Failure is Never Final with God
The Restoration of Peter–John 21
Good morning–my name is Shawn Farrell and I serve as the college pastor here at FBC. The regular guy is getting some much needed refreshment, vacation, and grandkid time in Hawaii and so we are taking a break from 2 Timothy this week and next. I’m looking forward to having Morgan Maitland, our high school pastor, in the pulpit next week.
A number of years ago, FBC hosted a Saturday seminar and I really wanted to go. But it was a super busy time, and between work and ministry, I had neglected my family and my responsibilities around the house. When I broached the subject with Tracy, she gave me the look that said, “I can’t believe we are even having this conversation,” but what came out of her mouth was far kinder and left just enough room for me to justify going.
But knowing that I was testing the limits, I decided to get up super early on Saturday morning and surprise her by completing all the things on my honey-do list. So at 5am, I was up and at ‘em, getting it done–cleaning the garage, organizing cabinets, repairing broken sprinklers in the backyard, and cranking it out. Then I got to the last item on the list–take the last 10 years of paystubs, tax info, receipts, and other sensitive financial documents to the shredder. It was two or three boxes full of paper.
Well, its 6am on a Saturday morning, and I don’t have a clue who shreds paper–and there is no chance they would be open anyway, so I decide I’ll just put it in my outdoor fireplace and burn it. So I began carefully stacking reams of paper inside this small stone fireplace. It took me a while, but don’t worry, I got it all in there. From bottom to top, left to right, this thing was jammed full of paper. Quite proud of myself for getting it all in there, I lit each corner and waited for it to combust. But it didn’t–instead, it just smoked. So I lit it in a few more places and it smoked more and more, but never caught fire.
And so I am sitting there watching this billowing white smoke come out of the little chimney, climb over my wall, and begin to slowly spread in all directions around my neighborhood. And since it was a beautiful, still, summer morning, everyone had their windows open.
It was about this time that I heard a voice calling to me from above. It was the voice of an angel. No, it was the voice of my wife who had been awakened by the smell of burning paper, yelling from our bedroom window asking me, “What in the world are you doing?” What kind of stupid person burns paper in their outdoor fire place at 6am? Looking around and seeing my entire neighborhood full of smoke, I brought my hose over to extinguish the smoking paper. The water hit it and it sizzled, creating even more smoke, and then it finally went out.
I cleaned it up as best I could and then went inside to get my Bible and get ready for John Pleasnick to pick me up and take me to the seminar. When he arrived, he told me that about 1/4 mile from my house, he had to roll up his car windows because of the smell of burning paper. He said, “What type of person would do something so dumb? Not only is it against the law but it is totally inconsiderate.” To which I nodded in agreement and said, “What a bunch of Neanderthals.” To this day, I regret that decision.
What about the story of Michael Kosko who regularly put $2 into an office pool for the lottery, but on one fateful day he didn’t have the money on him, so he chose not to participate. It just so happened that on that very same day, his co-workers hit a $319 million jackpot. As the dust was settling, one of his coworkers told him, “I could’ve let you borrow the $2, if you really needed it.” Helpful, I’m sure. Another said, “I think he is happy for us.” Yeah right.
Or there’s this failure, pictured above—yikes! And in case you didn’t notice, that permanent tattoo was misspelled—“No Regerts”. The things that people regret most–not finishing school, not being there when a loved one died, working too much at the expense of family, not saving early enough, getting involved with a bad group of friends, or caring too much about what others think. Regret is a part of life.
It could be as simple as leaving the cookies in the oven too long or forgetting to bring an umbrella. It could be more serious, like financial failure or a relational meltdown. It could be a spiritual drought or a sin that you just can’t get victory over. Some failures gnaw away at your conscience, bringing mountains of guilt and tempting you to throw in the towel and just give up. Unable to change the past, you relive your failures over and over.
Sometimes you may even wonder if you are one of God’s children. How could I be a Christian and still struggle with these same sins? Or maybe you are tempted to think that because of your past failures God can’t use you. If you have ever felt like this, then take heart–you are not alone.
