Moral Earthquakes and Secret Faults: The God of the second chance - Part 15

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

Mark 16:1-7

Everyone, at one time or another, has done something which we know offends and disappoints someone whom we respect and love. When we commit such an act, we usually feel hesitant about seeing that person again, even though a visit with him or her is probably what is most necessary to heal the breach. Such a meeting becomes more strongly desired the longer it does not occur. Many times the Holy Spirit presses down on us, yet we will not or cannot take immediate steps to rectify the situation. How much more pleasant it is for us to discover that we are forgiven when the meeting finally takes place. When we are restored to our Christian brothers and sisters, it tastes sweet to our spirit. Following Christ’s resurrection, we see the occurrence of just that sort of restoration — one in which the parties have been separated and unable to resolve it before now:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter,  ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’” (Mark 16:1–7, NIV).

In this text are two words that make all the difference in life. When grasped and applied to our own lives, they can make all the difference. The women had come to the tomb to anoint the corpse of our Lord Jesus of Nazareth with spices. When they got there, an angelic being appeared to them and said, “Don’t be afraid. I know why you’re here. You’re looking for Jesus.” Then the angel gave them a message, “Go and tell His disciples and Peter that He is gone before you into Galilee.”

Upon this rock

The two words that make all the difference are: “and Peter.”

Why would those words be inserted here? The angelic being said to go and tell the disciples. Then he paused and added, “And, especially, Jesus wants Peter to know that He’s alive, that He’s gone to meet him, and He’s gone before you into Galilee.” Why are those words there? Had we been instructing the angel in what to say, we would have probably picked words of antagonism: “Go and tell the disciples and Pontius Pilate.” We probably would have gotten a kick out of taunting that Roman procurator who sentenced Christ and then tried to wash his hands of responsibility in the matter. Or, “Go and tell the disciples and King Herod.” Or, perhaps, “Go and tell the disciples and Caiaphus.” But no, no words of antagonism were spoken here.

Or, if we had been instructing the angel, we might have commissioned him to use words of appreciation. “Go and tell the disciples and John.” He was so faithful. He stood there at the cross when the rest of them had gone. He stood there by Mary. Or, “Go and tell the disciples and Nathaniel.” Tell the one who was without guile. Or, “Go and tell the disciples and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.” Tell those who so tenderly took the body of Christ from the cross and made arrangements for His burial. But no, they were not words of antagonism or appreciation. Instead, they were words of affection. “Go and tell the disciples and Peter.”

Why Peter? The Lord Jesus knew Peter’s heart. It was Peter, of course, who had denied the Lord. It was Simon Peter that night who, when Jesus was instructing them of his ensuing death, said, “Even though all these men may turn on You, You can count on me. When the chips are down, I’ll not desert you. I will not deny you. I’ll be there.” And across the fire that night, Jesus said, “Simon, before that rooster crows, you will have denied Me three times.”

Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane’s garden, and yes, all the other disciples forsook Him and fled, but Simon Peter followed at a distance. He followed the torches of the mob that took Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane down through the Kidron Valley and up the side of the Mount Zion, up to the house of Caiaphas, where He was placed in the dungeon. Peter sat outside and warmed himself by the fire. Later that night, Peter denied Jesus three times. As they were taking Jesus from one trial to another, He passed by that fire. He didn’t say anything. The Bible simply says that He looked at Peter. When Peter saw that look, he heard the rooster crow. The Bible says he went out and wept bitterly.

He needed a word of encouragement. The message at the tomb shows us the heart of a loving father toward a child who has made a mistake — a father who believes in the second chance.

The message of the tomb

What is the message of Easter? What is the message of the empty tomb but the message of the second chance? Many of us have faced our sorrows and setbacks, just as Peter did. Easter means there is hope. Easter means what we’ve done before won’t matter anymore when we’ve seen Jesus. It is the message of the new beginning. It is the message of the second chance.

The second chance is possible. Some of us don’t believe that. Peter didn’t for a while. How do we finally believe? We believe because of the Resurrection. If there were no Resurrection, there would be no gospel, no Good News and no new beginning.

These two words “and Peter” came like water to a man dying of thirst. Peter thought the Lord would disown him. He had been so brazen and so bold. Then he denied Him and failed so miserably. Talk about good news! When he heard those words, Peter knew that the second chance was possible.

Many people know what it is like to live defeated lives because of something they did or didn’t do. The Bible is for them. Page after page, chapter after chapter, book after book, the Bible is the story of men and women who messed up and got a second chance. When it came time to deliver a nation from bondage, who of us would have picked a murderer, one who had been hiding for forty years in virtual obscurity in the desert? Who would have picked Moses to be the emancipator of God’s people? God did.

