Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
At the crack of dawn several women left the city of Jerusalem. Their mission was to anoint the body of Jesus. They had witnessed His death on the previous Friday. They had followed His body to the sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathea. And now on Sunday morning they proceeded to the sepulcher to perform what they considered to be their last labor of love for their Lord.
When they arrived at the sepulcher they received the surprise of their life. The stone was rolled away. The grave was empty. A young man clothed in long white garments (obviously an angel) was present. He informed them that Jesus was risen.
And then he told the women, “But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.”
What concerns us is the fact that the angel made special mention of Peter. The angel singled Peter out. This was very significant in light of Peter’s denial of Jesus on Thursday. This message of Jesus through the angel indicated that Peter was very much on the mind of the Lord. The Lord still loved and cared for Peter. This mention of Peter by the risen Lord through the angel is also important for us. We have often denied Jesus, just as Peter did. From this passage we may know that the risen Lord still loves and cares for us, even has He did Peter.
A terrible reminder!
The words of the angel repeated to Peter must have been a terrible reminder of the previous Thursday evening.
On that night Peter had denied Jesus three times. This was something Jesus had warned Peter about as they were leaving the upper room for Gethsemane. Peter expressed confidently that this would never happen. He was ready even to die for the Lord. But deny Jesus Peter did—three times. After Jesus was arrested, Peter followed at a distance to the courtyard of Caiaphas’ palace. There he was confronted three different times with the accusation that he had been with Jesus, that he was a follower of Jesus. And three times Peter denied it. With an oath he even confirmed that he never knew Jesus. After the third denial, Jesus passed by, the cock crew, and Peter ran out into the night with bitter tears. He had denied his Master.
And now the word of the angel brought back the bitter memory of that night. There was only one reason for the angel to single out Peter. Peter had singled himself out with his infamous denial. Certainly the women had caught the mention of Peter and reported it back to the disciples and Peter. Perhaps it had been forgotten initially because of the excitement. But upon further reflection, they certainly remembered and relayed this to Peter. What a terrible reminder to Peter of what he had done.
What Peter did in denying the Lord, we have all done in one way or another.
To see how true this is, we must understand the exact character of Peter’s denial. In essence Peter denied that he was Jesus’ disciple. That was the accusation leveled against him in the courtyard. “You were with Him, weren’t you? You are one of His followers. You believe His claim to be the Christ, the Son of God. You think that this is the Son of David, and you stand with Him in His efforts to establish His kingdom. You serve this man. He is your Lord and Master.” And Peter denied it all.
But how often have not we done the same. We probably have not done that verbally, as did Peter. Although someday in the face of persecution we may. But we do deny Jesus by our actions. Actions speak louder than words. In fact, by our actions we can effectively contradict what we say and confess with our mouth. And so, when we do not live as the disciples of Christ, we deny Jesus just as surely as did Peter. We deny Jesus when we do not oppose the profaning of His name. We deny Jesus when we neglect the study of the Scriptures. We deny Jesus when we do not live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven but conform our lives to the pattern of this world.
Oh yes, we have often denied Jesus.
A blessed comfort!
The message of Jesus through the angel, making special reference to Peter, was a tremendous comfort to Peter.
To appreciate this we must see Peter’s denial in light of Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 10:32-33: “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” Jesus was speaking to His disciples about the enemies they would have to face in the future. Jesus emphasized that whosoever will deny Him before these enemies, He will deny before the Father in heaven.
Peter had denied Jesus before men. The enemies of Jesus had confronted him with the charge that he was one of Jesus’ followers. And Peter had denied it. His denial was not so much out of fear for his life. Peter denied Jesus because he was offended by Jesus’ refusal to show His power and defend Himself. And so, from Peter’s point of view, there was nothing left for him. He did not anticipate the resurrection. And he had denied Jesus. Would not Jesus in heaven deny him before the Father?
But now came the astounding news. Jesus is risen. And through the angel, Jesus had made special mention of Peter. This could mean only one thing—Jesus was assuring Peter that He still loved him and counted him as one of His disciples. He still cared for Peter. Jesus had not disowned him, but still claimed him as His own. Jesus lived, and Peter could say, “I still belong to Jesus.”
That this was true was affirmed by the fact that Jesus appeared to Peter later that same morning, as we read in Luke 24:34.
What a comfort this was to Peter!
That Jesus still claimed Peter as His own meant that the resurrection was also Peter’s salvation.
Jesus’ resurrection is an essential part of the work of salvation. The Heidelberg Catechism points out in Lord’s Day 17 the glorious significance of Jesus’ resurrection for salvation. Jesus’ resurrection is the proof of our justification. His resurrection is also the power of a new life of obedience to the Lord. And Jesus’ resurrection is God’s pledge of our final resurrection into glory.
This great salvation of the resurrection, however, is not for all. It is only for those whom Jesus claims as His own, for those who belong to Jesus.
This also included Peter!
At this point, Peter did not fully understand the importance of Jesus’ resurrection for his salvation. However, later he would. The resurrection meant that his sins were truly blotted out at the cross. Perhaps Jesus related this to Peter at His appearance to him later that morning. But more. In Jesus’ resurrection Peter found the power of a new life, the power to be faithful and not faithless. And in the resurrection Peter had the assurance of the final resurrection into glory.
A sovereign love!
In all this we see the sovereign love of God.
That God’s love for us is sovereign means, negatively, that God’s love for us is not motivated by our love to Him. Positively, it means that God loves us first. Our love to Him is the inevitable fruit of His love to us. It also means that God’s love is unconditional. There are not conditions we need to meet to have God’s love. And finally it means that God’s love is unchangeable. He will love us no matter what happens or how we fail.
This is also true of Jesus’ love for us. Jesus loves us for God’s sake, because God loves us. And so Jesus’ love for us as our Mediator has the same characteristics as God’s love.
We see the sovereign character of that love in Jesus’ dealings with Peter. Jesus did not deny Peter, even though Peter denied Him. Jesus rather gave His life as a sacrifice at the cross to cover also Peter’s sin. And then Jesus, after His resurrection, sought Peter out, assured Peter of His love, and restored him.
How then are we to understand the very clear warning of Jesus in Matthew 10:33, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven”? Here Jesus referred to those who persist in denying Him, who deny Him without repentance. But in His sovereign love, Jesus also worked repentance in the heart of Peter, so that Jesus could and does confess also Peter before the Father.
And what of us?
By the sovereign love and grace of God, we also belong to Jesus Christ. We believe in Him as our Savior and Mediator. By that faith we also are His disciples.
But in the weakness of faith we sometimes deny Him, especially by our actions.
The same Jesus that in love sought out Peter, brought him to repentance, and assured him of the salvation of the resurrection, seeks us out to bring us to the same repentance and assurance.
In the consciousness of that great love, let us repent of all our sins, also the sin of denying our Savior. Then we will hear from the risen Lord in the preaching that He still owns us and will save us to the uttermost in the power of His death and resurrection.