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How God Uses Failure in Our Lives
Sermon by Jefferis Kent Peterson, July 21, 2019
Note: God does not cause us to fail; He uses our failures to expose what is already in us.
A Man Called Peter: a brash, impulsive, bold a fisherman with gnarled hands who worked hard for a living; muscular from hauling in large wet nets with fish; a tough hide from baking in the sun.
Peter’s mindset: he was looking for an earthly kingdom with a David-like leader who would kick out the Romans. Everyone believed the Messiah would establish an earthly reign and restore the fortunes of Israel to its former glory. No one had a concept of a spiritual kingdom after death and resurrection. God’s blessings were material on this earth. So, the idea that Jesus might die before he established this kingdom on earth was unacceptable! Peter was so sure of this that he was not afraid of correcting Jesus’ mistaken understanding of his mission:
“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”” (Matthew 16:21–23, ESV)
The word for rebuke in Greek means: denounce, express strong disapproval. We are not talking about a mild disagreement. Peter is so certain of his opinion that he cannot comprehend what Jesus is talking about. Peter’s whole worldview, his theology, his expectation is being upended. It would be like saying Jesus will never return. That can’t be right! That is what Peter is thinking. It doesn’t make any sense.
Peter is so ready for a military revolution with Jesus as the head of the army that when the time right for a fight, he boasts of his commitment that he is ready to die for the cause!
“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away 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 am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.” (Matthew 26:30–35, ESV)
Peter dismisses that. He doesn’t believe he will deny Jesus. He is ready to die for him! So, when the time comes and Jesus is surrounded, he takes his sword and starts to attack:
“So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”” (John 18:7–11, ESV)
So, what happens? Jesus is captured, put on trial and Peter’s whole world starts coming apart!!! Not only has Jesus not turned out to be a military leader, he now is going to die? Jesus is just giving up??? Peter doesn’t know what to do or where to put his faith now. He is struggling, disappointed, confused. Everything he has spent his life on for the last three years is now being destroyed. Remember he said earlier when Jesus asked if he wanted to leave when other disciples walked away, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” In other words, where else. He said before, “we have left everything and followed you.” We walked away from our business. We’ve spent three years on the road following you around. And now you are going to die??? What gives? Were we deceived???
Remember, at this time, Peter and the disciples did not know that Jesus was going to rise from the dead! In John, it says when they went into the empty tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there, “they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” (John 20:9, ESV) So, from Peter’s point of view, the show’s over! He’s dead. He’s gone and nothing’s going to bring him back. The vision of a new Davidic Kingdom can’t happen, and Rome is not going to be kicked out. Instead of fighting, Jesus is just surrendering and with his death, the whole last three years was a waste of time.
On a side note, the reason Judas betrayed Jesus was possibly the same motivation: he thought by turning Jesus in, he could force Jesus’ hand and start the promised revolution against Rome. But then, he was just using Jesus for his own agenda. He was not following him.
Well, Peter can’t handle it. It’s all over and under the confusion and stress of this explosion of his hopes, Peter is identified as a follower of Jesus. And Peter denies Jesus 3 times.
“Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:69–75, ESV)
…..Now Simon Peter sees himself as truly is: a weak man who in the face of death is a coward. He has failed miserably. He boasted he was not like the others and would be a hero, but he came to know himself as he really was. In fact, he has lived up to the curse of his own name, for Simon means weak! Something he had tried to live down and fight his whole life. He felt so bad. He must have remembered the words of Jesus about being a disciple. “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32–33, ESV) “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24–26, ESV)
Peter must remember that he is now disqualified not only as being a leader of the disciples but even being a disciple…
And he is also looking around at the consequences of following Jesus and he does NOT want to go there. It is one thing to fight and die, but entirely another to go die without putting up a fight. It is against his nature. He must have felt like the odd man out when Jesus appeared to all of them in the upper room, like he didn’t belong. At least not anymore. He decides he’s had enough and he is going to go back to what he knows: Forget this! He’s going fishing.
“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” (John 21:1–3, ESV)
You know the story. Jesus appears on the land, tells them to cast in their nets again and they do and pull in a great haul of fish. Peter jumps out of the boat and goes to see Jesus.
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Notice, the name Peter means the Rock. Rock Solid as we would say, but Jesus addresses by his given name Simon, the weak. Simon, do you love me more than these? What are these? I believe Jesus was asking Peter if he loved his boat and nets and this lifestyle of fishing more than he loved Jesus? In other words: are you willing to follow me, knowing what the cost might be, or do you love the safety and predictability of being a fisherman? And Peter answers:
He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, 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 John, 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 everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”” (John 21:15–23, ESV)
God uses failure to teach us that we are not in control of the universe. Failure shows us our weakness and our need for God. In fact, we aren’t fit to succeed until we have had major failures in our lives. Through failure comes humility. Through failure comes patience with and kindness towards others in their frailty.
Peter would not have been fit to be a leader unless he had failed. Knowing his personality, he would have been a harsh judge of anyone who was weak or failed. But having failed, he learned he must also extend mercy, patience, and forgiveness to the flock of God. For we all fail in many ways.
Like Peter, we must be broken to be fit for the Master’s use.
Moses was full of himself as a young man, when he slew the Egyptian. In Hebrews, it says he thought he was the one to deliver Israel. But Moses was sent into the wilderness for 40 years. He was so broken of confidence in himself and his own strength that when God appeared to him in the Burning Bush, he said, I can’t lead anyone. I can’t even talk I stutter so bad. His dream was there, his vision was there, but he failed in his own strength, and then God could use him. It says of Moses that he was the meekest man on earth. The word meek comes from the bit that is put in the horse’s mouth and makes it easy to guide them. Moses was broken to be a man God could lead and use.
There are many other examples in the Bible: Abraham, Joseph, David. We only come to our destiny when we are forced to recognize our weakness, and God shows us our weakness when we fail. It teaches us to rely entirely upon him and show no confidence in ourselves.