A Most Compassionate Saviour
‘And he went outside and wept bitterly’. It is Matthew’s final word about Peter. He has faithfully recorded the details of Peter’s sin – the warning that preceded it, the pride in which it originated, the sin itself in all its aggravating features – and now he speaks of the effect on Peter when the enormity of what he has done comes home to him. And there his story ends. He has nothing more to say. The curtain falls on this favoured disciple weeping bitterly over the dishonour he has done to his Saviour.
Matthew’s last word, however, is not Scripture’s last word. There is a beautiful sequel to this bitter weeping – a sequel that tells us with what tender love and mercy his so grievously wronged Saviour dealt with him – and one writer after another has a piece to add to it. Let’s hear from them.
In Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection we learn that there was an angelic message specifically for Peter: ‘go, and tell his disciples AND PETER, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him”‘ (Mark 16:7). The broken-hearted disciple is not to be left to feel that the good news of the resurrection is good news only for the rest of the disciples. The Lord wants him to know that he is thinking about him as well.
In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul tells us that the Lord made a special resurrection appearance just to Peter: ‘he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve’ (1 Cor. 15:5). No details have been preserved, but the imagination can fill in the blanks: words of repentance on Peter’s part; words of love on the Saviour’s.
In the closing chapter of his Gospel, John records how Jesus appears to his disciples on the shore of the lake and how, when later on he is alone with Peter, he asks him three times over, ‘do you love me?’. And after each affirmation that he does love him, Jesus gives him work to do: ‘feed my lambs; take care of my sheep; feed my sheep’. Peter is to be more than just an evangelist. He is to be a pastor as well.
In the book of Acts Luke tells us more about Peter. And what a story he has to tell! This man, who three times denied his Saviour, is given a wonderful preaching ministry – a ministry that is blessed to the conversion of thousands – and is privileged to welcome the first Gentile converts into the Christian church.
Later on in the New Testament we find two letters from Peter’s own pen. Wasn’t it a signal honour that was conferred on him to have a part in the composition of the Bible? Who can estimate the good that has come through the reading and the preaching of these two inspired letters?
Matthew’s last word then is definitely not Scripture’s last word! The sin and the bitter weeping have a sequel. And when we piece it all together, how beautifully it speaks of the mercy of a compassionate Saviour! In spite of his grievous fall, Peter manifestly continues on in his Saviour’s love and service.
Is Peter’s experience here unique to him? If we are Christians we know from our own experience that it is not! Whilst we may not have done what Peter did, Jesus has certainly been offended and dishonoured by us all – sometimes grievously. And yet the same two-fold continuance that we trace in Peter, we are able to trace in ourselves.
The Saviour’s love. That has continued, hasn’t it? He has not severed the link to us that was established when we came to him at first. Didn’t he love us then? And even now, with all our sad record of sin and failure, he loves us still. He has bound us to himself by an everlasting covenant and will never cease to do us good. The good work he has begun in us he is determined to carry on until it is complete. Until we are complete.
The Saviour’s service. The privilege of engaging in that has continued as well. We remain entrusted with kingdom work. Perhaps indeed like Peter we have been given even more work to do. Certainly he has not dismissed us from his service on account of our sins. He always has something for his penitent people to do for him – and always will.
Will we not sing eternally to the praise of this most compassionate Saviour?
David Campbell is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
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