FAILURE IS NOT FINAL
Pastor Vernon Giesbrecht
If you follow the reports of Christians in other countries where persecution is part of daily life, you may have asked yourself, as I have, how you would respond if faced with the same circumstances. Reports out of Nigeria, Iran, North Korea, and China (and other countries) are disturbing as our brothers and sisters face continual opposition, discrimination, community shunning, threats of imprisonment, torture and death. Many are forced to deny their faith in Christ. We need to pray that they will remain strong. By the grace of God, we here in America still enjoy freedom of religion, however social and academic pressures are increasingly anti-Christian, as Biblical values and morals have become the target of ridicule. Even the core of the gospel is criticized in so-called mainline churches. Apart from the daily personal temptations and failures we all face, how would we respond if our job, our standing in the community, the freedom we take for granted… our very lives were on the line, if we would only deny Christ?
Awhile back, I asked that question again as my devotional reading took me to the Gospel of Mark and the chapters recording the events of the week of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. You probably know the story.
And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
We know the rest of the story, and I will touch on that; however, let’s limit our thoughts to these tragic events in Peter’s life. Early church tradition strongly suggests that Mark’s primary source for these events was Peter himself! In fact, all of Mark’s material probably came from conversations with Jesus’ disciples. What always strikes me in reading Scripture is that it so honest and true in its recounting of this story and others throughout its pages. There is no hint here of the retelling being toned down. The Bible does not sugar-coat the humanity of even its strongest religious leaders. Mark and the disciples were not at all hiding their failings as followers of Jesus. Peter’s bold statements of loyalty even to the point of death a few days earlier and his subsequent denial are recorded starkly and honestly.
There is a lesson for us. At a human level, it is understandable that Peter might have lied to save his life. Any of us might. However, let’s remind ourselves of some of the events of Peter’s life – some of the seeming advantages he enjoyed. He was part of Jesus’ inner circle; he had witnessed Jesus heal people and calm the storm; he had sat under His teaching; he had seen Jesus transfigured; he had confessed He was God; but still had not understood that Jesus must die. But, with Jesus’ unwarranted arrest and the rigged mock trial, Peter’s trust and brash self-confidence melted away. Was it lack of understanding of what was going on? Or, was it fear that he might too be arrested that prompted his denial? Probably a little (a lot) of both. But, it was the crowing rooster that brought things back into perspective again with the shocking realization: he had betrayed the one he loved just as Jesus had foretold!
What spiritual advantages do we enjoy? The Scriptures, God’s Word to us, preserved through the centuries; the knowledge of the gospel, that Jesus died and rose again for the salvation of all who believe; maybe many years of a relationship with Jesus; teachers and preachers to explain and apply the Word; a multitude of churches teaching God’s truth; a specific community of believers who, yes disappoint at times, but care, encourage, and challenge us; Christian media; and difficult trials in which we found God faithful. Yet, would we be so quick to say we would not have responded the way Peter did?
“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
At a deeper level, the significance of Peter’s denial can only be understood in light of what had occurred by the time Mark’s gospel was first read. Those first Christians were already experiencing suffering and persecution. To them, Peter was not just a person in a story who had become a confused, disillusioned, and fearful disciple on the night of Jesus’ arrest. He had become a well-known, respected, courageous, and outspoken preacher, healer and leader. But, he had a story of denial and restoration. Some of the believers may have bowed under the pressure of threats of imprisonment, torture, or death, and denied their faith. They needed someone who understood; they needed encouragement. Peter’s first letter, in particular, met that need.
We need to be careful, we who live in safer communities, that we don’t brashly assume, as Peter did, that we would never do the same. Rather, for those early Christians, for those experiencing persecution today, and for us who face more subtle pressures to deny our relationship with Jesus – we need to recognize afresh that our “Failure is not Final”! There was then, and always is, the forgiving hand of Jesus, extended in grace to those who repent and turn to Him. Peter experienced that a few days later by a camp fire on a beach. He became the respected leader of the early church because he understood and experienced through his personal failure the forgiveness that Christ’s death and resurrection offered.
Peter’s story should offer us encouragement, as well. All of us can point to times when we failed our Lord, perhaps not as dramatically as Peter, but it was failure, it was sin, it was an affront to God’s holiness and His rightful rule in our lives. Yet, because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross – taking the penalty of our sin, dying in our place, satisfying God’s justice, and rising again to conquer sin and death, and offer us new life – our “Failure is not Final”! Rather, it can be the start of a new beginning.
It was Jesus who said to the Apostle Paul:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…” And, Paul responded, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9, 10b).
Where does our strength come from? When facing suffering and persecution? When experiencing our own failure and denial? Does it come from God or from ourselves? It must come from God if we will experience courage in the heat of the battle. It must come from God if we will experience the freedom of forgiveness and the strength to begin again. With Jesus “Failure is not Final!”