‘Control Z’ was used probably a hundred times during the course of writing this blog post. ‘Control Z’ is that heaven-sent shortcut that deletes the last entry you typed into the document you’re working on — your homework, your college paper, your job application, the flippant remark you almost sent in that email to your boss. If you make a mistake, ‘Control Z!’ No problem — easily fixed!
Did you ever wish you had a ‘Control Z’ on your life? If you do, I’m sure I am not alone. I remember a situation several years ago where I wished I could have a ‘Control Z.’
I arrived in my car at my workplace — the same as always — and drove up the driveway towards the carpark in front of the office. My workplace had a rather steep driveway, so I would usually drive fairly quickly to make it up the hill.
On this occasion, however, for some reason, when I went to park the car, my feet sort of became entangled in the pedals. I am not known for my coordination, but this was really something else. Suddenly, instead of braking, the car lurched forwards — accelerating, thundering towards the office. Before I could stop the car, it smashed headlong through the double glass doors like some veritable ram-raid criminal — showering glass and plasterboard throughout and drawing out the neighbors keen to investigate the lunatic who just drove his car through the office. And as the dust settled, with everyone staring at me in stunned silence, all I wanted at that moment was to press ‘Control Z’ on my life. Can I please have that moment again, Lord — pretty please?
But you know, although this was clumsy, in the end, no one was hurt, and I can have a good laugh about it now. But there have been many, many other moments in my life that I look back on, and I don’t laugh. There are plenty of ‘Control Z’ moments that I want to go back and fix, but I can’t. It’s done. I’ve failed. I’ve offended people. I’ve probably offended God lots of times, and I can’t fix it — and it hurts.
I wonder, what is your most monumental failure? Your biggest stuff up? What is the moment in your life that you are least proud of? A moment you would erase if you could, do differently if you had your time over again? A moment that perhaps you would prefer others didn’t know about? A moment when you imagined that God shook his head at you, maybe turned away in disgust? A moment where you said to yourself something like, “There is no way that God would accept me now?”
I wonder, what is your most ultimate ‘Control Z’ moment?
The Bible is a hall of fame for failure
The Bible is a veritable hall of fame of people who failed and fell from grace, starting right at the beginning with Adam and Eve. How about Moses in the wilderness, or King David with Bathsheba, or Samson with Delilah? Maybe you feel like your story belongs in there too. However, when it comes to famous Biblical characters who fell from grace — who failed monumentally — you can’t go past Peter, the disciple of Jesus. Peter’s failure was so shocking that here we are 2000 years later, and we are still talking about it.
Peter was a guy who had been with Jesus for the better part of three years. He’d seen the miracles: Watched Jesus walk on water, feed the 5000, heal the sick, even raise Lazarus from the dead. Peter has watched Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem only a week earlier. Peter had seen it all. He’d been at Jesus’ side the whole time, but when it came to the crunch, none of this was enough to prevent Peter from blowing it — big time. This was Peter’s most monumental failure — the moment in his life that he is least proud of. And of course, I am talking about the moment when Peter denies Jesus — not once, but three times.
Let me set the scene for you in case you’re not familiar with the story. It’s just a few hours before Jesus’s arrest, and the disciples are having the last supper with Jesus. Jesus knows what is coming. He knows that the cross is before him and knows he is about to be betrayed. In Luke 22:21–23, Jesus says:
“But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. For it has been determined that the Son of Man must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him.” The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing.
Peter insists that he would never do such a thing, but Jesus knows better. Jesus says in Luke 22:31–33
Peter, how Satan has pursued you, that he might make you part of his harvest. But I have prayed for you. I have prayed that your faith will hold firm and that you will recover from your failure and become a source of strength for your brothers here.
Lord, what are You talking about? I’m going all the way to the end with You — to prison, to execution — I’m prepared to do anything for You.
No, Peter, the truth is that before the rooster crows at dawn, you will have denied that you even know Me, not just once, but three times.
Still, Peter insists: “No way, Lord! Matthew 26 records Peter saying, “Even if everyone else deserts you, Lord, I won’t. Never! Not I!”
Peter doesn’t know it, but with brash confidence, he is on a collision course with his greatest failure as a man — his ultimate ‘Control Z’ moment. It is the moment that will haunt him forever, and it all unfolds in Mark 14:66–72:
Meanwhile, Peter was in the courtyard below. One of the servant girls who worked for the high priest came by and noticed Peter warming himself at the fire. She looked at him closely and said, “You were one of those with Jesus of Nazareth.”
But Peter denied it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, and he went out into the entryway. Just then, a rooster crowed.
