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A New Song of Grace

Guilt washed over Peter like waves crashing upon the shore. Sorrow consumed his heart. Shame consumed his soul. His mouth had once again uttered words in haste – words that never should have been spoken. His vow of fidelity was admirable. But overestimated courage, underestimated weakness, and misplaced confidence led to regret. 

Jesus told Peter that he would desert and deny Him. “This very night, all of you will run away and leave me, for the scripture says, ‘God will kill the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” Peter considered the notion implausible, saying to Jesus, “I will never leave you, even though all the rest do!” Jesus replied firmly, “I tell you that before the rooster crows tonight, you will say three times that you do not know me.” Later that night, Jesus’ words proved to be true. Though Judas planted the kiss, the betrayal was committed by all. Every disciple took a step, but no one took a stand.

For the next few hours, Peter wandered around town until he saw a group of people standing over a charcoal fire, warming their hands. He decided to join them. A young girl who was standing over the fire recognized him. “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?” she asked. Peter responded, “Who? Me? No! Never heard of him.” Over the course of the evening, this question was repeatedly posed to Peter, and each time his denial became more emphatic and forceful. 

As the final denial was coming out his mouth, he heard a rooster crow in the distance. It would be a sound that Peter would never forget. As Jesus predicted, he had denied his Lord, teacher, and friend. This moment would play over and over again in his mind. What happened to his vow of loyalty? What had become of his professed courage? His heart was broken, yet he was forced to continue on with life. For what exactly, he knew not. 

Failure spoke with the cruel voice of condemnation as Peter reflected on the conversations he disregarded, the admonishments he refused to heed, and the truth he neglected to embody. While Peter rehearsed his regrets, shame echoed the lie that he was now undeserving of God’s love and unworthy of God’s grace. Yet, amid seemingly unshakable disappointment, a word of hope was spoken. The beginning of Mark 16 recounts the women’s surprise when they found the stone rolled away from Jesus’s tomb. As the chapter continues, we read these words, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they put him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee.” In my mind, it went something like this, “Go tell the disciples,” a dramatic pause, a wide smile, “and especially tell Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.”

Later, when Jesus appeared before Peter, he never addressed his denials. He never condemned his lack of courage. Instead, Jesus offered a love that kept no record of wrong, a grace that knew no limit, and a hope unacquainted with disappointment.  “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus asked Peter. “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” replied Peter. Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” As painful as this was, it was necessary. Three times Peter had denied Him. Now, three times, Jesus would restore him. Paralyzing shame became life-giving hope. Consuming guilt became awe-inspiring joy. False bravado became godly courage. 

Discouraged by repeated failures and a sense of unworthiness, we, like Peter, often walk through life in a proverbial shell, immune to God’s grace and cynical of His forgiveness. Our weary, wounded hearts wrestle with unresolved guilt on this lonely journey. We sigh with anxiety. We cry with frustration. We moan with doubt. Some of us are trying to forget, others are trying to remember, but we are all trying to cope, searching for terrain not as barren as our souls. But just as with Peter, Jesus comes to us with a new commission for our lives, a new song of grace. And every day, we must pray anew for the ability to hear its melody. 

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