Today's thought: On New Year's Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played University of California in the Rose Bowl. In that game a man named Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California. Somehow, he became confused and started running 65 yards in the wrong direction. One of his teammates, Benny Lom, outdistanced him and downed him just before he scored for the opposing team. When California attempted to punt, Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety which was the ultimate margin of victory.
That strange play came in the first half, and everyone who was watching the game was asking the same question: "What will Coach Nibbs Price do with Roy Riegels in the second half?" The men filed off the field and went into the dressing room. They sat down on the benches and on the floor, all but Riegels. He put his blanket around his shoulders, sat down in a corner, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby.
If you have played football, you know that a coach usually has a great deal to say to his team during half time. That day Coach Price was quiet. No doubt he was trying to decide what to do with Riegels. Then the timekeeper came in and announced that there were three minutes before playing time. Coach Price looked at the team and said simply, "Men the same team that played the first half will start the second." The players got up and started out, all but Riegels. He did not budge. The coach looked back and called to him again; still he didn't move. Coach Price went over to where Riegels sat and said, "Roy, didn't you hear me? The same team that played the first half will start the second." Then Roy Riegels looked up and his cheeks were wet with a strong man's tears. "Coach," he said, "I can't do it to save my life. I've ruined you, I've ruined the University of California, I've ruined myself. I couldn't face that crowd in the stadium to save my life." Then Coach Price reached out and put his hand on Riegels’ shoulder and said to him: "Roy, get up and go on back; the game is only half over." And Roy Riegels went back, and those Tech men will tell you that they have never seen a man play football as Roy Riegels played that second half.
It would have been easy for Riegels to give up and disappear. Easy. He didn’t. Riegels knew that when you receive a second chance in life you take it no questions asked. You take the second chance and run with it. How many second chances does this life afford anyway? Not many.
Peter was a loud-mouthed fisherman who sometimes spoke before he thought. He was passionate. Sometimes his passion would lead him to overstate his commitment. That happened one night in an upper room while Jesus was speaking with his Disciples. Jesus never minced words. “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” (Mark 14:27) Jesus spoke fact but Peter takes it as a challenge. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mark 14:31) Here is Peter’s brazen confidence. Here is Peter’s pride. It is the first indicator of his future trouble. The Proverb writer says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” The fall of Peter is equally painful to watch as Riegels failure was. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”” (Mark 14:30) In the turmoil and confusion of the night I even wonder if Peter remembered these words of Jesus. It was not till the rooster crowed that it came back. When it came back it was like his heart was smashed upon the anvil of his failure. Luke adds an interesting tidbit. In Luke 22:61a it says, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” What passed in that look? Knowledge. Peter had failed. He knew it. Even more painful, Jesus knew it. “Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:75)
He went out and wept bitterly. We would say, “he cried like a baby.” Wouldn’t you? I would. I have. I have failed Jesus. I denied Him by doing something I know He wouldn’t approve of. I have said things that I would never say in front of Jesus only to realize He is listening and in that moment of looking into His eyes I must confront the reality that I have denied Jesus. He knows it and I know it. I have failed. We have all failed in life. One way or another we have made a mess of things and we wonder how we are going to get out from underneath the weight of our failures. Our guilt enfolds us like a thick blanket or like the darkness of Peter’s heart as he ran out weeping bitterly. Yet, that wasn’t the end of the story for Peter and it doesn’t need to be the end of the story for us. Two words. That is all the Bible needs to express more grace, forgiveness and hope than we or Peter ever deserve. Because of two simple words—a gem in the gospel of Mark I had probably read over time and time again and never truly saw--we can know that our God is the God of second chances. After Jesus is crucified and laid in the tomb the women go to visit the body to prepare it as was the custom. They were surprised to find the great stone rolled aside and an angel before them. The angel said, “He is not here, he is risen.” These are beautiful words; our faith centers around these words. The angel went on: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you into Galilee.” (Mark 16:7) Two small words—did you catch them? Let me paraphrase what the angel said, “Don’t stay here,” the angel tells the women, “go tell the disciples,” the angel pauses, then a smile, “and especially Peter, that he is going before you into Galilee.” It is as if all of heaven watched Peter fall and it is as if all of heaven wanted to help him back up again. “Be sure and tell Peter that he’s not left out. Tell him that one failure doesn’t make a flop.”
Maybe today you are sitting on a failure of gigantic proportions. Size doesn’t matter. Perhaps your heart is in a million pieces and the tears are thick like a summers rain. There is forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) You went the wrong way. You failed. You know it. Jesus knows it. Here the angel says the words again and insert your name in the place of Peter’s: “But go, tell his disciples and [insert your name] that he is going before you into Galilee.” The angel is saying to you, “Jesus waits to forgive you. He waits to restore you. We waits to use you for His purposes.” All I want to know when I hear the angel say those words is how fast can I get to Galilee.