When the servant girl saw him standing there, she began telling the others, “This man is definitely one of them!” But Peter denied it again.
A little later some of the other bystanders confronted Peter and said, You must be one of them, because you are a Galilean.
Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying — I don’t know this man you’re talking about!” And immediately the rooster crowed the second time.
Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he broke down and wept.
And just like that, Peter’s world comes crashing down around him. He’s done — a shattered and broken man. He’s blown it — big time. Peter, Oh Peter! You spoke so boldly about how you would follow Jesus even unto death, and just a few hours later, you deny even knowing the man just to save your skin — not once, not twice, but three times. Peter, you blew it! Ultimate ‘Control Z’ moment!
How Jesus deals with failures
And Jesus is lead away to be crucified — to suffer and die — and if that were the end of the story, Peter would live with the guilt and shame of that one moment of failure forever. If Jesus’ death were the end of the story, then Peter would re-live the torment probably over and over again. In fact, legend has it that Peter would start weeping every time he heard a rooster crow for the rest of his life.
However, there is a powerful sequel to this story.
Whether we like it or not, we are all, in some way, like Peter. We all know what it is to fail. We all have had moments in our lives that we are not proud of — that we wish we could take back. Yes, we have all had ‘Peter’ moments. We are not all that different. So this begs the question, what does Jesus do with our failure? How does he confront us in our regret? And we find answers in John 21 — where the now resurrected Jesus confronts Peter. How does Jesus deal with the fallen Peter?
We find this answer in John 21: 1–19, where Jesus comes to the disciples who are out fishing again.
The disciples went out in the boat and caught nothing through the night. As day was breaking, Jesus was standing on the beach; but they did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus: My sons, you haven’t caught any fish, have you?
Jesus: Throw your net on the starboard side of the boat, and your net will find the fish.
They did what He said, and suddenly they could not lift their net because of the massive weight of the fish that filled it. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
Immediately, when Simon Peter heard these words, he threw on his shirt (which he would take off while he was working) and dove into the sea. The rest of the disciples followed him, bringing in the boat and dragging in their net full of fish. They were close to the shore, fishing only about 100 yards out. When they arrived on shore, they saw a charcoal fire laid with fish on the grill. He had bread too.
Jesus (to disciples): Bring some of the fish you just caught. Come, and join Me for breakfast.
Not one of the disciples dared to ask, “Who are You?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus took the bread and gave it to each of them, and then He did the same with the fish. They finished eating breakfast.
Jesus: Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these other things?
Simon Peter: Yes, Lord. You know that I love You.
Jesus: Take care of My lambs.
Jesus asked him a second time . . .
Jesus: Simon, son of John, do you love Me?
Simon Peter: Yes, Lord. You must surely know that I love You.
Jesus: Shepherd My sheep.
(for the third time) Simon, son of John, do you love Me?
Peter was hurt because He asked him the same question a third time, “Do you love Me?”
Simon Peter: Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.
Look after My sheep. I tell you the truth: when you were younger, you would dress yourself and go wherever you pleased; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and take you to a place you do not want to go.
Jesus said all this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. After this conversation, Jesus said,
Jesus: Follow Me!
Failure is an event, not a destiny
Behind this story lies a wonderful truth: Failure is an event, not a destiny. Failure is an event, not a person. This is good news because we all fail sooner or later, and if we are honest, we all fail over and over again. But, as Peter’s story abundantly proves, it’s not our initial failure that ruins us. It’s what happens next that matters. So what happens next? How does Jesus restore his fallen disciple? Well, Jesus does three things with Peter:
Number 1: He leads Peter to repentance
You know, in one sense, I admire Peter for jumping out of the boat and racing up to Jesus. This shows how Peter must have felt about Jesus. But, at the same time, if I’d just betrayed Jesus, I probably wouldn’t be so hasty in rushing up to him. Nevertheless, Peter charges up to Jesus, but I wonder if Peter knows what is coming? Because what Jesus has in mind is going to cut Peter to the core. It’s going to hurt.
First, Peter observes Jesus on the beach in front of a charcoal fire. The particular Greek word for “charcoal fire” is used in only one other place in the New Testament. Do you know where? It’s used to refer to the charcoal fire in the courtyard where Peter denied the Lord. Beside one fire, Peter denies knowing Jesus, and beside another fire, he comes face-to-face with the very Jesus who he had denied.
Then Jesus says to him, “Simon, son of John.” Simon was Peter’s old name — the name he used to go by before he was a disciple. Jesus almost uses Peter’s old name as if he were no longer a disciple.
