In 1994 Mike and I were living in Greensboro and my family had come for Christmas. We went to church on Christmas Eve like we always had but this was a very different service for me. I had been holding on to guilt and shame for years for bad decisions in my life. On this Christmas Eve the minister asked had Jesus not done enough suffering when He died on the cross? He asked, "should He have done more for you? Should he have suffered more for you?" He explained that if we think we are too bad to accept His forgiveness then we are not thinking about what He really did for us. He suffered and died on that cross for me. For you. I had asked God to forgive me by saying the words but I never accepted his forgiveness. It was as if I had committed an unforgivable sins!
In high school on a Maundy Thursday I had heard a doctor tell, strictly from a medical point of view, what all was done to Jesus and how he suffered. I had never forgotten that! I knew He had suffered but I never thought about me not accepting His forgiveness! He died on that cross for me and He definitely suffered enough! How could I not accept His forgiveness? That Christmas Eve I received a very special gift that no one else could give me. A gift that money could not buy. It was not a gift bought and paid for by credit. It was not a gift I would get for doing something. It was not put on layaway. It was a gift that only could be bought and paid for by Jesus. It was paid for in full the moment I accepted His forgiveness the guilt and shame no longer held me captive.
During the last supper one of Jesus' disciples, Judas, left the table, intently on giving the religious authorities the information they needed to find and arrest Jesus in exchange for money. Another disciple, Peter, denied that he knew Jesus. He was ashamed to own his connection with Jesus.
Later that evening Jesus was under arrest for implying that He was the messiah. "Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate who going to punish and release him. Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" So Pilate decided to grant their demand.
Even though Peter and Judas were disciples chosen by Jesus, they still sinned. The difference between Peter and Judas' ultimate downfall is that the real tragedy of Judas' life is not his betrayal but his ending in despair. His hopelessness that led him to see himself as beyond the realm of God's mercy and forgiveness.
Peter's mourning includes a glimmer of hope and a sense of God's infinite mercy. And this gives Peter the chance to start over. He was moved by God's grace and having come face to face with his own weakness. Peter seemed to mess up more than any of the other disciples, but what matters is, every time, he repented, and went back to Jesus in humility and faith.
What do you have in common with Judas and I? We all sin. What is the difference between Peter's sin, Judas's sin, Jill's sin and your sin? None. We just sin in different ways. We all deny Jesus. By putting ourselves first when it's us or the Lord. Or putting ourselves ahead of others to get what we want. Repent and go back to Jesus in humility and faith. Let go of all the guilt and shame!