A Lenten Reflection:
Most of us are familiar with Peter’s denial of Jesus. We’re familiar with the details of the story: Peter denies Jesus three times before the rooster crows.
But we’re familiar in another way: we’ve walked in Peter’s shoes. We have ourselves denied Christ when it looks like following him will cost us; we’ve rejected Jesus in good times and in bad. We know what its like to be out of step with Jesus.
But the real lesson we draw from Peter’s story is not that we fall, rather the lesson we learn is repentance. His fall was a lesson in sin that requires no teacher, but his repentance is a great lesion in salvation.
In the Gospel of Luke we are given an important detail in this story. Luke 22:61-62 tells us what happened after the rooter crowed: “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter…And he went outside and wept bitterly.”
Repentance, put simply, means to turn around. Here is a reflection the by British Revivalist Henry Drummond about this turning:
“It was not Peter who turned. It was the Lord who turned and looked at Peter. When the cock crew, that might have kept Peter from falling further. But he was just in the very act of sin. And when a person is in the thick of their sin their list thought is to throw down their arms and repent. So, Peter never thought of turning, but the Lord turned. And when Peter would rather have looked anywhere else than at the Lord, the Lord looked at Peter. This scarce-noted fact is the only sermon needed to anyone who sins—that the Lord turns first…
"There is a vast difference between divine and human sorrow. True contrition occurs when God turns and looks upon us. Human sorrow is us turning and looking upon ourselves. True, there is nothing wrong in turning and looking at oneself—only there is a danger. We can miss the most authentic experience of life in the imitation. For genuine repentance consists of feeling deeply our human helplessness, of knowing how God comes to us when we are completely broken.
"In the end, it is God looking into the sinner’s face that matters. Knowing first hand the difference between human and divine sorrow is of utmost importance. It is the distinction Luke brings out in the prodigal son’s life, between coming to himself and coming to his father…We are always coming to ourselves. We are always finding out, like the prodigal, the miserable bargains we have made. But this is not the crucial thing. Only when we come to our Father in response to his waiting look can we be freed and forgiven.
"Peter turned around, but not well that it was the result of a mere glance. The Lord did not thunder and lightning at Peter to make him hear his voice. A look, and that was all. But it rent Peter’s heart as lighting could not, and melted into his soul…"
Today, perhaps the Lord is turning and looking at you. Right where you are, your spirit is far away just now, dealing with some sin, some unbearable weight; and God is teaching you the lesson himself—the bitterest, yet sweetest lesson of your life, in heartfelt repentance. Stay right where you are. Don’t return into the hustle and bustle of life until the Lord has also turned and looked on you again, as he looked at the thief upon the cross, and until you have beheld the “glory of the love of God in the face of Jesus.”
Lord, turn your face toward me and see me. I confess to my rebellion and my sin. I have so often done the things I shouldn’t, and have left undone the things I should. As you see me for who I am, I thank you that you haven’t turned your face away. And as you look upon me, give me all I need to turn from these things that keep me apart from you, give me the ability to turn and see you face to face, for it is here that I am forgiven and freed. Amen.