One of the dearest and most cherished aspects of the character of God is his tenderness toward wounded sheep. While mythological deities and pagan gods were often petulant, resentful, and retributive (tit for tat), the God of the Bible is presented as “bending over backwards” for those who are distressed by sin and truly repentant. While he brooks no arrogance in one’s sin, he “melts” (as it were) when one genuinely, humbly, and contritely repents. And when that happens, there is complete acceptance and forgiveness.
Take Israel, for example. As a nation, they continually strayed from the one true God into idolatry. Yet, God, in sending them his prophets over and over again, stipulated that if they would repent, he would turn once again to them and bless them. In the book of Judges, a cycle of sin, subjugation to their enemies, crying out to God in repentance, God delivering them via Judges, and then a return to sin happened over and over again. Yet, every time they would return to him and cry out to him, he would mercifully deliver them. He maintained his open hand toward the nation and only closed it and sent them into exile when ultimately there was “no remedy” left that would leave intact his justice and holiness (2 Chron. 23:16).
Consider that God mitigated (but did not remove) his awful judgement on the two most wicked kings in Israel’s history, Ahab and Manasseh, when they humbled themselves and repented near the end of their reigns.
Take the parable of the prodigal son, one of the sweetest examples in Scripture to the tender and merciful character of the Father who embraces the wayward yet repenting son. Consider that teaching of the lost sheep where the shepherd leaves the ninety and nine in order to go out and search for the one lost sheep. When finding him, he lays him upon his shoulder and tenderly carries him back to the fold.
Consider Peter. I have often identified with the “early iteration” of Peter. Brash, type A, never had a thought he did not express. You know the type. Unafraid of making bold assertions as to his fidelity and prowess. Very self-confident and arrogant. That was “young” Peter. That was the self-assured disciple who would “never” deny Jesus, even if all others did. To be fair, all the other disciples signed on to that commitment after Peter asserted it. However, it was Peter who actually “denied” the Lord. The others fled in fear, but we are not told they denied the Lord. Peter did.
And so, it is quite touching and poignant to read the account of the resurrection in Mark 16. Three women of their number, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices on Resurrection morning to anoint Jesus’ body. They found the stone rolled away and found a young man dressed in a white robe who said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here… but go tell his disciples…and Peter… that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him as he told you” (Mk. 16:5-7). The young messenger, in communicating Christ’s message to these women who are to deliver it to the disciples, does not just say, “Go tell his disciples.” He says, “Go tell his disciples…and Peter.” Often overlooked, this is the kindest, gentlest, and most forgiving point of the narrative. Jesus wanted to assure that the one disciple who had avowed he would never deny Jesus, but then did, is to be especially pointed out as being included still among the disciples.
This sentiment is played out in real time in John 21 when Christ does come to them on the shores of Galilee. After breakfast on the beach, Jesus addresses Peter three times asking him if he loves him. The text tells us, “Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’” Those three affirmations seem to correspond with his three denials, and the text tells us that Peter said, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Thus, Peter was assured that his three denials, which crushed Peter when he committed them as, after the third, he broke down weeping, could in no way erase the genuine love that Peter had for Jesus, even though his sinful weakness caused him to deny his Lord.
What have you done that has caused you to break down weeping? How have you “denied” the Lord via some sin in your life? Has it caused you to “cower” in some proverbial dark corner of life? Has it made you ashamed to come to Jesus? It shouldn’t. Jesus “melts” (I mean no disrespect) when one of his sheep humbly and repentantly comes to him. Jesus says to you today, “Go tell (my) disciples…and (insert your own name).” Then meet him on the beach by the sea of Galilee and affirm your love to him. Accordingly then, go and serve his people because there is nothing you have done that he will not forgive if you are truly repentant. And if the “Christ-denier” Peter can be forgiven and go on and be used amazingly to minister to his sheep, so can you.