This morning in Sunday School we talked about the story from Mark 14:27-31. The passage reads as follows:
“’You will all fall away,’ Jesus told them, ‘for it is written:
“’’I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’
But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’
Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’
‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.’
But Peter insisted emphatically, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the others said the same.”
You probably know how the story goes: that night Jesus is arrested and all the disciples flee into the night. Peter follows at a distance and watches the trial as Jesus is accused of blasphemy and His fate is being decided. One by one different onlookers recognize Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples, and out of fear, Peter swears that he was not associated with Jesus. After the third denial and the rooster’s second crow, Peter leaves the scene weeping bitterly. One account says that at that moment, Jesus turned and looked at Peter. To deny the Messiah, God in the flesh: what could be more humiliating? Peter had failed Christ Himself.
Lately, I have been dealing with feelings of guilt about my own failures. There are several little things that would seem like nothing to most people, but are really big deals to me: my lack of organization, my struggle to take care of myself physically, etc. However, there are even bigger issues that I deal with as well. The biggest one perhaps to me is the knowledge that I have gifts and talents that I am not using to their potential, even when I know that God is calling me to use them in specific ways. I have every excuse in the book, but none of them matter because I am being disobedient to God. Knowing that I am choosing every day not to be obedient to God’s call in these particular areas is a heavy thing, and I have been feeling the weight of failure toward Him.
This morning in Sunday School, our teacher (who is also a high school teacher) mentioned that one of his chief frustrations with our educational system is that we are doing our best to not allow kids to fail. The truth is that failure is a part of life, and when a child goes through his entire growing up years having never experienced failure, he is in for a rude awakening when he enters the real world and messes up. What we should teach our kids, rather, is that they will fail, but they must learn to pick themselves back up again and grow stronger through the lessons learned.
That theory works well until we come face to face with spiritual failures. Standing next to a holy and perfect God, one failure in and we are helpless. There is not a thing that we can do to redeem ourselves in His eyes, and for the society that we have grown accustomed to, this is an incredibly difficult concept to grasp. Some people spend their entire lives trying to make up for their mistakes, but the penalty for sin is death. And we all deserve it.
However, praise God for His grace! It is only because of His grace that we have hope in a world broken in sin. We have denied Christ again and again in our attitude and our actions, in our selfish desires and our disobedience. It is because of God’s incredible mercy that we can have the chance to experience true life beyond the guilt and shame. This mercy is new every morning, giving us second, third, and fourth chances and beyond.
I know that personally, I do not always accept this grace and mercy. When I fail God, it is my natural instinct to wallow in guilt and shame. I could never stand in His presence, stained with all the dirt and mess that I have made with my life. Instead of embracing this love, I choose to run away and hide. I rush out of the temple area and weep bitterly in shame. Why would God give this wretched soul another chance?
My friend brought up this morning the sad truth that so many of our churches focus heavily on the cross and rarely mention the resurrection. Not to minimize the cross and everything that sacrifice stands for, but the cross was not the focus of Christ nor was it the focus of the early church. In all actuality, the cross means nothing without the resurrection, when death and sin were not only atoned for, but CONQUERED. We do not live defeated lives, simply dying to sin. We are as Paul puts it in Romans 8:37 “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” We need not remain in shame and guilt when we fail to live in obedience to Christ, because through Christ’s death AND resurrection, we are forgiven and are being made new.
Those same disciples that scattered the night that Jesus was arrested came to live completely different lives after the resurrection. They were given a second chance to die for Him, and nearly all of them did. Even Peter, who seemed to go from failure to failure, one day found the courage to claim Christ as his Lord though this acknowledgement claimed his life. Through pride Peter claimed that he would never deny Christ, yet when put to the test his own strength proved useless. However, through grace Peter humbly accepted Christ’s redemption and lived a life of victory.
We are each given that choice as well. Failure is not only inevitable in our lives, but also a necessary difficulty that we must go through. Until we have experienced failure, we can never fully understand and experience grace. And until we have had a debt forgiven by Almighty God, we can never know what it is like to share in Christ’s victory. Jesus quoted a passage from Zechariah chapter 13 when He predicted Peter’s denial. When we read further into that chapter, it is written: “This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God (v. 9).’”
Paul says in Philippians 3:10-11: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” I don’t know about you, but I am tired of hanging onto my past and present failures and regrets. I long to let go of these things and claim the life of victory that Christ is offering to me. In what ways have you struggled with failure in your own life? This failure does not need to be the end game of your story; rather, allow it to be the beginning of God’s redemption story in your life. Praise God for the cross, but press on in resurrection spirit!