Judas took the money.
The Jews took Barabbas.
The disciples took to hiding.
And Simon Peter?
[“The Denial of Saint Peter,” by Caravaggio, A.D. 1610, courtesy of Wikipedia.org.]
He took to lying and swearing, calling God’s curse upon himself, “I’ll be damned if I know him.”
This week Christians celebrate Good Friday, the day Pontius Pilate crucified Jesus of Nazareth. We call the day good because we believe the man, Jesus, was God incarnate, the anointed of God, the Messiah, or Christ, who achieved redemption for humanity that day.
The night before His crucifixion, known as Maundy Thursday, Jesus shared a last meal with his disciples. During the meal Jesus predicted his betrayal, trial and death, and instituted what we call The Lord’s Supper. He also told Peter, “Tonight, you will deny me three times.” But Peter
loyal, tough, outspoken, first to confess Jesus as the Christ impetuously objected, “Never! I’ll die first!”
Later that night as Jesus stood trial, Peter was trying to blend in, unnoticed, with the growing crowd. But recognizing him, several people said, “You were with Jesus!” As Peter grew more fearful with each accusation, he began to curse and swear that he didn’t know Jesus.
And then Jesus looked him in the eye.
He ran from the place. He escaped. He hid. He wept. And Friday at the cross, Peter was nowhere to be found.
Some days later, after the resurrection, Jesus met Peter by the Sea of Galilee. And they talked it over, Son of Man to son of man. (Could Peter look Jesus in the eye? Could he bear it? Could you?)
Three times Peter had denied Jesus.
Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”
Three times, Peter, grieving and ashamed, replied, “Yes, Lord.”
And three times Jesus commanded Peter, “Feed my sheep,” thus making him the first mortal shepherd of Christ’s tiny flock. Peter, who had publicly denied ever knowing Jesus, now stood before Him as Joshua had before Moses. The mantle had been laid upon trembling shoulders.
I look at Peter and see an average, sinful man. He was a man like me, except that I am usually blind to my sin, and God gave Peter an awful glimpse of how deep that dark vein ran. But even then, as this excerpt from Robert Murray M’Cheyne shows, none of us grasps the true depth of our sin:
…The most awakened sinner does not see the ten thousandth part of the wickedness of his own heart. You are like a person looking down into a dark pit – you can only see a few yards down the sides of the pit; so you can only see a little way into your heart. It is a pit of corruption which is bottomless: Who can know it? (for more visit this post on The Reformed Reader)
And yet Jesus, who alone understood the dark pit of Peter’s sin, did not hate him, but embraced him. The cross from which Peter fled, was where Jesus bore in his own body, the penalty for his denial. The grace of forgiveness could be freely offered to Peter because Jesus had paid infinitely for it.
“Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free,” the hymn begins.
In Peter’s restoration we see a sample of the love of Jesus for sinners who are ignorant of their own sin. Like Peter, we are hardly aware of the depravity within. We half-heartedly confess our lack of love and faith, our lust and greed and unkind thoughts, not knowing that we confess only the very tip of the iceberg of our lawbreaking and idolatry.
And yet, the crucified Christ receives this as true repentance, true confession, true faith, and true worship. For the power of redemption lies not in our sincerity, but in what He accomplished as our substitute on the cross.
This Good Friday, remember why we call it good. Peter swore, “I’ll be damned if I know the man.”
But, Jesus didn’t take him up on it. And He’ll do the same for you and me.
Please join me Friday in worship at your local church, won’t you?
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