We are continuing in a sermon series on the Miracle of God’s Mercy. I’ll be using a lot of Bible passages today and you can find them printed on your sermon outline in your bulletin. We are all in need of God’s mercy because we are all imperfect and we live in an imperfect world. There are times when we experience moral and spiritual failures. In his final week leading up to the cross, two of Jesus’ closest followers experienced massive failures. Judas betrayed Jesus into the hands of the Jewish authorities, and Peter denied knowing Jesus after his arrest. Things didn’t work out so well for Judas. He went out and hung himself in despair. But Peter accepted the mercy of God and went on to become one of the most influential leaders in the early church. Today we’re going to look at Peter’s story of failure and see what we can learn. What causes us to fail?
FIRST, we set ourselves up for failure when WE OVERESTIMATE OUR STRENGTH. When we think we are stronger than we really are, that’s when we are most vulnerable to experiencing failure. Peter’s story of failure begins in Matthew, chapter 26. “Jesus said, ‘Tonight every one of you will desert me. For the Scripture says that when the shepherd is killed, the sheep will be scattered. But after I’ve been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.’ Then Peter boasted, ‘But Lord, even if everyone else fails you, I will never deny you!’ Jesus replied, ‘Peter, the truth is that before this night is over, and before the rooster crows at dawn, you will deny knowing me three times.’ Peter insisted, ‘Lord, I would never do that! Even if I have to die with you I’ll never deny knowing you!’ And all the other disciples vowed the same thing.” (Matthew 26:31-35)
Jesus is trying to warn them and Peter reacts, “Lord, we would never deny knowing you.” Notice that three times Peter says he will never deny knowing Jesus. He was over estimating his strength. A lot of businesses fail because they overestimate their strengths. A lot of battles are lost because armies over estimate their strengths. A lot of students drop out of school because they over estimate their strengths. A lot of marriages fail because couples overestimate their strengths. Beware of thinking it could never happen to you. The Bible says, “If you think, ‘I am strong! I can handle this. I’d never fall for that temptation,’ then be careful! For you could easily fall too!” (1st Corinthians 10:12)
SECOND, we set ourselves up for failure when WE FEAR THE DISAPPROVAL OF OTHERS. When you make decisions based on what other people think of you, you are setting yourself up for failure. Peter’s story continues. It says, “Peter followed Jesus at a distance to the courtyard of the high priest’s palace. He went in and sat down with the guards to see what was going to happen to Jesus… As he was sitting in the courtyard, a servant girl came up to him and said, ‘You were with Jesus of Galilee, weren’t you?’ But standing there in front of everyone Peter denied it. ‘I don’t even know what you’re talking about!’ he said.” (Matthew 26:58, 69-70)
This is so remarkable because here’s a man who has just spent the last three and a half years with Jesus. He lived with him. He ate with him. He traveled with him. He studied under him. He hardly ever left Jesus’ side. And now he’s denying he ever knew Jesus. Peter was thinking more about what others thought of him than about what God thought of him.
Let me just ask you—are you following Jesus at a distance? A lot of people who say they’re followers of Jesus Christ settle into following him at a distance because they don’t want others to think they’re weird or a holy roller or too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. A lot of people don’t want others to think they are different. They want to fit in. They don’t want others to think they’re weird. They choose to follow Jesus at a distance. They want to keep Jesus close enough to call on him for help but they don’t want to live differently than everybody else. They fear the disapproval of others. The Bible warns us, “It is a dangerous trap to be concerned with what others think of you, but if you trust the Lord, you’ll be safe.” (Proverbs 29:25)
THIRD, we set ourselves up for failure when WE SPEAK WITHOUT THINKING. This is the most common cause of failure. We speak before thinking through what we are saying and how it will impact those who hear what we say. We speak impulsively. We don’t pause to consider the damage what we are about to say might cause. We speak hastily and without consideration as to the impact of our words. We speak from an emotional place rather than a rational place. Our emotions blind us from seeing the unintended consequences of what we are about to say. You’re not thinking, “Is what I want to say what God would want me to say and is this the right time to say it?”
