Our theme for 2021 is Hope Starts Here. After a year like 2020 we could use some hope as we go forward. Hopeless is a tough word and yet who has not felt some degree of hopelessness in their lives? Life can feel hopeless. We will speak about a hopeless situation. Without hope, life devolves into depression and despair. So God gives us pictures of hope so that we will never fall into despair. Lord willing, throughout the year we are going to cover a number of situations where God gives us hope to get through our hardship. For this month we are going to look at how to have hope after failure. There used to be a science television show called Mythbusters where they tried out all kinds of myths and stories to see if they were true. One of my favorite lines from the show that was marked all over the set was, “Failure is always an option.” This is certainly true when it comes to following Jesus. I want to turn our attention to someone who dramatically failed in following Jesus and his name is the apostle Peter. Open your copies of God’s word to John 21.
You will notice in the first three verses of John 21 that Peter along with some of the disciples are by the Sea of Galilee (the Sea of Tiberias is another name for the Sea of Galilee). In verse 3 he tells some of the disciples that he is going fishing. Now, this does not mean that Peter is going fishing like we think about going fishing. Remember that Peter was a professional fisherman and that was his job. This is how he made money each day. You may remember that this is what Peter and Andrew were doing when Jesus called them to leave these careers and become fishers of people (cf. Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:1-11). Peter has returned to the Sea of Galilee and he has returned to fishing. Have you ever thought about this? Why is Peter fishing? Why isn’t Peter proclaiming the empty tomb and Jesus risen from the dead? Why has Peter returned to fishing? Why are some of the other disciples with him doing the same thing?
You may remember that Peter has experienced a spiritual catastrophe. Jesus warned Peter that a spiritual catastrophe was coming. Listen to the discussion Jesus has with Peter.
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31–34 ESV)
Jesus tells Peter that Satan has demanded to have them so that he may sift them like wheat. The “you” is plural both times in verse 31. Satan is going to try to destroy the disciples’ faith. But in verse 32 Jesus turns his attention to Peter in particular, for the “you” is now singular. Satan is really coming for Peter and Jesus has prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. But Jesus implies Peter’s failure. “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” The point Jesus is making to Peter is that he is going to fail during this testing of his faith. Peter denies this possibility. Peter says that he is ready to go to prison and to death for Jesus. But Jesus tells Peter that he is going to deny him three times. Think about this discussion. Jesus said that he prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. Did Peter’s faith fail? Yes. Peter thinks he has the faith to withstand what was about to happen but he was wrong. He will deny Jesus three times in one night. Notice what Luke records about Peter’s failure later in Luke 22.
And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:59–62 ESV)
Why has Peter returned to fishing even though he has seen the empty tomb? He has returned to fishing because he has catastrophic failed his Lord. Being warned of what was coming, Peter still failed. Even after declaring that he was ready, Peter still failed. This failure has hit Peter hard. This failure seems to be the reason why Peter is not fishing for people but has returned to fishing for fish. The scriptures show us that this is the case. Look at Mark 16:7.
“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:7 ESV)
Why does the angel tell the women to go tell Jesus’ disciples and Peter? Why “and Peter?” Mark seems to be giving us the picture that Peter’s failure has been heavy on him. But come back to the John account where we can see this clearly.
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, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him 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, “Tend 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 everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:15–17 ESV)
Why does Jesus ask Peter three times if Peter loves him? Why does Jesus three times tell Peter to feed his sheep? Why was Peter grieved when Jesus asked him a third time if he loved him? Peter understood why and this is why he was grieved. The reason was because Peter had denied Jesus three times. But Jesus does not condemn Peter three times. Jesus does not chastise him three times. Jesus simply asks if you love him. If you love him, then get back to work. Feed my sheep.
Hope After Failure
Listen to what the apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1 ESV)
Do we hear these words? They are spoken to us in our failure. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Friends, name one person in the scriptures who did not fail. Even the great people of faith as they are proclaimed in the scriptures failed the Lord. Abraham failed. Moses failed. David failed. Peter failed. Everyone has failed. Why do we think we are going to be perfect? Why do we think we are going to be any different than any other follower of Jesus? Why do we think we will be any better than anyone else who served the Lord?
All of us are going to have catastrophic failures of faith. You may have had this happen in 2020. You may have had this happen for the majority of your life as you look back and honestly assess it. Friends, if we did not fail then we would not need God’s grace. We would not need a savior. We would not need the blood of Jesus. In fact, if you think about it, everything we learn in life typically comes from failure, not success. We learn by trying it and usually by doing it wrong before we figure out how to get it right. We even have a saying called “trial and error.” We try, we fail, we learn, and then we succeed. This is the nature of life.
Think about a toddler learning to walk. Do they just stand up and go without falling? Never! They stand up, take a wobbly step or two, and then crash. They will keep doing this over and over again until they finally learn to walk without falling at all. Do you ever look at the toddler and criticize them for falling? Do you ever give the toddler a hard time for falling over and over again? Never! What do we do? We encourage them to keep trying. We help them get back up. We give them rewards for going further. It is with great joy that we watch toddler learn from their failure, get up, and try again.
This is what Jesus is showing Peter. Peter, you fell down and you fell down hard. But your failure does not have to be final. Do you love me? Yes. Then get up and feed my sheep. This message is also to you. Your failure does not have to be final. You fell down and you fell down hard. Do you love Jesus? If yes, then get up and feed my sheep. Jesus is not criticizing you for falling. Jesus is picking you up and encouraging continue taking steps toward him. Judgment only comes when we choose to fall down and then stay down. The only hopelessness in failure is when we fall and we give up walking with Jesus. Our failure is final only when we decide we will not get up and follow Jesus. Failure is always an option. But we have hope when we fail. If Peter can come back, so can you. Do you love Jesus? Then stand back up and walk with him until you reach the goal of eternity. You do not need to give up. You just need to get up.