Easter falls on April 1st this year, which will be here before we know it. As one of two major holidays observed by Christians, Easter offers an opportunity to celebrate with our church communities, family, and friends, and even more importantly, to reflect on Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.
There is a real risk of missing Easter's significance amidst bunnies, egg hunts, and family gatherings. Even for those who intentionally engage in Good Friday and Easter Sunday observances, the reality is, we can go through all the pageantry without ever truly reflecting on what it signifies.
One of the most encouraging things about Scripture is that it honestly tells the story of sinful men and women who, just like us, sought to honor God through stumbles and missteps. Even though we are separated by several thousand years and significant cultural differences, our motivations and struggles bear more than a passing resemblance to those of many Bible characters.
The dramatic discipleship of the Apostle Peter is one example of this. During Jesus' earthly ministry, the level of Peter's devotion ran the gamut from brash outbursts to self-preserving denial of Christ. If we're honest, we can admit that we are both the Peter who threw himself over the side of the boat to walk to Jesus and the fearful Peter who began to sink when he saw the wind and waves.
The events of Jesus' passion reveal a Peter who, like most of us, reacted badly when confusion, fear, and grief pressed in. In trying to prove his devotion, he found himself at odds with Jesus. After swearing his allegiance to Christ - even unto death - Peter was nowhere to be found at the crucifixion. It is painful to admit we can identify with his actions, but the truth is, we can all think of times when we have behaved in much the same way. It would be easy to despair if that was the end of the story where we and Peter are concerned, but thankfully, it is not.
The three days separating the cross and the resurrection must have been particularly dark as Peter not only processed the crucifixion but also dealt with crushing guilt over his behavior during Jesus' final hours. He must have despaired as he and the other disciples agonized in secret over what to do next. Even though Jesus had foretold His death and resurrection many times in their presence, those words were probably the furthest thing from their fearful, grief-stricken minds.
The morning the disciples discovered the empty tomb, Peter must have felt a mixture of joy, disbelief, and shame. If Jesus was indeed alive, then He absolutely was the Messiah, and even the grave did not have the final word. But Peter would also have realized that it meant he must come face to face with his friend and his Lord again. In our fallen nature, we would think twice about trusting someone who had been careless and disloyal about our relationship. It follows then that the perfect Messiah would have even more reason to write off a man who denied and abandoned Him in His darkest hour, but the resurrected Jesus saw Peter as he would be, not as he was.
Rather than make Peter pay for his actions, Jesus forgave and reinstated him, sending him out to be a powerful witness for the gospel for the rest of his life. That encounter with perfect mercy and grace set Peter on a lifelong path of Spirit-filled and Spirit-controlled boldness for the gospel. He had been permanently changed by Jesus' love and even as he was martyred, he never abandoned or denied Him again.
Peter experienced Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection at an intimate level. We do not have that luxury, but God has given us His Word and His Spirit so we can come close. If we have been believers for any length of time, we can name the times when we have run with abandon after Jesus and the times when we have denied Him out of fear or shame. The message of the cross and the empty tomb is the same for us as it was for Peter: if we love and recognize our need for Christ, restoration and forgiveness are available.
Easter weekend is and should be a time of celebration, but we will miss the meaning if we merely attend a church service and eat a ham dinner with family. If we have trusted Jesus, we should recognize the significance of the cross and the empty tomb each day of our lives. Like Peter, we will not be perfect disciples. There will be times when we fall so far that we don't believe we can be used by God again. We will feel unworthy of His love, sacrifice, and mercy. But also like Peter, if we lift our gaze to meet the risen Christ's, we will find He is ready to forgive and recommission us to tell His story to the world.
Easter signifies the final defeat of sin, death, and the grave, and we are the heirs in that victory because of Jesus. His grace is not only for those who "have it together." It is for the Peters of this world. For us. A blessed Easter to you. He is risen.