Thrice Denied, Thrice Forgiven

Most of us are probably familiar with how the apostle Peter denied Jesus three times. Peter was consistently outspoken and often the first to proclaim his allegiance and loyalty to Christ. But when it truly mattered, he often faltered.

If we look at Peter, we may find similar qualities within ourselves: quick to side with Christ, but when the going gets tough and our faith is tested, we fail. Peter did not believe Jesus when he learned of the three upcoming denials. Despite denying Jesus three times, Peter still shows his loyalty even after the denials.

Peter’s first denial is found in John 18:17: Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”

Peter’s second and third denials in John 18:25-27: Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not!” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.”

Now, after these denials, Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Peter visited the tomb and saw that it was vacant. Notice in this passage how Peter was eager to see evidence of Jesus, so much that he entered the tomb when John (the other disciple) did not:Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.”

Peter was eager to see Jesus again. In another example from when Jesus appeared to the disciples, many of them were going to him in a boat across the water, but Peter was eager again. He jumped in the water to swim to Jesus in John 21:7-8: Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits)…”

The boat was not fast enough for Peter. Peter did reach Jesus, and after they had all eaten breakfast, Jesus spends some time with Peter, asking him three questions. Put yourself in Peter’s place at this time. You have denied Jesus, the one that you saw perform miracles, claim to be the Son of God and raised from the dead. Despite all of the resulting shame, you were still seeking him, rushing into his tomb, plunging into the water, in an effort to be in His presence, perhaps to be forgiven. Finally, after all of the seeking and with a heart full of hope, you sit down with Jesus and he asks you three questions in return: three questions to match the three denials. John 21:15-19: So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”

With these three questions, and Peter’s three answers in the affirmative, Jesus restores Peter. All of Peter’s bluster was promising, but was not very effective when it really mattered. Nevertheless, Jesus knew that this was what Peter needed to grow, and is now assuring Peter that he will be a great and effective disciple of Christ until the end.

Peter’s failures were necessary for his successes. All we need to do is read the first several chapters of Acts to be confident of this.

When it comes to this study, we primarily rest in the knowledge that Jesus not only offers salvation, but he also seeks our enduring obedience. Tonight, let us meditate on what it means to have Peter’s passion and what it means to act with courage for God when it counts.

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