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Put the Past in Jesus’ Hands

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19 ESV)

In the New Testament, few decisions are as bad as Peter’s. One of three disciples to whom Jesus reveals himself as God on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17), and the first to declare Jesus as Christ (Mark 8:29), when the going gets tough and everything seems to be falling apart, Peter denies Jesus. And if it wasn’t bad enough, he did it three times. (Luke 22:54-62)

The way Jesus handles Peter should be of great comfort to all of us who have made big mistakes in our lives. In light of Peter’s failure, Jesus doesn’t take back the promise He gave him that he would be the rock on which Jesus would build the church. And Jesus doesn’t rebuke him for his lack of faith. Instead at the end of the Gospel of John, we see Jesus draw attention to Peter’s previous denials so that he can restore Peter to ministry from the fishing business to which he’d returned after Christ’s death on the cross. “Feed my sheep!” Jesus commands Peter after each of the three times he asks Peter if he really loves Jesus. (John 21:15-17.)

Although learning to “forget what is past and press onto the future” is a healthy Biblical response to the daily dings we pick up from living life, sometimes, getting “past the past” isn’t as simple as moving on. Sometimes, if the hurts are big enough, we can only “put away” the past by letting Jesus have the last, loving word on it. Jesus wants us to have a chance to “make it right.” And, more importantly, he wants to show us that He went before us in that hurt from the beginning, and that Jesus goes before us in whatever the future brings, be it in suffering, as in Peter’s case, or prosperity.

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