In the story before us in John 21, we see how Jesus deals with those who have fallen, failed, and even denied Him. If we were to sum it into one simple truth, it is, “Failure is Never Final with God.” This is the story of the restoration of Peter, a man who failed on a grand scale and yet was forgiven and restored by Jesus Himself. And we will see that for Peter and for us, failure is never final with God.
Open your Bible to John 21 and let’s begin by reading the text together. “After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will also come with you.’ They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. 4 But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 So Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you do not have any fish, do you?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ 6 And He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.’ So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. 7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish. 9 So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.’ 11 Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples ventured to question Him, ‘Who are You?’ knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead. 15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My lambs.’ 16 He said to him again 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, ‘Shepherd My sheep.’ 17 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 all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend My sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.’ 19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ 20 Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ 21 So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man?’ 22 Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’ 23 Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’”
1. Failure is INEVITABLE Verses 1 to 2
“After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias [that is the Sea of Galilee], and He manifested Himself in this way. Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.”
John begins by saying, “After these things.” What are these things? He is referring to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Throughout this book, he has masterfully woven together the story of the earthly life of the Son of God in an effort to create a record that would compel people to believe in Christ alone for salvation.
And the men mentioned in verse 2, Jesus’ closest companions during His ministry, had front row seats for the entire show. They watched as Jesus rolled up His sleeves and banished sickness and disease from Palestine. They saw Him heal the lame, open the eyes of the blind, calm storms, walk on water, feed 5,000 people. They even saw Him raise the dead. They heard every claim, listened to all His parables, and sat spellbound during every sermon.
These were His men–His closest friends. Those He had trained for three years and who would carry the torch once He was gone. One betrayed Him and committed suicide. One denied Him publicly. One doubted Him. And the rest abandoned Him to save their own lives. These were the best of the best and they fell flat on their faces. And I say again, failure is inevitable. Everyone fails–even those with the best intentions.
And Peter is the prime example. Let me reconstruct what happened on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. In the upper room, Jesus said in John 13:33 and 37, “’Where I am going, you cannot come’ . . . 37, Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.’” This is a statement of bold confidence. Then in verse 38, “Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.’”
Peter, expecting commendation for this strong declaration of commitment, is instead cut by Jesus’ rebuke and falls silent. We hear nothing more from him until they leave the upper room and head to the Mount of Olives. We pick up the story in Matt 26:31, where Jesus warns them, “’You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.”’”
Peter can’t handle this–he will not be lumped in with the others. So he says, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” Or, “Not me, Lord–I don’t care what these other guys do, I am Your man. I am more committed, I love you more, and I will stand by you no matter what.”
Jesus responds in verse 34, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” This time Peter is ready with his response and goes right back at Jesus. “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” I am all in. And in verse 35, all the disciples said the same thing too.
A little over an hour later, a mob of armed men would come to arrest Jesus. Armed with a small sword, in an act of courage, Peter attacked. You have to give him some credit here–one sword against 600 men. It’s unclear what Peter’s expectation is, but maybe he assumed Jesus would take his cue and do the rest.
But instead, Jesus quickly rebuked him telling him to sheath his sword while He allowed Himself to be taken into custody. Up till this point, the disciples had seen Jesus go toe-to-toe with the religious leaders, routinely putting them in their place and walking away unscathed. But this was different and the disciples knew it–and fear flooded their hearts as they realized Jesus wasn’t fighting back. Mark 14:50 says, “They all left Him and fled.”
But Peter isn’t done. He regroups and enters into the courtyard where Jesus was on trial. While warming himself by the fire, he is questioned by a servant girl in Matthew 26:69, “’You too were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you are talking about.’” Asked a second time if he knew Jesus, in verse 72, “He denied it with an oath, ‘I do not know the man.’” An oath is a vow–it is to affirm the truth of a statement by appealing to God Himself.
