When We Feel Unworthy

Today’s Reading: Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72, 16:14; Luke 22:54b-62, 24:12, 36-43; John 18:25-27, 20:3-10, 19-23 and 21:15-25

Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?”
And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”
“But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked. “I’m ready to die for you.”
Jesus answered, “Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter – before the rooster crows tomorrow, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
– John 13:36-38

So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up…(John 18:12)

Simon Peter was following Jesus, as did another of the disciples. The other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. The woman asked Peter, “You’re not one of that man’s disciples are you?” “No,” he said, “I am not.” – John 18:15-17

Meanwhile, as Simon Peter was standing by the fire warming himself, they asked him again, “You’re not one of his disciples are you?”
He denied it, saying, “No, I am not.”
But one of the household slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?” Again Peter denied it. And immediately a rooster crowed.
– John 18:25-27

I cannot imagine how Peter felt in that moment. His words to Jesus must have come back to him – “I’m ready to die for you.” I do not know how Peter felt but I do know what it feels like to regret something I have done or said, or to be ashamed of my lack of faith, or to miss an opportunity to represent Jesus in a situation. I know the feelings of guilt when the Holy Spirit tugs on my heart to do something and I freeze, the moment lost forever. I know all too well the feeling of knowing I have sinned and knowing I need Jesus’ forgiveness, even though I do not deserve it. Because Peter was an emotional and passionate man, I imagine he experienced all of this to a higher degree than I can comprehend.

After Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, he appeared to his disciples and said the words that must have been like salve on Peter’s wounds, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). Yes, peace was exactly what Peter had been without for three days and exactly what he needed from Jesus.

Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” – John 20:22

Peter had experienced the privilege of watching every moment of Jesus’ ministry – the healings, the sermons, sins forgiven, the false accusations – and yet he had denied Jesus on that dreadful Friday afternoon when His Savior had needed him the most. And now Jesus was giving the man who needed forgiveness the ability to forgive. I believe Peter was feeling very unworthy of this gift of the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ conversation later with Peter was in response to Peter’s need for restoration.

So Jesus asked Peter three questions and allowed him to individually answer each of the three questions. He gave Peter the opportunity to state his commitment to Christ three times, just as he had denied Jesus three times.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
– John 21:15-17

“Lord, you know everything” – what was Peter thinking of when he acknowledged that Jesus knew EVERYTHING? Was he thinking of his betrayal in that moment? Jesus did not speak of Peter’s denial, maybe because he knew Peter’s heart and knew how much he regretted his words, “No, I am not.” He was giving Peter the opportunity to replace his denial with commitment – commitment to serve Jesus for the rest of his life, to become a shepherd of the flock. Jesus had died on the cross for Peter’s sins of betrayal so that Peter could experience restoration and then dedicate his life in service to God. Peter was saved to serve!

We too have been saved to serve. If we have asked for forgiveness, if we can truthfully testify that we love Jesus, then God has a call for us – feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep. That call looks different for each one, just as the sheep have different faces and different needs, but all of us have been called to care for someone in some way. Jesus wants us to move beyond the “I’m not worthy” feelings produced by our guilt and shame. He wants us to boldly proclaim our love for Him and faithfully commit to follow His call on our life – to feed his sheep!