Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. - Jude 1:24-25
If you are anything like me, or if you are anything like the 200 million adults that have made resolutions for this New Year, you are looking into the future of 2017 and hoping for success. You are hoping for growth, for renewal, for achievement, and quite honestly you are hoping to feel better about yourself at the end of 2017 than you did at the beginning. It is good and right that we as image bearers are constantly leaning forward, longing for a better version of ourselves. We long for it, because our hearts sense that our broken selves are not how we were supposed to be, and for those covered by the blood of Christ it’s not what we are destined for. But our God given desire for growth and improvement is often twisted and ends up leading us not into a greater expectation of what is coming but instead shame, guilt, and despair for what is not yet.
Failure is a dirty word around Christians. We find it difficult to reconcile the new life we have been given through the unspeakable sacrifice of Christ and our continued moral and relational stumbles. We want to be better, we want to keep promises, we want to stop sinning against God and those around us and yet for all our efforts we just can’t quite get it right. So we hide our failures, we deny our failures, or we accept them but foolishly convince ourselves that they will never happen again. But what happens when they do, or we can no longer deny that they exist?
The answer is that failure seen honestly, with the bright light of the gospel shined upon it, should lead us directly to Christ (and not sprinting away from him).
This past week I spent time with a partner church of ours walking through the last passage in the Gospel of John. It’s an epilogue of sorts after Jesus’s resurrection, after he shows himself to the disciples, and after he commissions them. But John includes one more look into the life of Christ on earth and wraps his Gospel up, not with a prayer of Christ, a new teaching, or a new charge, but a picture of Jesus confronting a disciples failure. Specifically it is the story of Jesus confronting Peter after his denial on the night of Christ’s arrest and trial.
The story is drenched in theological importance but there were a few specific things God laid heavy on my heart about how Jesus deals with failure in his disciples (which includes us!)
First, it's important to state that Jesus knows we are going to fail. Jesus may have been hurt by Peter’s denial (I can’t imagine how it felt when Peter locked eyes with Christ after he denied him the third time), but he was not surprised. Jesus, earlier that night, told Peter that Satan was coming for him and that he would fail miserably. This should have been such freeing news to Peter. Imagine for just an instance if at the beginning of your marriage your spouse looked at you and said, “I already know all the ways you will fail me and I still choose you.” Or what if your boss on your first day said he was well aware that at times you would be a completely inadequate employee but that he was glad to hire you anyway? What rest and freedom that would grant us! That is, unless we are unwilling to admit that we are not only capable of failing but certain to do so. Peter was unwilling to accept Jesus’s look into his near future. Peter had such confidence in his own ability that he lost confidence in his Saviors knowledge. You and I need to ask God to give us a right view of ourselves, which means losing confidence and ourselves and placing it on Christ.
But Jesus doesn’t just know we are going to fail, he has already done something about it. When Jesus greets the disciples after his resurrection he says to them “Peace be with You.” The greeting might seem like just another ancient middle east “hello,” but after Jesus rose from the grave he was literally telling them “there is now peace for you!” It wasn’t just a prayer (like a “God bless you” after a sneeze) it was a declaration of what He had done for them. He appeared to the men who had abandoned Him on the day of His death and told them not to be afraid and not be ashamed because in Him there was perfect Peace. Our failure can never have the last word, because in Christ we have peace, we have forgiveness, and we have victory.
That leads us to Jesus’s final lesson for Peter on failure. Jesus shows Peter (and us) that even in the midst of our failure our confidence should not diminish but rather increase. After Jesus reveals himself to Peter, he leads him on a walk and lets him know that He is not done with him. Peter didn’t want to fail Jesus because he wanted to be there for Christ, he wanted to serve him faithfully, he wanted to be the “Rock” on which the church was built. As they walked together one last time, Jesus gave Peter one more look into his future. It was a future that would end in death (as a martyr) but one that would end after a life of discipleship and faithful service to Christ. This might seem like more of a punishment than a gift, but remember Peter told Jesus that he longed to follow him even to death. He longed to stand for Christ even as others fell away. The savior informed Peter that He would lead Peter into a life of faithful discipleship and even more than that He would one day usher him home to Glory. Peter’s life wasn’t perfect from then on, (scripture records more of his failures), but by the power of the Holy Spirit and the promise of our sovereign Lord, Peter would follow Jesus the rest of his life.
I don’t want to fail like Peter. I don’t want you to fail like Peter. But if failure in my life (or yours) frees us of a sense of self-reliance and instead leaves us clinging to Christ then it will have served a beautiful purpose. Jesus knows we are going to fail. It's why he came and died for us, and it's why He promises to complete in us the work that He started. The cross has already outed us as failures, so now you and I can drop the charade of perfection and instead lean into Christ.