He Learned Forgiveness From the Master
1. What may have been the worst moment of Peter’s life?
PETER would never forget that terrible moment when their eyes met. Did he see in Jesus’ gaze some hint of disappointment or reproach? We cannot venture so far; the inspired record says only that “the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” (Luke 22:61) But in that one glance, Peter saw the depth of his own failure. He realized that he had just done the very thing that Jesus had foretold, the one thing that Peter had insisted he would never do—he had disowned his beloved Master. It was a low point for Peter, perhaps the worst moment of the worst day of his life.
2. Peter needed to learn what lesson, and how may we benefit from his story?
2 All was not lost, though. Because Peter was a man of great faith, he still had an opportunity to recover from his mistakes and to learn one of Jesus’ greatest lessons. It had to do with forgiveness. Each of us needs to learn the same lesson, so let us follow Peter on this difficult journey.
A Man With Much to Learn
3, 4. (a) What question did Peter ask Jesus, and what might Peter have thought? (b) How did Jesus show that Peter had been influenced by the spirit prevalent in those days?
3 About six months earlier in his hometown of Capernaum, Peter approached Jesus and asked: “Lord, how many times is my brother to sin against me and am I to forgive him? Up to seven times?” Peter likely thought that he was being generous. After all, the religious leaders of the day taught that one had to forgive only three times! Jesus replied: “Not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times.”—Matt. 18:21, 22.
4 Was Jesus suggesting that Peter keep a running tally of a transgressor’s actions? No; rather, by turning Peter’s 7 into a 77, he was saying that love does not allow us to set an arbitrary limit on forgiveness. (1 Cor. 13:4, 5) Jesus showed that Peter had been influenced by a hard-hearted and unforgiving spirit that was prevalent in those days, one that meted out forgiveness as if by an accountant’s ledger. However, divine forgiveness is expansive, generous.—Read 1 John 1:7-9.
5. When might we learn the most about forgiveness?
5 Peter did not argue with Jesus. But did Jesus’ lesson really reach his heart? Sometimes we learn the most about forgiveness when we realize how desperately we need it ourselves. So let us return to the events leading up to Jesus’ death. In those difficult hours, Peter gave his Master many things to forgive.
A Growing Need for Forgiveness
6. How did Peter respond as Jesus tried to teach the apostles about humility, yet how did Jesus treat him?
6 It was a momentous evening—the final night of Jesus’ earthly life. Jesus still had much to teach his apostles—for instance, about humility. Jesus set an example by humbly washing their feet, a job normally assigned to the lowliest of servants. At first, Peter questioned Jesus’ actions. Then he refused the service. Next he insisted that Jesus wash not only his feet but also his hands and head! Jesus did not lose his patience but calmly explained the importance and meaning of what he was doing.—John 13:1-17.
7, 8. (a) In what ways did Peter further test Jesus’ patience? (b) How did Jesus continue to show a kind, forgiving spirit?
7 Shortly thereafter, Peter further tested Jesus’ patience. The apostles fell to bickering over who of them was the greatest, and Peter surely played a part in that shameful display of human pride. Nonetheless, Jesus corrected them kindly and even commended them for what they had done well; they had shown faithfulness in sticking to their Master. He foretold, however, that they would all abandon him. Peter countered that he would stick with Jesus even in the face of death. Jesus prophesied that, on the contrary, Peter would deny his Master three times that very night before a cock crowed twice. Peter then not only contradicted Jesus but boasted that he would prove more faithful than all the other apostles!—Matt. 26:31-35; Mark 14:27-31; Luke 22:24-28; John 13:36-38.
8 Was Jesus close to losing his patience with Peter? In fact, throughout this difficult time, Jesus kept looking for the good in his imperfect apostles. He knew that Peter would fail him, yet He said: “I have made supplication for you that your faith may not give out; and you, when once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32) Jesus thus expressed confidence in Peter’s spiritual recovery and his return to faithful service. What a kind, forgiving spirit!
9, 10. (a) In the garden of Gethsemane, what correction did Peter need? (b) Peter’s case may remind us of what?
9 Later, in the garden of Gethsemane, Peter needed correction more than once. Jesus asked him, as well as James and John, to keep on the watch while He prayed. Jesus was in emotional agony and in need of support, but Peter and the others fell asleep repeatedly. Jesus made this empathetic and forgiving observation: “The spirit, of course, is eager, but the flesh is weak.”—Mark 14:32-41.
10 Before long, a mob arrived, bearing torches and armed with swords and clubs. Here was a time to act with caution and discretion. Yet, Peter rashly leaped into action, swinging a sword at the head of Malchus, a slave of the high priest, and lopping off one of the man’s ears. Jesus calmly corrected Peter, healed the wound, and explained a principle of nonviolence that guides His followers to this day. (Matt. 26:47-55; Luke 22:47-51; John 18:10, 11) Peter had already given his Master much to forgive. His case may remind us that we all sin frequently. (Read James 3:2.) Who of us does not need divine forgiveness every single day? For Peter, though, the night was far from over. The worst lay ahead.
