John 21:4-7 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. 6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.
John 21:1515 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Acts 2:1-4 1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:14 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.
I love the life of Peter because it is real life. In Peter we see the heart of a person who wants to follow Jesus, but who often got it wrong. He often got it wrong, yet he was one of the 12 disciples. He was hand-picked by Jesus for the job. I often think people think being a disciple means getting everything right. They think if they can’t be a perfect disciple they can’t learn to follow Jesus. Peter’s life shows us that isn’t true. Discipleship doesn’t mean getting everything right. It means pursuing the right, but overcoming when we wind up getting it wrong. It does mean we get back up when we fall. It does mean we learn from bad decisions, impulsive decisions, selfish decisions, and we attempt to do it differently the next time.
The disciples weren’t people with superhuman capabilities. They were flawed people just like you and me. Peter didn’t automatically understand everything Jesus taught. On at least three occasions the Bible says he didn’t understand the parables Jesus was teaching (Matt. 15:5, Mark 4:10 and Matt.) Do you ever read the Bible or listen to a message and think, “What in the world does that even mean?” You are in good company!
Peter had been in the group that tried to keep the little children away from Jesus in Mark 10:17. From our vantage point today we would never want to discourage a child from coming to Jesus or wanting to be close to Jesus! But let’s face it, like Peter we don’t always see the big picture, do we? We might see something as a distraction or a bother when it is the main event God intends to bless at that moment.
Of course there was the “Walking on Water” incident where Peter stepped out of the boat in faith and started walking on the water towards Jesus which was wonderful. But then he took his eyes off of Jesus and focused on the storm, and when he did, he started to sink. Jesus rescued him in the midst of his doubt. How encouraged and strong do we feel in here when we are all together worshiping and learning God’s Word only to start Monday wondering if we can even make it through the week? How quickly can we move from faith to doubt?
Peter even had the audacity to take Jesus aside and give Him a lecture about the words Jesus had spoken regarding His upcoming crucifixion for the sins of the world in Matthew 16:22. Peter lectured Jesus. Have you ever been guilty of the same? “Jesus, I don’t have time for this right now. God, why aren’t you listening to my prayers? God, I need you to rescue me NOW! What are you EVEN thinking? How in the world can what I am going through work out for my good?” Jesus had to rebuke Satan in that moment after Peter’s lecture in order to remove Satan from Peter’s life. Somehow, in Peter’s puffed up pride, he had given Satan wiggle room into his life, all this while he was following Jesus AS A DISCIPLE. A disciple of Jesus was being impacted by Satan? It can happen, right?
Peter even had a moment of self-centeredness where he asked Jesus what was in it for him since he had left everything to follow Jesus in Matthew 19:27; like Jesus owed him something! “God, after all I have done to serve you? Where is MY blessing? Where is my “thank you?” Have you ever felt that way?
When Jesus needed his friends desperately and asked them to keep watch and pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter was among those who went to sleep. As a disciple, have you ever fallen asleep on the job?
When Jesus was arrested Peter messed up, royally. He had been the most vocal, the most braggadocios about never leaving Jesus’ side and following Him all the way even if it meant he had to die with Jesus (Mark 14:27:31). I believe Peter had good intentions. I believe in the moment he meant what he said. I believe he believed he would stay faithful, but his “want to” didn’t match his “will to” when push came to shove. In that moment he loved himself more than he loved Jesus. Jesus had predicted Peter would deny Him, and guess what? Peter denied he even knew Jesus during the hours preceding the crucifixion. What about you? Do you have an on-again, off-again relationship with Jesus? Do you get fired up and follow for a while only to cool off when someone challenges your walk with Christ or passion in His name?
Failure after failure after failure after failure and this final failure hit Peter hard. How could he be a follower of Jesus now? John 21 tells us he went back to doing what he had been doing when Jesus found him. He went back to the sea, back to fishing for fish. He had overcome failure before, but on the heels of this last failure, he didn’t see a way to recover. Have you ever been there? You feel like you have burned the last bridge? You have “gone too far?” Rather than try to repair anything you just run away? Rather than try to reconnect you just live with regret and find something to take your mind off of your failure?
Using Peter’s life I want to quickly highlight a prescription for overcoming.