The story of Peter’s failure goes on. “Then Peter went out to the entrance of the courtyard and there another woman saw him and said to those standing there, ‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ Again Peter denied it, and this time he swore an oath and said, ‘I don’t even know that man!” But after a while, the men who had been standing there came over to Peter and said, ‘We know that you are one of them because your Galilean accent gives you away.’ Peter lost his temper and started cursing and swearing. He shouted, ‘I don’t know the man!’ Immediately he heard a rooster crow.” (Matthew 26:71-74)
Our fear often gets expressed in anger. Fear is a very powerful emotion. It can cause us to lie and cuss and behave irrationally. It can cause us to say things we later regret; hurtful things we later wish we had never said. The Bible says, “The tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do! Just as a tiny spark can burn up a great forest, the tongue is a flame of fire. That part of your body is full of wickedness and can poison everything else in your life. It is set on fire by hell itself and can turn our whole lives into a blazing flame of destruction and disaster.” (James 3:5-6)
These are the things Peter did wrong. He overestimated his own strength. He feared the disapproval of others. He spoke without thinking. Now let’s look at what he did right. Peter teaches us WHAT WE SHOULD DO WHEN WE FAIL?
FIRST, WE SHOULD GRIEVE OUR FAILURES. We shouldn’t minimize them. We shouldn’t pretend they didn’t happen. We shouldn’t justify them or rationalize why we did them. We shouldn’t make excuses for our failures. We should grieve them. We should lament them. We should feel badly about them and regret them. We should feel the pain of failure and not rush to feel better. Here’s the truth: to get past it you’ve got to go through it. That’s a principle we must learn to live by or we will never get beyond our failures. They will haunt us and control us and they will disrupt our lives until we grieve them. That’s how we get through them. The problem is, most people want to avoid the pain of grieving.
Here’s what Peter did, “When Peter heard the rooster crow, he remembered that Jesus had said, ‘Before the rooster crows, you’ll deny me three times.’ Then Peter went outside and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:75)
Peter grieved his failure. He let his emotions come out. He got himself away from the crowd and he wept for his failure. He didn’t swallow his emotions. When you do that your stomach keeps score. Holding in grief causes all kinds of problems. It disrupts our relationships and can even lead to physical illness. Peter wept bitterly. Imagine how disappointed Peter must have been with himself. He’s humbled by his failure and he’s contrite. He owns up to his failure. He grieves and that is his first step in healing. All God wants is for us to be honest. He wants us to acknowledge our failure and grieve it. The Bible says, “The sacrifice God wants is a broken and contrite spirit; God will not reject a humble and repentant heart.” (Psalm 51:17)
SECOND, WE SHOULD SEEK SUPPORT. That’s the next step Peter teaches us. We all need a small group of believers we can turn to for support. And since we never know when failure will come, we need that small group to be up and running so we’re not scrambling for support when we’re grieving. We need other followers of Jesus Christ who can support us through failure, people we can trust to respond to us like Jesus and protect our privacy. Let me give you an example of Peter getting support from his small group. It’s EASTER MORNING. Mary and the other Mary had gone up to the tomb to finish preparing Jesus’s body for burial. The got there and an angel of the Lord tells them Jesus has risen. He’s alive! Go tell the disciples. It says, “Mary Magdalene went and found the disciples together, grieving and weeping.” (Mark 16:10) It says, she found the disciples together, grieving and weeping. When you go through major failure in your life, you must resist the urge to isolate yourself. When you experience a major failure, you must resist the tendency to isolate yourself from others. The tendency is to let the shame and guilt keep us from seeking support. The disciples stayed together to grieve. Jesus had commanded them to stay together because he knew they would need the support of one another. They stayed together all day. The Bible says, “That evening the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus appeared in the middle of the group, and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ …The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!” (John 20:19-20)
When we come together in Jesus’s name, he promises to be there with us. I have yet to see Jesus show up physically, but I know he’s there. I feel his presence and I sense his power. I’ve seen Jesus show up hundreds of times through the words and the prayers of other people, through the kindness and love of other people who allow themselves to be vessels of God’s grace. When you experience a failure, you need a small group to assure you and speak God’s truth to you. This is so important. When you are in crisis because of a failure on your part, you need a small group of people to support you. The bigger your failure is, the greater your inability to think clearly will be. You need them to help you calm down and think clearly. It says, “A week later the disciples were together again meeting in a home.” (John 20:26) In the privacy of our homes is where the best small groups take place. That’s where you can really grieve and feel the support of others. There is one more thing Peter teaches us to do when we have a failure.
THIRD, WE SHOULD CAST OURSELVES ON GOD’S MERCY. We know Peter did this because he writes about it in one of his letters. He says, “Because of his great mercy God has given us a new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope….” (1st Peter 1:3) Peter didn’t stay stuck in his grief. He sought the support he needed and he threw himself on God’s mercy. He’s telling us, “I’m not the same person I once was. I have a new life all because of God’s mercy. I threw myself on God’s mercy.” Peter had a massive failure to deal with. And he emerged on the other side of it a better person because of God’s mercy. Later in the same letter he writes, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1st Peter 5:7)
HOW DOES JESUS RESPOND TO US WHEN WE FAIL?
