"Our Failures Are Not Fatal!"
Theme: Peter's rash boast in the garden teaches us how our own failures do not prove fatal to our Lord's kingdom purposes.
(Delivered Sunday, March 8, 2009 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
We return this morning to our study of Matthew's Gospel; and to the final hours that our Lord spent with His disciples before He went to the cross.
After He had finished all His instructions to them, as a final act with them, Jesus gave them a memorial of Himself to observe through the 'supper' He had instituted for them. He taught them to remember His sacrifice on the cross for sin repeatedly through the symbols of the bread and the cup. And after all this, there remained nothing left for Him to do but to go to the Mount of Olives with them, and await the coming of His betrayer. They sang a hymn together after supper, arose, and went to the Garden of Gethsemane.
What a significant walk that was for our Lord to take! What a time it must have been with His beloved disciples for whom He was about to die! And our passage this morning describes a portion of their conversation as they traveled together to the garden.
Matthew tells us;
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'” (Matthew 26:31).
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Let's just pause for a moment at those words in verse 31. Jesus there reveals to the disciples that something was about to happen to them that was the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture.
In Zechariah 13:7, God spoke of the coming Messiah. In that prophecy, God was announcing that His promised Messiah would suffer before He would reign; and that when He would be struck down, His people would then be disbursed for a time. And even though there was a much larger, national fulfillment of that verse yet to come, Jesus let His disciples know that a partial fulfillment of it was about to occur in them! He was the "Shepherd" that was about to be struck; and as a result, they as His "sheep" would be temporarily scattered from Him.
But no sooner does He affirmed that they would be scattered, than He also affirmed that they would not be scattered from Him for long. He would still lead His sheep. He says;
"But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee” (v. 32).
So; our Lord was in absolute, sovereign control over all that was occurring to Him. All things were occurring according to the Father's divine purpose for Him. It was all happening just as it was promised in Scripture.
But the disciples—and especially Peter—didn't understand this.
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 (Matthew 26:31-35).
And yet, it would be just a short time after this boast that the betrayer would betray the Lord with a kiss (v. 49), and the soldiers would seize Him (v. 50), and that all of those disciples would forsook Him and flee (v.56). And as we read on, we find that after little more than a few hours had passed,
. . . 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 (vv. 69-75).
There's no doubt that Peter truly loved the Savior. What's more, it was through Peter that God had given the church its 'great profession' concerning its Lord "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). It was that profession that Jesus said would be the rock upon which He would build His church (v. 17-18). No follower of Jesus was more privileged than Peter. No believer is more worthy of our love and esteem.
And yet, among those who were His genuine followers, Peter's denial would have to be considered among the greatest moral failures in all of sacred history.
* * * * * * * * * *
What a horrible turn of events this was. And yet, I say this with the utmost love and respect for the great apostle Peter: I'm very glad that the story of his tragic failure is recorded for us in Scripture. I draw comfort from the fact that it happened. There's some very good news of hope in it for the rest of us imperfect followers of the Lord Jesus who like Peter often fail Him!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; have you ever failed the Lord Jesus? Have you ever, in some say, denied Him? It's a pretty stupid question; isn't it? Of course you have! more times than you would want to admit! And so have I.
Perhaps it's through the opportunities you and I have to take a stand for the Lord Jesus in this dark world. Perhaps we hear unbelieving people mock or ridicule our Savior; and we have an opportunity to stand against the ridicule and speak a good word for Him. Perhaps we are called upon by the Holy Spirit to identify ourselves with Him, or affirm the truth of His word in a time of testing and trial. And yet, we don't. We freeze. We remain silent out of fear of what other people might say about us or do to us. And that's a truly horrible thing to do! Jesus said,
“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" (Matthew 10:33-34).
