Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 The Face of Failure: Simon Peter
Text: Mark 14:53-72


We have all heard the story of when Peter denied that he knew Jesus.  It happened when Jesus was arrested and taken to the high priest to face charges of blasphemy against God.  Peter followed Jesus “from afar.”  He feared that Jesus was going to be put to death, and maybe they would come after him and his friends.  He tries to make himself as inconspicuous as possible, but it doesn’t work.  A little wisp of a maid caused him to deny his Lord. 

Peter was ashamed to be known as a follower of Jesus at this time.  Have you ever been in a similar position?  May God forgive our cowardness and weakness as He did Peter. 

This is what Luke says about what happened, in the fourteenth chapter of his gospel.  “And they led Jesus away to the high priest; and with him were assembled all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes. But Peter followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he sat with the servants and warmed himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree. Then some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying,  "We heard Him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.' “But not even then did their testimony agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, "Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?" But He kept silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?"  Jesus said, "I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?" And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.  Then some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him, and to say to Him, "Prophesy!" And the officers struck Him with the palms of their hands.

 “Now as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came.  And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with Jesus of Nazareth.”  But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are saying.” And he went out on the porch, and a rooster crowed.  And the servant girl saw him again, and began to say to those who stood by, “This is one of them.”  But he denied it again.  And a little later those who stood by said to Peter again, “Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it.”  Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know this Man of whom you speak!”  A second time the rooster crowed.  Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.”  And when he thought about it, he wept." (Mark 14:53-72, NKJV)

Any of us could have done what Peter did.  Failure as a disciple does not require exceptional weakness or extreme character flaws.  This careful record of Peter’s failure is a good reminded of this fact. 

Peter, a chief apostle, was present at the cross as a failure. Let’s review the facts we know about Peter so that we can put his failure in proper perspective.  He joined the followers of Jesus very early after his brother, Andrew, brought him to Jesus.  He gave up a fishing business to become a “fisher of men.”  Jesus chose him to be one of the twelve apostles and later included him in the “inner circle.”  He was present at the transfiguration of our Lord and was an “eyewitness” of most of His miracles.  He had received personal instruction from the Lord on a daily basis for over three years before his failure.

Peter had not always been a failure.  He was the one who gave the bold confession that so delighted Jesus’ heart.  He declared, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of God.” 

Peter had never been without words before.  But now under the pressure of the circumstance, facing the scrutiny of the group in the courtyard of the high priest, he violently denied three times that he knew the Lord.  Although he had loved the Lord, he denied Him.

Most of us who have been disciples for a while can identify with Peter.  We know the pain of failure.  Maybe you are like me; I have never denied Christ, but I have, at times, failed to defend Him and witness for Him.  That’s been the story of my life, and I have been ashamed of my cowardness, and I have felt sorrow because of my failures. 

There are three things concerning failure that I believe we can find in this story of Peter’s failure. They are:
First: The shame of our failure.
Second: The sorrow over our failure.
Third: The comfort after our failure.

When we are finished with Peter today, I hope we will see that our failures don’t mean that we’re finished.  Peter went on to serve Christ and he became a great preacher of God’s word. 

God can do something with our lives too; He can take our failures and make something good from them.  There are thousands of men and women who are living victorious lives, who were once defeated Christians.

Let’s begin with the shame of our failure.

Failure is always shameful, but it is especially shameful when it is found in someone as privileged as Peter.  You would think that if anyone would come to Jesus’ defense it would be Peter.  However, I believe that Peter made a mistake, and that his failure represents a misjudged evil. 

Let me explain.  Peter had no intention of failing.  His intentions were to be faithful to the Lord regardless of what might happen.  Jesus told the disciples the night He was arrested on the Mount of Olives, “This very night you will all fall away on account of Me.” 

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”  Then Jesus told him, “This very night, before the roster crows, you will disown Me three times.”  But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown You.”  Even before that, in the Upper Room, as the disciples observed the Passover, Peter expressed his intentions.  He said, “Lord, I am ready to go to jail with you, and even to die with you."  But Jesus told him that, “Satan has asked to have you, to sift you like wheat.”  Peter had misjudged the power of the evil one. 

Jesus tried to get Peter to rethink his spiritual motives, but Peter ignored the warning.  He felt that his own strength was enough to defeat any power that might rise up against him.Wise men and women are careful to measure the strength of their enemy.  Those who succeed in discipleship are always mindful that the enemy is like a “roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”  Peter learned this truth the hard way. 

In Peter’s failure, we can also see that he had a mistaken concept of himself.  Peter did not know himself as well as he thought.  Peter could not do all that he thought he could do.  He had not yet come to the place where he saw no good in the flesh at all.  More of the “old Simon” was present in him than he wanted to admit. Peter’s words of dedication spoken in the Upper Room did not come from his faith in God, but rather from his faith in himself.  They were the bold claims of a self-sufficient man. 

On the contrary, the person best prepared for the way of discipleship, is the one who confesses, as Paul did, “In my flesh there dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18).  Paul had learned something that many of us believers need to learn, it is that in me (as far as that old nature is concerned) dwells no good thing.  Have you learned that?  Have you found there is no good in you?  Oh, how many of us Christians feel that we in the flesh can do something to please God? Some people work so hard to please God, but they never make a vital connection with Him.

