When we sin against other people, our natural response is to distance ourselves from them. The naughty child who has defied her parents will look at the mess she has made, then slink away to her room. The church member who has spread gossip about another person will keep his distance the next Sunday. In this way, we imitate our first parents when they committed their first sin. In their shame and uncertainty, they ran and hid in a vain attempt to escape the all-knowing gaze of God.
The last glimpse we see of Peter in the drama of Jesus’s crucifixion, he is a broken man who has committed a terrible act of betrayal. Three times he has denied any association with Jesus; three times he has gone so far as to call down divine judgment upon himself rather than take the risk of being associated with the man he once declared “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Though he had boldly promised he would rather die than deny, though he had bravely drawn his sword to defend his Lord, he has since revealed his utter cowardice. As Jesus suffers and dies, Peter runs and hides. As Jesus publicly breathes his last, Peter privately weeps bitter tears of conviction, guilt, and regret.
Yet the first glimpse we see of Peter in the drama of Jesus’s resurrection, he is a confident man who remains accepted among the disciples. He is a brother, not an outcast. Upon hearing the news that Jesus is no longer in the tomb, it is Peter who rushes to be first to investigate, first to run toward this now-risen Lord. When he and his colleagues sees Jesus on shore, Peter is first to plunge overboard, first to race confidently to his side. Despite his grave transgression, he lacks no assurance.
What gave Peter such confidence? What compelled him to run toward instead of run away? I can think of only one thing: He knew Jesus. And what convinced the disciples to continue to affirm instead of begin to reject Peter as their peer? I can think of only one thing: They knew Jesus. Peter and the other disciples had spent time with Jesus, had been known by Jesus, had been loved by Jesus. They had complete confidence in his willingness and capacity to forgive. It seems never to have entered their minds that Peter should be shamed, shunned, or reprimanded, or that he must endure a time of symbolic rejection before experiencing formal restoration. Though Jesus had not yet fully manifested himself to them through his ascension into glory and through the sending of his Spirit, already they knew. They knew Peter was a friend of Jesus and that no betrayal would sever that friendship. Their confidence was based firmly on their knowledge of the one who had told them, “No longer do I call you servants … but I have called you friends.”
My fellow Christian, since you are in Christ—since you’ve put your faith in him and received his forgiveness—you, too, are his friend. You, too, are known and loved by him. You, too, can have the confidence that no matter how badly you’ve betrayed him, no matter how terribly you’ve transgressed, he will never turn you away. In your sin and failure, in your grief and shame, you can make like Peter and run straight to Christ.