I was raised in a Christian home. Not a “we go to church on Easter” kind of home but a “we read Scripture at every dinner and ask follow up questions- God is the center of our decisions” kind of home. I thought by sixth grade I knew all there was to know about the Bible. I had heard every story about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. I recited the “sinner’s prayer” at every altar call. I could say John 3:16 in my sleep.
This year, at age thirty-three, the book of Matthew rocked my world. I spent the year immersed in the first gospel at Bible Study Fellowship. How is it possible after knowing it backwards and forwards to have so many new things leap out and transform me? Ah yes, the Holy Spirit has a way with this.
Parked in the life of Jesus for eight months deepened my awe- how He held fast; uncompromising to God’s plan and God’s law while having a deep level of tenderness we can never know apart from Him.
Everywhere Jesus walks people are compelled to change and repent of their sins, not because of His demands but because of His profound love and set-apart holiness. He doesn’t seek those who think they have their act together. He seeks and meets the needs of downtrodden, exhausted, broken up people. He touches the untouchable- with slow care and attention. He heals bodies while speaking to the soul.
It baffles me when people believe God is either Love OR Truth, as though Love rides tandem with tolerance and Truth rides tandem with harshness.
I was mulling it over as we studied Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.
Judas and Peter had much in common. They were disciples, of the twelve closest to Jesus. They both saw miracles in their years following. They both were called to choose- to follow Jesus, to trust Him, to believe Him, and to believe it wasn’t just an important thing but it was THE thing.
Both Judas and Peter had weaknesses. Judas was the treasurer of the group and was skimming off the top. But when Jesus announced someone would betray Him, no one pointed to Judas. They didn’t have him slated as “most likely to betray”. He was growing increasingly hard-hearted, out for his own interests, but his struggles were secret.
Peter had a loud mouth. He spoke before he thought. His zeal was often of his own resolve and not actually the power of God in him. He wasn’t the best listener. He got sleepy and distracted when he was asked to pray, on multiple occasions.
Jesus pursued Judas and Peter. He loved them. He ate with them, taught them, and shared His life with them; even knowing they would fail. He didn’t hold back because He knew the end. He instead used every chance to bring them to Himself.
Jesus had a moment of connection with both Judas and Peter in the middle of their sin.
When Judas arrived in the Garden with soldiers to arrest Jesus, he gave Jesus the kiss of betrayal. Instead of giving Judas what he deserved, Jesus met his eyes and called him “friend”.
Even in Judas’ treachery, he experienced Jesus who loved him, who had been his faithful friend.
Peter failed shortly after Judas fell. When Peter denied Jesus for the third time in the courtyard, Jesus was being transferred from one house to another. In Luke 22:61 as the rooster crowed “the Lord turned and looked at Peter”.
The look wasn’t “Tsk, tsk, what did I tell you Peter? You in your pride said you’d never deny me and look at you! You blew it this time.”
The Greek word used here for “look” is not one of condemnation. It’s an intense look of love.
Jesus’ look communicated that He knew Peter and was able to search him, even in a fallen moment, with love that compelled Peter to weep bitterly. It wasn’t a pointing finger that convicted him. It was the contrast of his ugly sin and self-preservation against Jesus’ perfection and love.
He knew Jesus. He loved Jesus. He fell miserably short in deserving, in earning, in reciprocating… and he wept bitterly.
Jesus loved Peter and Judas before their sin, during their sin, and after their sin. As similar as Peter and Judas were, they were vastly different in response to their failure.
Judas responded with shame and guilt. Instead of running to Christ, he pulled into himself. He was bitter, unsatisfied, and humiliated over his choice. My Bible Study Fellowship notes say it well, “Judas gave back his blood money, the 30 silver coins, but only the blood of Jesus Christ atones for sin.” His sin had made a chasm and Judas was unable to overcome it. Instead of asking forgiveness and reconciling, Judas chose to be driven by his despair and hung himself. His story ended in itself, without redemption or hope. He never gave Jesus the opportunity to turn his story around.
Peter responded with repentance and humility. When he saw Jesus on the shore after the resurrection, he jumped into the water and swam to him. He determined nothing would stand in the way of the One who loved him even when he had failed. He knew he couldn’t earn his way back, but nothing could keep him from his Savior.
Jesus’ forgiveness wasn’t an "it's all good, smooth it over" thing. Between Peter’s denial and his reconciliation is the horrendous depiction of the crucifixion. Scripture clearly illustrates the cost at which forgiveness came.
Jesus completely forgave and restored Peter.
Peter experienced the difference between his own human resolve to “do good” versus the power of God in him to accomplish good.
Peter later had countless opportunities to confess Christ as the Church was established with Peter at helm. Ultimately Peter was martyred because of his boldness for Christ. He had discovered his sin could separate him from God, but death could not.
I recently had the misfortune of reading a facebook exchange that began with the announcement of a public figure’s sin. The failure itself wasn’t even the ugliest part. Christians began chiming in, making a spectacle of themselves. Tears stung my eyes at the argument. “He should be a better witness” “He should be held accountable” “Tsk, tsk. He blew it.” "Maybe his faith was just a show all along" then fought with “Jesus forgives- it's not a big deal” “If we love, it doesn’t matter” “We should support him" "He probably has a good reason anyway".
I was shaking my head, not agreeing with either. I blinked back the tears, snapped shut my computer, and re-opened Matthew to clear my muddled head.
Social media silenced, I recalled who Jesus is. Ah, yes. The Perfect Standard who meets His beloved in the swirling midst of drama and destruction. The One who catches the eyes of His own with a “look of intense love”, even as they fall.
May the guilt and despair (and the distraction of finger pointers) not drive us unredeemed to hanging by our necks in a field. May the deep conviction, a tender Savior who brutally sacrificed Himself, and His voice calling us "friend" compel us to return- a "jump in the water to swim with all our might" kind of return.
Peter “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
“Yes, Lord; You know that I love you.
As Peter experienced and Judas sadly missed, Jesus doesn’t reduce Truth to cold judgment and pointing fingers. He doesn’t reduce Love to warm fuzzies and escaped consequences. He is fully Truth and fully Love, and nothing in that is contradictory.
I fumble to articulate the way Jesus revealed Himself to me through Matthew, but I know my response is the same as the disciples when they met Jesus after the resurrection.
"They came and held Him by the feet and worshipped Him." Matthew 28:9.
"He is risen" might be old news for this Christian lifer. I may have technically learned all the stories of the Gospels by the sixth grade, but I have never held His feet and worshipped like I do now.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...