“Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you…”
You can almost hear the pride and defiance in Peter’s voice. In Matthew 26, Jesus had said that all of the disciples would bail out on him, but Peter knew he would never do that. So, how was it that just a few hours later, he found himself in this mess? Three times… three times he had just denied ever knowing Jesus. Peter seemed to have a thing about three times – so do I. When we are kids, we all become masters at the art of knowing how many times our parents tell us something before words change to action on their part. For my mom, it was three times. The first time, she would affectionately call me Dan; the second time, my name was changed to Danny; by the third time, the tone was menacing and the name was Daniel! I never found out what the fourth time would have been like, but I grew up under the impression that (much like the Hydrogen bomb) it might have knocked the earth off of its axis and sent us spinning wildly into space.
Up until this failure, Peter was cocky, so sure of himself – so full of himself. He made bold statements and grand predictions. Some were on the money (“you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God) and met with Jesus’ approval, others were out of line and followed by Jesus calling him Satan. However, the cockiness kept coming. Wow, he must have been annoying to be around! Wow, I must have been (still can be), too… However, Jesus needed someone to which to entrust His newborn church once He left the earth. He didn’t need a perfect leader, who wouldn’t accept anything less than perfection from those around him. Jesus needed a broken leader; one who would accept the shortcomings of others, one who would welcome and promote a major screw-up named Paul (all he had done was try to get as many Christians as he could arrested or killed), a leader who had experienced failure in such a profound way that it crushed the arrogance out of him the way an olive is crushed to produce its oil. This was the kind of leader God would trust to deliver the powerful message on Pentecost Sunday, in which 3000 people would accept Christ. This was the guy who would again deliver a message just a few days later that would see 5000 men, plus women and children come to a saving faith. So, just a few days after Peter’s epic failure, and in Peter’s native language of three, Jesus restores Peter three times, and commissions him to “feed my sheep,” three times on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21).
Just a few months later, Peter is on a housetop in Joppa and receives a vision from the Lord (Acts 10). In the vision, God shows Peter all kinds of different animals and tells Peter to “get up, kill and eat.” The old Peter rears his head at this point and begins to tell God that he has never eaten anything unclean (translation: I am perfect, you must be thinking of someone else). God says, “oh yeah, you’re the guy I have to tell everything three times;” so three times God shows Peter this vision and answers his objections by saying, “what God has made clean, you must not call unclean (translation: “shut up and go tell the gentiles about My love”). So, take heart if you’ve made a mess of things in your life, you are over halfway to spelling the message God has given you. Your failures – your struggles will form the platform on which to build your ministry. Remember the saying kids like to throw around, “it takes one to know one?” Well, it’s true. You can’t spell message without a mess… even if you have to be told three times.