His third denial is even more severe. When questioned, it says in verse 74, “Then he began to curse and swear”–that is, to call on God as his witness and pronounce a curse of death on himself if what he is saying is not true, “I do not know the man!” Luke 22:60 says, “While he was still speaking, a rooster crowed.” And then it says the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Already bloody and beaten, Jesus hears the rooster and finds Peter and locks eyes with him. Can you imagine that look? It cut through Peter like a knife.
Luke 22:62 says, “He went out and wept bitterly.” This is one of the greatest failures of all time. Peter failed on a grand scale. Unfortunately, we can relate to Peter. We all know the bitter sting of failure, of regret, of missing the mark–losing your temper, succumbing to lust, surrendering to laziness, allowing depression and sorrow to overwhelm you, yelling at your kids, failing to share your faith when prompted by the Spirit, promising to get up early and spend time with the Lord, only to find yourself snoozing until the last possible minute. Or staying up too late, binge watching your show at the expense of time with the Lord.
We have all said, “I’m done with that sin. I will never do that again. That was the last time.” Making earnest promises to God, only to find yourself coming back for more–like a pig who after washing returns to the mud. We bear the scars of past failures and it doesn’t take much to bring them back to the surface and open old wounds, does it? The simple reality is that failure is inevitable. We have all experienced it. But my friends, failure is never final with God.
2. Failure Promotes SEPARATION Verses 3 to 14
In verse 3 Peter says, “I am going fishing.” This is not, “We’ve got some time to kill waiting for Jesus.” This isn’t, “We need to eat.” This is a statement of finality. This is Peter saying, “I’m done and I am going back to my old life. I used to be one of Jesus’ men, I was even part of his inner circle. He trusted me. He relied on me to lead the others. He even told me that He was going to use me to build His church, but I screwed up. I wasn’t strong enough, and now it’s over.
He is resigned to the fact that his part in the story is over. Jesus will find someone else–another man to lead. Someone better. Someone stronger. Someone who is more committed. And so he is going back to what he knows best, what he can control, what he is good at. He wants to bury his past and move on. And the disciples who were with him, verse 3 tells us said, “We will also come with you.”
This is what failure does to us. It pushes us away. It creates distance between us and the Lord, it promotes separation. Instead of running to Him, openly confessing our failures and asking Him to forgive us. We too often go the other direction. We wallow in our sin, slow to confess, our hearts grow hard. Our love grows cold. We drift, wander, and sometimes even run from God. Confronting our sin is not easy, especially when we commit the same sins over and over. We feel pain, we experience disappointment, and ultimately we allow our failures to block our intimacy with God.
In the Early Church, there was intense persecution of Christians under the reign of Diocletian. There are stories of Roman soldiers assembling Christians in a line and then killing them one by one with their sword. There were so many at a time that swords were blunted from use and would even break. The soldiers would take turns, as they were exhausted by the effort. This was horrible persecution.
There were three categories of Christians in those days. 1) Martyrs were those who died for their faith. 2) Confessors were those who were tortured or imprisoned for their faith, but never denied Christ, and were later released. And 3) were penitents, those who at the threat of torture denied Christ to save their own lives, but then later came back in repentance. In light of their denials, these had a hard time proving their faith, and it took a long time for them to be accepted back as brothers or sisters. Imagine trying to come back from this.
But the strongest critic is never external. It is not the people out there. The strongest critic is the little voice in our own head that accuses us, condemns us, and holds us captive in a prison of guilt. Have you experienced this? You don’t measure up. You don’t make the grade. You have failed one too many times. The fellowship is broken.
So it was with these men, and so they resigned themselves to go back to their old profession, back to their old life. I can imagine they felt relief as they pulled away from the beach that evening. Distracted by the task at hand, they were finally able to get their minds off of recent events. There is no small talk, no conversation–just the sound of the waves lapping up against the side of the boat as they disappeared into the night.
