Walking in Peter’s Sandals – 6. What Christ Does With Failure

May 16, 2010


John 21

Poem - “And God Said…” - helps set the scene:

If you never felt pain, How would you know that I’m a Healer?
If you never went through difficulty, How would you know that I’m a Deliverer?
If you never had a trial, How could you call yourself an overcomer?
If you never felt sadness, How would you know that I’m a Comforter?
If you never made a mistake, How would you know that I’m forgiving?
If you never were in trouble, How would you know that I will come to your rescue?
If you never were broken, How would you know that I can make you whole?
If you never had a problem, How would you know that I can solve them?
If you never had any suffering, How would you know what I went through?
If you never went through the fire, How would you become pure?
If I gave you all things, How would you appreciate them?
If I never corrected you, How would you know that I love you?
If you had all power, How would you learn to depend on me?
If your life was perfect, Then what would you need me for?

Pause and consider that final line for a moment:

“If your life was perfect, Then what would you need Me for?”

This is a message about a failure so shocking that we still talk about it 2000 years later. There are 2 parts to Peter’s story - his denial the night Jesus was arrested and how Christ forgave and restored him. The first part depends wholly on Peter, the second wholly on Jesus. Peter was in charge of his own failure. Christ took charge of restoring him.

Behind this story lies a wonderful, liberating, hope-filled truth: Failure is an event, not a destiny. This is good news because we all fail sooner or later, and we all fail over and over again. As Peter’s story proves, it’s not our initial failure that ruins us. It’s what happens next that matters. Failure doesn’t mean you have blown everything - means you have some hard lessons to learn. It doesn’t mean you are a permanent loser - means you aren’t as smart as you thought. It doesn’t mean you should give up - means you need the Lord to show you the next step. It doesn’t mean that God has abandoned you - means that God a better plan.

When we have failed, especially those we love the most, our mind becomes a swirl of emotions – Embarrassment – Anger – Fear -Shame - Despair. We feel dirty and unworthy because we acted foolishly. When we have hurt someone deeply, we want to know if they still love us or have we blown everything?

Will they ever forgive me? Can I ever forgive myself? Peter never forgot what happened when he denied Christ. As long as he lived, he never forgot that terrible night. How does Jesus restore his fallen disciple?  The answer comes in 5 stages.

1. He Sent for Him.

When the women arrived at the tomb early on Sunday morning, an angel announced the good news and instructed them to “Go, tell his disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7). Peter’s denial has separated him from the other disciples. He wondered to himself -"What am I now? Am I a traitor or am I a disciple?”

Peter may have failed in the Upper Room, but Jesus sent for him.  Just a few hours earlier Peter had said, “Lord, you will never wash my feet.” Then later he bragged about his courage - if everyone else deserted Jesus, he would never desert him. How wrong he was. Under pressure the bold apostle turned to butter. Peter meant well, but his futile attempt to protect Jesus accomplished nothing. “Put your sword away,” Jesus said. “It must be this way.”

Peter may have failed in the courtyard, but Jesus sent for him. “Are you one of those men who were with Jesus?” “Jesus! I don’t know him.” “Didn’t I see you with his disciples?” “I don’t know the man.” “Aren’t you a follower of Jesus of Nazareth?” He begins to swear as only a fisherman can swear. “I tell you, I don’t know that man.” In the distance a rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. That’s when the full impact of his sin hit him. Peter went outside and wept bitterly.

After all that, the risen Christ sends for him! He doesn’t write Peter off as a permanent failure. He doesn’t put him in the “Biggest Loser” category. Jesus still has plans for Peter, plans to give him a hope and a future, plans to give him a second chance.

2. He Met with Him.

Where did Peter go after he denied Christ? We don’t know for sure. But I’m sure Peter did what most of us do when we have made a huge mistake, the last thing we want is to be around other people, especially the ones who know us best and love us the most. Having let them down, we don’t want to see them at all. Sin separates us from God and from God’s people. Sin isolates us so that the devil can convince us that, having made such a stupid mistake, no one wants to be around us again, ever. So we spend hours in a miserable prison of self-imposed solitary confinement.

Wherever he was, he must have felt alone in the world. The last thing we are told is that after Jesus looked at him, Peter wept bitterly. We are not told where Peter was during the crucifixion on Friday or during the burial late that afternoon. We can guess that he retreated to some lonely spot, there to replay those awful moments in his mind so he could beat himself up all over again and ask, “Why? Why did I do it? What made me think I was so much better than the others? How could I have been so stupid? What does Jesus think of me now?”

We read that Jesus made a special appearance to Peter sometime on Easter Sunday. We don’t know where or when precisely.       “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon” (Luke 24:34). “He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:4, 5).

I am especially encouraged that Jesus met with Peter before he met with the rest of the disciples. Aren’t you glad about that? Jesus not only sends for Peter. He goes to meet him before he meets with the others. What amazing grace. There will be no public humiliation.  Since Peter denied Christ, things must first be settled between the 2 of them. With wisdom and grace, Christ comes after Peter and doesn’t wait for him to make the first move.

