Peter, even though I can’t relate to him in that he spoke without thinking (quite the opposite is true…I overthink every little word 😅), is one of my favorite Bible characters. I love the story of him walking on water. I respect him whenever I read of him boldly proclaiming the gospel on the day of Pentecost. Just the fact that he was in Jesus’ inner circle makes him pretty cool!
Imagine this scene with me. The disciples had just had the First Communion in the upper room, and now they’re on the Mount of Olives. Jesus tells Peter, “tonight, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times!” Peter responds, “Even if I have to die with You…, I will never deny You!”
I wonder how many times we say the same thing. We want to believe that we’ll be strong and stand up for our faith. We want to believe that we would not back down in the face of adversity and persecution. But then we do what Peter does next: fall asleep instead of praying. We say we’ll be faithful in the big things, but we fail in the little things.
Now they’re in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Jesus is “sorrowful and deeply distressed.” He’s about to be betrayed and crucified. Even if Peter didn’t fully understand that his Lord was about to die, I have to wonder why he wasn’t more concerned. He had spent every day with Jesus for the past three years; he was one of His three closest friends. Surely he would have recognized that Jesus was upset–Jesus even tells him, plain as day, that he’s upset! He asks Peter to stay awake with Him to pray. But Jesus comes back and finds him asleep. He tells him to “stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus goes away to pray again, but again finds the three disciples sleeping. This happens a total of three times.
That’s so human, isn’t it? Peter had just gotten done telling Jesus that he would die before he would deny Him, yet when Jesus tells him to pray, he can’t stay awake. This is one area I can relate to Peter–I’ve definitely fallen asleep while praying. Even just last night, while I was praying, the song “Highlands (Song of Ascent)” came to mind and I told God, as I put my worship music on shuffle, that I wouldn’t go to bed until that song played. I was going to seek Him until, basically, He gave me the “ok” to go to bed by letting that song play. I woke up this morning and realized that I never heard the song play.
Fast forward in the story a little bit, and we find Peter sitting around a fire while Jesus is being questioned. I’ll let the Scriptures (Matthew 26) tell this part:
69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant approached him and she said, “You were with Jesus the Galilean too.” 70 But he denied it in front of everyone: “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” 71 When he had gone out to the gateway, another woman saw him and told those who were there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene!” 72 And again he denied it with an oath, “I don’t know the man!” 73 After a little while those standing there approached and said to Peter, “You certainly are one of them, since even your accent gives you away.” 74 Then he started to curse and to swear with an oath, “I do not know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed, 75 and Peter remembered the words Jesus had spoken, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
I can relate to Peter here, too. He boldly proclaimed to Jesus that he wouldn’t deny Him, even if it meant death, and then that same night he found himself doing just that. I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to promising things to God, because I’ve told God that I wouldn’t do something and yet I go and do it. Or I tell Him I will do something, but don’t. The book of Luke tells us that Peter made eye contact with Jesus after the rooster crowed, and then he realized what he had done. He just denied knowing his best friend, and the eye contact only made the guilt worse. Just imagine looking Jesus–who’s being beaten–in the eyes and realizing that you let Him down. My eyes water just imagining this sad scene and how terrible Peter must have felt. I would have wept bitterly if I was in Peter’s shoes, too.
We’ve all messed up. Even if we’ve never outright denied God, each and every one of us has fallen short of God’s glory at one time or another. None of us are perfect. One reason why I love Peter so much is that he was flawed–to the point of rejecting even knowing Jesus (to a servant girl, nonetheless!). And yet God still used him mightily. He didn’t give up on him.
Sometime after Jesus’ resurrection, some of the disciples decided to go fishing. They fished all night, but caught nothing. When morning came, a man standing on the shore asked them if they had any food. They answered no, and then the man told them to cast the net on the right side of the boat. John 21:6b: “So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.” John (“the disciple whom Jesus loved”) recognized that it was the Lord, and when Peter heard this, he plunged into the sea and swam to shore. I absolutely love this picture. He loved the Lord and wanted to be with Him so much that he made a beeline for Jesus–leaving the other disciples to bring in all the fish!
John 21:9: “Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.” I was reading Tauren Wells’ new devotional on YouVersion–God’s Not Done With You–and in it he talks about the fire of coals. He absolutely blew my mind when he pointed out the fact that Peter was warming himself around a fire of coals when he denied Jesus! I recognized the parallel between Peter denying Jesus three times and then Jesus asking Peter if he loved Him three times, but I had never picked up on the fire thing before. Jesus recreated the scene, yet never once reminded Peter of his shortcoming. Jesus then asks him the question, “Do you love me?” three times, and each time Peter responds with “yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” It pained Peter that He asked him three times, because he knew what Jesus was doing. I can just imagine how Peter felt, sitting there and hoping that “it” wasn’t going to be brought up. Maybe he was just hoping that Jesus wouldn’t rub it in his face. Jesus could have said, “Remember, Peter, how you denied me three times, even after you promised me you wouldn’t? Remember, Peter, how you fell asleep three times instead of praying? Huh? Remember, Peter?” But that’s not what Jesus did. He simply asked Peter if he loved Him, and then told him to feed His sheep. He never mentioned his failure; He only told him what to do next.
As I talked about in my last post, we want to run from God when we mess up instead of running to Him. We don’t want to pray because we think that God is going to remind us of our sin and rub it in. We don’t want to be condemned, so we hide. But Peter didn’t hide; he PLUNGED into the sea to swim to Jesus! And all Jesus did was ask him if he loved Him and told him to feed His sheep. Jesus will do that with us too, if we only come to Him and ask for forgiveness.
If you’ve sinned and are unsure if you’ll be welcomed back into God’s presence, let me assure you that you are more than welcome. Jesus will cast your sin as far as the east is from the west and help you get back up again. Jesus essentially told Peter, “I know you’ve messed up. But you say that you love me, so get back up again and feed my sheep. I still have a purpose for you, Peter. I still want to use you.”
And THAT is the beauty of the gospel.
If you still love Jesus, then Jesus still loves you! Jesus still loves you even if you don’t love Him back. Jesus can’t stop loving you. That’s why He come to this earth–to die–to reconcile us to the Father and make things right between us. Just like Tauren Wells’ song and devotional says, God is NOT done with you.
Jesus is asking you the same question that He asked Peter: “Do you love Me?”
“Sarah, do you love Me?”
“Joshua, do you love Me?”
“Thomas, do you love Me?”
If you’ve been struggling with coming back to God, I encourage you to listen to this song by Aaron Shust. It helped me the other night when I couldn’t find the words to pray, and I hope that it helps you too. We are always more than welcome in God’s presence.