How can we overcome failure and religious hatred? Part 4

“Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.” John 18:27

As we focus on John 18:13-27, we are learning how we can overcome failure and religious hatred. So far we have discovered we must…

Realize life is not always fair, but God always is (John 18:13-14).

– Remain close to Christ and other committed disciples (John 18:15-18).

Respond to our enemies by speaking the truth in love to them (John 18:19-24).

Now we go back to stage two (John 18:25-27) to discover our fourth and final principle. Rather than reporting Peter’s three denials together, John tells of Jesus’ hearing before Annas between the  accounts of Peter’s first denial and his last two denials. This serves to magnify both the shame of Peter’s actions 1  and the triumph of Jesus before His enemies.

“Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, ‘You are not also one of His disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not!’ ” (John 18:25). If Annas and Caiaphas occupied separate wings of the same residence, the second and third denials probably took place in the same courtyard. Peter was warming himself by the fire and again someone asked him if he was one of Jesus’ disciples. Again, a negative answer is expected and Peter gives it with the words, “I am not” (ouk eimi) or “Not me!” 3

 “John has constructed a dramatic contrast wherein Jesus stands up to his questioners and denies nothing, while Peter cowers before his questioners and denies everything.” Jesus boldly spoke the truth risking His own life, but Peter speaks lies to preserve his life. Christ is presented by John as a courageous Victor, but Peter is portrayed as a lying coward.

“One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with Him?’ ” (John 18:26). Peter must have been sweating profusely when one of the servants of the high priest who was a relative of Malchus, “whose ear Peter cut off” in Gethsemane (John 18:10), approached him and asks, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” His question expects an affirmative answer, in contrast to the former two that expected a negative answer. 5

“Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.” (John 18:27). For the third time Peter denies any association with Jesus. It was a response Peter would deeply regret. At that moment a rooster began to crow. The shrill sound must have reminded Peter of Jesus’ words spoken to him a few hours earlier (John 13:38).

What had happened to Peter from the time he courageously tried to defend Jesus at his side in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10) and his three denials of knowing Jesus (John 18:17, 25, 27)? In addition to what I said earlier regarding Peter’s self- reliance, his separation from Christ, and his companionship with Jesus’ enemies, I believe Peter struggled with doubt, fear, and pride. 6

Doubt had come into his life that was not there before. He thought when he leaped out at that army in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10), that Jesus would do something. Christ had disappeared before when crowds tried to arrest Him (John 8:59). Or maybe He would bring lightning bolts. Peter was thinking, “I will make the first move and Jesus is going to be right behind me to back me up.” But Jesus said, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” (John 18:11). Peter watched them bind Jesus’ arms behind Him and this army marches Him off like a sheep that is being led to slaughter. Peter did not know what was happening. He had doubts because his plan and God’s plan did not match.

Has that ever happened to you? Your plan and God’s plan don’t match and the doubts come flooding into your soul? It happens to all of us. That is a difficult time. That is a time when we can fall prey to the denial that happened in Peter’s life. 

Peter’s denials also happened because of fear. He had a fear of the unknown in his life. He knew what it was like to be with Jesus. He knew what it was like to follow Jesus. He was confident in Jesus’ presence. But all of a sudden he is separated from Christ. Jesus is in the room with the trial going on and Peter is out in the courtyard and doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. The fear of the unknown can be a terrible thing.  And it caused Peter to deny Christ. 

And the fear of the unknown can cause us to deny Jesus as well. We get into situations where we do not know what is going to take place next. And we are overwhelmed with the fear of the unknown. Does this sound familiar to you? We can easily deny our relationship with Jesus when this happens.

But I believe there is one other cause that contributed the most to Peter’s denials. Jesus exposed this when He spoke to Peter in the Upper Room. It was Peter’s pride. Like all of us, Peter had pride in his life. He vowed to lay down his life for Jesus’ sake (John 13:37). He thought he would never fail his Lord. And because of that he found himself denying Jesus. His greatest weakness is the same weakness a lot of us have. His greatest weakness was the inability to recognize his greatest weakness. If only he could have seen. If only he could have listened when Jesus said, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.” (John 13:38). But he did not hear Jesus. Jesus had warned him but he could not see this weakness in his life.  

So he failed because he couldn’t admit to himself that he might fall. If you and I read the story of Peter and we don’t see ourselves in it we are missing something extremely important. Peter’s story is there to remind us that any of us given the right circumstances can do what Peter did. Peter has followed Jesus for over three years. Christ knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. Jesus pointed out Peter’s pride and told him he would fail Jesus three times. Just being able to admit that weakness in his life could have kept Peter from getting to that point in the courtyard. But like most of us, Peter was not willing to admit this weakness in his life.

