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The Burden of Shame
All the passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “Traveling Light,” published in 2001 by W. Publishing Group.
See the fellow in the shadows? That’s Peter. Peter the apostle. Peter the impetuous. Peter the passionate. He once walked on water. Stepped right out of the boat onto the lake. He’ll soon preach to thousands. Fearless before friends and foes alike. But tonight the one who stepped on the water has hurried into hiding. The one who will speak with power is weeping in pain.
Not sniffling or whimpering, but weeping. Bawling. Bearded face buried in thick hands. His howl echoing in the Jerusalem night. What hurts more? The fact that he did it? Or the fact that he swore he never would?
“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and even to die with you!” he pledged only hours earlier. ‘But Jesus said, ‘Peter, before the rooster crows this day, you will say three times that you don’t know me” (Luke 22:33—34 NCV).
Denying Christ on the night of his betrayal was bad enough, but did he have to boast that he wouldn’t? And one denial was pitiful, but three? Three denials were horrific, but did he have to curse? ‘Peter began to place a curse on himself and swear, ‘I don’t know the man’” (Matthew 26:74 NCV).
And now, awash in a whirlpool of sorrow, Peter is hiding. Peter is weeping. And soon Peter will be fishing.
We wonder why he goes fishing. We know why he goes to Galilee. He had been told that the risen Christ would meet the disciples there. The arranged meeting place is not the sea, however, but a mountain (Matthew 28:16 NCV). If the followers were to meet Jesus on a mountain, what are they doing in a boat? No one told them to fish, but that’s what they did. “Simon Peter said, ‘I am going out to fish.’ The others said, ‘We will go with you” (John 21:3 NCV). Besides, didn’t Peter quit fishing? Two years earlier, when Jesus called him to fish for men, didn’t he drop his net and follow? We haven’t seen him fish since. We never see him fish again. Why is he fishing now? Especially now! Jesus has risen from the dead. Peter has seen the empty tomb. Who could fish at a time like this?
Were they hungry? Perhaps that’s the sum of it. Maybe the expedition was born out of growling stomachs.
Or then again, maybe it was born out of a broken heart.
You see, Peter could not deny his denial. The empty tomb did not erase the crowing rooster. Christ had returned, but Peter wondered, he must have wondered, ‘After what I did, would he return for someone like me?”
We’ve wondered the same. Is Peter the only person to do the very thing he swore he’d never do?
“Infidelity is behind me!”
“From now on, I’m going to bridle my tongue.”
“No more shady deals. I’ve learned my lesson.”
Oh, the volume of our boasting. And, oh, the heartbreak of our shame.
Rather than resist the flirting, we return it.
Rather than ignore the gossip, we share it.
Rather than stick to the truth, we shade it.
And the rooster crows, and conviction pierces, and Peter has a partner in the shadows. We weep as Peter wept, and we do what Peter did. We go fishing. We go back to our old lives. We return to our pre-Jesus practices. We do what comes naturally, rather than what comes spiritually. And we question whether Jesus has a place for folks like us.
Jesus answers that question. He answers it for you and me and all who tend to “Peter out” on Christ. His answer came on the shore of the sea in a gift to Peter. You know what Jesus did? Split the waters? Turn the boat to gold and the nets to silver? No, Jesus did something much more meaningful. He invited Peter to breakfast. Jesus prepared a meal.
Of course, the breakfast was one special moment among several that morning. There was the great catch of fish and the recognition of Jesus. The plunge of Peter and the paddling of the disciples. And there was the moment they reached the shore and found Jesus next to a fire of coals. The fish were sizzling, and the bread was waiting, and the defeater of hell and the ruler of heaven invited his friends to sit down and have a bite to eat.
No one could have been more grateful than Peter. The one Satan had sifted like wheat was eating bread at the hand of God. Peter was welcomed to the meal of Christ. Right there for the devil and his tempters to see, Jesus “prepared a table in the presence of his enemies.”
OK, so maybe Peter didn’t say it that way. But David did. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalms 23:5 NKJV). What the shepherd did for the sheep sounds a lot like what Jesus did for Peter.
At this point in the psalm, David’s mind seems to be lingering in the high country with the sheep. Having guided the flock through the valley to the alp lands for greener grass, he remembers the shepherd’s added responsibility. He must prepare the pasture.
This is new land, so the shepherd must be careful. Ideally, the grazing area will be flat, a mesa or tableland. The shepherd searches for poisonous plants and ample water. He looks for signs of wolves, coyotes, and bears.
Of special concern to the shepherd is the adder, a small brown snake that lives underground. Adders are known to pop out of their holes and nip the sheep on the nose. The bite often infects and can even kill. As defense against the snake, the shepherd pours a circle of oil at the top of each adder’s hole. He also applies the oil to the noses of the animals. The oil on the snake’s hole lubricates the exit, preventing the snake from climbing out. The smell of the oil on the sheep’s nose drives the serpent away. The shepherd, in a very real sense, has prepared the table.1
What if your Shepherd did for you what the shepherd did for his flock? Suppose he dealt with your enemy, the devil, and prepared for you a safe place of nourishment? What if Jesus did for you what he did for Peter? Suppose he, in the hour of your failure, invited you to a meal?