Overcomers run to the right Person.
Jesus doesn’t give up on people, not easily anyway. He always knows where to find us. He always knows where we are “hiding.” He will get our attention somehow, and what we do in that moment is critical. Peter had gone back to fishing and wasn’t having any success. A man showed up on the shore and instructed Peter and his friends to fish off the right side of the boat. They did, and of course, they caught a ton of fish. That miracle was the “aha” for John to recognize that the man on the beach was Jesus. John told Peter it was Jesus and what does verse 7 say? Peter jumped out of the boat to make his way to Jesus.
We can struggle to reconnect with someone we have failed or disappointed in some way. We are good at avoidance tactics. When we avoid dealing with what we have done, we let failure have the final say. People who let failure have the final say won’t get God’s perspective on their situation. Without God’s perspective and help, we can’t move from failure into our God-given future. Perhaps people are afraid of what God will say when we come to Him after a failure. I’ll tell you what He will say. “Welcome. I am so glad you are here! I love you and will help you.”
You know what we need more than anything at first when we fail? Compassion. Comfort. Reassurance. Who better to comfort us when we have messed up than Jesus Himself?
Lamentations 3:19-26 19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
Think of failing as falling down. God doesn’t prevent every fall. He doesn’t catch us every time we are on our way down. Sometimes He lets us hit the ground so that we will experience the consequences of our actions and learn to obey Him. Sometimes He lets us hit the ground so that we will ask Him to help us up so that we can experience just how strong He is. You see, our personal failures can become a tool in the hand of God which benefit us when we allow Him to be the One to restore us.
If our failure is a moral failure, a sin against God, He is the ONLY ONE who can bring restoration into our lives. No earthly shoulder we could cry on could forgive us of our sin. No bottle we could drink or pill we could take, no extra hours we could put in at our job, no hobby we could begin, not even moving out of town could take care of our sin. We need to run to God and admit what we have done because He has the power to forgive us and make a brand new start possible, and guess where He starts with the brand new start? He starts from the mess we have made. He creates something beautiful out of our failure.
Run to our merciful God this morning if you are dealing with the failure of sin. Hear David’s words following his sexual sin with Bathsheba followed by the subsequent murder of her husband as he tried to cover it all up:
Psalm 51:1-12 1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
This was a man who had messed up big, but when he did, King David knew where to run. He threw himself on God’s mercy and grace. Don’t let embarrassment or regret or what anyone else thinks keep you from running to the arms of Jesus. Peter could have worried about what the other disciples were thinking about him as he jumped out of the boat to get quickly to Jesus. After all, he was no better than they were. They had all denied Jesus in some form or fashion. They were all “in the same boat.” (Boat—do you see what I did there? J) Why should Peter think that Jesus would be anxious to see him, right? Run to Him this morning on the heels of your failure. He is anxious to greet you.
Overcomers recover their purpose.
Jesus said to Peter in John 21:15, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” Get back to ministering to people. Get on with the Kingdom of God business I taught you about. Resume your work in my name. While researching for this message I found a wonderful sermon title. “Your Destiny is Greater than Your Disaster.” There aren’t enough devils in hell to keep you from your God-given purpose, but you can take yourself out of the game! You can sabotage your own potential. It isn’t time to sit down. It isn’t time to quit. A setback is your opportunity for a comeback! Forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead. Press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).
“But Pastor, God can’t use me. I’ve messed up. I’ve failed. I’m disqualified.” Says who? You want to know the only qualifications for serving God and fulfilling His purpose for your life? Running back to Him and loving Him. John 21:15. If you repent and you love Him, He will restore you which means He will help you reclaim your God-given destiny.
You may be in an earthly situation where someone else decides your failure is a deal-breaker for them personally, and they tell you they are “done” with you. That may or may not be the case. Many conflicts resolve themselves in time and with prayer and a Christ-like humility. However, when you come to Jesus, He will never tell you He is DONE with you. Failure is never final with God. Our failures never erase the fact that God has a purpose in mind for us.
