A God of Scars
Because I grew up as a classic Christian good kid (a heritage for which I am grateful), I used to look at folks who bore a few scars of their previously worldly life and sort of think, “Well, God bless them, but they can’t be used for Christ as much as I am, because I’ve never (insert a really destructive choice here).” Multiply the self-righteousness if the person had tattoos.
How wrong I was. Apparently I hadn’t really learned the story of Peter. Peter fascinates me because if anyone had big Christian scars, it was Peter. And what made it worse for Peter was that his epic fail came after living alongside Jesus for three years. He was the leader of the disciples. He’d seen Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. He saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. He even walked on water with Jesus.
Nobody was closer to Jesus and loved Jesus more and was a better picture of a “strong Christian” than Peter. And yet, in the moment of decision, Peter found out just how weak he was. He did things he had long abandoned, like lying, cursing, and disloyalty.
This would be like the good school kid, raised with good parents, fed the Word of God, passed through Awana, homeschooled. The kid who never drank a beer, had no tattoos, and virgin until marriage. Then suddenly he implodes and lives a life of worldly destruction.
What would we say about that? We’d say, well, he knew better. How could he abandon everything? What’s his problem? And silently, whispering in our minds, we’d also say ,”Well, he had such high hopes. Probably can’t be used much for the church anymore.”
But the gospel of John doesn’t end at John 18 (thankfully). And Peter’s story is just beginning. You see, while Peter’s denial surprised the disciples and the Jewish people and the Roman soldiers and surprises us today, it didn’t surprise Jesus. In fact, if you read the gospel accounts, Jesus actually predicted Peter’s fall—a few times. But in Jesus’ predictions of Peter’s failure, there was always a message of hope.
Peter, after you’re restored, comfort the brothers. Peter, you’re going to be part of the foundation of the church. Peter, I’m praying for you and you’ll make it.
Jesus knew Peter, the good Jesus-follower, would fail. And guess what? Jesus knows that we’re going to fail too. Fortunately, God’s plan of salvation doesn’t depend on Peter’s faithfulness and Dan’s faithfulness and your faithfulness.
God is still God when we fail. God is still God when we do something terrible and willfully sin against him.
The real story John is trying to tell in his gospel is not about Peter’s failure or the lack of faith of the disciples or the machinations that put Jesus on the cross. No, the real story is simple. It’s that God loves us so much, that he sent Jesus to the earth to die to bear His wrath. Those who believe on Jesus have had their sins forgiven. Peter’s denial was forgiven before it happened. It’s the same with your sin.
You see, Jesus isn’t looking for lily white good church kids who never mess up. Which is good, because there are none of those. Even for those who never drink, chew, and go with girls that do, there is lurking inside their hearts all sorts of sin: malice, pride, wrath, anger.
No, the type of people Jesus is after are people with scars. People whose failure and weakness and sin has broken them to the point of dependence. Look at Peter in the book of Acts. Same guy, but this time he’s boldly proclaiming Christ, enduring prison and torture, and leading thousands to faith.
The self-confident good guy Peter couldn’t have done this. But now, every day between midnight and 3 am, when the cock crowed three times for the night watch, Peter was reminded of his epic failure. And down thru history we’ve read his story.
But when he heard that crow and read his story in the gospels (even telling it himself through Mark), he was reminded of his need for Jesus every moment. HE was reminded that in himself he could do nothing. And, he was reminded that God only uses broken sinners.
Daniel Darling is an author, pastor, and public speaker. His latest book is Crash Course, Forming a Faith Foundation for Life. Visit him on Facebook by clicking here, follow on him on Twitter at twitter.com/dandarling, or check out his website: danieldarling.com.