“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
Last month, at the Royal Troon Golf Club in Troon, Scotland, southwest of Glasgow, pro golfer Phil Mickelson was moments away from making history in the British Open. If he could make just one more putt, he would be the first golfer in history to score a 62. The ball rolled toward the cup, five feet, ten, fifteen . . . and then, with only a foot to go, it swerved. Mickelson missed the putt, scoring 63. He played one of the best rounds of his—or anyone’s—career, but he didn’t make history. Afterward, he said “It was one of the best rounds I've ever played . . . and yet, I want to shed a tear right now.” He not only didn’t earn a place in the history of the game, when the tournament was over, Mickelson had lost the tournament—and the $1.5 million in prize money—to Swedish golfer Henrik Stenson by three strokes.
I played golf—badly—in college. I know how frustrating it can be. Golf isn’t the most important thing in the world—unless you’re a professional golfer—but all of us are familiar with disappointment. Each of us has had our share of “I want to shed a tear” moments.
Peter had such a moment after Christ had been arrested. We’re all familiar with the story, found in Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:54-62, and John 18:25-27. Jesus had told the disciples, “‘You will all fall away because of Me this night,’” (Matt. 26:31b NASV). Peter then replied “‘Not me, Lord. Maybe one of these other guys might deny you but I’ll be there to the end, even if I have to die with you.’” (a paraphrase of vs. 35a). And, of course, the others all said the same thing.
But when the time came, a matter of hours later, Peter failed the test. And at the moment the rooster crowed, Peter remembered what Jesus had told him: “‘Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’” (vs. 34b). And Peter wept bitterly because he knew he had failed (vs. 75b).
We may never know why Peter did what he did. We do know that he was one of the few disciples who was still around after Jesus was arrested. Only one other disciple followed Jesus after he was arrested (John 18:15-16). And once Peter had denied Jesus the first time, he was trapped. He couldn’t admit his lie, he couldn’t say he’d “made a mistake,” he was stuck, just as you and I find ourselves stuck sometimes.
Peter would carry his guilt and shame for the rest of his life. But through the working of the Holy Spirit, he found a way to overcome it. When he wrote the first of his epistles, he wrote “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;” (1 Pet. 1:6-7). Peter had known his share of testing; he knew what it was like to fail and what it was like to overcome through the Holy Spirit.
He became a leader of the early church and one of the first to welcome Gentiles (Acts 10:9-33). He defended them against those who wanted them to obey the Law of Moses (Acts 15:1-11) and helped make it possible for you and me to be part of the body of Christ. He spent the rest of his life redeeming his moment of failure.
Peter was a living example of grace. He had failed but God used him to build the early church. Today, the examples of grace are you and me. Are we up to the test? Will we pass or fail? If someone asked you or me, “Do you know Jesus?” how would we respond? Would they even need to ask the question? On the night Jesus was betrayed, one of the bystanders said to Peter,
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, . . . If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Pet. 4:12a, 14 NASV.)