Simon, do you love me more than these? Peter, who had been so boastful, so sure of himself, so confident of his own courage, is now thoroughly humbled. Jesus’ first question, “Do you love me more than these?” was a subtle reminder of how he has boasted in front of the others to be the most loyal disciples. In his reply, Peter declares his love for Christ, but he refuses to compare himself with anyone else anymore. (Isn’t that a sign of growth?)
Jesus asks again, “Simon, do you love me?” Peter again responds, “You know I love you.” But by now, Peter must have known what was coming. Jesus asks a third time. “Simon, do you love me?” and, the Bible says, Peter was deeply hurt, cut to the core because Jesus asked a third time. Why did Jesus ask Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Answer: Because Peter had denied him three times.
You see, Peter needed to see the enormity of his failure, and he needed to hear Jesus ask these searching questions. Only then could he grasp the magnitude of Christ’s forgiveness. Only then could he be truly restored. Without the pain, he would not get better. We’ve all heard the phrase, “The truth will set you free,”… but often, the truth will hurt you first. Often we don’t get better because we don’t want to face the hard truth about what we have said and done. But until we face the truth about ourselves, we can never be free. Repentance starts when blame shifting ends, and we confront and admit the reality of our failure. Jesus confronted Peter and Peter was deeply aggrieved at what he had done.
Number 2: He gives Peter a purpose
But that’s not where Jesus leaves Peter — feeling miserable about his failure. No! After Jesus has lead Peter to repentance, he then leads Peter to a task. He re-enlists Peter. Jesus tells Peter to “Feed my sheep.”
What is Jesus getting at? Feed my sheep? Jesus invites Peter to get back in the game: “Ok, Peter, you stuffed up, but I can still use you. Despite your failure, I still want you. I still have a special task for you, a mission, a calling, a plan.” And for Peter, it was to be the leader of the early Christian movement. When Jesus said, “Feed my sheep,” He is saying to Peter: “Ok, so you love me, well then take care of my people. Lead them, shepherd them.”
I don’t know about you, but have you ever felt so bad about yourself that you somehow felt disqualified from doing anything for God? But how Jesus deals with Peter indicates that failure does not disqualify us from partnering with God. In fact, it may be that failure prepares us.
Number 3: He restores Peter completely
Jesus not only leads Peter to repentance, not only re-enlists him, he then restores Peter completely. In verse 19, Jesus simply says to Peter, “Follow me,” echoing the moment when Christ first called Peter back in Matthew 4 for with those exact words. “Follow me!”
In fact, the words “Follow me!” was the blessing that every rabbi of the day used when they invited someone to become their disciple. When Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me!” he wasn’t just inviting him for a walk down the beach. He was restoring him as a disciple, and when a rabbi called someone to be his disciple, what he was really saying is “You’re good enough for me!”
How Peter’s heart must have burst with joy! “I have betrayed this man, but he still wants me to be his disciple! He still wants me to be his disciple! He hasn’t rejected me! He hasn’t given up on me! He still wants me to be his disciple! He still loves me! He still loves me!”
Grace not judgment
I would have thought that — so far as failures go — denying Christ even though you know him personally, in the flesh, would be right up there. And yet, Peter really gets off lightly, doesn’t he? This is so typical of how God treats us!
Jesus doesn’t demand an explanation. Jesus doesn’t expect Peter to grovel and wallow. Jesus doesn’t heap guilt and condemnation on Peter. Jesus does not treat him as you or I might!
What we learn from this story is this simple truth: Even the worse offenses, the ultimate ‘Control Z’ moments of our lives, do not inhibit God’s great love for us. Nor does it cause him to throw us on some kind of human scrap heap for ‘damage goods.’ In so doing, Christ also provides us with a blueprint of how we ought to deal with others in their time of failure — grace, not judgment. I wonder if there is a lesson for the church here in this story?
Peter makes good on his word
Although Peter failed in the past, in the end, he glorified God in his death. In the upper room, Peter had rashly boasted that he was willing to follow Christ to prison and to death (Luke 22:33). In the end, Peter made good on his word.
In AD 64, Peter refused to back down about knowing Christ Jesus. This time, he would not be silenced by fear. As a result, Peter was crucified on a cross, just like his savior — although he did not consider himself worthy of such a death: to be crucified in the same way as Jesus. And so he was hung upside down — but not before the world was turned upside down first.
This blog post only exists because of Peter and Jesus and Jesus through Peter — the traitor and then the first leader of the Christian movement. If Jesus can do that with Peter, I wonder, what will Jesus make of your failures?
This post was previously published on Medium.
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