Bitter Tears

I think it’s safe to say we’ve all shed a few tears in our day. Tears come with a variety of adjectives around them. On occasion we have tears of joy when something really neat or good happens. When the lab results are good…a few good tears seep out. When you get the promotion, the eyes can water up. When the movies or television shows tug at the heart strings, tears can offer rock-solid proof of its impact on us. When the person reading the ultrasound says, “it’s a boy” or “it’s a girl”…tears can flow like the mighty Mississippi River. But not all tears are good. Sometimes, tears come as a result of something bad or sad taking place. The lab results are not good. The promotion was given to someone else. Your child didn’t win the competition. Your favorite character died on the show. Still tears…still liquid from the eyes…but yet different. Finally, there is a third type of tears we are all familiar with. I saved the worst for last. With my limited vocabulary, I would attach the word, “anguish.” The unofficial tear scale might rank these much worse than when things are sad or bad. The word, “devastated,” comes to mind. Let’s call them “bitter.” These are tears that come from deep within due to our own failures. They resonate with a thundering, “I can’t believe I just did that” feeling. This area of pain might only be accessed a handful of times in an entire lifespan. It’s a rare, crushing pain that forces out these tears. There’s no one to blame. There’s no one to help carry the load. There’s just you, the guilt…and the bitter tears. In some form or fashion, I think we’ve all be been there. This is not a “new” thing. It’s been around a while. In fact, one of our favorite fellas in the Bible shed a few of these bitter tears himself…and, boy, were they bitter.

The apostle Peter is known to us as, perhaps, the leader of the twelve apostles. Not many would argue too much with anyone who attached the label to him. He certainly appears to be the main guy once you go through the 4 gospels. Starting off as Simon, his brother, Andrew, brings Simon to Jesus, who later comes to faith and becomes a follower of Christ. His heart would be forever changed. Jesus would also give him a new name-Peter. The gospel writers repeatedly mention the inner circle of “Peter, James, and John” and their closeness to Jesus among the twelve. Of those 3, Peter is mentioned more and certainly speaks more than James or his brother, John. We tend to think of him as apostle #1 and Peter seems to act out the part on more than one occasion. Peter is often referred to as the guy who sometimes spoke before he thought. My personal opinion is that is why we love him so much. We can identify with this fella. Though the leader of the twelve, he is also terribly human.

One of my favorite stories about Peter is found in Luke 5:1-11. These verses contain Luke’s account of how and when Jesus called his first disciples. Luke tells us that Jesus was standing by Lake Gennesaret and saw two boats by the lake. The fishing expedition was over and the fishermen were washing their nets after a long night of fishing failure. It turns out these two boats were owned and operated by Simon Peter, along with James and John, the sons of Zebedee. For reasons known only to Jesus at the time, Jesus climbs into Simon’s boat and asks him to take him out just a little ways from the shore. From Simon’s boat, Jesus begins to teach the people on the shore. Once the lesson was over, Jesus has the nerve to ask Simon to take the boat out to deep waters to catch some fish. Simon doesn’t want to do it. He states that they had already fished all night and had not caught a thing. But he agrees to go, in short, because the Master had asked him. Luke tells us that they caught some many fish that the nets they were using on Simon’s boat began to break. The catch was so great they had to call for the other boat to come and help them. Right then and there, Simon knew he was in the presence of someone far greater than he could imagine. Suddenly, he knew who he, himself, was…and offered the now infamous verse, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” as he knelt before Jesus. In just a few short verses, we gain much insight into this apostle we have all come to love.

In his time with Jesus, Peter would go on to have some really amazing moments with the Savior. Moments that left him speechless…moments that left him bewildered…and moments that are hard for us to imagine abounded often as the incredible miracles and wonderful words became part of his daily life when walking with Jesus. It would seem with every footprint left in the sand and dirt, Peter was growing in his faith and understanding of who Jesus was. Without question, the apostle loved Jesus. It was evident…and provides yet another reason why we love the apostle as we do.