Look down at the end of verse 3, “That night they caught nothing.” The word nothing in verse 3 could be translated useless or worthless. It was a useless night. Why was it useless? They weren’t where they were supposed to be, they weren’t doing what they were supposed to do. Instead, they were off on their own, relying on their self-powered efforts. And I think it’s safe to say that anytime we rely on ourselves, our own strength, our own wisdom, we will fail.
Interestingly enough, if you look across all four gospels, the disciples never catch a single fish without Jesus’ help. In John 15, Jesus illustrated our need to rely on Him and be close to Him with the imagery of a vine. He said in John 15:4, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
Here they are, trying to live life on their own without Jesus. We do the same thing, don’t we? It is useless. In verse 4, the sun is rising and they are rowing in, having worked all night with nothing to show for it. They are tired, hungry, and totally defeated. In verse 5, Jesus stands on the beach and yells out to them, “Children [little boys—that’s what it means], you do not have any fish, do you? They answered Him, ‘No.’”
He instructs them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, and as they do, every fish in the Sea of Galilee tries to get into that net–so many that they couldn’t even get the net into the boat. And as they scramble, John realizes that this isn’t the first time this has happened. His mind races back to the first time they had met Jesus.
In Luke 5, after a night where they caught no fish, Jesus told them to put their nets in the water, and they caught so many fish that their nets began to break. It clicks with John and he turns to Peter and says, “It is the Lord.” And Peter responds exactly the way we expect him to–he just acts. Verse 7 tells us, “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.”
I love his passion. His enthusiasm. “Jesus is where? I need to get there. Now.” You may question his methods, but you have to love his heart. Verse 8, “But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away.” The picture in my mind is of Peter, wrapped up in this heavy, waterlogged cloak, doing his best 100 freestyle, desperately trying to get to the shore, and the disciples are calmly rowing in–and all get there at about the same time.
Verse 12, “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’” From His abundance, He provides for their needs. In the upper room, He served them by washing their feet. And here, the resurrected Lord, God in the flesh, makes breakfast for His men. They have distanced themselves from Him, and so He eliminates that distance by coming to them, and with compassion meets their most basic needs. Our God knows us. He is mindful that we are but dust. And when we lose sight of Him, He comes to us, reveals Himself, and draws us back to Himself–because failure is never final with God. This brings us to the third point
3. Failure Ends with FORGIVENESS Verses 15 to 17
Breakfast is over, and Jesus directs his attention to Peter, the one who had the greatest need, the one who was struggling the most with his past failure. Like a surgeon with scalpel in hand, He cuts straight to his heart. In verse 15 He said, “Simon, son of John”–whenever Peter acted like his old self, Jesus called him by his old name. “Do you love Me more than these?”
Do you love Me more than these what? It could be that He is pointing to the fish and the boat and asking, “Do you love me more than your past way of life?” That’s possible. But I think there is something more here. Peter made some very bold, very outspoken and very audacious claims just a few nights earlier. “I will lay down my life for You…. Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You…. Even though all may fall away I will never fall away.”
Peter claimed to be stronger, more resolved, and more willing to sacrifice in comparison to the others. In effect he was saying, “I love you more than they do.” And so Jesus comes right at Him, and in front of the whole group asks, “Do you love me more than they do?” He uses the Greek word agape–it is the highest form of love. A selfless, unconditional transcendent love.
Peter answers in verse 15, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” There are two aspects of His response that are worth noting. First, he drops the “more than these”. He has been humbled. He has been defeated. He failed to prove that level of love, so he answers back only, “Yes, I love you.” Second, note that the Greek word Peter uses for love is different than the word Jesus used–it is the word phileo. This is a word used for friendship, for fondness and affection. He can’t get all the way there and so he downgrades.
Jesus comes right back at him in verse 16 with the same question. “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Notice, He drops the phrase “more than these”. Based on Peter’s response, He lets it go and just asks, “Do you love Me?” Still agape, Peter responds back with the exact same answer, “Yes Lord, You know that I love You”–still phileo. Still his heart won’t allow him to match words.
