There are not too many stories from the life of Jesus that made their way into all four of the biblical accounts of his life. Each of the authors writes for a different purpose or to a different audience and this leads them to different emphases. Yet one of the stories that each of them tells is Peter’s denial of Jesus. Peter’s darkest moment, his greatest shame, was included by all four of the gospel writers. Isn’t it interesting that in an account of the life of Jesus, all four of them veer for a little while into Peter’s life.
This raises two questions in my mind: How did the gospel writers know the details of this story and why do they all make mention of it? This story could so easily be the stuff of tabloids, meant to bring shame to Peter, to cause people to doubt his faith, to doubt that he could be a worthy leader in the early church. Why would all of the authors risk bringing further shame on this man?
All of the disciples were present when Jesus foretold that Peter would deny him, so there were many witnesses to that part of the story, but they had long since taken flight when Peter actually swore and called down judgment on himself if he was one of those men who knew Jesus. His darkest moment happened in the dark of night and he was the only witness to the whole account. How, then, did the gospel writers know what Peter had done? It seems clear that Peter must have told them. Even while this story must have caused him to blush in shame, he humbly told it to point to the Lord’s grace. Even today, two thousand years later, we rarely think of Peter without thinking of him as the man who sinned and was restored.
Why then did all four of the gospel writers include this story in their accounts of the crucifixion? At least in part because Peter’s fall and restoration was a crucial story of the power of the gospel, that even a man who betrayed Jesus, a man who turned away from Jesus at the most hurtful time, could be restored. The gospel could save even a man like Peter.
This makes me ask, Is my gospel big enough to account for a man who three times denied that he knew the Lord? Is it big enough to account for a man who spent all of those years with Jesus, only to desert him in the end? Is it big enough to allow a man like this to be a leader in the church? Is your gospel big enough for all of this?
What if David lived in our day and what if he was a leader in this little segment of the Christian world when he committed adultery and murder. Would your gospel be big enough to say that even a man like that could be forgiven and restored? I am not talking about things done before a person comes to know the Lord, but things done by those who profess faith, by those who have been given light, who see God for who he is.
I thought of Peter and other characters from the Bible after I wrote an article titled The Legacy of Charles Colson. In that article, one I made public only after much thought and prayer and discussion, I wanted to remind people that Colson did not just begin a prison ministry that has borne a lot of fruit, and he did not just help people recover or discover a Christian worldview, but he was also potentially undermining the gospel through efforts such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together and The Manhattan Declaration. His ministry did not extend only in the one, positive direction. For all the good he accomplished, there was also sin.