We have been considering Peter’s greatest failure and the importance of not giving up. In Peter’s case, we see that Jesus seeks to lift up Peter immediately after his third denial. Luke 22:61- 62 – The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
I love this line: The Lord turned and looked at Peter! It’s almost like time stands still. The Romans stop beating Jesus. There is a pause in the shouting. In the middle of the worst night in history, Jesus, His face drenched with blood, looks up at Peter.
And that’s how it should be even in the midst of our greatest failures. In the worst times of our lives, we need to see that Jesus even still turns to look at us – with eyes full of compassion even though it is evident to Him and us that we have hurt Him.
When we receive a word of correction, do we see the eyes of Jesus, full of mercy? So even though our sins cause Him pain, He still look at us with eyes full of mercy.
Jesus wants to tell us that He loves us. I am convinced that the greatest regret we will have when our life is done is that we will regret how often we missed the voice of God telling us how much He loves us. Even in the times of our greatest failures. With eyes full of love, He seeks to say, “Child, you’ve gone down the wrong path here. You’ve missed the mark and you’ve fallen. You’ve lost your first love – you’re lukewarm in your love. You have a name that you’re alive, but you’re dead.”
The result of a look from Jesus
God help the Christians who don’t see the Lord looking at them often – both in love and in correction! We can sing songs asking God to open our eyes to see Him. We can sing that we want to see His glory. But how do we know we have seen Him? Do we ever behold God in the beauty of His holiness (Psalm 29:2), that the ugliness of our sins makes us weep bitterly?
From all I’ve read about the saints of God through the ages, every man or woman of God regularly saw afresh their own depravity within. And this is not because they kept falling back into gross external sins of adultery or murder or theft. No, these were saints who had a deep fear of God and sought to be increasingly faithful to God. But they still saw bad attitudes that suddenly arose in their hearts, or jealousy towards other Christians, or the coveting of their neighbor’s success, and so on. They knew that being guilty of one sin was the same as being guilty of all (James 2:10), so just one sinful attitude was bad enough. And even these sins of motive deeply bothered them, because it was a rejection of Jesus. They had a reverence for Jesus and the beauty of His holiness that they were disgusted by the sins that soiled that beauty.
And weeping bitterly is not about the physical tears. There is no virtue in weeping; what is needed is a deep remorse for one’s sins and an earnest desire to completely depart from them. It’s very possible that we can cry a river of tears one minute and then go back to committing the same sins later the very same day.
We also see this when Peter preaches his first sermon on the day of Pentecost. Acts 2:37 – Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” They were genuinely broken.
Now being broken is very different from being condemned. We must be able to recognize the difference between condemnation and God’s conviction. The devil condemns us of our sins, while the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins. Conviction and condemnation can have a lot of the same “feelings”. But one leads to life and the other to death. One is divine and the other devilish.
We can never enjoy the Father’s embrace if we listen to the devil’s condemnation.
But we’ll live shallow and superficial Christian lives if we reject the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
So how do we live under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and reject the condemning lies of the devil? By making sure we keep our hearts open to love.
Peter or Judas
As we think about Peter’s recovery from that failure, it is good to compare him with another disciple who failed: Judas. He had a very different end than Peter. So what was the difference in their end? Was it the magnitude of their failure? No! Was it that Judas was pre-destined to life in hell and Peter was pre-destined to life in heaven? Never, even we who are evil would never create a soul in love and then plan for it to suffer for all eternity.
So what was the difference? In Matthew 27:3-5, we read about Judas’s end: Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.
Right up until that last phrase (he went away and hanged himself), Judas’s actions actually sound rather good. He shows remorse and he returns the money given to betray Jesus. But then, he isolates himself. And that is when, the devil came with his usual tactic of discouragement, and convinced Judas to end his life.
Could Judas have had a different story? Absolutely! No person is beyond the reach of God’s love. Not even Judas. You would think that Peter denying Jesus three times was too evil a sin to commit. But Peter was able to find redemption.
Here is one simple but critical difference between Peter and Jesus: Peter returned to be with his fellow disciples. Judas isolated himself. Peter might well have FELT equally bad as Judas did. He felt so bad that we don’t see him at the cross of Christ. But he didn’t stay in isolation. He returned to be with the other disciples.
Because of that, he was there when the women came back from the empty tomb with a message specifically for Peter (Mark 16:7). And he was with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them and showed them His wounds. And when Peter is still intent on returning to being a fisherman in John 21, he is with the other disciples.
This willingness to remain in fellowship is something that we all probably know is very difficult to do in times of failure. There is a STRONG urge to retreat and hide in shame when we have failed God. We can claim that we do not want to be hypocrites, so we do not want to come to church and pretend to be holy. But coming to church does not mean that you are holy; coming to church means that you are needy. And staying at home is saying that you are not needy. If we see that this is the reality of what we are saying when we stay away from fellowship with other believers, then we will hate this desire to isolate. I am convinced that the temptation to isolate oneself away from fellowship with other believers, is one of the devil’s greatest deceptions. So we as Christians must fight with all our hearts against it.