It was the Breaking News that turned the world upside down. As the news headline spread, everyone in the region and eventually in the world would have heard the claims of hundreds of eye witnesses. A following would develop that would become the preeminent movement in the world based only on this news. This historical event would be the most discussed and most transcribed event of its era yet many would deny its authenticity. Skeptics would challenge the historicity of the event years later claiming that it couldn’t be proven scientifically. This headline would have all of the same limitations for scientific proof of other historical events because categorically, it’s very difficult to scientifically prove historical events. Sir Karl Popper, perhaps the greatest philosopher who ever lived would later say, “You cannot prove history scientifically.” Taken to its logical conclusion, if one refuses to accept the historicity of a past event based on its lack of scientific evidence then all of history comes into serious doubt. Necessarily we’re led to doubt everything that happened before the invention of YouTube.
The truthfulness of History is most often proven by the eyewitness accounts of people who have observed and documented it. The Gospel Writers: Matthew (aka Levi), John Mark, Luke the Scientist and John the Apostle either witnessed or interviewed witnesses of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not a secret event with limited publicity. Instead news would have spread to everyone in the region even during the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension into heaven. Saul of Tarsus, Simon Peter son of John and James the Just would also write about their first hand encounters with the Risen Christ. Very few doubt the main events in the lives of historical men like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, yet many doubt the most important event in the life of Jesus Christ. Yet the resurrection of Jesus Christ has greater textual attestation than any event in antiquity.
Don’t we all need a second chance and even a third chance; do I hear seven? How about seventy times seven? When the Savior disrupts our failure, misery and self-pity with mercy, forgiveness and a second chance it is not a decision He makes on the fly nor a reaction in real time but instead our failure was anticipated, even expected. In fact, ALL of our failures, those before and after we met Christ were absorbed in the sacrifice of the cross. Our failure is the backdrop of the God’s sweet plan of Love, Grace, Redemption and Restoration. And while we might be surprised that we’ve blown it again, He’s not. He is a Savior who has planned to absorb our failings before they occur in real time.
When Jesus uses the repetitive phrase, “Truly, Truly” He is declaring something to be a certainty: “It’s going to happen, bet the farm!” This is the exact phrase Jesus uttered when He anticipated and predicted Peter’s terrible failure, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” Peter couldn’t imagine that he would ever deny his association with Jesus though the Savior predicted His fall with absolute certainty down to the minute details. It is easy to understand what Peter did. He and Jesus were going places together. They were defeating the bad guys and now the bad guys were winning. His Hope of Salvation was betrayed by an insider, who afterward seemed even more powerful than the Savior Himself. And when the Savior was whisked away by wicked men, Peter bailed. Our journeys are not much different than Peter’s. We too invest an inordinate amount of our hopes and dreams in specific, imagined future scenarios for how our lives will play out and when our dreams don’t come true, we get disoriented, become vulnerable to temptation, find ourselves compromising our faith and then realize a deep emptiness inside of us. We’re like Peter in the sense that we imagine that the gospel is the way to happiness, success, popularity, status, control and blessing. We wrongly believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ will provide us with what we really want in addition to placing us in right, loving relationship with our Heavenly Father. And so when God doesn’t come through on fulfilling our dream, we think He’s abandoned us and we’re ready to abandon Him. Though God is jealous of our heart attitude which says, “I love you but I must have this other thing too,” He extends his hand of mercy and consolation to draw us back to be satisfied in His love.
There are not many second chances in the Church or in the World, as the rules apply it’s most often ‘one and done’ and then you get ‘tossed under the bus.’ Many Christians even live out of a theological framework which believes that God offers mercy and forgiveness for even the most heinous sins committed before the point of personal conversion but there are new rules that apply after conversion. The New Rules are that you are expected to get it right after that and there is no mercy for sins committed after conversion. This false system leads churches to even celebrate the most dramatic conversions of the most rebellious lifestyles before salvation but extends no forgiveness or second chance to a believer who messes up. Another problem with the aforementioned erroneous system is that it typically views sin as merely outward and tolerates the sins God despises most like pride, arrogance, harshness, selfishness, ignoring the needs of the poor while living in excess. Could it be that God offers only forgiveness to those coming out of unbelief? Is there mercy for non-Christians but not for Christians?
