Learning the lessons of Failure (Mark 14: 66-72)

We all know people who have failed at one thing or another, failed in their job, failed in their business, failed in their marriage. Unfortunately, these same things happen to all sort of people, Christians and non-Christians alike. Spiritual failure is the most serious type of failure because a failure in your Christian life means an ever-widening distance between yourself and God and even a possible slipping into to sin. Even people who have know the Lord a long time still sometimes fail, and even Christian leaders fall and sometimes fall big time in the glare of publicity. I hope your response to that it’s not to sit back with a smug attitude and say, tut, tut, I would never do that or even have a judgemental attitude.

This passage talks about out one of the classic cases of failure in the bible and hopefully we can learn something from this particular example of failure. The passage is a straightforwardly recording for us of the events that took place around Peters three denials of the Lord. The very fact that he is there means we must give Peter some credit because we found out a few verses back that “all forsook Him and fled”. Therefore, before we you’re too hard on Peter please recognise that he had at least come back and was hanging around the edge of the events unfolding and just by being there he is potentially putting himself in harm’s way.

The servant girl in verse 66 refers to Jesus as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ probably reflected a judgemental tone, because Nazareth was seen as a little backwater town that didn’t get much respect. Peter responds by saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’ve never heard of Him”.. This is Peter’s first failure, in fact this is a climax of a series of failures Peter has in the last week of Jesus’ life. At the beginning of the chapter when Jesus first predicted this happening Peter vehemently denied it. He literally said, “I would die first before I would do such a thing”. He even dared to compare himself to the other disciples and say that they might fail, but he wouldn’t. In the context of Peters whole life yes this was a moment of failure but please note his failures did not mean he did not have a future as a believer. There is a huge difference between failing and being a failure and that is a lesson worth learning here

The servant girls speaks again, the first time she spoke directly to Peter, but the second time she spoke to the group and says to them, ‘Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.’ His accent also gave him away. Contemporary historians from that period tell us that the Galilean s had a very strong rural accent, so much so that they were forbidden from saying the benediction in the synagogue. We can see that one failure often leads to another. One lie never stands alone, because you often have to back it up, or cover your tracks with another deception. The most fascinating thing about this story I think is that Peter was so convinced that he wouldn’t do this, “I’ll die first” he had said. However, we all are capable of falling away from the Lord or getting into serious moral entanglements. Peter demonstrates for us very clearly that determination is not the key thing. Maybe you have done something in the past and are determined to not do it again and you think because you are determined, that is going to help you not do that again. Nobody was more determined that Peter, but the issue is not determination, the issue is dependency. The Apostles Paul and what he said in his second letter to the Corinthian church, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (Cor 12:10b). It’s your dependence on the Lord that will make and keep your strong, not your determination. That’s why the Lord through the Holy Spirit in the very same chapter told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you”.

It is not the determination of the human will, it is our dependence on divine grace that keeps us from making mistakes or even falling away. You will notice there has been a progression in the accusations, the stakes get bigger and bigger as more and more people are drawn into the lie. In Luke’s account of the same events there is one extra little phrase (Luke 22: 60b-62) but I believe an important one. It says, “Jesus didn’t say a word, He just looked, and Peter knew”. What a powerful moment that must have been for Peter. I do not see a look of guilty accusation here, I see a look of grace. I also see a look of sadness combined with forgiveness. It seems to me when Jesus looked, he said I am saddened, but I want you to know that although you failed today, it doesn’t mean you are a failure. The text then tells us Peter went out and wept bitterly (KJV). However, because the text tells us he wept, I believe he got it, and because he got it, he also got forgiven and his failures did not define him as a failure. Falling into sin, falling again into sin means you have failed, but it does not mean you are a failure.

Let me sum this  by making a couple of observations. The New Testament was written over  a period of about 40 years, starting with the book of James written about 20 years after Jesus’ death and ending with Revelation sometime between 75 and 95AD around 40-60 years after the death of the Lord. We also have some contemporary writings written alongside the bible texts, one of these is by a man who talks about being related to and knowing Phillips daughter. Therefore, he is very close to writing at the same time the later books of the New Testament are being written. He says that to a great extent the Gospel account of Mark was just Peters preaching material transcribed. He claims Mark witness and listened and wrote down a great deal of what Peter said and much of it is recorded in his gospel account. Three other very early fathers of the Christian faith also held this view, people like Tertullian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus. If they are correct, then Mark is recording the fact that Peter through these texts is publicly admitting he failed. Another observation worth taking is the Gospel of Mark was written to Christians living in Rome and at that time the Christians were facing things similar to what Peter faced. They were going through the beginning of what would become a full-blown persecution, which means they would be being challenged to deny the Lord all the time. These writings must have been very helpful and encouraging for them.

The main point here I believe is this, Peter sinned, Peter failed, Peter fell way below the standard the Lord set for him and he failed, he falls away and sins. He didn’t just tell a lie, his lie involved him denying the Lord Jesus Christ 3 times. Jesus’s right hand man, one of His key representatives on earth, denies him, three times. We all can fail and fail big time, but the lesson taught here is, God forgives, God restores, big time. The Lord forgives sinners, the Lord restores sinners, but most importantly the Lord also uses restored sinners. The Lord here restored Peter and used Him to win 3000 souls to Christ less than 2 months after these events. Peter denied the Lord Jesus just 1 day before he was crucified then 50 days later at Pentecost, he uses Him to establish the church through the preaching of the Gospel. Salvation is a free gift, trust in Him and you are forgiven of your sins for life, however, you may still sin. But even if you fall into sin just fall to your spiritual knees and cry out in sorrow and He will restore you, sanctify you, and use you because God is in the forgiving business. I have failed many times in my life, but by the grace of God He does not see me as a failure. Maybe when I do fail with God’s grace, I might still learn something, but God doesn’t abandon me, he just wants to reveal to me how he might have a better plan for my life, better than the one I am currently following. God says to us, I don’t want you to fail but when you do, I will tell you what I told Peter, failing does not mean you are a failure. It just means if you come back to me, I will forgive and restore you.

Let’s Pray.