April Parent Devotion: Guilt, Grace, and New Beginnings
Before He was crucified, Jesus warned the disciples of the events that were about to happen. With swelling love for his Savior, one of Jesus’ beloved disciples, Peter, (whose name means “rock”) declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never disown you!” (Matthew 26:33) “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (Matthew 26:34). Peter then became emphatic. "No Lord. Even If I have to die with You, I will not deny you!" (Matthew 26:35). But then, following the arrest of Jesus, Peter did deny Jesus. Not just once, but three times. And as Jesus had predicted, Peter heard the rooster crow and realized what he’d done. “Suddenly, Jesus' words flashed through Peter's mind: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.’ And he went away, weeping bitterly” (Matthew 26:75). This is the part of the story that always grips me, because Peter was obviously devastated and appalled at how he could have possibly denied his friend he’d loved and followed—the man he believed with all of his heart was the Messiah, son of the living God. I can only imagine Peter's grief, guilt, and horror as Jesus was crucified, and how much utter despair he must have felt over the magnitude of his sinful betrayal. Peter wasn’t a rock—he was a wreck. Peter’s grief over his sins is reflection of our everyday human story—falling short of the truth we know in our heart. Despite our pursuit of Jesus, because of our weakness, guilt, and fear we so often fail to acknowledge Him. But the story with Peter and Jesus isn’t over here, and what comes next is fascinating and hope-fueling. After Jesus’ death, Peter and some disciples spent a night at sea fishing without any luck. As the light of dawn broke, they saw a man walking on the beach. No one realized it was Jesus, but the man called out to the disciples, telling them to cast their net to the right side of the boat. As soon as they did, their net was full of fish, and one of the disciples told Peter that he believed the man on the beach was Jesus. Peter was so excited he dove off the boat and swam madly towards the shore. Every fiber of his being, every muscle in his body surged toward Jesus because he couldn’t wait another minute. Peter wasn’t restrained by the guilt of denying Jesus, and he didn’t shrink back in fear of admonishment. His sorrow and remorse over his sins gripped him, yet he still simply could not wait to be in Jesus' presence. And once Peter reached the shore, Jesus asked him a simple question three times: “Peter, do you love me?” As Peter adamantly said yes, each time Jesus responded, “Feed my sheep.” Never once did Jesus make a point of pointing out Peter’s failures and denials. Never once did Jesus make him pay a price by burdening him with the guilt of an “I told you so.” Instead, He simply gave Peter another chance to acknowledge His love, and an invitation to continue to follow Him and serve His kingdom.
Jesus gave Peter a new beginning.
And Jesus held true to the words he’d spoken to Peter a few days earlier, when He said “Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matthew 16:18) What I love about this storyline is that it’s woven into the timeline of Jesus’ death and resurrection as an “everyday” example of what redemption and grace look like. Grasping the concept of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins is so audaciously big it’s often hard to put into context. In fact, sometimes—especially at Easter—I find myself unable to wrap my mind around it. And instead of rushing toward the bold embrace of grace, I retreat into a shell of guilt and doubt, not believing I’m worthy of deserving a sacrifice so immense. But the story of Peter reminds me that even those who walked with Jesus in flesh and blood were screw-ups. They had doubts. They had flaws. They battled pride and fear. But Jesus wasn’t focused on those issues, He was focused on the message of love: loving God, and loving others. And He knew the future of the everlasting church rested on the rock of imperfect, repentant wrecks like Peter. And like us. Friends—if you’re in a place right now where it’s hard to accept the abundant grace in the promise of the Gospel because you’re painfully aware of your failings and flaws, remember the story of Peter this Easter. Recognize yourself in the narrative, come to the cross in repentance and embrace the simple truth that Jesus came to Earth to bear witness to:
You are loved. You are known. You are forgiven. You are redeemed. Through him, you are enough.
Our God is merciful and His love endures forever. That’s Jesus’ gift to you, and he’s not asking you to earn it—he’s simply asking you to not give up when your screw up, and to continue to love and follow Him. Even if it means having to begin again. And again. ________________________________________________________________
Read and reflect on this prayer. Journal your own prayer of new beginnings you'd like to offer to God. O God of such truth that sweeps away lies—of such grace that shrivels all excuses: You know my frail heart and frayed history—and now another day begins. Let your spirit move mercifully to recreate me from the chaos of my life. Help me to believe in beginnings and in my own beginning again, no matter how often I’ve failed before. Help me to make new beginnings: daring to make bold tracks in the land of now; to begin forgiving—that I may experience mercy; to begin sacrificing—that I may make peace; to begin loving—that I may realize joy. Help me to be a beginning to others, a beginning of hope for the despairing, of assurance for the doubting, of reconciliation for the divided; of comfort for the sorrowing, of friendship for the forgotten; of gentleness for the angry, of wholeness for the broken. Help me to believe in beginnings, to make a beginning, and to be a beginning, so that I may not just grow old, but grow new each day of this wild, amazing life you call me to live with the passion of Jesus Christ. Amen. An adaptation of prayers by Ted Loder