“I will never deny you, Lord! I would die first!” Peter exclaimed. Jesus looked at him sorrowfully, knowing the truth, and told him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Then Jesus was arrested, Peter tried to defend Jesus with his sword but was rebuked, and then Peter followed (at a distance) the cohort that arrested Jesus to Caiaphas’ house. It was there that he was called out three times and denied knowing Jesus three times. And then the rooster crowed. Peter’s heart was pierced and broken all at the same time. The guilty conscience must have been overwhelming and he wept bitterly. When Jesus then appeared to the apostles in the upper room, I can only imagine how much the usually outgoing Peter might have wanted to just hide in the shadows, unnoticed, even when Jesus was offering to let the apostles touch him to prove that He wasn’t just a ghost or a figment of their imagination. And then there was breakfast on the shore of Galilee (John 21:12-17), in which Jesus gave Peter the forgiveness and absolution that he doubtlessly ached for; three times Jesus gave Peter a chance to declare his love for the Master again.
Saul of Tarsus had been a fervent worshipper of the God of Abraham since childhood. And in his young manhood his zeal had brought him opportunities to show his dedication to God and his mentors by dealing sternly, even violently with blasphemers and heretics of the Jewish faith — especially disciples of the despised Jesus of Nazareth. But then, on a mission to Damascus to purge these Christian sinners from the earth, Saul discovered just how mistaken he had been. In a flash of light and revelation he learned that Jesus really was the Messiah, the Lord. He had been all wrong, he had actually been fighting against the God he loved and was killing and imprisoning His people! The fact that, even after years of faithful service to Jesus Christ, he still called himself the “chief of sinners” tells us that he still felt the weight of remorse for his sin—even though he’d been assured of his forgiveness.
I have a friend who is a Christian. He’s been a Christian for a long time and has led an exemplary life in many ways down through the years. But not long ago he committed a serious sin. For a while, he hid his sin and tried to salve his conscience by telling himself that he could make things right soon. But the longer things went on, the more obvious it became that he was in too deep. Guilt overwhelmed him and in time even made him sick. Finally he confessed it and is doing his best to make things right. But it is obvious that the grief and remorse still haunt him; it probably will for a long time.
Guilt does that. Or more accurately, Satan does that to us. Holds out before us, in our private thoughts, our foolishness and sin, the things we never want to remember again. We may close our eyes tight in embarrassed agony, but we still hear and see it in surround sound and 5K clarity (or whatever the state of the art in video is these days). Even things that we’ve repented of, confessed, and tried to learn from still come visiting us from time to time. No wonder Satan’s name means “accuser”. The accusations can cripple us, depress us, sicken us, paralyze us; because “just look at what you did!” It’s one of the devil’s most effective weapons against God’s people.
But praise and thanks be to God the Father for Jesus our Savior, who through His word reminds us of God’s amazing grace and forgiveness. “For while we were yet enemies…”
To my friend who is wrestling with his guilt and the grief of the ruin of his otherwise good reputation I want to say, rest in the grace of the Lord. And to every other Christian who similarly is attacked this way, remember to put on the full armor of God, including the — helmet of salvation.