible records many celebrated people falling into huge sins. Such errors are given to us so those who are troubled and desperate may find comfort, and those who are proud may be afraid.” And he continued, “No man has ever fallen so grievously that he could not have stood up again, and no one has such a sure footing that he cannot fall. If Peter fell, I too may fall. But if Peter stood up again, I also can!”
So often, we allow past failures, mistakes, and painful experiences to keep us from all God wants to do in and through us. We stay trapped in the past, stuck in our circumstances, unable to move—and more importantly, move on. But there’s no failing too far that it is beyond the reach of God’s grace, no mistake so grievous that it disqualifies us from His forgiveness. And if He can forgive us and use our failures to bring glory to His name, then we should be able to rest in that forgiveness, stop looking backwards, and fix our eyes forward towards Jesus.
The great lesson we can learn from Peter today is this: Getting knocked down in life is inevitable, but don’t get comfortable on the ground!