Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. – Matthew 26:74-75
It’s probably safe to say that we’ve all felt shame. It’s a consequence of sin. In fact, it’s the very first consequence of sin: in the Garden of Eden, Genesis 2:25 states that “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” In the very next verse the serpent arrives and convinces them to sin, and immediately after sinning they feel shame and try to hide their nakedness. With shame, paradise is lost.
But nowhere does it say that God wants us to be ashamed. He doesn’t feel better if we feel miserable. His plan wasn’t for us to punish ourselves, as if that was somehow the way to avoid punishment from Him. Instead, Jesus took the punishment on Himself so that we don’t have to.
And Jesus is the key to overcoming the shame that’s holding you back.
Jesus pursues us in our shame.
After Peter swore that he would die before disowning Jesus—and then swore, that same night, that he’d never even met Jesus—he must have felt pretty worthless.
In John 21, after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter announces that he’s “going out to fish.” Now, remember that fishing is Peter’s job; it’s where he was working full-time before Jesus called him to join the ministry and become a “fisher of men.” So this is the equivalent of someone today saying “I’m going to the office” or “I’m going back to work.” Instead of fishing for men, he’s just fishing for fish; perhaps he no longer feels worthy of telling others about Jesus after telling people he didn’t even know Him.
But Jesus pursues us even in our shame. With Peter, He shows up on the shore and recreates the miracle He performed back when He first called Peter to “fish for people.” Basically, he calls Peter again to follow Him, showing that Peter is not disqualified despite anything he’s done.
God never stops pursuing us. He never gives up. No matter what you’ve done or how many times you’ve done it. He knows what you did and everything you’re going to do, and He chose to die for you anyway.
Jesus restores us from shame.
Jesus did more than recreate a miracle in John 21. He then went about recreating the situation where Peter denied Jesus.
Peter had sworn he wouldn’t deny Jesus during a meal with the disciples, so here Jesus cooks a meal for the disciples. Peter denied Jesus while warming himself around a fire, so here Jesus builds a fire for them. (In fact, that particular word for “fire,” which can be translated to “burning coals,” appears only twice in the Bible: when Peter denies Jesus, and here when Jesus talks with Peter. It’s the same type of fire.)
And then, in this familiar setting, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. Not once, not twice, but three times in a row. Each time, Peter affirms that “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Peter denied Jesus three times, so Jesus gives Peter three opportunities to affirm Him. Jesus didn’t do it to shame him, but rather to free him from shame.
That’s what God does: he restores us. Shame keeps you from having a truly intimate relationship, but God actively seeks to restore us to relationship with Him.
Jesus replaces shame with purpose.
Each of the three times Peter said that he loved Jesus, Jesus replied with “feed my lambs” or “take care of my sheep.” He wasn’t only trying to make Peter feel better; He had a mission for him.
The very name “Peter” was a nickname Jesus gave him, a word that means “rock.” He was called that because Jesus planned for Peter to be the foundation of the early church. After wavering and denying Him right when it seemed Jesus needed him most, Peter probably wasn’t feeling like much of a “rock.”
But here Jesus reaffirms his mission, asking Peter to shepherd the church and again calling him to “Follow me!”
After this, Peter lived up to his name. Less than two months after denying Jesus in front of a few people, he was preaching the good news about Him in front of thousands. When arrested and put on trial by the same men who crucified Jesus, he courageously told them the Truth. And years later, when given the chance to again deny Jesus and live, Peter instead chose the cross.
Did Peter become a “rock” despite his earlier failings, or because of them?
All the time, I see God help people overcome shame and use them to help others. Past adulterers become leaders in restoring marriages. Women who have had abortions start abortion recovery ministries. Men who were sexually abused as children help others find healing from abuse. I could go on and on.
God doesn’t want us to live under a cloud of shame. He’s forgiven us. He wants to heal us from shame, bring us out of whatever’s causing it, and give us new purpose in helping others.
How is shame holding you back from your mission?