Matthew 26:21-25; Mark 14:18-21; Luke 22:21-23; John 13:21-30
"But why can't I come now, Lord?" he asked. "I'm ready to die for you." – John 13:37 NLT
I love the impetuousness of Peter. He was a speak-before-you-think kind of a guy. Too often he put his mouth in gear before his brain was engaged. And this was another one of those times. Peter was constantly speaking up. He wasn't afraid to share his views or speak his mind. And it oftentimes got him in trouble. Jesus knew that this last days were going to be difficult for the disciples. As He drew nearer to the culmination of His ministry here on earth and His divine appointment with the cross, the pressure on the disciples was going to increase dramatically. So He warned Peter, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and returned to me again, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22: 31-32 NLT). This statement had to have hit Peter like a fist to the stomach. It took the wind out of him and sent him reeling in confusion. He immediately defended himself and denied that he was a liability or a potential quitter. He responded, "Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you" (Luke 22:33 NLT). It all sounded so good. Not only was Peter NOT going to do anything worthy of needing repentance, he was willing to give his life for Jesus. Or so he said. But Jesus knew better. He knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. He regretfully, but accurately informed Peter exactly just how he was going to deny Him. "Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny me three times that you even know me" (Luke 22:34 NLT). Again, Peter speaks before he thinks. He doesn't stop and consider that Jesus, the Messiah and the Son of God, might know something he doesn't know. Instead, he vehemently denies Jesus' words, in essence, calling Him a liar to His face. "No! Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!" (Mark 14:31 NLT). The others heartily agreed with Peter, not wanting to look like they were any less committed than he was.
But Jesus had already told them that they would all desert Him in His hour of greatest need. He quoted from Zechariah 13:7, "God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered" (Mark 14:27 NLT). They would all scatter like cockroaches in the sudden glare of light. This would be a wholesale desertion of Jesus by the disciples. In fact, the only one we know for certain was at the site of the crucifixion during Jesus' final moments, was John. No one else was anywhere to be found. But Jesus told Peter He was praying for him. He told him that, in spite of his denial, he would repent and return to Jesus. He would also serve as a source of encouragement to the other disciples.
One of the most encouraging stories in all of Scripture is the one that reveals the depths of Peter's denial and the joy of his return. What Peter did that night in the garden was indefensible. It was incomprehensible. But it was forgivable. Peter would ultimately deny that he even knew Jesus. Not once, but three times. The man he claimed he would die for, he denied even knowing. His human nature would get the better of him. In the face of fear and possible death, he would forget all about his promise to die with Jesus and run for his life. But Jesus understood. He was gracious and kind, merciful and forgiving. Peter would be given a second chance. The real key to service for Jesus is not in our ability to remain steadfast and faithful, never failing or falling, but in our willingness to repent and return to Him. We will let Him down. In spite of the greatest of intentions, we will let sometimes end up denying the very one we way we love and to whom we have committed our lives. But just as Jesus had prayed for Peter, He has prayed for us. "I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify themin the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:14-17 NLT). Jesus knows we live in a difficult environment, surrounded by a world that hates us. He knows that because we belong to Him, we are no longer of this world. So He has asked God to protect us and to sanctify us with the Word. Jesus does not expect perfection from us. He knows we will struggle and sometimes stumble and fall. But each time, when we repent and return we will find forgiveness and restored usefulness.
Father, like Peter, I sometimes talk a bold game, but then fail to come through in the clutch. I can come across as super-faithful in the good times, but when things get a bit tough, I can easily turn and run. But thank You that there is always forgiveness each time I return and repent. I can never wear out my usefulness to You, as long as I never stop remembering my complete dependence on You. I can't live this life on my own. I can't remain faithful on my own. I need Your strength, Your Spirit, Your Word, and the body of Jesus Christ, Your Church, to help me. Keep me dependent and repentant. Amen.