Three strikes

Three strikes and you’re out! Much to my mother’s dismay, I love baseball. I watch a lot of baseball. Because I love to watch baseball, my mother has learned to endure baseball. In my father’s absence, we had a very nearly intelligent conversation about it just the other day. She even knew what a DH was. While Mom doesn’t know nearly as many of the ins and outs of baseball as I do, she does know that three strikes means that the batter is out. Three outs and the inning is over.

One could argue that baseball is in the Bible. You know, in the big inning God created the heavens and the earth… (groan). There was one occasion, though where someone did reach the three strike count. But that didn’t mean he was out.

Jesus, while reclining at the table after sharing the Passover supper with his disciples, announced to Peter that before the rooster crowed, he would deny knowing Jesus three times. Peter was opposed to this idea. He was willing to go to prison or even to death for and with his Lord. Words are all fine and good, but that’s not how things ended up for Peter.

Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:60-62 (NIV)

If life were a game of ball, Peter probably would have been out a long time before this, even if he weren’t, the third denial would have been the third strike. The umpire of life would holler from behind home plate, “You’re outta here!” But he wasn’t out. Peter had not been disqualified. In fact, Jesus made preparations for such a situation. He changed the rules.

But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

Luke 22:32 (NIV)

Keep in mind that this is the same Peter who had cut the ear off one of the guards who had come to arrest Jesus. This is the same Peter who had the courage to step out of the boat, but began to sink into the waves. The same Peter who suggested they build shelters on the mountain of transfiguration for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. But this is also the same Peter who had the revelation of Jesus being the Son of God.

After his third strike, no one would have blamed Peter for walking away. Perhaps the other disciples would have even suggested it. But just as he remembered Jesus’ prediction of his denial, Peter would have remembered Jesus’ prayer for him as well. In that moment of decision, Peter could have turned his back on Jesus or, as was prayed, used that experience to strengthen himself. He chose the latter.

After Jesus had ascended into heaven, the believers sat waiting in the upper room for something. They weren’t sure what, but they were certain they’d know it when it came. Then came the wind and tongues of fire.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Acts 2:4 (NIV)

So when the crowds heard all this noise and recognised their own native languages who went out to speak. John, the one whom Jesus loved? James? Levi, the tax collector? No, Peter, the one who had denied Jesus. And as he spoke to the crowd, maybe Jesus’ words echoed in his mind, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” That day, three thousand more souls were added to their numbers. What should have been Peter’s downfall became his starting point. He had tasted the bitterness of his own defeat, yet seen in Jesus the sweetness of victory.

Thank God that there is no umpire for life. There is no one behind us to tell us we’re out. The only way we are disqualified from the life we’ve been called to is if we step out of the batter’s box. God will never pull one of His children from the game. He is our Father, cheering us on from the sidelines. He is our coach, giving instructions from the dugout. He is the pitcher, throwing a perfect strike every time. There is no such thing as an out. We get to swing until we hit something. There is nothing we can do that will withdraw God’s call from our lives.

If Peter could stand in front of Jesus and deny ever knowing him, yet just days later, stand in front of thousands declaring him as Lord, we can go on knowing that God has our backs. And our fronts. And our sides. He has called us up to the plate, but a bat in our hands and He will never take it away.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

Read: 1 Kings 1-2, Luke 22:54-71

The second crow

Read: Deuteronomy 23-25, Mark 14:51-72

On one of my missionary trips to Peru, there was a young man who preferred to sleep past dawn. Most people prefer it, really. But it was not to be. We were on a boat on a tributary of the Amazon River on our way to a pastoral conference. At that conference, we would be providing much of the food, including the meat. The best way to keep meat fresh on the Amazon is to keep it alive until you’re ready to eat it. So there was a rooster on the boat. Every morning, just as the sun began to peek over the horizon, that rooster would let us all know what time it was. The day we had chicken for dinner, the aforementioned young man celebrated. We would no longer be wakened by said rooster.

When the conference ended and we had all boarded the boat to return to the city, one last crate needed to be loaded. A thank you gift. A rooster. Even once we were back in the city, we had nature’s alarm clock. A reminder of dawn.

Back in the Gospel of Mark, another rooster served as a reminder. By the time it had crowed twice, Peter had denied Jesus three times.

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Mark 14:72 (NIV)

Most people would hear this story and shake their heads at Peter’s betrayal. I look at it as a story of a new beginning.

Peter knew in the moment, that to associate himself with Jesus would likely put him in a similar position—imprisoned. So, in the presence of his enemies, Peter denied his teacher, his leader, his friend.

But it is in the presence of our enemies that God makes provision.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.

Psalm 23:5a (NIV)

Before Jesus had even been arrested, he knew exactly what Peter would do and say. He even told Peter so. Yet Jesus never cast Peter aside. He never scolded him or scorned him. He simply made the statement. Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, yet offered him the bread and the cup of covenant anyway.

Jesus didn’t accept the cross for the righteous, but for those like Peter, who in the moment would either, in faith, step out of the boat on to the waves or, in fear, deny he ever knew Jesus. Jesus went to the cross for those of us who struggle with our faith, going from the mountaintop to the valley and everything in between.

I think that Peter’s denial of Jesus only strengthened his resolve to follow. Imagine how he felt when that second rooster crowed and he realised what he had done. When he remembered what Jesus had told him. I suspect that, once the heat of shame subsided, he was filled with wonder and gratitude at the magnitude of Jesus’ actions.

In both stories here, the second rooster was a gift. For Peter, had he never heard that second crow, he would have stood by his denial. But instead, it was a reminder of the grace Jesus had extended to him, to the table already prepared for him in the presence of his enemies. Again, Peter found grace in the midst of a storm.

Oh, there you are, Peter!

Read: Leviticus 14, Matthew 26:55-75

If you’ve never seen the movie Hook, watch it some day. Most everyone is familiar with the story of Peter Pan. In Hook, Peter is all grown up and has forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. He’s lost his happy thoughts. In utter disbelief that Peter Pan would have the nerve to grow up and have kids, the lost boys struggle to believe that Peter really has returned to Neverland. One boy, in an effort to find Peter, approaches the man and begins to pull and stretch his face until he sees something he recognizes. Eyes wide with wonder, he announces, “Oh, there you are, Peter!”

Peter had lost himself over the years, having completely forgotten his time in Neverland. But in the end, he was finally able to recall who he really was. He was Peter Pan. He could crow. He could fly. He could save Neverland from the evil Captain Hook.

A long time ago, another Peter forgot who he was. And on multiple occasions. The apostle Simon Peter was as passionate (and sometimes as foolhardy) as Peter Pan. No flying was involved, but there was some walking on water and crowing certainly had something to do with it.

But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Matthew 26:70 (NIV)

Peter did exactly what he told Jesus he would never do. Many would immediately disqualify Peter from ministry for his denial. But this wasn’t even close to being his first blunder. This man was rebuked and nearly drown. He assaulted a soldier and denied ever knowing or associating with Jesus. He, more than anyone, knew his own shortcomings. But what he didn’t know was that Jesus had already prepared for all of that.

But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

Luke 22:32 (NIV)

Peter went on to be an effective missionary. Echoes of his work are still seen throughout the world today. He could have let his mistakes define him, but instead chose to believe what Jesus believed of him – that he would be able to strengthen others. Through his mistakes, he became stronger and, because he always turned back, he was able to strengthen others.

Like Peter Pan returning to Neverland to save the day, the disciple Peter returned to the faith he had been called to so that he could lead others to salvation.