On faith: Rock bottom
From Pastor Scott Nelson
First Baptist Church of Two Harbors
Please enjoy this piece from the archives, first printed in 2010.
In his book “A Gentle Thunder,” Max Lucado speaks about Wile E. Coyote from the old Road Runner cartoons. Wile E. chases after his very skinny (but intelligent) prey, and just as he’s about to grab his lunch, the road runner steps aside and stops on a dime right on the edge of a huge canyon. Wile E., with his momentum built up to a feverish pitch cannot stop – and so, over the edge he goes. As the ground gives way beneath him, he doesn’t fall right away. Instead, pausing in mid-air, he looks down, and gets that “oh-boy-is-this-gonna-hurt” stare in his eyes. Finally, he plummets downward until we see only a small puff of smoke as he hits the canyon floor.
I’ve been there. I’ve shot out over the edge of the wall of the canyon of sin only to discover that I’ve gone too far. And so I fall. I’ve hit bottom in that canyon plenty of times. And I’ve been left on the ground: guilt-ridden and stunned. But, as Lucado also says, Wile E. is lucky. Why? He’s invincible. He gets up, looking like either a pancake or an accordion, and stalks off. But in the next scene, there he is again, perfectly healthy, stacking Acme dynamite or painting a tunnel on a rock wall, plotting how he’s going to catch his elusive prize.
It doesn’t work that way with me. When I hit the canyon floor of sin, I seem to end up wandering around for a while, dazed. And wondering if there is a way out. Maybe you’ve been there too.
The good news is: we are in good company. Few of us have fallen into a deeper canyon than Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples. Peter fell into his canyon sitting by a fire. It was on the night that Jesus was arrested on trumped-up charges and put on trial. Jesus had just predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed at dawn. Peter replied that he would never do such a thing, that he would even die for his Lord. But now, after Jesus’ arrest, Peter follows at a distance so as not to be arrested himself. He waits outside with the servants, huddling around a fire to keep warm. Suddenly he’s recognized as a follower of Jesus, and three times he denies that he knew Jesus at all. And just as Jesus had predicted earlier, the rooster crows, and Peter remembers Jesus’ prediction. The guilt hits him hard.
The fire of guilt. I’ve huddled around it myself, plenty of times. I’ve denied my faith in Christ so often by my words and by my deeds (or the lack thereof). And each time I do, I hit the canyon floor again. Thankfully, I’ve discovered, as did Peter, that there is indeed a way out of the canyon. You see, Peter was invited to another fire as well. The fire of forgiveness.
After the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, Peter, not knowing what else to do, had gone back to his former occupation: fishing. Jesus appears to him and the other disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and beckons them to a fire he lit to cook supper. And after they eat, Peter finds forgiveness from the Lord.
What happened between these two fires to get Peter from the first to the second? From guilt to forgiveness? Two things. First of all, the cross. Jesus died to bear our sins, all of them, so that we might find a relationship with God. And secondly, tears of confession. Luke 22:62 says that Peter wept bitterly. He was a broken man. And all of us must come to the cross broken as well. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, but it is only those who choose to respond that are forgiven.
If you are on the canyon floor right now, there is a way out: put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who died in your place. Then you too can move from the fire of guilt to the fire of forgiveness.