PETER, PAUL, AND FORGIVENESS - Nathele Graham -
Does it seem as if your sin is so great that Jesus can't forgive you? Is that the stumbling block that stops you from surrendering to Him? Everyone sins. Whether you've followed Jesus for years or if you've recently come to know Him, you still have a sin nature that causes you to fail. If you've truly given your life to Jesus then your sins are forgiven. You need to repent and move away from sin, but Jesus always forgives. The Bible tells of people who accomplished great things, but also tells of their failures. For instance, King David was a man after God's own heart, but he failed many times. He committed adultery. When the woman became pregnant he made sure the woman's husband was killed. He couldn't change what he had allowed to happen, but he repented and changed. The New Testament tells of the men chosen by Jesus to follow Him and spread the Gospel. Their weaknesses are exposed, but we see the forgiveness of Jesus through their lives. Matthew had been a tax collector, which was a dishonest profession. Thomas doubted the resurrection. Let's look closer at Peter, who was the first to be called, and Paul, who didn't follow Jesus until much later.
Peter was a fisherman. His failures are probably the most documented in the Bible. Peter was rash and usually acted before he thought a matter through. When Jesus called him, Peter dropped his nets and followed, which was good. The problem is that Peter didn't really make a commitment. This is true of many people who claim to follow Christ. They say the words, and may even do works to prove they're devout (tithing, attending church, etc.) but they've made no true commitment to Jesus. Do you know who He is? There's no question that Jesus is God and He chose to enter His creation to shed His blood for your redemption. Faith in Him should affect your life. His sacrifice was much greater than a few dollars in the collection plate or an hour sacrifice on Sunday morning. Peter went through the motions of following Jesus, but he would face many struggles before he truly committed his life to Jesus. Peter was one of the disciples who was closest to Jesus and he saw many wonders and miracles, but didn't really understand who Jesus was.
Peter saw many miracles and was even a part of miracles. He was enthusiastic and sometimes his antics are amusing. Jesus had miraculously fed a multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish and then told the disciples to get into a boat and cross over to the far shore. Jesus stayed behind and went onto a mountaintop to pray. From there He saw the disciples in the boat struggling against wind and waves and making no progress in the storm. Wind, waves, and water are no obstacles to Jesus, and He set out walking on the water to them. All of the disciples were amazed but it was Peter who called out "...Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water." Matthew 14:28b. Peter's enthusiasm was rewarded. Jesus told him to come. Peter got out of the boat and began walking to Jesus. That's where his faith ended. "But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me." Matthew 14:30. Peter's mistake was that he took his eyes off of Jesus. The same thing can easily happen to us. We may start with strong faith, but when the storms in life hit we take our eyes off of Jesus and begin to sink. Then we blame Jesus when we have been the cause of our own storms. Jesus loves you. No matter what storm you happen to be in, keep your eyes upon the Lord. Jesus allows you to make your own choices and if Peter had chosen to continue to sink he would've drowned. Instead he cried out to Jesus. "And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" Matthew 14:31. This wasn't Peter's last failure.
It was Peter who made a heartfelt proclamation "...Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God". Matthew 16:16b. The words were right, but did he mean them? Jesus commended him and said those words were the foundation that Christianity would be built upon. Like so many of us, Peter said the right thing but there was no conviction in his heart. He continued to fail. On the last night Jesus would spend with the men whom He had chosen it was time for them to hear about what was about to happen. Jesus told them that He would be arrested and put to death...He told them that they would desert Him. "Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice." Matthew 26:33-34. It's easy to make such proclamations when seated around the dinner table with friends. After Jesus was arrested Peter did secretly follow but denied Jesus three times...then the cock crowed. Peter was nowhere to be found at the foot of the cross. When his faith was tested Peter failed. The next three days must have been agony for Peter. Did he remember the things he had witnessed and his great proclamation of faith? Did he question his actions during Jesus' darkest hours? Did he recall being told that he would deny Jesus and how his heart sank when those words were fulfilled? We can point fingers at Peter, but every time we choose to deny our Lord by our words or actions we are just like him. Peter had walked with Jesus, but was still able to deny Him.
