A Bible professor at Harding tells a true story of a third-grader named Mark who was chosen to lead the pledge of allegiance at his school. He was rarely chosen for awards and honors, so you can imagine his excitement at being picked out of the whole school to lead this important ritual. Mark practiced all week: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…” He knew it by heart and his excitement grew as the week went on.
When Friday finally came and his fellow students began to file in the auditorium, Mark rehearsed the pledge again backstage. He walked out on stage, motioned for everyone to stand up, put his hand over his heart, and proudly proclaimed, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” The students followed along until, halfway through, one boy shouted out, “That’s wrong!” Mark realized what was going on and ran offstage in embarrassment – and with wet pants.
As he huddled in a corner backstage and cried, his third grade teacher came over to him and forever redefined his most humiliating moment for him with these words: “Mark, you are the most creative little boy I’ve ever known. The Lord’s prayer is so much more important than the pledge of allegiance.”
Peter and Judas had similar experiences in their denials of Jesus. Peter was so adamant at the Last Supper that he would never betray the Lord – “I’m ready to go with you to prison and to death!” (Luke 22:33) – that the shame of his betrayal weighed even heavier on his heart. After he denied even knowing Jesus three times, he wept bitterly. And when Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, Peter was hesitant to accept God’s forgiveness and grace.
Jesus redefined the lowest point of Peter’s life for him by asking him three times if Peter loved him. Peter confirmed his love for Jesus three times. Not only did the Lord extend grace to His supposed “follower” who contributed to his murder, but He also entrusted Peter with the care of His sheep and spreading the good news (John 21:15-17). God transformed Peter from an uneducated fisherman into one of the boldest preachers of the gospel the world has ever seen.
Judas, on the other hand, could not forgive himself for betraying Jesus. He was filled with so much remorse that he threw the thirty pieces of silver to the leaders in the temple and went out and hanged himself. Even though he spent three years with Jesus, he did not trust His ability to forgive, cleanse, and make new. Judas let his betrayal of Jesus define his life in the worst way possible.
Sometimes we mess up and sin “so much” that we think we can never be forgiven, we are scared to talk to God, and we withdraw and hide from Him. No sin is too big for God to handle, forgive, and redefine into something good for His glory. This doesn’t mean God takes away our earthly consequences or that we should sin for God’s glory (Romans 6:1-2). It just means God is bigger than our sin. God can redefine our humiliation and guilt to make us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Each time we betray God through our sin, we have the choice to let it define us or to let God redefine it.