FIRST, HE HAS COMPASSION ON US. He knows we’re sinners. He knows we’re weak. He’s not surprised by our failures. He has compassion on us. The Bible says, “God certainly knows what we are made of. He bears in mind that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14)
SECOND, HE PRAYS FOR US. The Bible says, “Jesus is able to save us completely [from all our failures] because [in heaven] he lives to intercede on our behalf. He is always talking to the Father, asking him to help us.” (Hebrews 7:25)
THIRD, HE BELIEVES IN US. He said to Peter, “…so when you have repented and turned back to me again….” (Luke 22:32) He didn’t say, “…if you repent and turn back ….” Jesus believed in Peter and he believes in us. He believes in us because he is able to raise us up and restore us by his mercy. The Bible says, “For even though a righteous man falls seven times, he will rise again!” (Proverbs 24:32) Why? Because the very power that raise Jesus from the dead will raise us up and restore us completely from all our failures. It’s a miracle of God’s mercy.
At the tomb on that first Easter morning, “The angel said [to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary], ‘I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. But he is not here—he’s risen from the dead… Now go tell his disciples, and tell Peter, that he’s going ahead of you to Galilee and he’ll see you there, just as he promised!” (Mark 16:6-7) You see, Peter wasn’t feeling much like a disciple after his failure. And yet the angel of the Lord was very clear, don’t leave Peter out. I know he’s not feeling like he’s worthy to be a disciple right now, but don’t leave him out. When we go through failure, we don’t feel worthy to be Christ’s disciple either. Yet I want to assure you, Jesus knows you by name and he wants you to be restored to him.
FOURTH, HE SHOWS US HIS MERCY. Listen to what happened to Peter. TWO WEEKS LATER: “Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. Seven of the disciples were there and Simon Peter said, ‘I’m going fishing.’ [Sometimes it’s hard to sit still when you feel like a failure.] ‘We’ll come too,’ they all said. [They weren’t going to leave Peter go alone.] So they went out in the boat, but even though they fished all night, they caught nothing. [Great, as if they all didn’t feel like failures already. Now they fail at fishing, too.] At dawn the disciples saw a man standing on the shore but they couldn’t see it was Jesus. He called out, ‘Friends, have you caught any fish?’ ‘No, not a thing!’ they replied. Then Jesus said, ‘Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get plenty of fish!’ So they did what Jesus said to do, and they instantly caught so many fish, they couldn’t even draw in the net because it was so full of fish! Then John said to Peter, ‘It’s the Lord!”
When Peter realized that [it was Jesus] he put on his tunic [for he had stripped for work], jumped into the water, and swam ashore, leaving the others in the boat to pull the loaded net to shore, for they were only out about three hundred feet.
When they got to shore they saw that Jesus was cooking fish and bread over a charcoal fire. Jesus said, ‘Bring some of the fish you just caught.’ So Peter went back aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was filled with 153 large fish, and yet the net had not torn. ‘Now come and have some breakfast!’ Jesus said. Now they were sure it really was the Lord. Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had risen from the dead.” (John 21:1-14)
Let me just ask you: if you were betrayed and abandoned by your closest friends, would you show up and cook them a nice breakfast? That’s mercy. The Bible says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
FIFTH, HE USES OUR FAILURES TO BUILD HIS CHURCH. He said to Peter, “When you have turned back to me, strengthen and build up your brothers.” (Luke 22:32) Peter’s story continues. It say, “After breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” Peter replied. ‘Then feed my sheep,’ Jesus said. Then Jesus repeated the question, ‘Peter, do you love me?” Peter said, ‘Yes, Lord! You know I love you!” ‘Then take care of my sheep,’ Jesus said. Then Jesus asked the same question one more time, ‘Peter, do you love me?’ Now Peter was grieved that Jesus asked the question a third time, so he said, ‘Lord, you know everything! You know I love you!’ And Jesus replied, ‘Then feed my sheep!” (John 21:15-17)
God wants to use our failures to build his church. He restores us so that we can show our love and appreciation by building up the body of Christ. Why did Jesus ask Peter if he loved him three times? So that Peter could undo his three denials. God uses our failures to build his church. In fact, our greatest failures can become our greatest ministry.
Peter experienced a devastating failure, but God restored his life through a miracle of mercy. Peter became a rock for God, one upon which the church was built. “Jesus said, ‘Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it!” (Matthew 16:18) What can you become when you experience God’s miracle of mercy?