Guilt and shame are deadly companions that have kept many from achieving the full potential that God created them with. Guilt is the feeling we have when we know we have done something wrong. Shame is the recognition that comes when we become aware of the full extent of our guilt. Both can become crippling and life altering if not properly dealt with. I think at this point Peter was fully acquainted with the feelings of both guilt and shame.
Earlier in the gospels, Peter boldly proclaimed his loyalty to Jesus, stating that he would never leave Him and would even die for Him if needed. But when the opportunity to fulfill those words presented itself, Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times, just as Jesus had predicted he would. When the reality of what Peter had done hit him, scripture says that he wept bitterly.
Jesus had unfinished business with Peter that day on the beach. I believe that Jesus knew that in order for Peter to fulfill the leadership role that He was giving him, they would need to deal with what Peter had done. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him, one for each of his denials. Each time Peter responded yes and Jesus gave him a command to shepherd his new flock, the young church. Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him “more than these” – that could mean “do you love me more than the rest of the disciples” as Peter had boldly declared that he did, or it could mean “do you love me more than anything else.” Peter’s response indicated his newfound humility by just confirming that Jesus alone knew his heart.
Pride can cause us to go down a path that leads to destruction of ourselves as well as others. Jesus knew the humility that would be required to be a servant leader of the people, and He wanted to develop that in Peter. Peter could have refused to submit his life and will to Jesus. He could have wallowed in the shame and guilt he felt over his fall, but instead He allowed Jesus to restore him and because of that, he was used in a powerful way. Thousands of years later, we are still learning from his story. That’s quite a legacy!
Restoration is always first and foremost about our relationship with Jesus. Am I willing to submit to His authority in my life? Am I willing to be obedient? Am I willing to die to my own selfish desires day after day? That’s exactly what He is calling you and me to. That is the hard and holy work of discipleship, of being a follower. I’m grateful for Peter’s example.
Executive Director of Education and Outreach