3. He Challenged Him

Now we come to John 21. It is evening on the Sea of Galilee, not long after the Resurrection. Peter and 6 other disciples have spent the night fishing and end up catching nothing. In the morning a man calls from the shore, telling them to put their nets on the other side of the boat and they will catch fish. They end up with so many fish, they can’t haul the net because it was so full. When he realizes the man is Jesus, Peter impulsively jumps in the water and begins swimming for shore. It turns out that Peter and the other disciples caught 153 fish simply by obeying the word of Christ.

Failure in this case was the necessary prerequisite to eventual success. If that man had spoken up sooner, they would doubtless have rejected his advice. “What do you know? We’re professional fishermen. We know where to find fish. We’ve spent years fishing this lake.” But let the night pass and the sun come up and they are ready at last to listen to the voice of the Lord. So it is with all of us. The Lord allows us to fail in our own strength so that we may learn that only by his power will we ever succeed. The disciples needed to fail so they could learn to depend on Christ for their victories. Sometimes it takes shameful failure for us finally to wake up and see our need of Christ.

“Peter, will you obey me even when it makes no sense?” It is the same question the Lord asks us every day. Will we obey even when we think we have a better way - even when the way forward seems unclear - when our instincts tell us to do something different - when we have failed on our own?

4. He Reinstated Him   John 21: 15 - 17

Peter and Jesus had this conversation around a charcoal fire. The Greek word for “charcoal fire” is used in only one other place in the New Testament - to refer to the charcoal fire in the courtyard where Peter denied the Lord. By one fire he says, “I don’t know him.” By another fire he says, “Lord, you know I love you.” By one charcoal fire he denied Christ. By one charcoal fire he is restored by Christ.

Several questions come to mind as we read this passage. Why did Jesus ask Peter 3 times, “Do you love me?” Answer: Because Peter had denied him 3 times. Why did he do this publicly? Because Peter denied him publicly. The other disciples needed to hear Peter openly declare his love for Christ. Without hearing those words, the doubts would linger forever.

The man who had been so boastful, so sure of himself, so confident of his own courage, is now thoroughly humbled. Jesus’ first question - "Do you love me more than these?" - was a subtle reminder of his previous boast to be more loyal than the other disciples. In his reply Peter declares his love for Christ, but he refuses to compare himself with anyone else. As painful as this was, it was absolutely necessary. Jesus is cleaning the wound so that it might be properly healed. He is getting rid of Peter’s guilt and shame by dealing with it openly.

Once we have hurt someone we love, it is hard to look them in the face and be questioned about our true commitment. “How could you have done that? What were you thinking? Do you even love me at all?” But the questions must be asked and the answers must be given. Peter needed to see the enormity of his sin, and he needed to hear Jesus ask these questions. Only then could he grasp the magnitude of Christ’s forgiveness. Only then could he be truly restored. Without the pain, he would not get better. “The truth will set you free but it will hurt you first.” Often we don’t get better because we don’t want to face the hard truth about what we have said and done. But until we face the truth about ourselves, we can never be free.

There are 3 qualifications for those who would serve the Lord: love, love and love. First we love, then we serve. First we love, then we speak. First we love, then we lead.

When Christ asks the question the third time, Peter’s heart is grieved and he blurts out, “Lord, you know all things.” Peter renounces all his self-confidence. This is a mighty step forward in Christian growth. It is a great advance to come to the place where you can say with conviction, “My trust is in the Lord alone.” Sometimes we have to hit bottom and hit it hard before we can say those words.

Did it work? Did the painful surgery produce the desired healing? Yes. Peter never denied Christ again. Just a few days later, on the Day of Pentecost, fully restored, he stood in the temple courts and preached a mighty gospel sermon to the very men who had crucified the Lord. The old Peter was gone forever. A new man was born when Jesus restored his fallen disciple.

5. He Re-enlisted Him   John 21: 18, 19

Jesus skips the rest of Peter’s life and concentrates only on how he will die. Although he failed in the past, in the end he will glorify God in his death. In the Upper Room Peter had rashly boasted that he was willing to follow Christ to prison and to death. It’s as if Jesus tells him, “You were right about that, more right than you knew. Someday you will have a chance to keep your promise. I know that in that day you will not fail.” Peter lived and died faithful to Jesus to the very end. Church tradition says that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome because he said that he was not worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord.

So we come to the end of the message.

What does Christ do with failure? He redeems it!

God is able to forget our past. Why can’t we?

We know Peter well because we see him every morning when we look in the mirror. We love Peter because we can see ourselves in his story. In fact, his story is our story. For all of us the process of Christian growth is long and painful, with many ups and downs. 

Here is the final irony. From beginning to end, Jesus believed in Peter more than Peter believed in himself.  The real hero of Peter’s story isn’t Peter. The real hero is Jesus.

Though we fall again and again, by God’s grace we can keep on getting back up. What mercy! What grace! If he did it for Peter, he can do it for me and for you.  

 

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