Then in verse 17, Jesus asks one more time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” But this time Jesus downgrades from agape to phileo. Do you even love Me this much? And the text says, “Peter was grieved.” This third question hurt. Jesus has reopened Peter’s wound in order that He might fully restore him.
And He addresses the main issue. There is one and only one principle that comprises the entire law, that binds together all of the Old Testament and the New Testament. There is one unifying element across all Christians from all time. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
This is the very heart of Christianity. This is the priority. This is the central truth. But too often we view our Christianity through the wrong lens. We define it by our level of knowledge. I have strong doctrine and solid systems of theology in place. But Jesus doesn’t ask Peter to recite facts or Bible verses because Christianity is not about how much you know.
Sometimes we define Christianity by how involved we are. “I go to church every week. My kids go to youth group. We even attend a CG.” But Christianity is not about your level of commitment. We define it by our efforts. “I serve very tirelessly. I give of my time, my money, my resources.” We define Christianity by our feelings. “Does it make me feel good?” Many go to church to feel good, to connect, to have an emotional experience with God. But Christianity is not about an experience or a feeling.
Christianity can be summed up in one question. Do you love Jesus Christ? This is the sum and substance of what it means to be a Christian. If there be no love for Christ, then there be no relationship with Him. And here Jesus asks it three times, as if to say, “It is of first, second, and third importance. The repetition drives the point home like a hammer drives a nail deeper and deeper into a piece of wood, and so this question comes to Peter and to each of us and drives into our hearts.
Without love, there is no vitality about our Christianity. We are no better than wax figures, lifeless beasts in a museum, or tinkling cymbals. “There is no life where there is no love” (JC Ryle). Paul said, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22). And Matthew 10:37 says, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
“A Christian is defined by love for Jesus Christ. A true servant of Christ may be weak, and fearful, and unstable, and failing in many things. Ask him whether he is a believer, whether he is justified, whether he is sanctified, whether he is elect, whether he is a child of God—ask him any one of these questions, and he may reply that he really does not know! But ask him whether he loves Christ, and he will reply, ‘I do’”(JC Ryle).
And this is Peter’s response, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” He appeals to Jesus’ omniscience. “Lord, you know my heart. You know that I am not a perfect man. That I have fallen short, that I am not all I am supposed to be. But you know that I love you.” Jesus is not trying to crush Peter under the weight of His past failures, but to offer forgiveness, to restore Him, and to bring him back.
Three denials are matched by three questions. His failure is forgiven. His shortcomings have been overcome. His deficits have been covered by another. Every one of his sins, all of his shame, his guilt, his past have been removed. Colossians 2:14 says, “The certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” The penalty for sin has been paid. The power of sin has been broken. The Lord has come to offer forgiveness to Peter personally and to restore intimate fellowship with Him. There is a love for Christ within him–and as his heart is probed, it is clear that even though he has failed and even though he has fallen short, yet he loves the Lord.
And notice that Jesus doesn’t restore him only to relegate him to a corner of the church. He doesn’t set Peter aside as spoiled goods. He isn’t untouchable or unusable because of his sin. Instead, He gives the same command three times, in verses 15,16 and 17. “Tend My lambs.” I am the good shepherd, but I am no longer there to care for My sheep directly. So I am putting My most prized possession in your care. No longer will you be concerned with fish and nets, you will now deal with the hearts and souls of My people as their shepherd. I leave them in your charge. Wow.
You ask me what forgiveness means; it is the wonder of being trusted again by God in the place where I disgraced him (Rita Snowden). Do you have a past that is filled with sins that you are ashamed of? Are you beyond the grace of God? Do you feel unusable because of what you have done? We are all sinners, saved by grace. It is not in our perfection that Christ wants to use us, it’s in our weakness so that the glory goes to Him. “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9 to 10).
