We’d heard inmates share life perspectives that only the incarcerated could gain, but the prison ministry volunteers were unprepared for what this man had to say. “What I did was wrong, and I’m serving my sentence for it. But how would you like for your entire life to be judged by your worst decision on the worst day of your life?” We caught our breath; we understood. We’d all experienced “worst” decisions and days, and would prefer they not define us.
Peter had grievously erred. Shortly before His betrayal, Jesus had forewarned his disciples they would soon desert Him as foretold through Zechariah centuries prior, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”1 Yet Peter asserted his will above God’s word and his allegiance beyond the others’, insisting, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”2 He scattered like everyone else, of course, and of the Twelve only Peter denied knowing the Lamb of God—not once but thrice—surely the worst decision on the worst day of his life. Would this tragic moment define Peter? Is this how he would be forever judged?
In Christ Jesus, what appears to us as a defining point of sin and death becomes for us the turning point of truth and grace. Appearing to his disciples for the third time since His resurrection, Jesus engaged Peter, not to condemn him, but to restore him—to mend this broken disciple and to send him whole again into a meaningful life of Kingdom work. Peter had proclaimed unequaled loyalty to Jesus, but now when asked if his love for Jesus exceeded that of the others, the humbled disciple avoided comparison, saying only, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”3 Peter had denied Jesus three times, and now three times Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?” At each “Yes,” Jesus pointed Peter to the Divine call of proactive love: “Do you love me? … Feed my sheep.”4
We don’t have to be defined by our worst decisions and days, for Jesus has overcome them, and all who live in Him by faith are made new. We stand in the truth of forgiveness and serve in the freedom of grace, knowing this: “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”5 It was true for Peter; it will be true of us who believe.
Father, thank you for new life in Christ, and that our sin defines us no longer. Strengthen us, and send us to feed your sheep, however you call us to do this today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
1 Matthew 26:31
2 Matthew 26:33 ESV
3, 4 John 21:17 ESV
5 1 Peter 5:10 ESV