Thankfully Jesus is the Savior of Second Chances and the framework represented above is the opposite of the gospel of Jesus Christ who holds out mercy and forgiveness to us continuously while calling us back to a lifestyle of repentance, holiness and love. Second Chances are only possible if the mistake made during the first chance was paid for and absorbed by another. This is what Jesus does, he pays for the sin and does not make us pay. The Second Chance then becomes a new lease on life, a new freedom, a new opportunity to experience a richer sense of His grace and to live as if we have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. When living within the Second Chance, we know that at some point we will need a third chance which He will graciously extend. This is what Jesus does: He restores the fallen! This is what He did for Simon Peter, a full-fledged Christian and Church leader who denied any connection with Jesus on three occasions. He gave him a Second Chance. Remember the Prodigal Son was a “Son” when he rebelled against his Father who extended a second chance and the Wandering Sheep belonged to the Shepherd and His flock before he became disoriented and was carried back to the fold for his second chance. This is the gospel program: Jesus extends mercy to His own whom He expects will need second and even third chances.
“If looks could kill” is a familiar idiomatic expression used to characterize the look of strong hostility in the penetrating eyes of a murderous heart. Often we evaluate the look we get from people because the eyes tell us much about what the heart is thinking. After Peter’s third denial of and disassociation from Jesus in the midst of His interrogation by the High Priest, the eyes of the Lord meet Peter’s. But what kind of look was this?
Peter had denied any association with Christ, with no feelings of repentance, his heart becoming harder each time, searing his conscience. The denials became progressively easier, a warning to us about how sensitive we ought to be to our consciences upon the first occasion for sin. The first time, it won’t seem like a big deal to sin, but the second time creates a habit and the third time we risk the lulling to sleep of our conscience, grieving the Holy Spirit within us our will is rendered ineffective to resist anything. When we push through the barrier of grieving the Spirit, we find ourselves on the other side of the fence with no one to restrain us. Certainly Peter understood this retrospectively when he wrote years later in his first epistle, “Therefore preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We must be early on guard against sin which desires to master us but when we sin there is only one thing that can bring us back to Jesus, His Look. Luke 22 tells the story this way,
But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
While Peter was warming himself by the fire numbering himself among wicked men and Jesus was being struck in the cheek by the closed fist of an interrogator in the courtyard of the high priest the entire scene enters into slow motion. What happens feels like a private moment between Jesus and Peter. Only Jesus sees that Peter has fallen while everyone else seems oblivious. There are no words exchanged and the Savior doesn’t disgustingly shake his head nor look away in disappointment. This is not even a parental, “I told you so” but a look of sympathy and mercy. This is a look that says, “I understand and I want you to come back!” Jesus knows the intensity of a battle with the evil one so he his sympathetic to Peter in his failure. This is the look of a friend who understands and a God who loves.
In Peter’s darkest hour, Jesus gives him THE LOOK of Mercy that initiates Peter’s repentance instantly after the moment of his greatest failure. When we sin, the only thing to bring us back is an apprehension of the mercy of God that is found in Christ’s look of sympathy and mercy. The Look that says, “I understand and I want you to come back.” Even in our most rebellious, frustrated and independent moments when our hearts rage against God we must catch the glance of the Savior, to see His eyes inviting us back to intimacy with Him. He gives us an efficacious look that meets our eyes and its rays of grace penetrate our hearts. When we fall, our repentance is always initiated by the Lord’s look of mercy. If He is not merciful, we should not dare turn back to Him but He is merciful, generous and patient towards us. What brings Peter back and what brings us back time and again is the Lord’s look of sympathy and mercy. This is no ordinary look nor a look that could kill, it is a look that gives life!