What about David? He was so full of lust for another man’s wife that he used his power and prestige to take her and then tried to cover over his sin by arranging the death of her husband. Who would have said that a man like that could come to be called “a man after God’s own heart”? God did.

And what about Jonah? This man went in diametric opposition to the will of God for his life. Like many of us who have gone the wrong way, he just kept going down and down, finally into a fish’s belly in the depths of the sea. He was regurgitated up onto the shore. Jonah 3:1 says, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Ninevah.’” And he did. He took advantage of the second chance and went.

The empty tomb makes possible the second chance. This message of hope is not for those who think they can continue committing the same sin time after time. It is for men and women who, like Simon Peter, have repented, have changed their minds and wept bitterly. Jesus didn’t have a private meeting with Simon Peter because he was a big sinner and because he was guilty. No, it was because he was penitent and sorrowful. It was not his cursing and his denial that brought his mercy. It was his tears and repentance. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart — These, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3). There is no hope in the second chance for the one who is simply sorry he or she got caught. It is for one who is truly repentant.

Person to person

The second chance is not only possible, but it is personal. The love of Christ singles us out by name — as individuals. He loves us individually. There is no one else with DNA like yours. No one else with a fingerprint like yours. He knows even the number of hairs on your head: “But the very hairs on your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30).

Why does God know so much about us? Because we are individuals. Each person is indescribably valuable to God, and His love comes to us not corporately but individually. He says that He calls His own sheep by name: “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:3–4, 14–15, NIV).

Peter received a personal message on that first Easter Sunday. The angel said to the women, “Go and tell the disciples and Peter.” Peter’s name, Petros, literally means “rock.” The message was not, “Go and tell the disciples and Simon.” That was his old name. Peter was his new name. When Jesus first saw the fisherman, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, “We have found the Messiah.” He took Simon Peter by the hand and brought him to Jesus. The first time Jesus ever saw Simon Peter, he said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas [Petros, Peter, a rock]” (John 1:41–42).

Jesus saw potential in Peter. Jesus was saying, one of these days Simon will be called a rock. Jesus also named Peter like a parent proudly names his child as he hopes and dreams for his child’s future. He does the same for us. He looks into our lives and He sees us not for who we are but who we could be and what we could become. He sees our future. He sees the potential that is in our lives.

Religion vs. relationship

Some people know only religion. Christianity is not a religion. Religion, quite honestly, has caused many of the ills of the world throughout the centuries. Christianity is different from all the other world religions. Why? All the other religions focus on man searching for God, man trying to get to God. It is man-centered theology. Christianity is quite the reverse. It is the story of God coming to man clothed in human flesh — Jesus, the Savior of the world.

Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship. Christ doesn’t deal with us in mass, He deals with us individually, and, thus, Christ comes to us.

Peter’s fall had been so public. Have you ever been to a children’s play when one of the kids suddenly forgets her line? She stands there frozen, while everyone in the audience pulls for that little kid. Those in the audience who know the play desperately mouth the words, trying to help. Or, at a ball game, a little kid is up at bat, and he strikes out. Everyone’s heart goes out, wanting to help. I think there’s a sense in which all of heaven watched Simon Peter’s fall, and now after the Resurrection, it is as though they are all pulling for him to get back up. “Be sure,” they said, “to tell Peter that one failure doesn’t make a flop. He gets to bat again.”

Sin affects our lives so greatly that it is almost completely incomprehensible. Its enduring nature wins over countless attempts by us to subject ourselves to God. It destroys our hearts, our homes and our plans. It can destroy people completely. In order to defeat so persistent an enemy, we must rely on the strength and power of God, not our own. When facing this greater force, sin must give way. The one thing it cannot do is make God cease loving us. His love prompts God to shower us with his power, forcing the retreat of sin.

This is the heart and soul of the relationship that the Christian faith signifies, celebrates and exemplifies.

Sin’s retreat and defeat is shown again and again in the Bible. When Christ was crucified, sin was rendered powerless over those who had faith in God. Although we falter and fall into sin, its advance is only momentary. God’s power has permanently built a bridge between us and Him.

The enemy cannot take that bridge. Sin’s power is broken; Satan must content himself with guerrilla raids that, while painful, will ultimately be crushed with him.

At Easter, which marked the defeat of death, a living hope was restored to the people of God. That living hope exists in Christ. Through Him we may be given a second chance — a reconciliation between us and God.

