In reflecting on my relationship with Christ, especially during this Easter season, I am continually drawn toward two key disciples in the crucifixion story: Peter and Judas. Both men had been by Jesus’s side throughout His three years of ministry. Both had borne witness to the miraculous collision of Heaven and Earth: they had picked up baskets of fish and bread, they had sat at the Master’s feet struggling to understand His metaphors, they had seen Lazarus come out of his tomb. Not only had they seen miracles, they had been sent out to do the same!
And when the time came, these two committed followers of Christ — these men who should have known and understood more of the Heart of God than any men in prior history — both collapsed morally in ways that present-day Christians would like to believe they are immune to, even though most of us would probably be even quicker to falter.
We always hear of how Judas betrayed Jesus, but in many ways, didn’t Peter do much the same? Judas led the Temple Guard to Jesus and pointed Him out. Peter was there in the crowd and could have spoken up in Jesus’s defense. Judas, filled with guilt and shame for betraying his friend, ran away to hide. Peter did the same.
So what’s the difference between them? Where did one become one of the greatest leaders the Church has ever known, and the other become a Bible story bad-guy?
Peter made one simple choice:
He gave God a chance.
Both men were consumed with guilt about abandoning Jesus. They both turned their backs in the midst of temptation and turmoil.
But Peter went back. He heard the rumor that the tomb was empty and had to see for himself. He answered three times what must have seemed like the hardest question ever: “Do you love me?”
Judas let his shame and guilt overtake his identity. He could no longer see who he really was. He believed that there was no hope left for him, and he took his own life. He forgot that (even when He knew his intentions prior) Jesus still called him, “friend.”
I have no doubt in my heart or mind that Jesus would have forgiven Judas, had Judas given him the chance. How often do we run away from God thinking that what we have done has somehow made us unforgivable? How often do we rob Christ of the chance to call us friend once more? You see, Jesus didn’t ask Peter three times if he loved Him to reassure himself that Peter was a good guy. Jesus knew the work that God was planning, and the role to which He was calling Peter. No, Peter needed reminding that he did indeed love Christ, regardless of his moral failure.
I am Peter. I am Judas.
I see myself reflected in both these men. I have seen the reality of the work of Jesus, and I have epically failed Him (many times). Some days I feel more like one than the other. I really don’t think Judas was a bad guy, but somewhere he lost his way, and forgot who he was: a man who had witnessed first-hand the reality of Christ.
Sometimes we need to remember the heart of Christ instead of condemning ourselves. When we separate ourselves out of guilt and shame, we miss out on Christ’s redeeming opportunities in our life.
We just need to give God a chance.