In the course of their meal, having taken and blessed the bread, Jesus broke it and gave it to them (the apostles). Then He said, “Take, this is my body.” Taking the chalice, He gave it to them, thanking God, and they all drank from it. He said, “This is my blood, God’s new covenant, poured out for many people. “I’ll not be drinking wine again until the new day when I drink it in the kingdom of God.” They sang a hymn and then went directly to Mount Olives. Jesus told them, “You’re all going to feel that your world is falling apart and that it’s my fault. There’s a Scripture that says, ‘I will strike the shepherd; the sheep will go helter-skelter.’ But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you, leading the way to Galilee.” Peter blurted out, “Even if everyone else is ashamed of you when things fall to pieces, I won’t be.” Jesus said, “Don’t be so sure. Today, this very night in fact, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” He blustered in protest, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you.” All the others said the same thing. (Mark’s gospel, chapter 14, verses 22-31 from The Message).
This is one of my favorite glimpses of the Apostle Peter, vehemently promising loyalty the night before he in cowardliness denies the Savior. If you grew up in church you know the story. Unfortunately for Peter the story is replayed over and over and over again, each new Easter season.
Peter’s denial would come in the courtyard of the Chief Priest, and he would leave the scene humbled and shamed (see later on in Mark’s gospel, 14:71-72). What we often to do follow through on is, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.” Once the realization comes that the tomb is empty and Jesus is risen, Peter in shame avoided some direct contact with Jesus, but he could not avoid the risen Jesus. But one time along the sea, Jesus addresses this lapse of judgment and pride, but in loving tenderness He calls Peter back to his original purpose.
After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Master, you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Master, you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Shepherd my sheep.” Then he said it a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was upset that He asked for the third time, “Do you love me?” so he answered, “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I’m telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then He commanded, “Follow me.” (John’s gospel, chapter 21, verses 15-19 from The Message).
Why is this one of my favorite scenes? Do I gain some sick pleasure in looking back 2000 years at Peter’s misfortune? On the contrary – I often times feel like I am sitting right there at the fireside breakfast with Peter and Jesus. I hear Jesus’s words to Peter as if He is speaking right to me. I feel the shame of denial just as I imagined Peter did – knowing the truth of who Christ was (as Peter declared in Mark chapter 8:29) and denying Him anyway by my actions.
But I also share the hope of redemption, and the joy of complete forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Here are Peter’s own words on the subject of our common redemption:
Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God (Peter’s first letter, 1 Peter 1:18-22).
So here is our future, our destiny, redeeming the shame, making holy the unholy, living a full life full of God’s love. What a blessed hope!