Peter’s Worst Failure
11, 12. (a) How did Peter show a measure of courage after Jesus’ arrest? (b) In what way did Peter’s example fall short of what he himself had professed?
11 Jesus reasoned with the mob that if they were looking for him, they should let his apostles go. Peter watched helplessly as the mob bound Jesus. Then Peter fled, as did his fellow apostles.
12 Peter and John stopped in their flight, perhaps near the house of the former High Priest Annas, where Jesus was first taken for questioning. As Jesus was led from there, Peter and John followed but “at a good distance.” (Matt. 26:58; John 18:12, 13) Peter was no coward. It surely took a measure of courage to follow at all. The mob was armed, and Peter had already wounded one of them. Still, we do not here see in Peter’s example the kind of loyal love that he himself had professed—a willingness to die by his Master’s side if need be.—Mark 14:31.
13. What is the only way to follow Christ properly?
13 Like Peter, many today seek to follow Christ “at a good distance”—in such a way that no one else will notice. But as Peter himself later wrote, the only way to follow Christ properly is to stick as close to Him as we can, imitating His example in all things, regardless of the consequences.—Read 1 Peter 2:21.
14. How did Peter pass the nighttime hours during Jesus’ trial?
14 Peter’s cautious steps finally brought him up to the gate of one of Jerusalem’s most imposing mansions. It was the home of Caiaphas, the wealthy and powerful high priest. Such homes were usually built around a courtyard, with a gate in the front. Peter reached the gate and was refused entrance. John, who knew the high priest and was already inside, came and got the doorkeeper to admit Peter. It seems that Peter did not stick close to John; nor did he try to get inside the house to stand at his Master’s side. He stayed in the courtyard, where some slaves and servants were passing the chilly night hours in front of a bright fire, watching as the false witnesses against Jesus paraded in and out of the trial going on inside.—Mark 14:54-57; John 18:15, 16, 18.
15, 16. Explain how Jesus’ prophecy about three denials was fulfilled.
15 In the firelight, the girl who had admitted Peter at the gate was able to see him better. She recognized him. She said accusingly: “You, too, were with Jesus the Galilean!” Caught off guard, Peter denied knowing Jesus—or even understanding what the girl was talking about. He went to stand near the gatehouse, trying to be inconspicuous, but another girl noticed him and pointed out the same fact: “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.” Peter swore: “I do not know the man!” (Matt. 26:69-72; Mark 14:66-68) Perhaps it was after this second denial that Peter heard a cock crowing, but he was too distracted to be reminded of the prophecy Jesus had uttered just hours earlier.
16 A little while later, Peter was still trying desperately to escape notice. But a group of people standing around in the courtyard approached. One of them was related to Malchus, the slave whom Peter had wounded. He said to Peter: “I saw you in the garden with him, did I not?” Peter felt driven to convince them that they were wrong. So he swore to the matter, evidently saying that a curse should come upon him if he was lying. That was Peter’s third denial. No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a cock crowed—the second one Peter heard that night.—John 18:26, 27; Mark 14:71, 72.
17, 18. (a) How did Peter react when it dawned on him how terribly he had failed his Master? (b) What may Peter have wondered?
17 Jesus had just come out onto a balcony overlooking the courtyard. In that moment, described at the outset of this chapter, his eyes met Peter’s. It dawned on Peter just how terribly he had failed his Master. Peter left the courtyard, crushed by the weight of his own guilt. He headed into the streets of the city, his way lit by the sinking full moon. The tears welled up. The sights swam before his eyes. He broke down and wept bitterly.—Mark 14:72; Luke 22:61, 62.
18 In the wake of such a failure, it is all too easy for a person to assume that his sin is too terrible for forgiveness to be possible. Peter may have wondered as much himself. Was it so?
Was Peter Beyond Forgiveness?
19. How must Peter have felt about his failure, yet how do we know that he did not give in to despair?
19 It is hard to imagine the depth of Peter’s pain as the morning broke and the events of the day unfolded. How he must have reproved himself when Jesus died later that day after hours of torment! Peter must have shuddered to think of how he had added to his Master’s pain on what turned out to be the last day of His life as a man. Deep though the abyss of his sadness surely was, Peter did not give in to despair. We know as much because we soon find him in association with his spiritual brothers again. (Luke 24:33) No doubt all the apostles regretted how they had behaved on that dark night, and they brought one another a measure of comfort.
