As a child sitting in Sunday school, I never truly appreciated (or for that matter liked) Simon Peter. To me, he was a head-strong, impulsive, silly disciple. I liked John much better- he was the beloved one. I want to be the beloved one, I thought. But my understanding of these biblical characters was restricted to flannel graph presentations and picture-book stories. When I hit college and began studying the Scriptures more in depth, I finally started to understand Peter. In fact, I saw a great deal of myself in him. Like Peter, I am sometimes impulsive. I speak without thinking and I am more than just occasionally headstrong.
While studying the Gospels in my seminary course (via distance education), I have gained even more perspective on the life of Peter and particularly, his denial of Christ and subsequent redemption. I formerly judged Peter for his denial of Christ. Jesus had even forewarned him of it. Jesus had told Peter to his face that during the course of that very night, he would deny knowing Christ. Talk about a huge warning. I never understood how Peter failed to recognize the fulfillment of this prophecy even after his first denial (John 18:15-24). Rather, he went on to deny the Christ in two more conversations (John 18:25-27). What kind of person would do that? What kind of person would spend years following and believing the Son of God and then turn around and deny ever knowing him? Just like Peter, I too am that kind of a person.
I may not deny knowing or believing in Christ with my lips, but I continually struggle with following his commands and instructions as laid out in Scripture. I deny Christ with my actions; I know what I should do and then go and do the opposite. I’m in the same boat as Peter. While this principle in and of itself hasn’t altered my behavior or attitude, what happens next between Jesus and Peter has.
After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to seven disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He sat down with Peter for what most likely would have been their first one on one conversation since Peter’s denial. Jesus asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” (John 21:15). In the same verse, Peter responded with a certain, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus replied with instruction to “feed my lambs” (v. 16). Two more times, Jesus asked the same question with the same answer from Peter. Christ’s response is similar, “take care of my sheep” (v. 16) and “feed my sheep” (v. 17). Is it a mere coincidence that Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him when Peter had just denied knowing Christ three times just a few days before? I had never connected the two events before or considered that Christ was giving Peter a chance to be redeemed. After all Peter had done (disregarding Christ’s prophesy and denying their friendship three times during Jesus’ trials) Christ was reinstating him as a disciple. Not only that, but Jesus designated Peter to be the rock on which he would build his Church (Matt. 16:18). Is Peter qualified for such an honor? He did, after all, deny knowing the Son of God.
The beauty of Christ’s conversation with Peter is not that he’s giving him a “second chance”. The beauty is that he’s giving him full redemption. Peter could have denied Christ one hundred times and he still would have been reinstated into fellowship with the Song of God. That’s what forgiveness is and this account illustrates it perfectly. Jesus didn’t hang Peter’s sin over his head; he didn’t say, “I told you so”. He didn’t even ask Peter why. He simply gave Peter the opportunity to affirm his devotion.
I can relate with Peter’s denial but it’s his redemption that has challenged my behavior and attitude the most. Am I worthy to be reinstated by the Lord? After all I do to tear down the kingdom, why would he turn around and use me to build it up? Am I capable of such things? Instead of constantly questioning my worthiness, I am learning to accept that I will never be worthy. I will fail- and many times. Yet Christ’s death and resurrection have provided a way for redemption. Hopefully I’ll learn to apply this principle in the future and relish in the gift of redemption that the Lord so freely gives. If I can remember this, I’ll stop wallowing in self-pity and strive even more to affirm my devotion for Jesus Christ. And just maybe, he’ll use me to do something great in the kingdom-despite my flaws.
Peter’s not such a bad guy after all. It took me years, but I’ve finally come around to appreciating his faults and unbridled fervor to do the right thing (even when he doesn’t realize what that is). May I never take for granted the redemption found through Jesus Christ.