Releasing Baggage: Peter Denies Jesus
Most of us are carrying the weight of some kind of “baggage.” When the load we’re carrying becomes too overwhelming, the option to stop moving forward can become a constant temptation. What can we do to ensure we don’t become stuck beneath the weight of our fears, mistakes, breakups, failures, and grief? How can we escape the burdens that weigh down our hearts and minds?
Let us remember the story of Peter denying Jesus. It is a remarkable story—one of the few stories recorded in all four Gospels.
Peter became a great leader in the New Testament Church and Watchman for the Lord. But at the time of this story, Peter was known as an unpolished, uneducated, former fisherman and follower of Jesus who often spoke passionately before thinking. He had faith but also fears. His heart and desire to please the Lord earned him a place in Jesus’ inner circle.
The night before the crucifixion, Jesus warned Peter that he would betray Him three times before a rooster crowed. Peter didn’t want to believe it and declared he would choose death over denial. Yet, a few hours later, when the soldiers came for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Bible tells us, ”Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). Peter followed at a distance and watched the events unfold. His love for Jesus kept him close, but his fear of being associated with Jesus caused him to lie when a servant girl recognized him as Jesus’ friend. Peter did deny Christ three times that very night, precisely as Jesus said he would. Peter noticed some in the crowd growing suspicious, and when asked a third time about his association with Jesus, Peter cursed as a proof he was not His disciple—no follower of Jesus would ever speak that way.
At that moment, a hundred or so feet away, Jesus was escorted to an official building called the Praetorium. At once several things happened: Peter cursed, the crowd gasped, a rooster crowed, Peter remembered his promises never to deny his Lord, and Jesus’ eyes met Peter’s. Both knew what had just happened.
The realization of what he had done came crashing down. The Bible says that “he ran out into the night and wept bitterly.”
We know what happened next. Jesus was mocked, beaten, and crucified. Peter lived, but the weight of his guilt was crushing. Peter’s burden of significant fear, a grave mistake, and great grief was the baggage he carried with him after Jesus’ death.
Even if there is real hurt and loss in your past, there are negative consequences associated with keeping your focus there. Worry, negative thoughts, bitterness, sadness, ineffectiveness, fatigue, and depression are side effects of dwelling on the low-points of yesterday. Satan knows this and tries to keep God’s people get stuck in the muck of sin and loss. That’s why he repeatedly reminds us of our past hurts and failures. However, God doesn’t want us to collapse beneath the weight of our burdens. He created us to thrive (John 10:10). So how can we move forward when things have gone wrong?
1. Ask for forgiveness and forgive yourself
God is quick to forgive. The Lord wants to forgive you. 1 John 1:9 says that His desire is to “cleanse you of ALL unrighteousness.” Jesus came for you, lived for you, and died for you. He did this to express His love for you, knowing that humans are weak and willful. Believe that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was sufficient to make atonement for every sin.
To think that your particular sin is unforgivable is to minimize the significance of all that Jesus accomplished at Calvary. Confess your sins to God and those offended, make amends as God leads, and forgive yourself. God has cast forgiven sins as far from you “as the East is from the West” (Psalm 103:12; Micah 7:19). In his mind, the past is both forgiven and forgotten.
2. Learn from the past but don’t relive it
Value and hold close the lessons learned through difficult experiences. Did you learn patience? Acceptance? How to say, ‘I’m sorry’? Did you learn to rely more on God? Hold onto the good—release the bad. Benefit from lessons learned and stop wondering how things could have been different if you would have done this or that – that’s a game no one ever wins.
Take what you’ve learned in the past and look toward the future. Ask yourself: How can my experiences enhance my life and spiritual walk in the days to come? How can I use my experience to help others? If you can envision this, you can recognize that even the low points of your life can have great value (Rom. 8:28; 2 Cor. 1:3-4)
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4)
3. Fix your heart on hope
Satan wants us to look down—God wants us to look up. Satan wants us to look back—God wants us to look forward. Learn from the past and release the past. Paul recommends a mental exercise, which is particularly helpful when negative thoughts begin to enter our mind. Work to replace negative thoughts with positive. Paul writes:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Try to pinpoint the positive within all the negative and hold on. The thoughts we dwell on can shape our actions, reactions, character, view of the world, and people in it. Focus on hope, and you will radiate it, drawing others to want to know more about the hope you have.
The Apostle Paul encouraged believers to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” (Romans 12:2) When we change our mindset and allow Christ to forgive, redeem, and release us from our dark past, a metamorphosis takes place. Renew is an action word. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines it as “to make like new, to restore, to replace or replenish, to begin again.” Jesus can heal our brokenness and rebuild our lives. We can become like new, reborn (John 3:3), “new creations in Christ” (1 Cor. 5:17). All of this is possible when we pray, choose to let things go, and ask Christ to step in and cover the gaps.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)
5. Ask God for help
Ask Jesus for help in your healing process. He longs to help you move toward hope and recovery. This happens when we open the door to an ongoing conversation with Jesus and allow Him into the deepest part of our lives. He knows our hurts and is waiting to guide us over the rocky ground to “green pastures” (Psa. 23).
The Spirit can provide the strength to ask for forgiveness. He can give us the clarity to remove ourselves from a dangerous situation. He offers to heal your painful past. He can help us let go of those painful moments our minds relive over and over. Ask for help, then believe it will come. Ready your heart to accept it when it does come.
“So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6)
There was restoration in Peter’s relationship with Jesus after the Resurrection (John 21:15-25). Peter was able to release the crushing weight of his baggage and live for Jesus. He was not perfect (see Galatians 2:11-14), but was forgiven, and his ministry was powerful. He learned from and released the painful past and followed Jesus’ direct request to tend to His sheep. What an honor.
Many became soul-sick from their baggage and let it ruin their life. However, Peter, the betrayer of Jesus, learned and reclaimed the Hope that Jesus offered, and still offers today. Like Peter, we can move on from the things that have hurt us – whether it was our own poor choices or the actions of others. Let your wounds turn into scars and notice them fade as you look ahead. We can follow Jesus’ directives for our lives (John 10:10; Matthew 28:18-20). We can exude hope. We can release the baggage.
“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)
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