But in time, the great words of Jesus began to take an unexpected turn. Mark’s gospel tells of one of the pinnacle moments in Jesus’ time with the disciples when He asked, “who do men say that I am?” Peter rose to the occasion and offered, “You are the Christ.” (Matthew adds that Peter included, “the Son of the Living God,” to the sentence) Peter was standing on the Mount Everest of faith when he spoke those words to Jesus in Mark 8:29-30. But in verse 31, Jesus began to teach the disciples that He would soon be rejected and killed…and after three days, rise again. Mark tells us that Peter rebuked Jesus for saying such things. From this point on, the gospel narrative begins to focus on what would happen once Jesus made His way to Jerusalem. Jesus would mention these unthinkable words again in Mark 9 and in Mark 10. Peter and the rest of the apostles struggled terribly with these words…words that seemed utterly impossible.

As difficult as all of this was, the worst was yet to come…especially for Peter. On the night Jesus was betrayed by Judas and the cross was at hand, everything Jesus had forewarned the disciples about was about to come to pass. For years, I have tried to imagine the scene in the room that night. I’ve come to the conclusion that even on my best day, I could never really capture that moment. After they sang a hymn, the Bible says they left that room and went out to the Mount of Olives. It was here that Jesus told the remaining 11 disciples that they would all fall away from him this night. Not surprisingly, it was Peter who spoke up and declared that he was not going anywhere…even if all the others fled, he would not. I have no reason to doubt that Peter meant everything he said. But Jesus had a very painful sentence for Peter. He told him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” Peter responded with holy boldness that he would not.

Most of us know the story of how all of this turns out. Peter did, in fact, deny the Lord 3 times just as Jesus said he would. After his third and final denial, Matthew tells us that Peter went out and wept bitterly as he remembered the haunting words of Jesus. Peter had been so sure of himself…so confident…so bold in his allegiance to Jesus…it was not even possible that Peter could deny his Master once, much less three times. Luke adds a very helpful section of this account. He states when Peter had denied the Lord for the third and final time, the Lord turned and looked at Peter. It is here our imaginations must kick in as we try to imagine the apostle trying to process what had just happened. Bitter tears was all the apostle could muster up. The unthinkable had happened…and all Peter could offer in return were bitter tears…the worst of the worst kind.

Those of you familiar with the story probably have a lump in your throat. It’s hard to hear the story and not have that lump. Peter had denied that he even knew who Jesus was…to save his own skin. A modern-day playwright might quickly surmise that Peter’s great story was rightfully over. Peter’s lasting New Testament scene would be that of a broken man weeping bitterly. He had fallen flat on his face. His brave and bold words now seemed like the whimpers of a scared, frail kitten. The once proud and self-assured apostle was now a broken man. But was he broken beyond repair?

Time does not permit me to unpack the entire history of Peter. May it be enough to say the bitter tears did not have the final say in Peter’s life. God was not finished with this well-meaning servant. His mistake was real and his failure was there for all to see. But in the wonders of God’s grace, Peter continued forward. His new birth meant that sin and failure did not have the final say. Peter would go on to be an important part of early church history. Just as the cross did not have the final say in Jesus’ life, Peter’s denial of Christ did not have the final say in his own life. Yes, he had to shed some bitter tears…but those tears did not win the day.

I praise God for that great truth. The same is true for us today. Failures and bitter tears may come to all of us…but they do not own the day, much less the lives of God’s people. Satan would have us believe that not even God can help us when these kinds of tears are flowing. When the anguish becomes so great that we literally begin to hate ourselves, the easiest thing to do is to think all is lost. Peter serves as a great reminder to all of us that there is more…much more…in store for us even after we have fallen flat. I wish I could tell you we could avoid the bitter tears on this side of heaven. However, to do that would be flirting with the greatest of lies. Failures and their accompanying tears somehow march right up to our heart’s doors on occasion. On this side of heaven, I think it’s safe to say that will be the case. But let us remember the forgiveness and grace of our Savior. May we remember a place is being prepared for God’s people…and one day, He will wipe away the tears from our eyes…including the bitter ones. Praise the Lord!

Thanks for stopping by guys! I appreciate it. Blessings to you and your family.

Bro Mark

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