This is the key to overcoming failure in our Christian lives: RESOLVE TO ADMIT YOUR WEAKNESSES TO JESUS (John 18:25-27). This can prevent us from getting to that point in our lives where we deny Christ.

If you are reading this and you are thinking, “I could never deny Jesus like Peter did,” you may want to think again. Or if you think that Moses, who the Bible says was the most humble man living in his time (Numbers 12:3), could fall prey to anger (Numbers 20:1-12), and then say to yourself, “It could never happen to me,” you may want to think again. Or to think that King David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), could fall prey to adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11:1-17), and then say to yourself, “That could never happen to me.” Is your pride any different than David’s? Or to think of Solomon, who the Bible says is the wisest man who ever lived (I Kings 4:30-31), and then in his later years allowed his many wives to turn his heart away from the Lord to worship their pagan deities (I Kings 11:1-8). For us to think that he could stray from his faith but say to ourselves, “That could never happen to me,” what kind of pride says such things!?!

Are we willing to admit that we have the same kind of tendency to doubt God’s word that Abraham and Sarah had (Genesis 16), or do we say to ourselves, “That could never happen to me?” Or that Noah, who is the example of endurance – 120 years of endurance (Genesis 6:3) – and then after that endurance when he reached the pinnacle of his success found himself drunk and ashamed (Genesis 9:20-21)? What kind of pride does it take for us to say to ourselves, “that will never happen to me – that at the pinnacle of my success I am going to do something foolish? No that won’t happen.”

These stories are in the Bible for a purpose, to remind us that we are human. That we need God in every circumstance of life, every moment of life. The humble thing is to say, “Without God, anger could destroy my life. Lust could destroy my life. I could stray away from Jesus and never see the doors of the church for twenty years. Without Jesus and trust in Him daily, I could doubt God’s word and miss His blessing. Or even at the moment of greatest success, I could find the moment of greatest humiliation.” 7

But when I recognize that these truths are here to remind me that I am human and I need Christ, when I recognize my weakness, guess what happens? I turn to Him at that moment of weakness. Instead of denying Him, I follow Him. Instead of turning from Him, I trust Him. That’s the great thing about these stories. Pride does come before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). And Peter’s denials teach us this. 

But if we do fail, and we will, the Bible offers us hope. Luke tells us that the moment the rooster crowed after Peter’s third denial, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” (Luke 22:61). The eyes of Jesus must have penetrated Peter’s soul. For we are told, “Peter went out and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:62).

Do you think Peter breaks down and weeps because Jesus gave him a look of scorn and condemnation? Or did Jesus give him a look of forgiveness? Jesus knew Peter was going to fail (John 13:38). He was praying for Peter and knew Peter would be restored to strengthen others (Luke 22:31-32), so I believe Jesus gave Peter a look of forgiveness. Peter broke down and wept because he knew what it meant to be forgiven. He didn’t live with regret because he knew what it meant to be restored by Jesus Christ.

Peter hit bottom, but the Lord’s hand was under him to eventually bring him back up. No matter how many flaws you have nor how many times you have failed, the Lord’s hand is there to help you up and start over. The Bible says, “The Lord upholds all who fall and… gives a fresh start to those ready to quit.” Psalm 145:14 [NKJV/MSG].

Colossians 2:13 [NIV] says, “When you were dead in your sins… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” Even the sins we have not committed yet, Jesus saw them in advance at the cross and died for them, and forgave them ahead of time.

God uses our failures to equip us to strengthen others in their spiritual journeys. Someone once said, “You will fail in the area of your greatest strength.” Why is that? Because the area of our greatest strength is often the area of our greatest pride. But failure is not the end of discipleship. Failure is just a detour or a pause in the journey.

Pastor Chuck Swindoll quoted A. W. Tozer, “It is doubtful that God can use anyone greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” 8   There will be times in your discipleship journey when it looks like everything is finished, but in reality that will be the beginning. Imagine how Peter felt after he denied Jesus three times and heard the rooster crow? And yet that is just the beginning for Peter. Now God can really begin to use him to strengthen others.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am so thankful that failure is not final for those of us who believe in You. You can use our failures to magnify Your restoring love and grace, and bring encouragement to others who fail. Help us learn from Peter’s denials of You. Any of us are capable of doing what Peter did, especially if we refuse to face our own weaknesses and transfer our trust onto You to overcome them. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for including the failures of others in the Bible to remind us that we too are prone to wander and that we need You every moment of our lives. Thank You that when we do fail, You do not give us a look of scorn or condemnation, but a look of love and forgiveness. May this image of Your grace motivate us to stay close to You every second of our lives. In Your gracious and mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1.Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 552.

