Jesus will give you another chance.
Luke opens the book of Acts by making this clear. No matter how bad you may have messed up in the past, or how oblivious you may have been to the ways of God, or how stubborn you were when wise people told you good things, Jesus can use you. Jesus wants you.
We see this in Acts 1 — in the in-between story of Jesus telling his disciples the Spirit will come (Acts 1:8) and the Spirit actually coming (Acts 2:1–4). Pentecost is when things really get going, right? So what is the point with this preliminary stuff? Why include half a chapter about the disciples waiting for Pentecost to arrive?
Part of it is Peter, and how Luke sets the stage in Acts by picking up where he left off in his Gospel. Luke wants his readers to know that he is just continuing the story of Jesus that we’ve read before (Acts 1:1–3) — Jesus is ascending and the Spirit is coming, just as he told us in Luke 24:49.
But there’s more.
The disciples aren’t the same men they used to be. I mean, they are the same men, as Luke means to show us in Acts 1:12–14, but they have changed, specifically Peter.
That Night by the Fire
In order to feel the effect that Luke intends, we turn back to the Gospel of Luke and see the contrast in Peter’s character. Do you remember one of the last things we see Peter doing there? Do you remember Luke 22, when a servant girl saw Peter sitting by the fire? Do you remember what he did when she spoke up and said, “This man also was with him” (Luke 22:56)?
Yes, we know what happened. In fact, Peter should have known what was going to happen, too. Jesus told him. Earlier in Luke 22, Jesus says to Peter,
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31–32)
So something bad is going to happen, but it won’t be the end. Peter at least understands part of that, as we see in his reply,
“Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33)
But then Jesus comes back with the hard truth. Actually, Peter, you’re going to deny me three times, even before the sun comes up (Luke 22:34).
Judas and Peter, Side by Side
Luke leaves us here for a bit and keeps developing the story, transitioning to Jesus exhorting his disciples to pray against temptation, and Jesus himself praying for the cup of suffering to pass — which ends with his faithful submission to his Father, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Then, in verses 47–53, we read about the hideous betrayal of Judas. One of Jesus’s own, one of his Twelve, sells him out. What’s next? Could it get worse?
We come back to Peter in Luke 22:54, and just as Jesus said it would happen, it happens. Not once, not twice, but three times. “This man was also with him.” “You also are one of them.” “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.”
“Woman, I do not know him.”
“Man, I am not.”
“Man, I do not know what you are talking about.”
And the rooster crows. Then it hits him. Peter has denied Jesus three times, and he now goes out and weeps bitterly (Luke 22:62). And he is only mentioned one other time in the Gospel narrative.
It’s no accident that both Judas and Peter are mentioned side by side here. Both are forms of betrayal — both Judas’s grimy exchange for money and Peter’s cowardly insistence that he didn’t even know Jesus. And at this point in the story, we have no reason to think that either of them will recover — except that Jesus told Peter he has prayed for him, that his faith would not fail, and that when he turns again he will strengthen his brothers (Luke 22:32). That’s all we have: Jesus’s words.
Peter makes one last cameo in the Gospel. In Luke 24:8–11, after the women reported that the tomb was empty, Luke tells us that the disciples thought the women were mistaken. The disciples didn’t believe them, except for Peter. Contrary to the rest, Peter stands and runs to the tomb. He stoops, he looks in, and no one was there. He goes home marveling at what happened (Luke 24:12).
Peter Stands Again
Then Acts opens, and we’re back to that in-between time — that section of chapter 1 between when the Spirit is promised and when he actually comes. But it’s no accident what we find.
After the disciples are listed, we see Peter standing again (Acts 2:14) — it’s the same word for “stand” used in Luke 24:12. As Peter will do so many times in Acts, he is standing among his brothers, strengthening them, and in this instance, he is opening the Hebrew Scriptures with insight on how they choose a replacement for Judas.
Yes, that’s right. They are choosing a replacement for Judas. In a similar way, the two figures are juxtaposed once again like they were in Luke 22. But this time, in glorious irony, rather than reading of them both betraying Jesus, we read of Peter strengthening his brothers to replace Judas, the traitor who did not turn.
What Cannot Fail
On the one hand, we may marvel as readers at how Luke does this. But then on the other hand, not getting stuck on the page, we can’t help but recognize what made the difference in Peter — and what it means for us.
Jesus told Peter that he was praying for him, that his faith would not fail. And his faith did not fail. Peter stood and ran and stooped and looked. What he saw — or rather, what he did not see — changed everything (Luke 24:12). When a death-defying Savior prays that your faith does not fail, it doesn’t.
When a death-defying Savior prays that your faith does not fail, it does not fail.
Jesus had a plan for him. It wasn’t one without bumps and bruises, but it was Jesus’s plan, and he would pray it through. What this means for us is that no matter how low you may have fallen, you again can stand in Jesus’s keeping power. You can turn again.
Jesus — full of grace, risen from the dead, praying for you, taking you when it feels like you have nothing to offer, when you feel like you’ve ruined your chances — Jesus says to you, “I can use you.” I want you.