Do you ever look at some of the heroes of the Bible and think to yourself, “I could never do that. I’m a failure,”?
Maybe that’s how you feel in the face of amazing stories of victory like the one experienced by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego when they stood before King Nebuchadnezzar, who had given them the option of bowing down to the golden statue he had set up or being thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. The three young Jews valiantly stood firm for God and refused to bow down. So, the king had them thrown into the blazing furnace, but God miraculously saved them by keeping the flames from harming them. Maybe you come away from that story amazed at how God worked but feeling like you very well might have let God down instead of standing firm for God. Maybe you’ve been tested before and failed, and you think you might fail again.
I want to encourage you if that’s you. One of the things that I love about the Bible is that it presents real people—warts and all. It doesn’t just tell of the courageous and the victorious, the noble and stalwart. It also presents the cowardly and the failures, the weak and those of little faith. Perhaps the person of Peter is the best example of this type.
Peter was part of a special crowd. He was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, and then among those twelve, he was part of the inner three, along with James and John, who were closest to Jesus. Peter was outspoken and seemingly very bold and courageous. We often see Peter speaking for the group. In fact, it was Peter who so emphatically answered Jesus’ question to the disciples in Matthew 16:15, Who do you say that I am? Peter, with great assurance, answered, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). However, when the time came for Peter to be tested, his boldness and courage failed miserably.
On the night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested, He spent the hours before that event with His disciples eating His final Passover meal. At the end of the meal, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and then began to warn His disciples. We read in Matthew 26:30-35:
- After singing 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 DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’ But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a 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.” All the disciples said the same thing too.
Peter was so bold in his words there in v33 and v35, but notice that Jesus turns to Peter and basically says to him, “Peter, you’re going to be the first one to fall away.” Peter shoots back that Jesus is wrong, stating that he’d be faithful to Jesus to the death.
Later that night, it looks like Peter very well might make good on his word. In the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus was praying, Judas came with the temple authorities to arrest Jesus. All the gospels tell us that one of the disciples leapt into action to defend Jesus. This disciple drew his sword and struck one of the guards until Jesus stopped him. John 18:10 tell us this disciple was Peter. He did indeed risk his life for Jesus because the authorities could have easily turned on Peter and killed him, but Peter would be brought to a crisis of decision later that night that would have different results.
After Jesus’ arrest, Peter apparently tailed the crowd and waited outside while Jesus was being interrogated by the High Priest and the council. It was in that courtyard that Peter was brought to his crisis of decision. We pick up the action in Matthew 26:69-75:
- Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.” Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Peter was tried and failed. The one who had said just a few hours before that he’d never desert Jesus deserted Jesus, not once but three times. Peter was confused and afraid, and those feelings got the best of him, leading him to sin.
You may be thinking, “I thought you were trying to encourage me.” I am. So, here it comes.
Although Peter failed Jesus miserably, Jesus did not cast Peter away and leave him in his despair. Instead, He sought to restore Peter, and after His resurrection, Jesus did just that. In John 21:12-17, we read of that gracious conversation between Jesus and Peter:
- 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. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead. 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.” 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.” 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.”
There you have it—complete restoration! For every time Peter had denied Christ, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to affirm his love for Jesus and then communicated to Peter that He was going to still use him in future ministry. Indeed, God did use Peter mightily as recorded in the New Testament. Just read the book of Acts!
What’s more though, in the end, Peter did make good on his promise to Jesus that he’d follow Him even if it meant dying for Him. Tradition tells us that Peter would be crucified for his faith in Christ under the reign of Roman Emperor Nero. However, Peter, because esteemed the Lord so much, demanded to be crucified upside down, feeling unworthy to be crucified upright like Jesus.
Maybe your story is more like Peter’s than Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s. I want to say to you that if you are God’s child, He still desires to use you, no matter your failure. He wants to dust you off, set you upright, and restore you to the fullness of life with Jesus. God is not done with you. Repent of your failure, asking the Lord to forgive you, and cast yourself onto the tender grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ.
We must always keep in mind that our hope is not founded on our faithfulness to God, but on Christ’s faithfulness to God. Jesus was tried time and again, but never turned from God. Where we would have and have failed, Jesus never did. He lived the life that we cannot live and died the death that we deserve, and by faith, He is our substitute.
Friend, hate your failures and strive to never fail, but always rest in the knowledge that your hope for life everlasting is built on nothing more and nothing less that Jesus’ blood and righteousness. May the grace of God through Jesus Christ abound in your life until the ultimate victory!