When Jesus began his ministry, he appointed twelve disciples: Peter (born Simon) and his brother Andrew, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Judas Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot (or Canaanite), and Judas Iscariot. Shortly before Jesus’ death, he shared one last meal with these men, who were almost completely, if not entirely, unaware that, within the next twenty-four hours, the Son of God would die. Jesus led eleven of the twelve to the gardens of Gethsemane, where he told Peter,
“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Matthew 26:34.
It is hard to imagine what Peter must have felt upon hearing those words. Peter himself did not believe it, arguing that he would die before betraying Jesus. In all of the time Peter had followed Christ, Jesus had never let Peter down. Jesus did not let him drown when Peter walked on water; he did not let Peter or any of the other disciples starve; Peter was one of the few to see the transfiguration; and he was the first of the twelve to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. Surely he would not deny that he knew Jesus, that he followed Jesus. But then Peter did deny Jesus—three times—and the guilt he felt after hearing the rooster crow must have been unbearable.
However, it did not end there for Peter. Unlike when Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the Romans, and guilt wracked, committed suicide, Peter did not take matters into his own hands. When he saw Jesus, Jesus first made him a meal, asked Peter three times if he loved him, and then commissioned him to care for and lead the church:
“Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:15-25.
Unfortunately, things did not end this way for Judas. While Judas recognized his wrong and returned the gold he received for his betrayal, he despaired and lost faith. Judas sought to get rid of his guilt himself instead of trusting in God. Judas never returned to the twelve, nor did he seek out Jesus and apologize for his wrong; instead of facing his mistakes, Judas went to the extreme and ran even further away from Jesus.
Yes, Peter lacked faith in Jesus when Jesus called him out onto the water; yes, he doubted Jesus’ ability to provide for the five thousand; yes, he turned children away from Jesus at one point; and yes, he denied Jesus; but when he saw Jesus resurrected from the dead and standing on the beach beside the sea of Galilee, Peter leapt into the sea and eagerly swam to meet the Son of God. God did not love Peter any less when he strayed, nor did he reject Peter when he regained his footing, just like God doesn’t love us any less when we stray, and God will not reject those who wish to follow him.