20. What can we learn from Peter’s actions in one of his finer moments?
20 In a way, we here see Peter in one of his finer moments. When a servant of God falls, what matters most is not the depth of his fall but the strength of his determination to get up again, to set matters right. (Read Proverbs 24:16.) Peter showed genuine faith by gathering with his brothers despite his low spirits. When one is burdened by sadness or regret, isolation is tempting but dangerous. (Prov. 18:1) The wise course is to stay close to fellow believers and regain spiritual strength.—Heb. 10:24, 25.
21. Because he had gathered with his spiritual brothers, what news did Peter hear?
21 Because he was with his spiritual brothers, Peter got to hear the shocking news that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb. Peter and John ran to the tomb where Jesus had been buried and the entrance had been sealed. John, likely a younger man, arrived first. Finding the entrance of the tomb open, he hesitated. Not Peter. Though he was winded, he went straight in. It was empty!—John 20:3-9.
22. What caused all traces of sadness and doubt in Peter’s heart to melt away?
22 Did Peter believe that Jesus had been resurrected? Not at first, even though faithful women reported that angels had appeared to them to announce that Jesus had risen from the dead. (Luke 23:55–24:11) But by the end of that day, all traces of sadness and doubt in Peter’s heart had melted away. Jesus lived, now a mighty spirit! He appeared to all his apostles. He did something else first, though, something private. The apostles said that day: “For a fact the Lord was raised up and he appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34) Similarly, the apostle Paul later wrote about that remarkable day when Jesus “appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Cor. 15:5) Cephas and Simon are other names for Peter. Jesus appeared to him that day—evidently when Peter was alone.
Peter gave his Master much to forgive, but who of us does not need forgiveness every day?
23. Why do Christians today who fall into sin need to remember Peter’s case?
23 The details of that touching reunion are left unrecorded in the Bible. They remain between Jesus and Peter. We can only imagine how moved Peter was to see his beloved Lord alive again and to have an opportunity to express his sorrow and repentance. More than anything in the world, Peter wanted forgiveness. Who can doubt that Jesus extended it, and in abundance at that? Christians today who fall into sin need to remember Peter’s case. Never should we assume that we are beyond the reach of divine forgiveness. Jesus perfectly reflects his Father, who “will forgive in a large way.”—Isa. 55:7.
Further Proof of Forgiveness
24, 25. (a) Describe Peter’s night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee. (b) What was Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ miracle the next morning?
24 Jesus told his apostles to go to Galilee, where they would meet him again. When they arrived, Peter decided to go out fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Several others accompanied him. Once again, Peter found himself on the lake where he had spent much of his earlier life. The creaking of the boat, the lapping of the waves, the feel of the coarse nets in his hands must all have seemed comfortingly familiar. The men caught no fish all that night.—Matt. 26:32; John 21:1-3.
25 At dawn, though, a figure called from the shore and urged the fishermen to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They complied and pulled in a great catch of 153 fish! Peter knew who that person was. He leaped from the boat and swam ashore. On the beach, Jesus gave his faithful friends a meal of fish cooked over charcoal. He focused on Peter.—John 21:4-14.
26, 27. (a) What opportunity did Jesus give Peter three times? (b) Jesus provided what proof of his full forgiveness of Peter?
26 Jesus asked Peter if he loved his Lord “more than these”—evidently pointing to the large haul of fish. In Peter’s heart, would love for the fishing business compete with love for Jesus? Just as Peter had denied his Lord three times, Jesus now gave him the opportunity to affirm his love three times before his fellows. As Peter did so, Jesus told him how to show that love: by putting sacred service ahead of all else, feeding, strengthening, and shepherding Christ’s flock, His faithful followers.—Luke 22:32; John 21:15-17.
27 Jesus thus confirmed that Peter was still useful to him and to his Father. Peter would play a valuable role in the congregation under Christ’s direction. What powerful proof of Jesus’ full forgiveness! Surely that mercy touched Peter, and he took it to heart.
28. How did Peter come to live up to his name?
28 Peter faithfully carried out his assignment for many years. He strengthened his brothers, as Jesus had commanded on the eve of His death. Peter worked kindly and patiently at shepherding and feeding Christ’s followers. The man called Simon came to live up to the name that Jesus had given him—Peter, or Rock—by becoming a steady, strong, reliable force for good in the congregation. Much evidence to that effect is found in the two warm, personal letters Peter wrote that became valuable books of the Bible. Those letters show, too, that Peter never forgot the lesson he had learned from Jesus about forgiveness.—Read 1 Peter 3:8, 9; 4:8.
29. How can we imitate the faith of Peter and the mercy of his Master?
29 May we learn that lesson as well. Do we daily ask God’s forgiveness for our many errors? Do we then accept that forgiveness and believe in its power to cleanse us? And do we extend forgiveness to those around us? If we do, we will imitate the faith of Peter—and the mercy of his Master.