What would you say if I told you he has done exactly that?
On the night before his death, Jesus prepared a table for his followers.
On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the day the lambs for the Passover meal were killed, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and get the Passover meal ready for you?”
Then Jesus sent two of them with these instructions: “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house he enters, and say to the owner of the house: “The Teacher says, ‘Where is the room where my disciples and I will eat the Passover meal?’ Then he will show you a large, upstairs room, fixed up and furnished, where you will get everything ready for us.” (Mark 14:12-15 TEV)
Look who did the “preparing” here. Jesus reserved a large room and arranged for the guide to lead the disciples. Jesus made certain the room was furnished and the food set out. What did the disciples do? They faithfully complied and were fed.
The Shepherd prepared the table.
Not only that, he dealt with the snakes. You’ll remember that only one of the disciples didn’t complete the meal that night. “The devil had already persuaded Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to turn against Jesus” (John 13:2 NCV). Judas started to eat, but Jesus didn’t let him finish. On the command of Jesus, Judas left the room. “The thing that you will do---do it quickly’ . . . Judas took the bread Jesus gave him and immediately went out. It was night” (John 13:27, 30 NCV).
There is something dynamic in this dismissal. Jesus prepared a table in the presence of the enemy. Judas was allowed to see the supper, but he wasn’t allowed to stay there.
You are not welcome here. This table is for my children. You may tempt them. You may trip them. But you will never sit with them. This is how much he loves us.
And if any doubt remains, lest there be any “Peters” who wonder if there is a place at the table for them, Jesus issues a tender reminder as he passes the cup. “Every one of you drink this. This is my blood which is the new agreement that God makes with his people. This blood is poured out for many to forgive their sins” (Matthew 26:27—28 NCV).
“Every one of you drink this.” Those who feel unworthy, drink this. Those who feel ashamed, drink this. Those who feel embarrassed, drink this.
May I share a time when I felt all three?
By the age of eighteen I was well on my way to a drinking problem. My system had become so resistant to alcohol that a six-pack of beer had little or no impact on me. At the age of twenty, God not only saved me from hell after this life, he saved me from hell during it. Only he knows where I was headed, but I have a pretty good idea.
For that reason, part of my decision to follow Christ included no more beer. So I quit. But, curiously, the thirst for beer never left. It hasn’t hounded me or consumed me, but two or three times a week the thought of a good beer sure entices me. Proof to me that I have to be careful is this---nonalcoholic beers have no appeal. It’s not the flavor of the drink; it’s the buzz. But for more than twenty years, drinking has never been a major issue.
A couple of years ago, however, it nearly became one. I lowered my guard a bit. One beer with barbecue won’t hurt. Then another time with Mexican food. Then a time or two with no food at all. Over a period of two months I went from no beers to maybe one or two a week. Again, for most people, no problem, but for me it could become one.
You know when I began to smell trouble? One hot Friday afternoon I was on my way to speak at our annual men’s retreat. Did I say the day was hot? Brutally hot. I was thirsty. Soda wouldn’t do. So I began to plot. Where could I buy a beer and not be seen by anyone I knew?
With that thought, I crossed a line. What’s done in secret is best not done at all. But I did it anyway. I drove to an out-of-the-way convenience store, parked, and waited until all patrons had left. I entered, bought my beer, held it close to my side, and hurried to the car.
That’s when the rooster crowed.
It crowed because I was sneaking around. It crowed because I knew better. It crowed because, and this really hurt, the night before I’d scolded one of my daughters for keeping secrets from me. And now, what was I doing?
I threw the beer in the trash and asked God to forgive me. A few days later I shared my struggle with the elders and some members of the congregation and was happy to chalk up the matter to experience and move on.
But I couldn’t. The shame plagued me. Of all the people to do such a thing. So many could be hurt by my stupidity. And of all the times to do such a thing. En route to minister at a retreat. What hypocrisy! I felt like a bum. Forgiveness found its way into my head, but the elevator designed to lower it eighteen inches to my heart was out of order.
And, to make matters worse, Sunday rolled around. I found myself on the front row of the church, awaiting my turn to speak. Again, I had been honest with God, honest with the elders, honest with myself. But still, I struggled. Would God want a guy like me to preach?
The answer came in the Supper. The Lord’s Supper. The same Jesus who’d prepared a meal for Peter had prepared one for me. The same Shepherd who had trumped the devil trumped him again. The same Savior who had built a fire on the shore stirred a few embers in my heart.
“Every one of you drink this.” And so I did. It felt good to be back at the table. (115-121)
1. Charles W Slemming, He Leadeth Me: The Shepherd’s Life in Palestine (Fort Washington, Pa.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1964), quoted in Charles R. Swindoll, Living Beyond the Daily Grind, Book 1: Reflections on the Songs and Sayings in Scripture (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1988), 77—78.
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