2.  J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 325.

3. Ibid., pg. 326.

4. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John: Introduction, Translation and Notes. Anchor Bible series. 2 vols. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966-71, Vol 2, pg. 842.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 331. 

6. Tom Holladay’s sermon on Wednesday, July 17, 1996, entitled, “Jesus on Trial.”

7. Ibid.

8. Pastor Chuck Swindoll’s September 15, 2015 post of A.W. Tozer on twitter.

When the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want for restoration

“He restores my soul.” Psalm 23:3a

Sheep have a habit of wandering away from the flock. They become interested in one clump of grass, and then another and another – until they discover that they have strayed far away from the shepherd and the other sheep. When night comes, the lost sheep is in great danger. It could became a meal for wolves, a mountain lion, or even fall over a cliff.

When the shepherd comes back to the fold, he counts his sheep and discovers that one is missing. The shepherd then leaves his servant to guard the flock so he can go out and find his lost sheep and bring it back to the fold.

Some sheep will develop the habit of going astray. Night after night, the shepherd finds the same sheep missing. Eventually, the shepherd will break its leg. Back in the fold, the shepherd makes a splint for the shattered leg and during the days hat follow, he carries that crippled sheep close to his heart. As the leg mends, the shepherd sets the sheep down by his side. The sheep must still depend on the shepherd to cross streams and rocky knolls.

After the leg has healed, the sheep has learned a valuable lesson – stay close to the shepherd’s side. You may think this is cruel or hardhearted until you understand the heart of the shepherd. The shepherd knows the sheep must remain close to him if it is to be protected from danger. So he breaks his leg, not to hurt it, but to restore it.

Have you ever wandered away from God, forcing Him to move in and break your leg? I don’t mean He literally breaks your leg, although He could. Maybe you felt God’s discipline was too severe and harsh. But when you know God’s heart, you realize that these afflictions came in to your life because He wants His sheep to depend constantly on Him. He longs for us to stay close to His heart.

King David understood this when he wrote Psalm 23. David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and tried to cover it up by murdering her husband, Uriah (2 Samuel 11). David lived with the guilty memory of his sin for nine months before God sent his prophet, Nathan, to restore his servant (2 Samuel 12:1-15). David’s unbearable anxiety and guilt were removed the moment he confessed his sin to God and experienced His forgiveness (Psalm 32:1-5; 51:1-4). He was restored back to fellowship with the Lord the moment he came clean with Him.

Please understand that our Good Shepherd is the One who “restores” us, just as the shepherd is the one who restores his wandering sheep. Sheep do not restore themselves. The shepherd does. Likewise, we cannot restore ourselves when we have wandered from God. Nor can our spouse, pastor, church, or close friends restore us. This is God’s responsibility.

Have you gone astray from the Lord and sunk deep into the darkness of sin and shame? Do you believe that your sin is greater than God’s grace? Are you convinced that God could never forgive you and restore you back to closeness with Him in light of what you have done?

Listen to the heart of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus has the best interest of the sheep in mind. He laid down His life so that those who believe in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15). The word “for” in this verse refers to the substitutionary death of Christ. Christ died “for” us or “instead” of us. He died in our place.

God could have permitted us to take our own punishment. But instead, 2,000 years ago, God’s perfect Son took our place on the cross and died as our Substitute. The Bible tells us, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

A California newspaper reported that a man fired a gun into a pedestrian-filled sidewalk. To shield a three-year-old boy from the hail of bullets, a twenty-nine-year-old apartment manager grabbed him and ran back into the building. Carrying the boy, he ran up a flight of stairs before collapsing from two bullet wounds in his chest. A policeman observed, “He brought the boy out of the line of fire and died because of it.”  

As our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ took what caused our death, our sin, and died for us before coming back to life three days later. By dying in our place, Jesus satisfied God’s holy demand to punish our sins. There is no need for us to punish ourselves. Christ took our punishment so we can enjoy fellowship with Him after we receive His gift of everlasting life (John 3:16; I John 1:3-4). No amount of our sin is greater than God’s love and grace (Romans 8:38-39; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Jesus also said, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (John 10:14). It was important for a shepherd to know his sheep. He must know their needs, weaknesses, and their problems. Without this kind of knowledge, he would not be able to adequately provide for the needs of his sheep.