Some in this room are carrying a dark past and think that God can’t forgive you or that He won’t use you because of past wrongs and sins committed. You live in a state of regret–of guilt and shame because of what you have done. But my friend, failure is never final with God. God restores and uses broken people. So we have seen failure is inevitable, failure promotes separation, failure is forgiven, and finally . . .
4. Failure is FORGOTTEN Verses 18 to 25
Having publicly restored Peter from his past failures, Jesus now looks to his future. He says in verse 18, “’Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.’ 19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.” This is prophetic. Jesus is telling Peter how he will die. Verse 18 is a direct reference to crucifixion. “Your end, Peter, will come at the hands of men who will take your freedom, cause you to suffer, and then crucify you. Do you love me? Do you really love me? Because if you do, this is what it will cost you.” Then verse 19 says, “Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me!’”
“’He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38 to 39). This statement must have sunk like a rock in Peter’s heart, because he turns to see John following behind them, and in an effort to shift the attention off himself he says in verse 21, “Lord, and what about this man?’ 22 Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’” He doesn’t back off, He doesn’t give space. “Peter, stop making excuses. Stop changing the subject. Don’t worry about others. Don’t compare. This is about your heart, this is your life. I am calling you to follow Me.”
The first time that Jesus spoke with Peter on the seashore, He told him, “’Follow Me.’” And I can’t help but think they are standing on the very same shore, possibly in the very same spot. And as if turning back time, Jesus issues the very same command—“Follow Me.” In essence, He has erased Peter’s failure. He has taken him all the way back to the beginning and He stands before Him with the very same words. The very same commission. The very same offer. As if to say, your failure is forgotten. Wipe the slate clean. Let’s start again. There is work to do and I want to use you to do it–for the glory of God, for the salvation of the lost, and for the blessing of your own heart. “Follow Me.”
And standing on the beach that day, forgiven, restored, and fully understanding the cost, Peter would answer the call to follow Jesus. Not out of obligation, but out of love. Those who are forgiven much, love much. Peter understood this better than most. He became the leader of the Early Church and the spokesman of the apostles. He followed Christ all the days of his life and church history tells us that by his own request, he was crucified on an upside down cross, because he wasn’t worthy of dying like Christ.
My friend, like Peter, your failures are forgiven and they are forgotten. God isn’t waiting for you to do enough good things before He will accept you. He accepts you based on the finished work of Christ who, having born your sins in His body on the cross, has healed you and made you ready to be used for His glory.
Let’s wrap this up with three points to take home.
A. Answer the main question
A very important question that has been posed today–it is the truest litmus test of whether or not you are a child of God. Do you love Jesus Christ?
“Let me say to you, beloved, however eminent you may be in the Church of God, and however distinguished for services or for suffering–do not evade this question! Bare your heart to the inspection of your Lord and answer Him with humble boldness” (Spurgeon).
It is easy to get to church on Sundays and even serve in the church. But the question is whether or not you love Jesus Christ. Search your own heart. Can you answer like Peter did, “Lord you know my heart, you know that I love you.” Evaluate your heart.
B. Seek to turn quickly from sin
Too often, like Peter, we allow our sin to break our intimacy with God and we wallow in it. Or we ignore it, or we put off coming back to God because we are ashamed or feel guilty. I want to encourage you to run quickly back to the Lord when you sin. But 1 John 1:9 says that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
When we falter and even fail, may we be quick to run back to the cross. To not let sin stand in our way, but instead seek to restore intimacy with our Savior.
C. Express gratefulness to the One who forgives
May our hearts be lifted to express gratefulness to our Savior–to say, “Thank You for loving me and chasing after me when I was far from You.” To say, “Thank You for taking an enemy and making me Your friend.” To say, “Thank You for mercy and kindness that washed away my sin.” And thank Him for an opportunity to serve Him, and to be used by Him all the days of our lives.
So we have seen this morning . . .
- Failure is INEVITABLE
- Failure promotes SEPARATION
- Failure is FORGIVEN
- Failure is FORGOTTEN
Failure is never final with God–aren’t you glad? Let’s pray.