Or perhaps it's through our personal service to the Lord. Perhaps we've started off strong in our walk with the Lord Jesus. Perhaps we we're so overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for His having forgiven us of our sins that we dedicate ourselves to a life of service to Him. And perhaps even for a while, we serve Him sacrificially. But over time, our zeal for Him died out. We allowed other demands of life take priority over our original commitment to Him. And now, we find that we're completely given over to the demands of life in this world. The pursuit of riches have grown to rule over us. The desires for things have taken us over. The expectations of other people control our lives right now. And if the Lord were to suddenly take us up on our original promise of devotion and call us into some sacrificial field of service for His cause, we wouldn't be able to shake ourselves free from this world enough to obey Him. What a serious failure that is! He warned us,
"No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).
Or perhaps it's through our obedience to Him in our daily walk. Perhaps we've tasted of the forgiveness of our sins by our faith in Him. We were publicly baptized, and declared to everyone that we have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus, and have turned away from our old life of sin. And yet, over time through a series of compromises we've allowed some of the old sins to sneak back in and take root in our lives. Now, we find that we live a double life. On the one hand, we affirm that Jesus is our Lord with our lips; and yet privately in the secret areas of our lives or in the attitudes of our hearts we disobey Him and deny Him as our Lord through our behavior. Again, what a horrible thing to do! Jesus Himself has asked,
"But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46).
Peter's denial of the Lord is surely the most noteworthy example in the Bible of a follower of Jesus who failed Him miserably. But if we were honest, we'd admit that we have each one of us failed Him and denied Him again and again.
But dear brothers and sisters; that's why I love this passage. Tucked away in this story of Peter's failure is the good news that, in our Lord's kingdom, such failures do not ever have to be fatal. It's the Lord's will, of course, that we never fail Him. But even if you or I do failed Him perhaps fail Him horribly our failure does not mean a failure for Him or for His good purposes for us.
* * * * * * * * * *
There are certain principles that we can draw from this story about our failures in the light of Jesus' overwhelming victory. First, let's consider . . .
WE CANNOT TRUST OUR OWN HEARTS BEFORE THE LORD.
This first principle doesn't sound very much like "good news", does it? But I believe it's where we need to begin. It's the context in which the good news comes.
Look back with me to what happened in verses 21-22. As Jesus and His disciples sat down to eat, He made the shocking announcement to them; “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” And we're told that, at this news, they were exceedingly sorrowful; “and each of them began to say to Him, 'Lord, is it I?'”
As we read on, of course, we learn that He was speaking of Judas. But there was evidently an personal searching of the heart on the part of each of the disciples at the table. And as they searched their hearts, I suspect that an inner resolve developed on the part of each of them that they would never do such a thing. And I further suspect that no one would have been more resolved in that commitment than Peter.
And so, by the time our Lord was walking with His disciples to the garden, and had told them that He would be struck and that all would be scattered from Him, the very idea that they would be scattered from Him had become unthinkable to them—and especially to Peter. He affirmed twice that he would never leave the Lord. First, after the Lord quoted Zechariah 13:7 to them, and affirmed that this is what would happen, Peter said, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (v. 33). And then again, even after Jesus told Peter that he would indeed deny his Master three times before the end of the evening, Peter insisted, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” (v. 35). What's more, Peter's strong affirmation motivated them all to say the same thing.
Now; when you and I read these words, we inwardly groan. We know what's about to happen. And yet, when Peter spoke them, he absolutely meant what he said. He even proved his resolve in the garden. When the Lord was apprehended, we're told that “suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear” (v. 51); and we're told in John's Gospel that this swordsman was none other than Peter himself (John 18:10). The Lord rebuked him for this, and commanded him to put his sword away. But it's nevertheless made clear to us that Peter was prepared to fight to the death to protect His Lord. He truly intended to make good on his boasted devotion to Jesus.
And yet, after Jesus was apprehended, Peter along with all the others deserted the Lord. As we'll see in greater detail later on in our study of this chapter, he followed along to see what would happen to the Lord but at a distance (v. 57). And within a few hours of his boasted devotion, a servant girl would ask if he was with the Lord, he would say, “I do not know what you are saying” (v. 70); and another girl would identify him as one of Jesus' followers, and he would say, “I do not know the Man!” (v. 72); and several of the bystanders would affirm that he truly was one of Jesus' followers, and Peter would curse and swear and say, “I do not know the Man!” (v. 74).
