This sidebar discussion has arisen from the recent shootings in Oregon. Hypothetical: The gunman holds his firearm to my head and demands to know if I am a Christian. Fearing for my life, I say, “No.” My life is spared. Am I forgiven for my denial?
The immediate answer to this one is obvious. Jesus predicts Peter will deny him three times before the rooster crows in the morning. Peter swears this could never happen. Then it happens. Is Peter forgiven?
In the Gospel of John, chapter 21, it’s quite apparent he is indeed forgiven. Here Jesus takes Peter through a process of healing and restoration. In addition, he is urged to get back in the saddle. “Follow me.” “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.”
Like all things Biblical, however, there is Scripture that seems to balance this out. In Matthew chapter ten, Jesus sends out his disciples to minister to “the lost sheep of Israel.” Before they go, he gives them some instructions.
“…Whoever disowns me before others, I will disown…”
Amid his words of wisdom, he says, “But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” Is this contradictory? It certainly seems to be. It certainly doesn’t sound as comforting as the restoration of Peter.
What are we to make of this? How do we handle this message? We’re not quite as quick to embrace this missive as we are the many stories of grace offered by the Savior of the world.
We can’t get around it…
We can’t get around it, however. Jesus said it. It is recorded in Scripture. We can’t (or at least, shouldn’t) ignore it. It poses a major problem for us, doesn’t it?
It poses a problem because every one of us has denied Jesus in some way, shape or form. We might not have told anyone we didn’t know him, but we’ve certainly done it in other ways.
When we refuse to feed the hungry, we deny him. When we ignore strangers, we deny him. When we fail to help the sick or visit the imprisoned, we deny him. If you think I’m exaggerating, check out Matthew 25:31-46 (his story about the sheep and goats).
So where does that leave us? Fortunately for us, that leaves us in good company—or if not good company, at least lots of company. Saint Peter is part of that company.
Jesus knows we all have and will deny him. He’s said as much. He also knows we need to be forgiven, healed, restored, and recommissioned for ministry—just like Peter. He came in the flesh, lived, suffered, died, and arose to fix us.
When he tells the twelve (Peter among them) not to deny him, he is obviously referring to a lifestyle of denial—a life of refusing to acknowledge his Lordship.
Jesus is not demanding perfection. He tells us to come to him in faith like children. He is cajoling us to live lives that witness to his glory—not reject who he is.