Have you ever felt like you let somebody down? A spouse, a boss, a team-mate; it’s not the best feeling in the world, especially when you had boasted how they could beyond a shadow of a doubt depend on you. You could be trusted, you wouldn’t let them down. But you did.
Now to disappoint someone who loves you hurts, but to disappoint the One who laid down His life for you, that’s painful. That was what Peter was experiencing after Jesus’ death.
Peter’s life was one of ups and downs. After boasting that he would never leave Jesus, Peter watched from a distance as Jesus is led away. Peter followed at a distance, close enough to see Jesus, but not to close to be seen with Jesus.
And as Jesus was being tried in the Kangaroo court of the High Priest, Peter stood outside and chose to warm himself by the fire, and three times he was recognized, three chances he had to make a bold stand for his Lord, and three times he blew it. And when the rooster crowed, scripture says, that Peter wept bitterly. He felt like a complete failure.
Yet three days later, the woman came with news of the amazing. The tomb is empty, Peter is elated, and then Jesus appears to Peter and the others.
Yet I wonder what must have been going through Peter’s mind.
Imagine it this way, suppose you witness a crime, and the District Attorney who just happens to be your good friend, calls on you to testify. Your testimony can make or break the case.
Yet you are afraid to do so and even though others are counting on you, you refuse to testify due to fear. The district attorney manages somehow to win the case and you are glad that the criminal is behind bars.
Yet how will the District Attorney view you now. Will he still call you friend, or was your act of cowardice too much?
I imagine this is how Peter must of felt.
He was glad that Jesus was alive, but how would their relationship be?
Did Peter go too far away to return?
Perhaps you can put yourself in Peter’s shoes. You have sinned and went away from God and now you wonder: Can God still love me after all that I’ve done? Is there still a place and purpose for me in His kingdom?
The good news is: the answer is YES!
No matter how jaded your past may be there is always forgiveness offered in Christ Jesus who stands not only ready to forgive but also to restore.
We all have past regrets. You know, something in our past that we’ve done or something that we didn’t do that we are not proud of. Perhaps it was an angry word that was said to someone you loved, something that was intended to harm and humiliate.
You’ve made mistakes and now you think…if I could only go back in time … if you could you would do it all over again, you’d do it differently.
You’d be a different person.
You’d be more patient.
You’d control your tongue.
You’d finish what you started.
You’d turn the other cheek instead of slapping his.
You’d get married first.
You wouldn’t marry at all.
You’d be honest.
You’d resist the temptation.
You’d run with a different crowd.
But you can’t.
And as many times as you tell yourself, “What’s done is done,” what you did can’t be undone. You can’t unscramble eggs, and now you’re stuck with all these past regrets.
Now the question is: What are you going to do with them?
The first option is to simply ignore them.
This means that we repress them and pretend they didn’t happen or worse try to reason them as being appropriate or even denying it was wrong in the first place. We say: “They have more than they need, so they won’t miss just this one. I’m overtaxed in the first place, so if I cheat on them this one time God will understand. How can it be wrong when it feels so right and everybody else is doing it?”
Excuse after excuse, we simply ignore our past. But to simply ignore something doesn’t make it go away. It only makes it worse.
To some degree, this is what Peter was trying to do. He was unsure of how Jesus was going to react to Him so he went back to doing the only other thing he knew how to do: fishing. Maybe he thought it would be a good distraction from the guilt and uncertainty he was feeling.
The second option to handle our past regrets is to go to the opposite end of the spectrum and that is to constantly beat ourselves over the head with them.
This means that we constantly remind ourselves of our past and put ourselves down day after day. Like a video recording, we replay the event in our mind over and over again, unable to release those feelings of guilt. And there’s always something there to remind you. You beat yourself up, you feel guilty and worthless.
I am sure Peter felt like this. I can imagine that every time he heard a rooster crow the feelings of guilt would well up within his heart. I am sure there were other things that reminded him of his failing as well.
The third option is the best one and that is to bring those past regrets to Jesus and let Him forgive you and give you a fresh start.
This is what ends up happening with Peter. After a meal together, Jesus turns to Peter. And in full view of all the other disciples, Jesus confronts Peter.
Peter was full of doubts concerning where he now stood with his Master. I suspect he feared the day when Christ might say something like, “Peter, why did you deny Me?” Yet our Lord had too much compassion to push the knife of guilt any deeper into Peter’s heart. Rather, His goal was to remove Peter’s guilt, to perform deep soul-surgery and effectively cut out the ache from Peter’s heart.
Peter felt terrible about his denial. We are told the he wept bitterly that night. Jesus saw beyond the problem to Peter’s heart. He knew the man behind the failure. And it was because of that failure that Jesus had gone to the cross. It was for his sin. It was for his betrayal. Jesus had come to save Peter from his own self-confidence.
The great thing about this is that God doesn’t wait until we are cleaned up and acceptable to love us and care for us. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. Jesus knew that Peter was going to fail. And now he was bringing him back.