Christ is the Good Shepherd not only because He lays down His life for us,but because He has an intimate knowledge of us. He knows everything about us – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and He still loves us. It is also important that the sheep know their shepherd. They must know his voice so they can respond when he calls them. They must learn to trust their shepherd so he can provide for their needs.

The more we understand how intimately our Good Shepherd knows us and loves us, the more we will believe that no amount of our sin disqualifies us from approaching Him. He wants to restore His wayward sheep. He wants to hold us close to His heart. Will you permit Him to do this in your life? If you will, you can know as David did that when the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want for restoration.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, my gracious and good Shepherd, thank You for Your unlimited love and grace towards me. Thank You for laying down Your life for me so I may have Your life forever the moment I believe in You. Even though I am prone to wander from You, this does not diminish Your love for me. You still seek me out to restore me back to fellowship with You. Thank You for the pain I have felt when I have wandered far away from You. That pain teaches me to come back to You and to stay close to Your heart. Help me to show the same restoring grace to others who have wandered from You as You have shown to me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

The Father’s love toward His self-righteous son

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.’ ” Luke 15:31

In Luke 15:11-24, we saw Father God’s love expressed in a relationship between a father and his wayward son. God is like a father who is generous to His children (15:12); He allows His children to make their own decisions and live with the consequences (15:12-16); He longs for His wayward children to return to Him (15:20a); He unconditionally loves and accepts His wayward children (15:20-21); He restores His repentant children to the privileges of sonship (15:22); He celebrates whenever His wayward children return home to Him (15:23-24).

Today we will look at how God the Father responds to an angry and self-righteous child of His. In this parable, the younger wayward son returned home to his father and his father responded with love and forgiveness to him, and restored him to the privileges of sonship (Luke 15:18-22). The father even had a parting celebrating his son’s return (15:23-24).

But while this restoration and celebration was taking place, the “older son” had been working “in the field” (15:25a). And as he drew near to his father’s house and “heard music and dancing,” he asked one of the servants what was  going on (15:25b-26). When the servant told the older brother that his younger brother had come home and his father was celebrating his return, the son became “angry and would not go in” to join the celebration of his younger brother’s return (15:27-28a). But notice what the father does. “Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him” (15:28b). The father did not ignore his son and leave him in his self-righteous pity party. No, the father pursued his angry son.

Instead of rejoicing in his father’s love and forgiveness towards his repentant brother, the older son was angry with his father’s response. This son had worked hard “serving” his father much like the Jewish religious leaders worked hard to try to earn God’s love and forgiveness (15:29). The older brother viewed himself more as a servant than as a son of his father. Actually, he views himself as a “perfect” servant. He arrogantly boasted to his father, “I never transgressed your commandment at any time” (15:29a). Really!?! He never once disobeyed his father!?!

Then he angrily blames his father for not giving him what he deserved. “And yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends” (15:29b). Like the religious leaders, this older son’s self-righteousness led him to feel that he was not being treated as much as he deserved. He preoccupied himself with his work instead of focusing on his relationship with his loving father who accepted and loved him apart from his work. He was hurt because his father never celebrated all that he had done for him, but now his father was throwing a party for his “less than” brother (15:29-30).

The older son refuses to acknowledge his brother as his brother. He calls him his father’s son (“this son of yours”), implying that his father shared his younger brother’s guilt (15:30a). This older son was elevating himself above both his father and his younger brother. His self-righteous attitude may have been his way of compensating for a deep sense of inadequacy and insecurity in his heart. This prevented him from experiencing any joy over his brother’s restoration. Amazingly, everyone in this parable experienced joy except this older brother. Instead of staying home to enjoy the love of his father, this older brother was working hard in the field so he could get what he wanted from his father.

Have you ever felt this way towards God? Do you have resentment towards God when He restores a believer whom you think should be punished? When you compare yourself to that wayward believer, do you feel superior to him or her? He or she is like a second-class Christian compared to you? When we compare our righteousness with the righteousness of other broken sinners, pride can easily fill our hearts. It would be better to compare our righteousness with that of God’s. When we do that, we will realize that our righteousness is like “filthy rags” before our perfect and holy Father in heaven (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:23). When we forget how much grace and forgiveness God has extended to us when we sin, we can be very unforgiving toward others when they sin (cf. Matthew 18:21-33).

Perhaps, you have worked hard for God as a Christian trying to win His approval and love. And when you see God restore a wayward brother in Christ, you feel resentment towards God’s love and forgiveness. “After all, you have done so much for the Lord. Why doesn’t He celebrate what you have done?” You have lost sight of the heart of your heavenly Father. You have focused more on working FOR the Father rather than being WITH Him. Instead of enjoying God’s grace and love towards you, you demand justice for your brother who has been restored by God.