Philippians 1:6 says that “He who began a good work in you will be faithful complete it.” That doesn’t just apply to us in the moments when we seem to be getting the Christian life right. God isn’t just committed to His completing work when He is pleased with our actions and attitudes. That Scripture also applies to God’s work in us when we get it wrong. Those who decide God is through with them, that their failure is too big for God to overcome diminish God’s power, authority and ability to make something beautiful out of even the worst personal disaster. They miss out on the abundant life God has. Yes, you can fail and still experience abundant life. The only real failure is letting Satan rather than God have the final say!
Failures mess with our confidence. I get it. They cause us to doubt our ability to be faithful the next time. But the moment of failure can be one of the biggest spiritual aha’s we can have in this life because in that moment, if we take it to heart and turn it over to the Lord, we will realize it isn’t about our ability to be faithful to God, but it is about God’s willingness to transform us, infuse His life in us, and by His power give us the ability to be faithful as we move forward.
God wants to use failure in your life to move you forward in your understanding of what it means to lean on and rely on the Lord. Satan, however, also wants to use failure in your life as he wants to remind you how flawed and weak you are in order to move you away from God and the purpose God has for your life.
I believe God is speaking today and telling several people, “It is time to get back on track. You have had a pity party long enough. You are not disqualified if you have repented and love me. Get up and get back to work in My name!”
Notice that Jesus never said to Peter, “Peter, I was counting on you and you let me down.” He never asked Peter, “How could you do that to me?” Jesus wasn’t interested in dwelling on what happened. He was interested in what was ahead. God is far more interested in reinstating you for your purpose than He is in rehearsing what you have done. Jesus said something very simple and powerful in verse 19. They are words Peter had heard before. “Follow me.” Following someone doesn’t mean looking back.
Following someone doesn’t involve sitting still. Following someone means only one thing, forward motion. And when you follow Jesus that IS when you are transformed into something different than a person who has failed. Move from failure to follower! Move today from a person who has failed and become a person who follows in order that you can be truly changed.
Overcomers receive God’s power.
In Acts 2 we read about how the disciples were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and in that power Peter stood up to address the crowd. This was a big crowd, and it was Peter’s first real sermon. I think my first sermon ever was to a small crowd on a Sunday night in Cincinnati. I can’t imagine what I would have thought if someone had said, “Your first sermon is going to be to thousands of people, and 3000 of them will be saved when you open the altars. Oh, and by the way, your first sermon will take place after the greatest failure of your life.” What?!
But Peter was bold, very bold, as he stood up to address the crowd. He spoke not in his own authority and power, but in the authority and power he had received from Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Here was a transformed Peter. He didn’t mince any words. He shared the Gospel and showed that he had moved beyond feeling disqualified, beyond embarrassment and shame, and he was fulfilling God’s purpose for His life. He had been called by Jesus to become a fisher of men, and that is what he became. His purpose was realized on the heels of his biggest failure. What could be next for you and me on the heels of any failure we are dealing with?
And you know what Peter didn’t say on the Day of Pentecost? He didn’t say, “I preached a great sermon.” Where the focus before had been on himself and what he would do or thought he could do, he was simply the recipient of the strength, wisdom, and power of the Holy Spirit, and he knew it. After he denied Jesus he didn’t see preaching in his future. He knew he couldn’t preach. He finally realized his “want to” wasn’t enough. His “will to” wasn’t even enough. It would take the power of God to see God’s purpose realized in Peter’s life.
After his incredible sermon, people started asking, “In light of what you have said, Peter, what should we do?” His response showed his understanding about what he had experienced for himself. Acts 2:38-39 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the GIFT of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Salvation is a gift of grace. Receiving the Holy Spirit is also a gift from God. It is THE GIFT you must receive in order to truly become an overcomer. For it is the power of the Spirit at work in your life which will enable you to leave the past in the past and walk with power into your future.
This morning, if God is wrestling with you and your heart through this message, please don’t try to wiggle off the hook. Peter only went on to become like Jesus and do the things Jesus did because he responded to Jesus when Jesus came looking for him. Peter was humble with Jesus. Peter didn’t blame anyone else for his failure, though he could have pointed a finger at the rest of the disciples who also disserted Jesus. He listened intently to what Jesus had to say about what loving Him would really mean. I think it took running to Jesus, recovering his purpose and receiving the Holy Spirit’s power for Peter to look back and finally say, “I am an overcomer.” This morning, will you let God and not Satan have the final say about your future?