The Apostle Peter was about to foul up. And not just a little.
Any Christian with an ounce of spiritual sensitivity knows that we all “deny” Christ whenever we choose for self and not for God, hurt others, live selfishly, make poor choices, commit sin, etc. We all have, and we all do. In some way, we “deny” him every day by some poor attitude, word, or deed.
But Peter, the first to confess out loud that Jesus is “the very Son of God,” Peter of “rock-like” faith fame, Peter who would later see visions, preach the Good News to the Gentiles, write Scripture, perform miracles, die an “extreme faith” death, is about to loudly deny his Lord three times (“I don’t even know the man!”), and cut and run, at the very time Jesus needs him the most.
It was world-class BIG on the scale of human foul-ups. Few people ever mess up in a way any worse, larger, blacker, fouler, than this one.
And yet what I find most amazing is not that Peter was weak or that the mess was rotten and real. What is most amazing is not the way Christ will deal with Peter and the “train wreck,” as impressive and instructive as that is: three times Peter denied his Lord, and three times Jesus will, for Peter’s sake, have him verbally affirm what Jesus already knows, that Peter does love him.
What I find most remarkable is the way Jesus deals with the situation and his friend and disciple even before the denial.
At that “last supper,” Jesus says that the hand of the one who would betray him was there present. But he wasn’t talking about the hand of the one who would deny him. One disciple would betray and then wallow in a sick sorrow that leads to despair and death. One disciple would deny terribly and then weep bitter and genuine tears but allow the Lord’s hand to lift him up and lead him through.
On that same amazing night at that table, Jesus will tell Peter three things — first, that Satan has asked to “sift” him like wheat, which is no fun at all.
But, second, Jesus tells Peter that he has prayed for him that his faith would not fail. Amazing! Imagine Jesus the Lord praying for his friend. And then realize that the same Lord prays for you. Notice also that, though Jesus knows Peter will indeed fall and deny him, that Peter will in a very real sense “fail,” Jesus does not consider Peter’s failure the same thing as Peter’s faith failing. Jesus’ prayer will be answered. Even in the midst of failure and tears, Peter’s love for Christ and Christ’s love for him will still be real. And Jesus will not let him forget that.
Ah, and then comes a third amazing reality. Jesus tells Peter the “end of the story.” Christ’s love will lead Peter through. He will not despair. And that warm assurance is wrapped up as a beautiful gift, love’s “action plan,” in these simple words: “When you have turned back (repented, gotten back up after the fall), strengthen your brothers.” God always uses those who know they are wounded far more mightily than those who think they are whole.
Forgiveness. Hope. Power. Those are Christ’s gifts to the one he loves — before, during, and after the messes we make.