Pulled Over

 

 

Luke 22:54-62, NIV

            I had just turned eighteen at the time. If you wanted a classic portrait of fear all you had to do was look at my face. My friend, Steve, and I had just been pulled over by the police.

            The officer called my parents. I was sitting in the township police station when my dad walked through the door. I remember the look on his face as though it all happened yesterday. That look seemed to combine the emotions of anger, sadness, and disillusionment all into one expression. My thoughtless, selfish action had broken my dad’s heart.

            So, there’s a real part of me that gets Peter. What I mean is that I understand what may have been going through Peter when Jesus gave him “the look.” There is first that sense of horror at the moment of being caught red handed, combined with the stomach-aching pain of guilt when you realize there is no excuse for what you’ve done. The look slices its way through one’s soul like a knife cutting through flesh.

            Peter’s indiscretion is pretty widely known. Just hours before Jesus gave the look, Peter pledged that he would never turn his back on Jesus. Peter even made a vow to follow Jesus “to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33, NIV). Yet, less than twelve hours later Peter told three different people that he had no personal knowledge of Jesus whatsoever. That’s when Jesus gave Peter the look.

            Now, I’m not suggesting that I know exactly what Jesus look at Peter looked like. I didn’t see the expression on Jesus’ face but I do know something of Jesus’ heart. So, I can tell you this. Jesus did not give Peter a look of condemnation. To be certain, Jesus had previously predicted that Peter would disown him three times before the rooster crowed. However, the look that Jesus gave Peter wasn’t a means of saying, “I told you ahead of time that you’d mess up, Peter! I know the kind of no good, louse you are. Nothing good could come from a letch like you.

             I have always believed there is a difference between the realities of shame and guilt. Shame, in effect, says, “You are a mistake. You are no good. You are worthless.” Shame places blame on the “beingness” of a person. Guilt is different. Guilt says, “You made a mistake. You did something wrong.” Guilt convicts what a person does while shame condemns who a person is. The Apostle once declared that “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). And given that Scripture will never ultimately contradict itself, Jesus could have never condemned Peter.

            Yet still there was that look. What message was Jesus trying to communicate to Peter? I believe the look Jesus gave to Peter was one of compassion. The word compassion literally means to feel or suffer with someone. Jesus had been a human being for thirty-three years, so he knew the weaknesses of humanity firsthand. In the words of Paul, Jesus understood what it means to say, “I don’t know why I do the things I do and I don’t do the things I should do. What a wretched person I am!” (see Romans 8:15-16, 24). Jesus understood the power of sin and the death grip it has on plain, ordinary folk like Peter, like Paul, like you, and like me.

            So yes, the look was Jesus way of saying, “Peter, I get it. I get that you are not in complete control of your desires and choices. I understand the control sin has over your life. So, I am going to suffer in order to cancel sin’s power over you. I am willing to die in order that death may die in you.”

            Friend, the Good News is: the way Jesus looked at Peter when he sinned is the same way he looks at you when you sin. Jesus looks upon you with compassion not condemnation, with understanding not indifference, with love and not disgrace.

            In her hymn, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus,” Elizabeth Clephane claims that what inspired her to write these words came from looking into the eyes of Jesus as he hung on the cross:

“Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see, the very dying form of One who suffered there for me; and, from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess; the wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.”