But he went off and began to talk a great deal about it in public, spreading his story far and wide. Consequently, it became impossible for Jesus to show his face in the towns and he had to stay outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from all quarters.
-- Mark 1:45
The famous playwright Oscar Wilde was right on the mark when he quipped that experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes. Whether it's on the job (missed a deadline) or on the home front (missed the school bus), a mistake can be embarrassing, costly and sometimes even painful. But consider the implications when it's made in front of an audience of millions.
In the 1972 Summer Olympics, Finnish runner Lasse Viren tripped and fell during the 10,000-meter race when his feet tangled with those of American gold medalist Frank Shorter. That would have been the end of the story for most athletes. But Viren did the unthinkable. He got off the ground, resumed the race and caught the runners who had passed him. And then on the final lap, he not only passed his competitors, he literally left them in the dust and crossed the finish line alone. Many sportswriters consider Viren's performance to be one of the greatest comebacks in Olympics history.
Maybe your mistakes haven't been ones of Olympic proportion. But they probably seemed like it. After all, how many times have we all made such huge blunders that it looked like the end of the world? We felt like we'd blown it. It was over. And we'd never get back to where things were.
Such life-altering experiences can cover lots of territory. They might test our relationships, careers or faith...and maybe all of the above. But the good news for Christ-followers is that we worship a God who not only knows what we're going through, but a God who knows us by name. Moreover, he's a God of second (and third and fourth, etc.) chances!
The Apostle Peter learned this lesson when he asked Jesus: "How many times should I forgive someone who does something wrong to me? Is seven times enough?" The Savior responded, "Not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!"
If we're to be so forgiving when others make the mistake of offending us, think how patient God must be when we continue to fail him day after day. Peter certainly knew a thing or two about that. In fact, after Jesus was arrested by the authorities and the apostles had scattered in fear, Peter emphatically denied that he even knew Christ. And not just once, but three times!
Within hours of his detention, Jesus was tried and convicted on false charges. And soon he would suffer a horrific, painful death--as a substitute for you and me--through his crucifixion between two common criminals. Crushed by guilt, Peter believed that his own life was over. If anyone had blown it, he was the man. But Christ had other plans for His apostle of little faith. We read early in the Book of Acts that Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly defied the same religious authorities who had earlier condemned Jesus to death. So as we experience the pain, doubt and self-condemnation that arise from our own mistakes and shortcomings, let's take to heart Peter's uplifting testimony about his Master:
"In no one else can salvation be found," he proclaimed.
"For in all the world no other name has been given to men but this, and it is by this name that we must be saved!"