Let me make it personal.  Anything that Tom Lowe does in the flesh, God hates.  God won’t have it; God can’t use it.  When it is of the flesh it’s no good.  The Lord Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh…” (John 3:6) (And that is all it will ever be), but “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin…” (1 John 3:9).  Isn’t that wonderful!  We are given a new nature, and that new nature will not commit sin.  When I sin it’s the old nature.  The new nature won’t do it; the new nature just hates sin.  But remember, there is no power in the new nature.  Our only hope of avoiding failure is by wholly depending on the Lord and His strength.

Next, it is usually the case that failure involves a denial of Christ.  As Peter tried to be inconspicuous in the courtyard, he was discovered.  Three times he was asked if he was a follower of Jesus, who was then on trial.  Each time Peter’s response was the same.  He denied he had ever known the Lord.  Because he suspected that his denial was not convincing the crowd, the third time even contained a religious oath made in God’s name and curses upon himself in the event he was lying.

Many of us have done the same shameful thing.  It may have been by our words or by our deeds, but we denied Christ.  Likely the circumstances under which we did it was not nearly so threatening, but failing our Lord is a shameful deed under any circumstance.

The second thing that can be seen in this story is the sorrow over our failure.

How can you tell if someone is truly sorry for their failure?  I believe there is a sign of repentance, and I have seen it many times.  True disciples weep over their failures.  They are never proud or boastful about such shameful matters. 

Peter’s sorrow began the moment he heard the rooster crow, reminding him of the warning the Lord had spoken to him.  Then there was the look he had received from Jesus as he remembered. The Lord turned and looked at Peter, probably while He was being moved to a temporary cell. Although Peter had been guilty of a very great offence, Jesus would not call out to him, for that would shame him and expose him; He only gave him a look which only Peter would know the meaning of.  Even though you would think that Jesus would have something else on His mind, His look showed that He knew everything Peter had said and done. The look must have radiated sorrow and hurt.  It sent Peter out into the night to express his sorrow with tears.  The thing that hurt so bad was that he had disowned Christ, but Christ had not disowned him.  He felt that he should be cast off, never to see his Master again, and that Jesus would deny him before the Father.  I am so glad that Jesus does not deal with us like we deal with Him. 

But Peter had taken a step toward recovery.  The Scriptures assure us that God is near to those with a “broken and contrite heart.”  If Peter had approached the whole ordeal with the same broken spirit that he had when he came out of it, he never would have failed.  But he was soon to discover that his tears were not in vain.  Our forgiving and compassionate God takes note of such sorrow.  It is a true step toward recovery.

The last thing to see in our story is the comfort after our failure.

Peter’s experience is good news for every failing disciple.  Our failures do not have to be final.

When we fail, we can have the comfort of forgiveness.  Tears of repentance will bring us to the comfort of forgiveness.  A poem describes God’s commission of a man to find the world’s greatest treasure.  The man finally locates a tear of repentance that proves to be the most precious thing earth can produce.

Martin Luther wrote, “No article of the creed is so hard to believe as this: I believe in the forgiveness of sins.  But look at Peter.  If I could paint a portrait of Peter, I would write on every line of his head forgiveness of sins.”

How do we know that Peter was forgiven?  After Jesus rose from the dead, he sent a special message to his disciples, and he instructed the women who carried the message to deliver it to Peter personally.  Our Lord forgave Peter fully, and he will forgive us when we fail. 

There is also the comfort of fellowship, which is available at those times when we fail.  Much of the sorrow related to failure comes from our broken fellowship with Jesus.  Knowing that we have disappointed Him, makes us uncomfortable in His presence.  But after we receive His forgiveness, we can begin to enjoy His company again.  This was true for Peter in the time he spent with Jesus after the resurrection.  The fellowship was restored.  He was not banished forever as he thought he might be.

Conclusion:

How we deal with our failures is important.  For Peter a shameful failure became a positive experience as he allowed his heart to be broken and struggled to gain another opportunity to show his loyalty. 

Peter could repent of his sin, and that is the real test of a genuine believer.  His tears flowed from a broken heart.  The record of Peter’s ministry in the book of Acts after he was filled with the Holy Spirit is evidence enough of what a failure can become.  Years later in his epistle he wrote, “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).  Peter knew that the Lord Jesus had kept him. 

How are you handling your failures? This story teaches that when we fail and when we sin, we should repent; then we will receive the comfort of forgiveness and the comfort of fellowship with Jesus.It also teaches that when we fail our Lord; He doesn’t just throw us away.  The Good Shepherd will not lose one of His sheep.If He starts out with 100, He will get all 100 home.  If one of His sheep strays off and gets involved in sin, He will leave the 99 in comfort and safety, and go and get that lost sheep and bring it back to the fold.

If you are not one of His sheep, you can be. He said, “My sheep hear My voice.” Listen for a still small voice.

Jesus is tenderly calling thee home,
Calling today, calling today;
Why from the sunshine of love wilt thou roam
Farther and farther away?
Jesus is calling the weary to rest,
Calling today, calling today;
Bring Him thy burden and thou shalt be blest;
He will not turn thee away.

Jesus is waiting; O come to Him now,
Waiting today, waiting today;
Come with thy sins; at His feet lowly bow;
Come, and no longer delay.

Jesus is pleading; O list to His voice,
Hear Him today, hear Him today;
They who believe on His name shall rejoice;
Quickly arise and away.

Calling today, Calling today;
Jesus is calling, Is tenderly calling today.

Amen.

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