Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” —Matthew 18:21-22 NLT
I love the disciple Peter. I love his fervor for the Lord. I love that when Jesus said, “Follow Me,” Peter and his brother just up and left their boat and followed. Just like that. But I admit I also love Peter because, just like me, his mouth often gets him in trouble. I was the kid in school who sat right up front and waved my hand and wanted to answer every question. I had an opinion on every subject. To this day, if I don’t guard my tongue, I can sound like a confident expert on a vast variety of subjects about which I know next to nothing. Oh. My. Mouth. It gets me into serious trouble simply by the volume of words that pour forth from it. I need God’s daily help to control it.
Peter had problems with his mouth too. In our verse above, I suspect Peter was thinking himself quite the generous person, willing to forgive up to seven times. That’s quite a lot of forgiving. Surely the offender ought to get it right by that seventh time. Yet Jesus showed him just how far off he was in limiting forgiveness.
And then came the time when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain and allowed them the astonishing privilege of seeing Him in His glorious state of shining brightness with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-7). Instead of quiet awe and a humbled bending of knees, our Peter was ready to get to work and build memorials for them. What was that about? Our Peter just had to speak. I know that feeling. [Sigh.]
Peter boldly asked to walk on water, then took his eyes off Jesus, and almost drowned (Matthew 14:22-33). When Jesus shared with the disciples that He would die and rise again, Peter promptly rebuked Jesus—as if he, Peter, was in charge of just how everything should go (Mark 8:31-33). Peter refused at first to let Jesus wash his feet, but when he was told that refusal meant he could have no part of Jesus, demanded that Jesus wash his head and hands as well. (John 13:6-11) Peter was certainly extreme. And vocal. Definitely vocal. After emphatically declaring he was willing to die with Jesus, he fell asleep when Jesus asked him to pray (Mark 14:37-38), cut off a soldier’s ear against Jesus wishes (John 18:10-11), and ended up denying the Christ he loved three times out of fear (Luke 22:54-62).
This last dreadful misuse of words just about did Peter in. Despite his frequent voluble excesses, despite his denial of Christ, Peter loved and adored and worshiped Jesus. The bitter tears he cried were real. The grief he suffered at his own lack of strength after all his boasts was deep. The loss of Jesus was a tearing loss for Peter, left with the memory of denying his Lord along with His cruel death on the cross. I can’t imagine the depths of Peter’s despair.
And yet. We then come to the amazing passage of Scripture in John 21 when the resurrected Jesus lovingly calls Peter to serve Him, even after the massive denials. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times, Peter is able to declare with his mouth that yes, he does. And three times, Peter is given the command to either feed or care for Jesus’ sheep. What love our Savior showed Peter! How clearly Peter was forgiven and welcomed back to serve once more. Oh, how Jesus loves to forgive us and restore us. Way back at the beginning, when Peter was still called Simon, Jesus could see the man he would become. “And he [Andrew] brought Simon to Jesus. When Jesus saw him, He said, ‘You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which means ‘Rock’)” (John 1:42 HCSB). Jesus saw in this rough fisherman a man who would become a rock of faithfulness and stability and leadership in the Christian community that would form after His return to Heaven. He knew Peter’s potential, and Jesus named him accordingly.
Our God is a forgiving, merciful God. I don’t know about you, but I surely need much more than just a second chance to get things right. I need seventy “second chances” and then some, and God generously gives them to me. All I have to do is turn and ask forgiveness, and I’m given a fresh start. He picks me up and dusts me off again. And again. I whisper, “I love you” to Him, and He whispers it back to me. This happens over and over as I walk with Him, stumbling and straining, resting and trusting on this life journey with Him.
Yes, I am thankful for Peter’s example. His failures and his big and loving heart for a God who forgives over and over bring me hope and assurance that I am safe in Jesus’ hands. I am forgiven and I am given “second chances” over and over and over again.
Father God, forgive me for those times I don’t immediately turn to You when I sin. You are so ready to forgive me and cleanse me, and sometimes I stubbornly hide in shame. Thank You for declaring that forgiveness has no limit with You. You want our love. Your want our repentance and sorrow over our sins. And then You show us great and undeserved pardon. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Amen.
You are loved,
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