Private affairs

The second chance is not only possible and personal, but also private. When Jesus Christ came out of the tomb, the first thing He did was to find Peter. “He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve” (1 Cor. 15:5). Some things are so personal and private that they are not even recorded for us in Scripture. What took place in that remarkable meeting, we may never know. Peter thought he was finished, and the Lord found him privately. We don’t know what was said or how things went, but it must have been quite a meeting. We can only imagine the bitter tears, the broken words slowly coming through quivering lips, the deep sobs and long breaks of silence, and the many assurances of Peter’s love. How do we know that what we are assuming is true? Because so many of us have actually been there.

What tender consideration we see in our Lord here. He meets Peter alone before ever seeing him with the Twelve. How painful it would have been for Simon Peter to first see the wounds of our Lord in the presence of all those others publicly. How impossible, with all those others around, to have poured out his love and remorse. Even though Simon Peter denied him publicly, Jesus met him privately — and forgave him privately. It is not enough for us to simply hear the good news that He is risen or to know that the second chance is possible or personal. It comes when we have a private encounter with Jesus Christ.

Profit motive

Finally, the second chance is not only possible, personal and private, it is also profitable. This meeting transformed Simon Peter. As a result, he became the undisputed, recognized leader of the early church. God’s mercy for us drives us to serve Him. We see over and over throughout the Book of Acts Peter, being beaten and imprisoned, saying, “I can’t help but speak the things that I’ve seen and heard.” All of this because of two simple and unassuming words, “and Peter.”

Those words should speak to all of us. We have a way of remembering our failures and forgetting our strong points. If some church members had been commissioned to give this message, they might have said, “Go and tell the disciples and forget Peter.” Remember when Peter was up on the Sea of Galilee and he failed trying to walk on the water? Forget Peter. He denied; he failed. But in the end Simon Peter remained faithful unto death.

In one of his Epistles, Peter wrote, “I think it is right to stir you up by reminding you that shortly I am going to put off this old body, just as Christ has showed me.” He was referring to the meeting he had following the Resurrection on the beach in Galilee, when Jesus said, “When you are old, Simon Peter, someone else will stretch out your hands,” indicating the death he would die. And, yes, Simon Peter met his own martyr’s death through crucifixion. But he didn’t count himself worthy to be crucified in the same way as our Savior; Peter was crucified, tradition tells us, upside down.

Simon Peter was restored. He was restored fully and completely.

The great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said that the story of the prodigal is the greatest short story ever written. It is the story about a teenager who found life at home hopelessly boring; Dad was out-of-date and out-of-touch. The boy had heard so many stories of the bright lights of the big city that he decided he was big enough to leave. He went out to the big city and had a great time — for a while. In the end, though, he discovered that the high life is nothing more than hangovers, rip-offs, squandered opportunities and unemployment lines.

As he was contemplating returning home, he rehearsed a speech that he never got a chance to use. Sitting in a pigpen, eating what the pigs were eating, he said, “I’m going to go home and say to my father that I’ve sinned and I’m wrong and I’m sorry.” He rehearsed that speech over and over. When he went home, the father saw him way down the road and ran off the porch to meet the boy. I once heard my friend Max Lucado describe the scene like this. “There were no pointed fingers, no clenched fists, no crossed arms — not even, ‘Where have you been?’ or, ‘I told you so.’ ” There was none of that — just open arms. The boy was met with wide, sweet, open arms.

This is the story of the whole Bible. Again and again, the Father welcomes the prodigal home. In fact, the Bible is the book of the second chance.

Look at Jonah: he was down, but he came back. Look at Abraham. He lied about Sarah, but he came back. In the New Testament James even calls him the “friend of God.” Look at David. He blew it, but he came back and wrote that wonderful psalm of repentance. Look at Thomas. He doubted, but he came back. Thomas became filled with the Holy Spirit, took the gospel to India and died a martyr’s death. Look at James and John. They were jealous, arguing about which one would have a prominent seat in heaven, but they came back. One of them gained a martyr’s death. The other one, as an old man exiled on Patmos, gave us the Apocalypse, the Revelation. Look at John Mark. He quit, but he came back and gave us the Gospel of Mark. And look at Peter. He cursed, he denied, but he came back. After weeping bitterly, he met Jesus in a private meeting and got a second chance. He came back and became the great leader of the New Testament church.

Thank God He can use us even if we mess up. Thank God for a second chance.

Moral soundings

  • How many Biblical examples can you think of that illustrate the second-chance principle?
  • Have you appropriated the personal message of the empty tomb?
  • Have you accepted the call of God to a private encounter with the living Christ?
  • Do you understand the idea that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship?
  • Do you actually have such a relationship?
ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

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