How does the father respond to his angry and self-righteous son? He responds with the same love and tenderness that he showed toward his youngest son. “He said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours’ ” (15:31). His obedient son had constant access to fellowship with his father along with enjoyment of all he possesses. But instead of enjoying his relationship with his father and all of his father’s possessions, the older son chose to focus on his works and what he thought he deserved. This produced a haughtiness in him that caused him to look down on his father and his younger brother.

What amazes me about our Father in heaven, is that He loves His wayward children and His self-righteous angry children with the same tenderness. He pursues them even when they do not deserve it. The bottom line is both sons needed forgiveness and restoration. And their father granted it to them freely.

I believe this is a powerful message for the church today. I wonder how many wayward Christians receive the same love and tenderness from their church as they did from God when they returned home to the Lord? Or do they receive the anger that was displayed by the self-righteous older son, causing them to feel like a second-class Christian? Instead of embracing the repentant sinner, they shun him because in their minds he deserves justice not grace. Oh they would never say that out loud. But their actions speak much louder than their words. What the self-righteous Christian fails to understand is all of us deserve justice, including him or her (Romans 3:23; 6:23a). But God’s grace is for the underserving – a condition of all of humanity. God’s grace restores the repentant sinner not because they deserve it, but because God is a God of second chance.

As I have processed this parable the past few days, I am reminded of how the self-righteous Jewish leaders responded to Jesus’ grace towards repentant sinners. They hated Jesus and His grace which was captivating the hearts of the people, and eventually these leaders murdered Him on a cross (Matthew 9:11; 11:19; 12:9-21; Mark 2:13-16; 3:1-6; Luke 5:30; 15:2; 19:7; John 5:16; 7:1; 11:45-53). But when Jesus died on that cross He paid the penalty for the sins of the repentant sinner and the self-righteous sinner. That makes them equals before the cross. There is no more hierarchy of the “haves” and “have nots” in God’s family. Praise Jesus for our total acceptance and worth before Him!

If you have been given justice instead of grace by Christians, please understand that this is not Jesus’ way. Jesus is not uptight about your sin and shame. Christ said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). Christ did not come to condemn you, but to cleanse you. He did not come to rub in your sins, but to rub them out. If you do not have Jesus in your life, He invites you to come to Him now just as you are.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He is not asking you to come to church or to a pastor, a priest, an imam, or a monk. He is asking you to come to Him. Notice He does not say, “Come to Me and I will give you guilt … shame … stress.” No He says, “Come to Me … and I will give you rest.” Christ is saying that when we come to Him just as we are, He will give you spiritual rest. The rest Jesus offers refers to a state of mind that exists when a non-Christian realizes he or she does not have to earn or work for their salvation. This refers to the positional rest of eternal life that is based on trusting in Christ’s accomplishment on the cross.

When I was a nineteen year-old college student athlete, I came to Christ in faith and received the “rest” of His forgiving grace. This took place in a cornfield driveway as a song by Chuck Girard entitled “Lay Your Burden Down,” was playing in my parent’s car. As I listened to this song, my heart was flooded with the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. He took away the burden of my sin and shame. I would like to share some of those lyrics before we pray:

You’ve been tryin’ hard to make it all alone
Tryin’ hard to make it on your own

And the strength you once were feelin’, isn’t there no more
And you think the wrong you’ve done, is just too much to be forgiven
But you know that isn’t true
Just lay your burden down, …He has Forgiven you

Lay your burden down, lay your burden down
Take your burden to the cross, and lay it down
Lay your burden down, lay your burden d
own Take you worries to the cross and lay them down

Prayer: Father God, please forgive me for judging others as unworthy of Your love and restoration. When I feel deeply inadequate and insecure, it is easy for me to lift myself up by tearing others down. I am no different than the older brother when I focus on the sins of others to avoid looking at my own sins. Oh, how quickly I can forget the burden of my sin and shame You lifted off of me forty-one years ago when I believed in Jesus. How prone I am to resent Your love and forgiveness toward repentant sinners because I think they deserve justice instead of grace. Please cleanse me of these arrogant and self-righteous thoughts that seek to elevate me above You and others. Lord God, I invite You into the dark recesses of my soul to shine Your unspeakable love which restores the broken hearted and crushed in spirit. Please make my heart whole again so I may love and restore other broken sinners with the love and grace You have abundantly lavished upon me. Thank You, my precious Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.