The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘What Happens When You Fail’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 2/18/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.
You Will Fail
All of us will fail. Failure is an inevitable, avoidable part of life; and unfortunately it is also a part of our walk with Jesus. God will ask us to do some things that can only be accomplished by His Holy Spirit in us; and if we step out and try and do them on our own, we will fail.
Like it or not: you will fail. So, what happens when you fail? How does God feel about failure?
Peter is often used as a punching bag in the church. Peter made a lot of open mistakes so that you and I could learn from his example. Peter was the disciple who stepped out to walk on the water, but then started sinking because he took his eyes off Jesus (Matt 14:30). Peter was the only disciple who made Jesus say, “Get behind me Satan” (Matt 16:23)!
Peter was also the disciple who had a massive, public failure for all the world to see, after promising he would never leave Jesus’ side. Peter made some big promises! But when Jesus was about to be crucified, Peter didn’t stand up and support Him; He denied Him:
Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are saying.” And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.” But again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the Man!” And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.” Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly. – Matt 26:69-75
It’s impossible to understand just how significant this denial was, without first knowing what Peter had promised Jesus. You see, Jesus had warned His disciples that all of them would deny Him. He had warned them that no matter how great their commitment to Him was, their faith would be shaken. At the time when they most wanted to stand, they would fall down and deny Him. But Peter had refused to believe that such failure was possible. He told Jesus that, even if it cost him his life, he would stay by His side until the very end:
Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples. – Matt 26:31-35
But when the rubber met the road, Peter caved. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” a servant girl said (v 69); but Peter “denied it before them all” (v 70). “This fellow also was with Jesus,” another girl said (v 71); but “again he denied with an oath” (v 72). “Surely you are one of them,” said some bystanders (v 73); but Peter “began to curse and swear, saying ‘I do not know the Man’” (v 74)! No matter how badly Peter wanted to fulfill his promise to God, he simply could not. No matter how hard he tried to support Jesus with His life, He was simply too weak!
But let’s not point a finger at Peter. You see, you and I are just like Peter. We make promises to God we can’t keep! We have experiences where we feel closer to God than ever, only to make vows we can’t fulfill when the emotional high fades.
How many times have you been in Peter’s shoes? God, I’m not going to sleep with her anymore, you promise; but then you do. God, this is my last beer! I’m going to quit drinking! But then you don’t. Today is the day! I’m waking up and going to church! But then you sleep in.
Have you ever failed? I know I have. Have you ever let people down? I know I have!
Before I was saved, while I was still in college, I took a trip to the beach for a week with all my high school friends. I was very blessed with a solid group of friends growing up; and I stay close with many of them to this day. But I know not everyone had that experience. One of my close friends had reached out to another guy from our high school who was going through a tough time: he didn’t have a solid group of friends, and we wanted him to come on the trip so we could show him some love.
We all talked about it in advance: let’s be supportive, and good to him on this trip. We were all on board, and promised to do our best. But two nights into the trip, I had a little too much to drink. The “new guy” said something that rubbed me the wrong way, so I lit into him. “Nobody even wants you here,” I said. “Why don’t you go home?” I asked.
All of my friends looked at me, jaws dropped, as if to silently yell at me, DIDN’T WE TALK ABOUT THIS? One of my friends ran from across the room to try and get me to shut up; but I tried to sidestep him. Instead of missing him, I hit him; and after we bumped shoulders, I crashed through a huge glass table in the middle of the living room. I had broken a table that could not be replaced; and I had also broken a heart that would take time to heal.
I woke up the next morning, embarrassed and ashamed. I tried to talk to the guy I had offended; but he didn’t want to hear me. I walked around to see where all my friends were; but they had gone to the beach without telling me. I was left in the house – alone – to think about how bad I had screwed everything up.
Have you ever failed? I know I have!
What Happens When We Fail
Let’s get back to Peter. Peter messed up. Jesus had warned him not to deny Him…
“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” – Matt 10:32-33
…but Peter just couldn’t help it! He had still fallen short. You would think that Jesus would have had some choice words for Peter after the Resurrection. Where were you? Why didn’t you stay by My side? But after the He was raised from the dead, Jesus showed up with anything but harsh words for His beloved disciple:
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, 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 again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, 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 Jonah, 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 all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” – Jn 21:15-17
Do you see what happened there? Peter denied Jesus three times; and Jesus restored Peter three times: once for every denial! “I don’t know Him!” Peter said. “But do you love Me?” Jesus asked. “I am not a disciple!” Peter cried. “But do you love Me?” Jesus wanted to know. “I swear I am not with Him!” Peter swore. “But to you love Me?” was Jesus’ only question.
For every failure there was forgiveness. For every fall, there was restoration.
You and I are just like Peter. We will fail. No matter how hard we try, we will fall. But every time we fall, Jesus will be right there to restore us. All He needs to know is, Do you still love Me?
All the Disciples
Peter’s failure was public; but the rest of the disciples failed in private. Just because someone doesn’t see a fall doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Matt 26:56 says, “…all the disciples forsook [Jesus] and fled.” If it happened to them, it will happen to you. How you fail – whether public or private – is of little importance; but how you respond really matters. Will you let Jesus restore you?
When Jesus came to visit His disciples after the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, you would think He might have had some harsh words for them. But just as He loved Peter on the heels of failure, He extended love to all His disciples:
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” – Jn 20:19-23
Jesus’ first words to the disciples were not, where were you? Or how could you? They were, “Peace be with you” (v 19). Even after they had completely abandoned and forsaken Him, His desire for them had not changed: perfect peace. Not only did Jesus bless them, He restored them. He gave them His Holy Spirit (v 22). He made them ambassadors of His forgiveness (v 23). What a restoration!
Have you ever failed? Jesus will restore you in exactly the same way. His only question is, Do you still love Me? And as long as you do, He will take care of all the rest.
© Michael D. White, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.