Posted on December 31, 2014
#86: Let Grace Win
John Newton, author of the well-loved hymn Amazing Grace, became famous in England as a preacher and as an opponent of slavery—remarkable, for at one time he’d captained a large slave ship. His life was completely transformed by Christ, and he never lost his sense of wonder that grace—amazing grace—had been extended to him. When William Jay visited his weak and aged friend just before his death, Newton told Jay, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” *
Those two facts are really all we need to know. Peter discovered the truth of them in today’s passage from Mark’s gospel. Do you have your Bible ready? Breathe a prayer for insight and let’s read.
Read Mark 14:66-72, then take a look at the parallels of this passage in Matthew 26:69-75; Luke 22:55-62; and John 18:15-18, 25-27.
Jesus was in the home of the high priest being viciously accused and abused. His disciples had fled from Gethsemane’s garden at His arrest, but Peter and another disciple (presumed to be John—see John 18:15-16) had doubled back and followed Jesus and His captors into the courtyard of the high priest’s house.
There Peter, hoping to be inconspicuous, slipped in among the guards who were warming themselves by a fire. One of the house servants, a young girl, caught a glimpse of his face in the firelight and said, “You were with Him—with Jesus the Nazarene!” (House servants had a degree of freedom, often running errands or delivering messages for their masters. At some point this girl had apparently seen Peter with Jesus in the city or the temple. She recognized him immediately.)
Peter drew back into the shadows. “I don’t know—or have any idea—what you’re talking about,” he protested. Then he moved into the darkness near the courtyard’s entrance.
Within an hour the same girl spied him there. “This man is one of them, the followers of Jesus,” she said to the guards milling around. Again Peter gruffly barked his denial, pulling back still further.
Just when he thought himself safe another person said to Peter, “You’re a Galilean; I can tell by your speech. You are one of them!”
Peter was exasperated at not having shaken them off his trail. He exploded into curses, swearing to those around him, “I don’t know the man!” Just then, he looked up to the room overlooking the courtyard. There stood Jesus looking directly at Peter (Luke 22:61)—the same phrase used to describe Jesus’ response when He’d first met Peter several years earlier (Luke 1:42), but oh how different the circumstances!
Jesus’ look surely burned right into the depths of Peter’s soul. As the rooster began to crow, Jesus’ prediction from earlier that evening echoed in Peter’s mind. “Before the cock crows,” He’d said, “you yourself will disown Me three times.” In anguish, Peter broke down and went outside weeping.
Here we have two disciples who betrayed Jesus—Judas from greed, and Peter from fear. In both cases, there is regret, remorse, and shame (Matthew 27:3). But there the similarities end.
Within a few days Judas would be dead by his own hand and buried in a potter’s field outside Jerusalem. In the same few days Peter would be forgiven, reinstated to the circle of disciples and more boldly committed to his Lord than ever before. The distinction is the path each one chose after failure—whether despair and defeat, or forgiveness and faith.
We can choose to be products of our past, defined by and remembered for our failures, as Judas is remembered as the Betrayer. Or we can, like Peter, rewrite ourselves in the future, letting Christ’s grace cover our failures. By grace, Peter is not remembered for his denial of Jesus but for his courageous allegiance to Jesus and for his prominent role in the early church.
Maybe you’ve been tormented by guilt over past mistakes. Maybe satan has whispered in your ear, “You’ll never leave this shadow behind, never be good enough. Things will never be the way they were. Never… never… never.” Satan loves to paralyze us with a false hopelessness that keeps us from achieving anything more for the Lord.
In My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “Never let the sense of failure corrupt your new action.” The apostle Paul, whose career of martyring Christians had left him with much to regret, put it this way: “This one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b-14) Notice how we’re called heavenward: “…in Christ Jesus.” Not because any one of us deserves to be there, but because of the grace of Christ. Without His grace, we all fail to make the grade; with it, we take on His righteousness and our inadequacies no longer matter.
We can’t undo the past. But we can refuse to be defined by it. Follow Peter’s lead and let grace win.
© Diane McLoud 2014
*From John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken (Crossway Books), page 347.