If we face our failures, God can restore us to usefulness.
In Where Is God When It Hurts?, Philip Yancey writes about a peculiar handicap of lepers: they feel no pain in the afflicted parts of their body.
They can burn a leprous hand in the fire and never feel a thing. A simple cut can become a critical injury because they have no sensation of pain.
Likewise, one of the marks of a sociopathic personality is the inability to recognize one’s own error. The sociopath can lie, swindle, and abuse, and never really understand why everybody gets so worked up about it.
Like the leper who feels no pain, the sociopath injures himself — and others — and totally ignores it.
Why am I telling you this? It’s simple: I don’t want you to be a sociopath!
Much of the disfigurement of leprosy comes not from the disease but from the inability to feel pain.
As ironic as it sounds, the ability to feel pain can be one of life’s greatest blessings.
But in this post, we’re addressing a very specific form of pain. It’s not a pain that is done to us; it’s a form of pain that is self-inflicted. It’s the pain of our own failures.
When you study history, you’ll find that history is littered with failure. Biblical history is no different. The Bible itself tells numerous stories of self-inflicted failure.
- Adam and Eve – they got the party started.
- Cain kills Abel.
- Noah gets drunk in front of his kids.
- Abraham lies about Sarah being his wife to save his own skin.
- Moses murders a fellow Hebrew.
- David commits adultery with Bathsheba.
All of these failures and we still have almost 1,000 years before Jesus will be born!
Personally, I respect how the Bible does not hide or spin the failures of leaders. When compared to other religious systems, this is a rather unique quality of Christianity.
In our world, businesses (churches, political parties) hire public relations firms to do damage control when a leader falls. But in the Bible, failure is openly admitted and discussed.
At Mountainview, we’re in the midst of a series that is looking at the last few days of Jesus’ life. Today’s story is a great example of how the Bible deals with the topic of failure …
12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people. 15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in. 17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” — John 18:12-17
The story begins where we left off last week – having been betrayed by Judas, Jesus is arrested and taken to the high priest.
Peter and another disciple decided to follow after him. Peter has to wait outside and this is where the trouble starts. He’s asked if he’s a follower of Jesus. His answer? “I am not.”
This is the same Peter who once declared he was willing to die for Jesus. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, this same Peter drew his sword and sliced off a guy’s ear.
Have you noticed a pattern? Whenever Jesus was present, Peter has all kinds of courage? But when left alone or challenged, all that courage goes away.
As you read John’s account, one of the things you notice is this: Peter’s failure didn’t just happen all at once. It was a gradual moving from temptation into sinful disaster …
18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself. 19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” 22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. 23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” 26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow. — John 18:18-27
While Jesus is standing up to his questioners and denies nothing, Peter is cowering and denying everything.
Luke’s account describes the last of Peter’s denials this way …
60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly. — Luke 22:60-62
Paul Powell once wrote this word of caution: “If self-confidence is the first step to success, overconfidence is the first step to failure.”
If we want to avoid Peter’s kind of mistakes we need to understand that our pride and arrogance will keep us from recognizing our weaknesses.
What is so dangerous about being overly confident in our own abilities? One of the biggest problems is this: we begin to think we can handle anything and everything. Our sense of self-sufficiency leads to self-deception.
If we ever get to where we think we no longer need God’s help we are headed for failure and shame.
Let me close by addressing a common lie regarding failure: If you are truly spiritual, you will never experience failure.
Most people who attend church would like to serve God in some significant way. It might be assisting single moms in our community or teaching children to read.
Our desire to do something of significance for God is often crippled by our feelings of unworthiness. “God couldn’t possibly use me after the things I have done.”
They assume God is like most people they know. After we’ve made a mistake, people write us off.
But that’s not God.
Our passage today ended with a rooster crowing, which signals the end of the dark night and the beginning of morning.
When the rooster crowed, Peter went out and wept bitterly.
But why isn’t Peter remembered as a man of tears and failure?
Because the rooster crowing didn’t mark the end of Peter’s story. In fact, the best part of Peter’s story was just about to begin.
The entire gospel can be summed up like this: Jesus went to the cross because none of us could atone for our own sins.