I think we would all agree that it was arrogant for Peter to have made this boast. More than arrogant; it was a flat denial of what the Lord Jesus had just showed them from the Scriptures that He and the others would be scattered! And yet, if after having been with Jesus in the closest possible way for three-and-a-half years; if after hearing Him teach; if after seeing Him perform miracles; and if even after being an eyewitness of His divine glory on the Mount of Transfiguration and hearing the Father say, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5) if after all this, even Peter would deny the Lord, how dare we think that we could ever trust our own hearts before Him!
We ought to keep two verses of Scripture in mind whenever we're tempted to boast of our devotion to the Lord. One verse is Jeremiah 17:9; which says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and disparately wicked; who can know it?” We may think we will always stand for the Lord, and that we'll always be devoted to Him; but the Lord Himself knows how easily our own hearts can fool us. And another verse is 1 Corinthians 10:12; which says, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
Those two verses together ought to keep us from ever saying, “Lord, I will never deny You!” Instead, we ought to say, “Lord, if even Peter could fall, how could I in my own power ever hope to stand? If You should take Your hand away from me, I surely would deny You! Please keep Your hand upon me, so that I will not foolishly trust in my own heart!!”
* * * * * * * * * *
But here's where good news begins. Let's next consider . . .
EVEN OUR FAILURES ARE UNDER THE LORD'S SOVEREIGN RULE.
We see this all over this passage. Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night . . . " It wouldn't be some other night; but that very night. And it wouldn't be some of them; but all of them. He knew this in advance; and told them before it occurred even showing them from the Scriptures that it would be so.
When Peter insisted that it would never happen to him; did you notice that Jesus told him, "Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times”? Jesus not only told Peter how many times he would deny Him not just once, not just twice, but three times but even told him when it would occur. It wasn't just that it would happen during a general time that is, at the third watch of the night (which was sometimes called by the name "the cock's crow"). He said that it would happen at a very specific time. Verse 75 tells us that, when Peter had finished denying the Lord for the third time, "Immediately, a rooster crowed"!
Now; there's a mystery in all of this; and I believe we should be very careful to state that mystery correctly. The Lord was absolutely sovereign over all that occurred even over Peter's failure. But this does not mean that Peter was not to be held responsible for his moral failure. He rashly boasted of his devotion to the Lord and then wickedly denied the Lord in the time of testing. He was morally responsible. And yet, even so, the Lord Jesus remained sovereign.
In a similar way, when we fail, the Lord's sovereignty is never a "free pass" for us to then argue that it's not our fault that we were simply doing what the Lord sovereignly decreed. We remain morally responsible for our failures. But I take great comfort in knowing that even my failures are in the mystery of our Lord's sovereignty under His complete control. I may fall but no further than He permits me to fall; and only in the way that He allows.
I'll never forget a dreadful failure on my part many years ago. I was working as a graphic designer in seminary; and one of my professors put me in contact with an older minister that needed some help designing a resume. In the course of creating his resume however, I inadvertently shared some personal information with someone that had the potential of jeopardizing his position with the church he was then serving. I didn't even know it happened until this poor pastor called me and told me that I may have just gotten him into trouble!
I was sick to my stomach! It was an innocent mistake; but I wondered how I could be so stupid and careless! And yet, when I went to my professor and told him what had happened, he put a comforting hand on my shoulder and said, "Greg, it was a stupid thing to do; but remember that God is sovereign. He knew this would happened; and He could have stopped you if He had wanted to."
Now; that fact didn't then make me want to run out and be reckless. Rather, it comforted me with the fact that God is sovereign over everything even over my failures. Peter's failure remained under the Lord's sovereign control; and so do yours and mine. We should always take responsibility for them; but we should never fear that we've somehow fallen short of God's sovereign care.
