Growing up I was raised, like many people, in church and Sunday School, being taught stories of who Jesus was, and why He came. And in the majority of those stories He was portrayed as a pious, somber person, who was critical of those around Him who didn’t seem to measure up. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing a picture of Jesus smiling. I can remember lots with Him crying, others with Him somber, one where He was angry, chasing the shop keeps and money exchangers out of the temple, but not one of Him smiling.
And this mentality continued all through my life. And like many other Christians, I felt like I had let God down. My life didn’t match up with His plans and purpose for me, and had left Him disappointed. My walk with Him was forever damaged because I couldn’t live up to His expectations of me.
And this mentality was further enforced by reading some scriptures in which Jesus seems frustrated by His followers, and one in particular where Jesus says”How long do I have to put up with you.”
Even after I came to know and experience the intensity, and extravagance of the love He has for me, and came to understand that His love isn’t conditional after all, that He loves me the same when I am walking with Him as when I am not. His acceptance of me wasn’t based upon my performance at all. And yet this mentality persisted. I still often felt that I had disappointed Him, and fallen short of His expectations for me.
But recently, as I was reading my bible, I had my eyes opened to a new reality of Jesus’ view of me. And it came as I was reading in Matthew’s gospel, just before Jesus was crucified, where He was talking with the disciples and telling them what was about to happen to Him, and to them. Jesus was telling them about His coming death and resurrection, and about their abandoning Him. To which Peter replied “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.” to which Jesus them informs him that before the rooster crows Peter would deny knowing Him 3 times. Peter then becomes adamant and says “Not even if I have to die with you! I will never deny you!” and all the other disciples seconded the motion. And yet when push came to shove, and their lives were in jeopardy, Jesus’ words came to pass. Everyone deserted Him, and Peter denied knowing Him 3 times.
Scripture tells that as soon as the rooster crowed, Peter remember what Jesus told him and was stricken with guilt for denying Jesus, and ran off weeping bitterly. What a way to let down his Saviour. And just like we feel most times, Peter was guilt ridden that he had let down his friend and master. We often feel exactly the same way. And yet when we look at Peter’s encounter with Jesus later, there is no mention of disappointment at all. In fact there is not a single mention of Jesus being offended or upset. Just an extravagant love and acceptance.
I learned and think we all can learn 3 things from this story.
#1. Jesus isn’t disappointed in us when we fail.
In fact Jesus isn’t even surprised by our failures. Brennan Manning, in his book “The Ragamuffin Gospel” says “God expects us to fail a lot more than we expect ourselves to fail.” And this isn’t a bad expectation of failure like would be our first response to a statement like that. He simply states God’s perspective on our lives. When you know the beginning from the end, you cannot be surprised by anything. And when you know everything from the start to the finish you don’t have any expectations that are not fulfilled. So God is never disappointed with our failures, because He knew we were going to make them before He created the world, and He still called us each by name and chose us to be His own. In fact God is intensely proud of us simply because we chose to believe in Him and accepted the gift of life He gave us through the work of Calvary.
#2. Jesus didn’t change His mind about His purpose for you.
Scripture teaches that the “gifts and callings of God can never be withdrawn.” What God destined you for can never be lost or taken away from you. In fact God knew He would have to tell you about His plans for you 40 times before you would respond, so if He is only on time number 12 then He isn’t about to give up, or be disappointed.
#3. Jesus’ love and acceptance of me never waivers.
Jesus loves me 110% all of the time, and does so without reservation or restraint, and it is not conditional to our performance. It just simply is. He won’t love me less or more tomorrow than He does today. And as “God doesn’t show partiality.” He feels the same about you as He does about me. He doesn’t ration His love. It is 110% on 100% of the time for you and for me, without exception.
We can see evidence of each of these upon Jesus’ next encounter with Peter after the resurrection as they walked along the beach. The story is in John’s gospel. Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Him, and does so 3 times. And it was not to rub Peter’s face in his denial, as Peter probably felt, because up to this point Peter had never dealt with the guilt of having denied Jesus. It was to reveal to Peter God’s acceptance of Him and a reaffirmation of the call and purpose that God had gave him. Nothing had changed at all.
And I think we need to take 3 responses from this interaction, because God deals with each of us in the same manner.
#1. Face our guilt.
God does not confront us with our mistakes to have us relive them. He gets us to confront them so that we can stop rationalizing them, see the truth of them, and to confront them head on and deal with it. God never sweeps anything under the rug. We must face the reality of ourselves if we are ever to get past ourselves. Brennan Manning states it eloquently “The moment the focus of your life shifts from your badness to His goodness and the question becomes not ‘What have I done?’ but ‘What can He do?’ release from remorse can happen; miracle of miracles you can forgive yourself because you are forgiven, accept yourself because you are accepted, and begin to start building up the very places you once tore down.” But only when we confront the truth about ourselves, and the truth of God’s acceptance of ourselves can we move forward.
#2 Forgive ourselves
We need to forgive ourselves. No one judges us more harshly that ourselves. We brow beat ourselves repeatedly whenever we don’t measure up. And we constantly rehearse past failures, and set ourselves up for future ones because we start to expect that of ourselves. And in the end we fear failure, and because we fear it, we end up failing. And Jesus came to set us free from this cycle. But we have to let it go. Forgiveness is given immediately when we ask. But we have to accept it. “you can forgive yourself because you are forgiven, accept yourself because you are accepted” Jesus forgives you, now you need to forgive you. And this happens as we encounter afresh the extravagance of God’s love for us afresh. This is what allowed Peter to overcome his failure and become one of the prominent leaders of the Christian faith.
#3 Forget the past and move Forward.
Paul was a man who understood what I am writing about. He was originally Saul, a staunch and violent persecutor of the church. He was involved in the deaths of many early Christians, and set out across the kingdom arresting and imprisoning many. That was until he encountered Jesus personally. After which he became the most vocal supporter of Jesus. He is credited with writing most of the New Testament of scripture. And he himself stated “but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” We simply need to do the same. Let the past be the past, learn from the mistake and press forward into the plans and purpose of God, resting in His infinite love and acceptance for us, knowing that we can never let Him down or disappoint Him.