While our adversary the devil is a formidable foe who will use any allowable means necessary to opportunistically attack faith in the most vulnerable moments of life, take heart because Jesus prays for you! Jesus sought to prepare Simon Peter for the imminent moment of the Shepherd being snatched away, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Take courage because Jesus’ intercession is the guarantee that your faith, though shaken will not fail. When Jesus says, “I’ll pray for you” this is not the meaningless human resignation uttered when we don’t know what else to say or do for a struggling friend as if to say, “I pity you, good luck with all that!” Unlike my prayers, when Jesus prays, All of His Prayers are Answered, YES! So Christ guarantees victory for Peter, the Disciples and all who believe. The prayers of Jesus give us assurance that God’s grace will be victorious. Paul reminds us in Romans 8,
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. …nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because you are among the elect, Jesus has been condemned for you and the Father has Justified you through the righteousness of His Son. This Son is risen and now sits at the right hand of the Father always praying for you as your great sympathetic high priest. Because He always has the Father’s ear and His prayers are always answered, YES, you will be a conqueror! Even more than that! Your faith will persevere to the end and you will always BE LOVED! And not only that but through the process of having your faith sifted coupled with Jesus prayers for your perseverance, when (not if) you turn back to Him you will become stronger so that you may help strengthen others.
Hell has a strategic plan led by your adversary the devil in which all of its resources are brought to bear and released on the church. The objective: to use any allowable and necessary means to sift your faith. The greatest strength of the enemy is that he is Opportunistic!
Simon Peter loved Christ deeply, he was certainly the most passionate, zealous and outwardly dedicated disciple. But in the midst of a “Perfect Storm” of circumstances when his Shepherd was taken away (seemingly) against his will, his heart was struck with paralyzing fear and his faith was shaken to violent extremes. This attack, crafted in hell’s workshop was predicted by Jesus with these words: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…” Jesus seeking to prepare Peter saying, In a little while, you’re going to see me taken away and Satan will use this opportunity to come at you and you will battle with the forces of Hell!
Satan, a wily opportunist, does seek convenient opportunities to destroy your faith. The picture Jesus gives us is that Satan, having access to God, has approached the Father to make demands to have Peter and the rest of the disciples (Cf. Job 1-2.)
The sifting of wheat was an agricultural process of agitating or shaking grain in a kind of fan or sieve. The grain remained in the fan and would not fall through the mesh while the chaff and dust were thrown off and no matter how much you agitated or shook the grain, true wheat would not fall through. Now if there was no wheat in the sieve, everything would fall through. In using this illustration, Jesus is saying that everything that is not of faith will be ground up and blown away and that the disciples must hold to their faith, trusting the power and goodness of God for their hope, then they will not fall through the mesh into Satan’s hands. Satan will take advantage of trials and craft well-designed temptations to agitate and sift out our faith with a view to obliterate it. The devil boastfully and arrogantly believes that no true faith exists in the church and that people only believe because of God’s blessing and selfish interests. So he will sift you with suffering, popularity, success, wealth, taking advantage of convenient opportunities of weakness and do whatever it takes to prove your faith false.
Much later from first-hand experience, Peter wrote, : “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in your faith” (1Peter 5:8, 9). But the victory that overcomes Satan’s sieve and Satan’s throat is our faith. Similarly, John reminds us in his first epistle, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith” (1John 5:4).
We know that our struggles in this world are not against people but against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil from Hell. So we take up the shield of faith with which we can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. So we should not be surprised by temptations and trials but instead prepare our minds for action, regarding these as formidable attacks as if your very faith is THE TARGET of a powerful enemy. Prepare for the fight, because all temptations are forged in the workshop of the enemy!
Tomorrow: The Guarantee of Jesus that true faith will persevere!