One of the most fascinating stories in the Bible to me is the story of Peter’s denial. This story is one of the biggest stories of grace and redemption.
Peter followed Jesus closely. He knew Him and loved Him. He knew that He was good. On the night of His betrayal though, Peter pretended not to know Jesus. We often look at this story critically and question how Peter could possibly do such a thing. It’s not until we realize the sin in our own hearts and our own capacity and likely probability of doing the very same thing that our hearts will break over this story. If you are a sinner, you have sat in regret. You have tasted shame. Shame is not a new concept, it’s actually one of the first feelings in the Bible. Adam and Eve hid in the garden because they are filled with shame. I can’t imagine the shame Peter felt after denying Jesus and seeing Him die on the cross. In some ways we are at a disadvantage when we read this story–we know the ending. We have to truly put ourselves in Peter’s shoes to try to understand the hopelessness and despair he must have felt. After denying knowing one of his closest friends, we read that Peter sits and weeps bitterly. We don’t know exactly where he was, but Peter most likely wept bitterly as he watched Jesus die in agony and pain on the cross. To Peter, it was all over.
For three days, Peter sat in shame. I imagine it was the loneliest he had ever felt. His sin exposed the weight of death, the grief of loss. The disappointment of a promise that seemed to be unfulfilled. I cannot imagine the depth of darkness Peter and the disciples felt between Friday and Sunday. However, this was not the end of the story. Sunday came. Jesus came back.
The feeling of reunion is one of my favorite feelings in the world. The excitement and anticipation of seeing a close friend, that kind of butterflies in your stomach feeling, there is just something about a reunion that is my favorite feeling. I like to think about Peter and Jesus’ reunion often. I like to imagine the shock, surprise and utter joy Peter must have felt. The friend he had just betrayed was back! John 21 says Peter recognizes that it’s Jesus and throws himself out of the boat. He swims to meet him with such excitement and adrenaline. I can’t imagine how redemptive that reunion must have felt.
The first thing Jesus does with his disciples is to cook them a meal. In our modern day perspective, reading through a Western lens, we simply see this as eating breakfast. They were hungry, they had fished all night, and Jesus met their physical need of hunger. It is so much more than this though. In the Jewish tradition, meals are sacred and holy communions. To share a meal in the Jewish faith is to communicate peace. In traditional Jewish culture, you would only eat a meal with someone you were at total peace with. Jesus’ invitation to share a meal was also the invitation of grace–He was at total peace with the people who had denied Him three days before.
In Israel, we walked on the beach where Jesus saw his disciples again. We shared a meal with a traditional Jewish family. To live in and walk in these places reminded me that Jesus came to bring us peace. He made peace with his disciples’ thousands of years ago so I could sit across the table at a Shabbat dinner, at total peace with a total stranger.
In some form or another, we have all had the same heart as Peter. We have denied Jesus in our thoughts, words, and deeds. We have not proclaimed to know the truth or reflected that we are people who live in the light. But praise God the end of the story is not our sinfulness or a dark Friday. Sunday came and will keep coming. Grace is an invitation that came back in human form to some fisherman on a beach. As Christians, this is the gracious invitation we get to keep giving. With every sacred meal with strangers, dinner party or cafeteria meal, we get to proclaim that Jesus Himself came to bring peace.