* * * * * * * * * *
In a similar way, we should note that . . .
OUR FAILURES DO NOT HINDER OUR LORD'S PURPOSES.
Did Peter's failure somehow undo our Lord's plan? Not in the least! Neither Peter's rash boast nor his cowardly denial undid anything of the Father's plan.
In fact, did you notice what the Lord said in verse 32? After He affirmed that Peter and all the others would do what they thought it would be impossible for them to do that is, to be caused to stumble because of Him and be scattered from Him He said, "But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee." Everything that the Father had purposed for the Son would be fully accomplished His death on behalf of His followers, His resurrection for their justification, and even His ultimate meeting of them again in Galilee.
And as we read the end of the story, we see what happened after He arose. The angles met the women at the tomb and said that He was no longer there; and said that they should "go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going to before you into Galilee; there you will see Him" (Matthew 28:7). Along the way, they met the Lord Himself; who told them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me" (v. 10). It was at Galilee that Jesus met them, and gave them His "great commission" (v. 16ff). Nothing of Peter's failure hindered Him in anything He purposed to do.
Now again; I believe this is something that needs to be stated carefully. I don't believe this principle is for someone who would seek to abuse God's grace and live in open sin. If anyone where to think they could do that, I would say with Paul, "Their condemnation is just" (Romans 3:8). Rather, I believe this is for those of us who like Peter truly love the Lord Jesus and genuinely seek to serve Him, but who cannot help but do so imperfectly. As much as we love the Lord and seek the advance of His kingdom, we stumble, and fail, and fall. But I'm assured from this that we should never think of ourselves as so 'important' that our failures somehow bring our Lord's purposes to a standstill. As Romans 8:28 promises, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
* * * * * * * * * *
And that leads us to one final principle . . .
THE LORD CAN USE EVEN THOSE OF US WHO HAVE FAILED HIM.
We see Peter's miserable failure in this passage. And we can't even begin to imagine what a tormented heart he must have had afterwards. He must have thought he had completely blown it; and that, now, the Lord he so loved would never want to have anything to do with him again.
But thankfully, we know the rest of the story. We know that according to Mark's Gospel, when the angels greeted the women at the Lord's tomb, they said, "But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you" (Mark 16:7). Isn't that wonderful? The Lord wanted to make sure that Peter especially received the command. What hope that special invitation must have given poor Peter!
We also know that according to the apostle Paul, Jesus made a special resurrection appearance to Peter. In 1 Corinthians 15:5, we're told that after Jesus was raised from the dead, "He was seen by Cephas [that is, Peter], then by the twelve . . ." In other words, before the Lord appeared to the other disciples, Jesus made a special point of appearing to Peter. Even they said so. They affirmed, "The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon [that is, Peter]!" (Luke 24:34).
And we also know that it was Peter who was then given the privilege of preaching the first great Christian sermon about the resurrected Lord Jesus after Pentecost (Acts 2:14-39); and then boldly testified to the Lord Jesus before the leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 4:8-13); and then was the first to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10-11); and then was permitted to write two of the great books of the New Testament (in addition to perhaps also being the one whose witness for the Lord Jesus was the basis of Mark's Gospel); and then, at last, to lay down his life for the Lord that he had formerly denied (John 21:18-19).
The Lord Jesus knew in advance that Peter would fail. But He told him, "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:32).
Don't you agree that the Lord can use anyone? even those who fail Him? Even Peter? And even you and me?
* * * * * * * * * *
Dear brothers and sisters; out of love for our great Savior, let's be sure that we are faithful to Him. Let's do our best to serve Him in the enabling power of the Holy Spirit all our days.
And even should we fail as no doubt we will many times let's get right up and get back into His service. Let's rest assured that our failures are never fatal in the kingdom of Jesus Christ. He is far more mighty than our weaknesses; and He has more than enough grace for even you and me.
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