Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
(Matthew 26:69-75 ESV)
Yesterday we studied the story of Peter denying Jesus three times before the rooster crowed, just like Jesus had predicted he would [Matthew 26:34]. We learned that Christians should not deny Jesus but instead we should be prepared to tell others about Him. But, of course, this is a risky thing to do in our culture as it was in Peter’s day. That is why many of us fail to do it. We’d rather play it safe so we can avoid being made fun of or, as in some parts of the world, losing our lives.
But the story of Peter doesn’t end with Him denying Jesus. Immediately after Peter denied Jesus for third time the rooster crowed and Peter remembered what Jesus had said. Peter then went out and wept bitterly.
Peter had sinned. He had sinned really badly. He had been boastful and proud. Then he not only lied, he lied vehemently. But once he realized his sin he repented just as vociferously.
It’s one thing to sin. We all do it. A lot. But not everyone cares. Even nonbelievers will admit they are imperfect. But those who live without Jesus don’t consider repenting because they think that “to err is human”. They just chalk up their mistakes to human nature.
It is only when our imperfections are juxtaposed with the love of Jesus that we are made aware of sin and the need to repent. In fact, Luke’s gospel tells us that at the moment the rooster crowed Jesus looked at Peter and Peter’s heart was broken [Luke 22:61].
But Peter’s repentance is also not the end of the story. He blew it. He left Jesus that night and he could have decided never to return. But that is not what happened.
God doesn’t discard us from His life because we make mistakes. In fact, He does the opposite. He comes closer to us, offering understanding and forgiveness [Psalm 116:2; James 4:8].
Peter could have rejected God’s forgiveness and let his mistake keep him away from God for good. This is what Judas did. Judas realized he made a mistake. But he never repented over it. He never sought and accepted God’s forgiveness, which He would certainly have given.
Peter, on the other hand, allowed himself to be restored. He allowed God to take him back and use him in great ways. Peter later preached the gospel many times, resulting in thousands of people beings saved from hell [Acts 2:12-42, 3:12-26, 4:1-22]. He also wrote two letters that are included in the New Testament.
Interestingly, one of Peter’s great themes in his letters is being prepared beforehand for the times when people, including critics, will confront us about our faith [1 Peter 3:15; 2 Peter 3:17]. Peter clearly learned his lesson and used his mistakes to teach others how to avoid doing the same things.
We all blow it. We all deny Jesus like Peter did. We all betray Jesus like Judas did. The thing to know is after we do so (or after we commit any sin), our witness for Him is not permanently ruined unless we want it to be. God is always willing to pardon the backslider who loathes his/her sin and repents.
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