I’ve always liked Peter. That guy was all in. He stepped out of the boat to walk on water and he knew that Jesus was the Christ. He also cut a guard’s ear off during Jesus’ arrest in the garden. He was so confident that he was always right. And he was so sure that he would never forsake his Lord.
After all, it was Peter who said, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away,” (Matthew 26:33). Even after Jesus told Peter that he would in fact deny him three times that very night before the rooster crowed, Peter did not believe him. Peter emphatically replied, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” Peter had such zeal and loyalty. He loved Jesus. Which made the reality of his denial all the more heartbreaking.
We know the story. Following Jesus’ arrest, Peter warmed himself by a fire and was there accused by a servant girl of having been with Jesus. Peter said he didn’t know him. When someone else said that Peter had been one of Jesus’ followers, Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And then came the third denial came. The account in Luke chapter 22 says that immediately the rooster crowed- and the Lord turned and looked at Peter, and Peter remembered the words of the Lord (v.60-61).
Oh, Peter. The guilt and shame he must have felt for what he had done. Verse 62 tells us that Peter “went out and wept bitterly.” I can only imagine his crushing sorrow.
Tonight as I type these words recounting this story, it feels so heavy. So sad. But I also think Peter’s denial served a great purpose.
Think back with me for a moment to Luke chapter 7. Jesus was eating at the home of a Pharisee when a sinful woman came and anointed his feet with both her tears and an expensive bottle of perfume. Indignant, the Pharisee said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is- that she is a sinner,” (v.39). Jesus responded to this man’s thought by telling him a parable of two men who owed money to a moneylender. One owed 50 denarii and another 500. As neither man had the money to pay their debts, the moneylender canceled the debts of both. Jesus then asked the Pharisee, “Now which of them will love him more?” The Pharisee responded, “The one with the larger debt.” A brilliant story to illustrate a beautiful truth.
Do you see where this is going?
Peter’s story doesn’t end with his large debt of denial. In many ways, it was his beginning; for we have a Savior who redeems us. We have a Savior who graciously makes breakfast on the beach…
We pick up the story of Peter in John chapter 21 in which we read of the third appearance Jesus made to his disciples following his resurrection. After a morning of fruitless fishing, Jesus called from the shore instructing them to cast their nets on the right side. The result was another miraculous catch of fish. As the disciples towed their boat to the shore they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. And Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught. Come and have breakfast,” (v.9-12).
When they had finished eating breakfast, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon son of John do you truly love me more than these?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus then said, “Feed my lambs.” A second time Jesus asked Peter if he truly loved him and a second time Peter replied in the same way. Jesus then said, “Take care of my sheep.” A third time Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Peter replied, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said once more, “Feed my sheep.”
Three denials and three redemptive affirmations of love. Peter’s debt had been forgiven. And consequently, just as the sinful woman, he loved much.
I have no doubt that the grace Peter experienced following his denial intensified his love and commitment to his Savior. And I can’t help but think that the depth of his forgiveness is in part what made him a fearless proclaimer of the gospel. It was all necessary. For Peter was also given three commands after each “I love you.” He was to preach, proclaim, and die for the Gospel.
After the third command to feed his sheep Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” In verse 19 we see the explanation: This was said to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Peter would spend the remainder of his days glorifying God in both his life and in his death.
I love the story of Peter. While Peter was absolutely responsible for his sin, God used his denial and redemption as an event to strengthen Peter’s love and obedience to Christ.
So with us. When we think of how greatly we have sinned, may it be a call to repentance and to a deeper commitment to living our lives fully and only for the glory of God. And may the depths of our sinfulness cause us to fall on our knees in praise that there is nothing our Savior cannot redeem. The same Jesus who forgave the sinful woman and Peter, and who made breakfast on the beach for his disciples is the same Jesus who offers us forgiveness and grace. This is the Jesus who bids us as he did Peter to follow him. I pray we all accept this glorious invitation.