Why did God use Peter, the disciple who (other than Judas) had committed the most grievous offense against Jesus in denying Him? Why did God use him to be one of the leading apostles in spreading the gospel of Christ? He had been given the intimacy of being within Jesus’ innermost circle and yet it was he that, despite being forewarned, verbally denied Christ . . . not just once, not just twice, but three times.
Of course, it was Peter who spoke by revelation from the Father and answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) and because of such revelation he was no longer called Simon, but Peter, meaning “rock”. I believe it is more than this revelation that made Peter a leading apostle, however. Knowing that Jesus is the Christ does not necessarily indicate that Christ is known or understood. As hinted at throughout the gospels, the Messiah – or Christ – meant something different for many Jews who, weary of being under the oppression of the Romans, sought a vindicator of sorts, often perceived in the form of a political activist who would rescue them and only them.
Knowing Christ needs to be more than putting the right name in the slot. To truly preach Christ, we must first experience Christ. And our experience is through faith and, even more foundationally, by grace (Ephesians 2:8). Peter understood grace more fully upon hearing the evidence of his own inadequacy roll off his tongue three separate times. He then understood his need for grace and he was later to experience God’s extension of grace.
God’s preference is often what we would consider an unlikely match. As it states in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to confound the strong.” Furthermore, we find in 2 Corinthians 12:8 that God’s grace is always sufficient and it is displayed most fully through our weaknesses, for God’s “strength is made perfect in weakness.”
The above verses were penned by a man not at all foreign to God’s grace. If Peter seemed an unlikely match for carrying the gospel after his three strikes, Paul would have been the unlikeliest. A passionate persecutor of the early church, Paul had personally seen to the imprisonment and execution of many Christians. It was he that stood by in approval of Stephan’s stoning. And it was during one of his pursuits to fulfill his “murderous threats” that God demonstrated the extent of His grace (Acts 9). Paul would never be the same.
The unlikeliest man became the chosen man to deliver God’s grace to the unlikeliest people – the gentiles. To say that Paul was a leading apostle would not do it justice, considering that at least 13 of the New Testament’s 27 books are attributed to him. Yet, as Paul admits throughout his writings, he did not deserve his position: ” For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). This is repeated again in Ephesians 3:9: “Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ.” Paul understood grace.
Paul’s message was grace, grace, and grace again. What of our sins? “Grace,” Paul would answer. What about our works? “Grace,” he would echo. But how can I . . . ? “Grace and more grace” he would again declare. And here comes the challenge: What of our relationships with others? “Grace – make your conversations full of it (Colossians 4:6) and extend it generously, being kind and compassionate and forgiving to others just as God has been to us (Ephesians 4:32 & Colossians 3:13).
Grace both necessitates and enables graciousness toward others. The realization of our own undeservedness and the revelation of God’s love despite this fact must also carry into our perception of others. There is nothing like grace to defeat our prejudices. Our own reception of grace should inspire within us the truth that no one is beyond God’s reach. And if God wants to reach them, why shouldn’t we?
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”