One final encounter with Jesus on the shores of Galilee brought Peter to repentance. After the Resurrection the disciples and Peter were instructed to go to Galilee and Jesus would meet them there. Peter was included, but was named separate from the disciples. They followed instructions but Peter wasn't content to wait. He returned to what he was comfortable with in the world. For you it might be drugs or illicit sexual encounters that you return to. For Peter it was fishing. They fished all night and caught nothing. Pursuits in life that aren't blessed by God will always fail. On shore a man called to them "Cast your nets on the other side". Their nets filled up with fish. Peter knew the man on shore was Jesus. He jumped into the water and swam ashore. Peter found that Jesus had prepared a meal for a sinner such as him. It was time for Peter to make a choice. Jesus asked him "...Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?..." John 21:15b. The fish represented Peter's past, the worldly pursuits that he was comfortable in. Jesus asked him three times if he loved him...Peter had denied Christ three times. How many times have you denied Jesus? Because Peter chose Jesus his story has blessed many generations with an example of how Jesus can change a lost sinner into a sinner saved by grace.
Now, let's take a look at another man whose life was changed when he met Jesus. Saul was very intelligent. He studied under Gamaliel who was the greatest Rabbi of his time. Saul knew the Jewish Law better than almost anyone and was, by his own admission, a Pharisee. The Law condemned murder but Saul was full of hatred. After Jesus was crucified there were many Jewish people who turned away from the Jewish religion and embraced the faith that Jesus had taught. Saul's hatred grew. He was there when Stephen was stoned to death. That was only the beginning. The hatred toward the followers of Christ burned inside of him and became an all out vendetta. "And Saul, yet breathing out threatnings and slaughter against the disciple of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem." Acts 9:1-2. He got permission from the Jewish leaders to find these Jewish followers of Christ and arrest them. While on his way to Damascus he had an encounter that changed his life. A bright light shone from heaven. "And he fell to the earth and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Acts 9:4. He thought he was punishing those who had turned away from Judaism, but in truth he was persecuting Jesus. This encounter left Saul blind. He lodged in a room but was blind and he neither ate nor drank for three days. He was blind but he saw his sin and his need for forgiveness and he prayed. Jesus knows our sin, but He also knows what we can be if we just turn to Him.
The Christians in Damascus knew who Saul was and why he was coming their way. We don't always understand the things that Jesus asks us to do, and when Ananias had a vision in which Jesus told him to go to Straight Street and lay hands on Saul there was some fear and doubt. "Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name." Acts 9:13-14. Ananias' concern is understandable. Saul was notorious for his hatred of Christians, but Jesus knew that Saul was repentant and ready to turn his life over to the very One he had persecuted so viciously. "But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel" Acts 9:15. Ananias obeyed and found Saul in a bad way physically but was spiritually a changed man. The scales of blindness fell from his eyes and he was ready to fulfill his calling.
Saul was named after King Saul, who was arrogant, full of his own self-righteousness, and tried to kill the young David who God had chosen to be the true king of Israel. The New Testament Saul was similar to the man he was named after. After he met Jesus he was changed. He chose to be called Paul, which means small or little. Because Paul allowed Jesus to change him we're blessed with the example of true missionary work, which is to spread the Gospel. We're also blessed by letters which Paul wrote. From them we learn how to live our faith and allow Jesus to be our strength. His letter to the Romans tells us how Christ fulfilled Jewish Law, the letter to the Ephesians teaches us about Spiritual warfare, Galatians, Philippians, Corinthians, and the other letters all have lessons for us. Peter, who was a changed man after he submitted himself to Jesus, had some special words about Paul's writings. "...even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written to you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." 2 Peter 3:15b-16. All Scripture is difficult to understand if you aren't led by the Holy Spirit and study. Peter makes note that Paul's letters are Scripture. These two men both had a common faith in Jesus.
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9. There's no sin that's beyond the forgiveness of Jesus. His blood at Calvary that was the once for all sacrifice to take our sin away. Both Peter and Paul are examples to us of the forgiveness that's found in Jesus. Peter walked with Him, but not in truth. He denied knowing Jesus, but finally surrendered to the living Christ. Paul was full of hatred and murder, but Jesus forgave his sin. Whatever sin you hold on to that has separated you from Jesus it's not so horrendous that you cannot be forgiven. Surrender your life to Him now and let Him change you into the man or woman He knows you can be.
The only sin that's unforgivable is if you continue to reject Him until you die. It's your choice. Continue to reject Him and you choose eternal damnation. Choose to accept the sacrifice He made for you and live eternally.
God bless you all,
Ron and Nathele Graham's previous commentaries archived athttp://www.raptureready.com/featured/graham/graham.html
All original scripture is "theopneustos" God breathed.
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