If Jesus didn’t love Peter, they would not have even had this conversation. But, Jesus was pursuing Peter. Jesus’ love is steady and cannot be shaken. If He did not care, He would not have set up this appointment with Peter.
We read about this appointment in John 21. Verses 1 to 14 talk about how Jesus met with the disciples at the beach while they were fishing. Then in verses 15 to 19, Jesus interacts with Peter.
This is what these verses say:
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, 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.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Jesus asks Peter this simple question: “Peter, do you love me?” He is not asking, “Did you distinguish yourself in My service?” It is, “Do you love Me?” And Jesus asks it three times. He asks it three times to go along with Peter’s three denials.
We must take notice of how Jesus asks these questions and Peter’s reply because they are significant. When we go back to the original language of this passage we see that they use different words for love. The two words we see here are “agape” which is the most powerful type of love, characterized by self-sacrifice. The other word for love is “phileo”, which is a deep affection as a love between family and siblings. It is intense, but it is not as powerful as agape.
So Jesus’ first question is, “Do you agape me more than these?” Jesus asks this question, because Peter had said that he would outlast the rest. But he did not. Rightfully, Peter knew that he was no longer to compare himself to the others. He had failed just like them, and even more so. He does not boast anymore.
His response to Jesus was, “You know that I phileo you.” In other words, “I have a deep affection for You.” He cannot say anything more or higher within himself. And he was not going to lie. He was not going to say that he had the agape kind of love after he had denied Jesus three times. He obviously did not have that kind of love for Jesus. He is careful not to promise more than he can deliver.
Jesus again asks the question, “Do you agape me?” The reply is the same, “You know that I phileo you.” Peter had to own the hurt. You see, you cannot grow from failures until you acknowledge them, own them and learn from them. And Peter is beginning that process.
But Jesus isn’t done yet. He has to ask one more time. But the question this time is different. He says, “Peter, do you phileo me?” This is such a wonderful question even though Peter grieves at its asking. For on this third time, Jesus comes down to Peter’s level.
You see…Jesus meets us where we are. Though this question distressed Peter, and he had to feel guilty that Jesus changed it, he had to recognize that it was grace. And Jesus doesn’t just forgive Peter, He reinstates him to the place of leadership that he once held!
When Jesus went to the cross, He went there to pay for Peter’s sin, for my sin and for yours. Peter learned Jesus loved him despite his performance (good or bad).
Now if God can give Peter a second chance …He can give you a second chance as well. And it doesn’t matter how much you’ve sinned, or how bad your life may be right now. You see, God wants to forgive you; God wants to give you a fresh start.
For some reason we have in our minds this image of a God who is anxious to punish us, clasping His hands just waiting for the chance to send us to Hell. But with all the second, third, fourth and sometimes 5th or more chances He gives us, it seems that God is looking more for ways to get us home than for ways to keep us out.
You see, when we try to equate our self-worth with our performance and others’ opinions we are enslaving ourselves to the performance trap. Thankfully, God has cancelled this equation altogether through Jesus death and resurrection. He has given us a secure self-worth totally apart from our ability to perform. We have been justified (that is declared innocent) and we have been placed in a right standing with God through Jesus’ death on the cross, which paid for our sins. But God didn’t stop with our forgiveness; He also granted us the very righteousness of Christ!
Visualize two ledgers: On one is a list of all our sins; on the other, the righteousness of Christ. Now exchange your ledger for Christ’s. This is what it means to be justified – our sin was transferred to Jesus and His righteousness is transferred to us. We are declared righteous! – In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul wrote:
“God made him [that is Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
And here is the wonderful part of justification: justification carries no guilt with it and has no memory of past transgressions. Isn’t that amazing! Christ paid for all our sins at the cross – past, present and future. This means that we are completely forgiven by God and we do not need to perform a certain way to earn this.
The point of justification is that we can never achieve perfection on this earth; even our best efforts at self-righteousness are as filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). Yet He loves us so much that He appointed His son to pay for our sins and to give us His own righteousness, His perfect status before the Father.
This doesn’t mean that our actions are irrelevant and that we can sin all we want. Our sinful actions, words, and attitudes grieve God, but our status as holy and beloved children remains intact. In His love, He disciplines us and encourages us to live godly lives – for our good and His honour.
If you have trusted in Jesus for our salvation, you can say with certainty, “I am completely forgiven and fully pleasing to God.”
Our success or failure is not the basis of our self-worth or our worthiness in God eyes! We don’t have to earn our forgiveness for our sins; they have already been paid for by Jesus. And in the same act of love through which God forgave our sins, He also provided for our righteousness, the worthiness to stand in God’s presence.
The moment we accept Christ, God declares that we are no longer condemned sinners. Instead, we are forgiven, we receive Christ’s righteousness, and we are fully pleasing to God.
Have you ever fallen into the performance trap?
***** This series has been greatly influenced by Robert S. McGee’s book “The Search For Significance: Seeing Your True Worth Through God’s Eyes“