The Blessing of Failure

Jesus suffered betrayal by his disciples – especially Peter and Judas Iscariot. While we readily acknowledge that Judas betrayed Jesus into the hands of the Temple guards sent to arrest him, Peter betrayed Jesus by refusing to admit that he knew him (or believe in him). While we often point to Judas’ evil, when often let Peter off with a “slap on the wrist.” We don’t judge him so harshly. The difference is not the betrayals of Peter and Judas, but how they responded to their failures.

Matthew 26:75 – “And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” Peter had been so bold, so pompous in the Upper Room: “I’ll never leave your side; I’ll fight by your side; Nothing is going to dissuade me, Lord!” But Jesus knew better; “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Jesus knew what was going to happen. Peter faced his failure with bitter tears. But it wasn’t the first time or the only time that he had failed. In Matthew 14, we see Jesus walking on water while his disciples were floundering in a boat sailing against the waves. Peter asks if it’s really Jesus, to which Jesus says, “Yes, it’s me.” “Well, if it’s you, tell me to come out to you.” “Okay, come out to me on the water.” And Peter climbs over the rail, out of the boat, and upon the choppy waters. He starts out just fine, but then it dawns on him that he’s walking on water, and it doesn’t look or feel too safe. That’s when he takes his eyes off of Jesus and starts looking around – and he begins to sink. The Lord had to reach down and rescue Peter, but not without a rebuke: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Failure! In Chapter 16, Peter was the only disciple to correctly and boldly answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” “Good job, Simon, son of John; from now you’re going to be called Peter – ‘Rocky’ – and on your confession I’m going to build the church. But the days are coming when I will have to suffer in order to make this church a reality.” “Not you, Lord,” Peter jumped in, “Not you!” Jesus looked intently into his eyes, and lowered the boom: “Get behind me, Satan.” Failure! In fact, throughout the New Testament, we see Peter fail time after time.

Judas, however, we really don’t hear that much about. There’s an instance when he pointed out the waste of perfume Mary was making by cleaning Jesus’ feet; if they had sold the perfume instead of her pouring it on Jesus’ feet, they could have replenished the disciples’ bank account. But then, he was the one handling the funds…so, what do you expect? But then he decides to betray Jesus – for the tidy sum of thirty pieces of silver. Then we read in Matthew 27:3-5 – “Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver into the Temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.” Judas doesn’t seem to have the lengthy record of failure that Peter has, but he despairs over his actions and decides that suicide was the solution.

I would like to submit this simple idea: Do you think that Peter, through his many failures, came to see Christ’s mercy where Judas, who didn’t fail so often, never picked up on the concepts of grace and forgiveness? Peter knew Jesus forgave because we so often needed forgiveness; he was always fumbling over his words and his actions and his attitudes. Many of Peter’s failures were Jesus’ object lesson for the rest of the disciples. Judas isn’t recorded as being a repeated failure and obviously wasn’t impressed by the object lessons. So, Peter weeps bitterly over his betrayal – yet, he doesn’t run off or absent himself from what Jesus was doing next. Later, he would get his chance to right his failure: “Peter, do you love me more than these?” “You know that I do, Lord.” “Then feed my sheep.” Judas is just as sorrowful over his betrayal as Peter, but he wasn’t used to being a failure…wasn’t used to being forgiven…and in his despair, he replaced Peter’s crying by hanging himself.

While success is often sought and sometimes rewarded in life, failure is the better teacher whose lessons are more readily recalled. There is a blessing in failure, especially when it is treated with mercy and forgiveness. With every failure we discover another wrong way of doing things. By the grace of God, every failure becomes another lesson in forgiveness. May we take heart in Peter’s failures, lest we share in Judas’ despair.