Do you know what precedes a comeback? A setback. You can’t have a comeback until you have a setback. In fact, Your setback is a setup for your comeback. I’m telling you the truth, our God is the God of Comebacks, the King of Comebacks. We just celebrated the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus had the greatest comeback of all-time. He has demonstrated that a return, a recovery, from even the worst of circumstances is possible.
I’ve preached on the failure and comeback of Peter before, but today I want to explore what led to his failure, what led to his setback because I think any comeback will be best prepared for and sustained by understanding how the setback occurred.
Early on, things went right for Peter. So, how did he go from humbly leaving his old life behind and following Jesus, from being the first to declare Jesus was the Messiah and from water-walking to denying He even knew who Jesus was, not once, but three times? How does that happen?
I think Peter’s setback was fueled by at least three lapses in judgment.
1. Peter tried to take charge.
On the heels of his monumental confession that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, Peter actually rebuked Jesus. Listen to it from Matthew 16:21-22 21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
I can’t imagine the looks on the other disciples’ faces when that went down. I’m thinking his brother, Andrew looked at James and said, “Oh no he didn’t?” I’m guessing Matthew looked at Thomas and whispered, “Duck. It’s about to go down.” Other disciples had to have lost their breath. Had Peter just rebuked the Messiah? Had Peter just tried to tell Him what was what? Had Peter just tried to correct the Christ? What a brash and arrogant move.
How about Peter’s words in the Upper Room during the Last Supper? Jesus picked up the basin and the towel, and bent down to wash Peter’s feet, and Peter questioned Him. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” I don’t know if he thought Jesus shouldn’t wash anyone’s feet or just his, but he went on to say, “No, you shall never wash my feet.” Peter had gone from rebuking Jesus to resisting Him. Where was the submissive, all-in Peter?
Then I take you to the Garden where Jesus was arrested. John’s Gospel tells it in detail in John 18. Judas showed up with a whole bunch of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They came fully armed. They didn’t have to come in and drag Jesus out. He went out to meet them. Jesus went to them and asked, “Who is that you want?” When they said, “Jesus of Nazareth,” He said, “That’s me.” Jesus had no weapon and no need for a weapon. When He told them who He was, they actually (verse 6) drew back and fell to the ground.
But Jesus was bound and determined to get arrested. He needed to be arrested. He had come to die, and it was time to get the “show on the road,” so He asked them again, “Who is it you want?” Again they said, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and Jesus replied, “I told you that I am the guy. If you are looking for Me, then let the rest of these men go.” Jesus was obviously completely in charge of the situation. Jesus was obviously handing Himself over. This was a peaceful and deliberate exchange.
But Peter went rogue, pulled out his sword and cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear, and Jesus had to turn to Peter and say, “Put your sword away! This is going down the way it is supposed to.” (Well, that is the way I read it anyway.) Jesus had never been violent or advocated violence. Peter had violently stepped in to bail Jesus out. Do we understand that Jesus doesn’t need to be bailed out. He simply needs to be followed. When Peter tried to take charge things didn’t go well, and Jesus had to bail Peter out and heal the guy’s ear which is recorded in Luke’s Gospel.
Setbacks will be inevitable when we try to take charge. Eventually, our desire for control will be our downfall. The second thing I think we can note about what led to Peter’s setback is that
2. Peter ignored some warnings.
When Peter rebuked Jesus, Jesus spoke right back. He looked at Peter, but He addressed Satan. Look at it from Matthew 16:23 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me;you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
That should have been a signal that Peter needed to watch his back. It should have given him a heads up that Satan was trying to get in his head. If that wasn’t enough, Jesus even told Peter the reality that Satan had asked for permission to mess with Peter. Jesus was perfectly clear about what was happening. He said to him in Luke 22:31-34 31 “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus didn’t just tell Peter that Satan was gunning for him, but he told him he was going to fail. Jesus said, “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” But Peter couldn’t accept his frailty. He believed it couldn’t happen to him, and he responded to Jesus’ warning with this bold statement: “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
Peter was way too-self confident. He didn’t heed the warnings that should have given him pause. Instead, he just kept talking and insisting he wouldn’t fail. Instead of taking inventory, instead of asking for clarification, instead of thinking about what Jesus had just said, he made a quick comment, a quick commitment he would break in a matter of hours. Jesus even told him that would be the case. He said, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
Jesus had told Peter Satan was after him. Jesus had told Peter that failure was on the horizon. Peter didn’t make any adjustments after any of those warnings.
Well, finally, I would say that the third thing that led to Peter’s demise was that:
- Peter didn’t stay spiritually vigilant.Well, Jesus took the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. He told them to keep watch with Him. He went away to pray and when He came back, the disciples were asleep. He woke them and asked them this question in Matthew 26:40: “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. Notice, that He specifically addressed the question to Peter. Jesus went on to say in the next verse: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
Jesus was warning Peter one more time of how weak we can be and how spiritually vigilant we must be because of that. He told him to pray. But Peter went back to sleep. They all did. Listen, we can’t pray for the strength to endure life’s trials, if we are spiritually asleep! It is often too late to pray for strength when the moment is upon us. We need be praying regularly and stay vigilant ahead of the test.
Have you tried to take control of circumstances rather than allow Jesus to lead your life?
Have you convinced yourself “it couldn’t happen to you” whatever “it” was and ignored the warnings that have been issued to you along the way?
Have you fallen asleep spiritually and as a result become the victim of your feelings rather than a victor the results from solid faith?
When you read the rest of Peter’s story, you will see the powerful and miraculous comeback he had as he wept over his failure, as he engaged in honest conversation with Jesus about what he had done, and as he recommitted to allow Jesus to be the Lord of his life.
It isn’t over for you. Cry whatever tears you need to cry. Have whatever hard conversations you need to have, and then let Jesus be the Lord of whatever challenges you are facing. For on the other side of your comeback are miracles unlike any you have ever seen. My friends, it’s time for a comeback!