I have titled my message for this morning, “It’s Time for a Comeback.” Would y’all agree? 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. Can anybody be excited about that reality today? 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.
You might be thinking, “Well, that was Jesus, and He was God.” Knowing what we know about Jesus perhaps makes His comeback not so surprising to us on this side of the Resurrection. Do you know that God knew some of us would think that way, that comebacks were possible for Jesus because He was the Son of God, but that we couldn’t count on a comeback for ourselves?
Listen. Our comeback isn’t contingent on who we are, friends. Our comeback is possible because of Whose we are! If you are a Christ-follower, there is no hole too deep, no night too dark, no failure so final that you cannot come back from it. Let me remind you that Lazarus also was raised from the dead. Maybe God allowed that scenario to take place before Jesus’ own resurrection to demonstrate that comebacks weren’t just for the Son of God, but they were for the children of God as well.
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. Peter was a colorful, courageous, and confident Christ-follower. When Jesus said, “Follow Me” to Peter and his brother, Andrew, they left everything to follow Him. Peter left his business. Scripture tells us he had a mother-in-law, so we know he was married which means he left home and the company of his wife to follow Jesus. That sounds a lot like commitment to me.
We also know from Luke 5:6-8 that when Peter began his journey with Jesus he had a sense of unworthiness. He was humbled in his heart the day of the miraculous catch of fish, the day he was called. He was the first of the disciples to see and embrace Jesus as the Messiah. In Matthew 16:16 he confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. It was upon that confession that Jesus said He would build His church. Special insight from Heaven had been given to Peter for him to know that. Think about that. Someone with special revelation from Heaven, someone with inside information, still failed Jesus.
Jesus even changed his name from Simon to Peter which means “rock.” Jesus was investing in Peter. He was building something in Peter. He would use Peter to build His kingdom on the Day of Pentecost. Peter showed great promise. I believe the new name would always serve as a reminder for Peter that Jesus had great things in store for him. I believe Jesus was planting seeds, ahead of Peter’s failure, that recovery would take place, comeback would be possible God was going to use Peter to build his kingdom and Peter’s failure wasn’t going to change that. It would actually help foster that because Peter would be proof that people can be changed by the power of God.
In the moments following his failure, Peter would still hear people call his name. He would still hear them refer to him as a rock, as someone solid, someone dependable, someone who could be counted on and could become foundational in helping others build their lives on Jesus. It wouldn’t matter that Peter would feel like a failure, he would be hearing the truth when he would hear his name. Over and over he would be reminded that Jesus had a plan to use him.
Peter was the water-walker in Matthew 14. Jesus had come walking on the water to the disciples during a storm and Peter desired to step out to do the same. Peter didn’t just jump out of the boat believing he had what it took to be a water-walker; No, he asked Jesus to invite him out onto the water’s surface. It was obvious that Jesus was developing Peter, helping him to see that he was going to be able to do the kinds of things Jesus had been doing.
So much was going right for Peter. How did he go from 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. I see three blind spots that led to his failure. It is clear that God had been speaking to Peter and had given him Heaven’s wisdom and that he was able to see things others were missing, but there were also times that
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?
Peter’s idea of a Messiah was clearly different from Jesus’ idea. Peter may have understood who Jesus was, but He obviously hadn’t gotten the memo on what Jesus was meant to do, so he was reacting based on his own ideas of the Messiah’s job description. Peter was looking for a Messiah to rule and reign over Rome and not one who would die on a cross. Peter went to try to straighten Jesus out. 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? It’s obvious he didn’t understand what Jesus was attempting to communicate through this act of love, this act of service and that this move on Jesus’ part was quite shocking given that Jesus was assuming the role of a servant, but for Peter to reject and resist the efforts of the One he had vowed to follow was certainly not OK. Once again, Peter was trying to take control in the situation.
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. Sounds like a botched arrest, doesn’t it?
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.
“It can’t happen to me.” Have you ever thought that? Peter shows us that anything is possible. Your heart can be devoted to something, to someone, and in an instant, when a thought enters your head and that thought is accompanied by an emotion like fear, you are capable of anything just like Peter was. Peter turned his back on Jesus in fear for what might happen to him if he honestly answered the question, “Are you one of Christ’s followers?”
Warnings are a gift from God to help us avoid the circumstances that cause setbacks in our lives. Wise people aren’t wise because they know what to do in every circumstance, but wise people are wise because they listen to the warnings of godly people and the warnings in the Word of God and the warnings of the Holy Spirit that are sent to help us avoid some of those crash and burn moments in life. We don’t know everything, and we don’t even know everything about ourselves. We don’t know what we are truly capable of, but God does. We need to listen to Him and heed the warnings He sends our way.
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.
Just as Jesus warned Peter that Satan was out to get him, He has also warned us. We read in I Peter 5:8 that Satan is prowling around like a roaring lion. He is looking for his next victim. I wonder if Peter had been vigilant to pray if he would have at least had the spiritual restraint and insight to avoid the whole ear cutting off debacle.
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?
Listen to Luke’s recounting of the moment Peter sort of woke up from his spiritual stupor and self-denial: Luke 22:60-62 (NIV) 60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” Peter was close enough to watch all that was going on, all that Jesus was enduring and when Peter denied Jesus for the third time, the rooster crowed and Jesus was able to look directly at Peter. That’s gut-wrenching isn’t it? When you see the eyes of the One that you have so deeply disappointed and hurt? That look brought about the recognition of just what Peter had done and verse 62 says,62 And he went outside and wept bitterly. It wasn’t that Peter didn’t love Jesus. It was that he had gotten spiritually lazy. It was that he had become lulled into thinking too much about his own abilities. What he never thought could happen to him, happened. Peter, the Rock, had crumbled into pieces.
Allow me to quickly close with some steps to a solid comeback.
1. Tears are a good first step to a solid comeback. Grieving what we have done is important in order to move forward. Understanding the weight of our failures and how they impact others is necessary if we are going to avoid a repeat. Peter was truly sorry. Truly repentant. His actions didn’t match the desires of his heart. He recognized his failure.
2. Being willing to have hard conversations is a good second step to a solid comeback.
It wasn’t going to be easy to face Jesus, but Peter would do it. When the Risen Christ met Peter on the beach in John 21 and talked one-on-one with him, Jesus asked him the same question three times. “Peter, do you love me?” The profession of love and devotion isn’t a quick commitment. It isn’t a casual commitment. Peter had been quick with his words before. Jesus was giving him an opportunity to really think through what he was calling him to.
Something emerges from Peter after the third time Jesus asked the same question. I had never noticed it before. It is subtle and stunning at the same time. Here it is from John 21:1717 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
Peter admits that Jesus knows it all. He says, “Lord, YOU know all things.” Peter wasn’t only saying, “You know that I love you,” but I believe He was saying, “You are in charge. You have perfect knowledge. I’m not going to question you again. I’m not going to resist you again. I’m not going to rely on myself any more. I’m going to pay attention to what You say because You, Jesus, truly know best because You know it all.”
Sometimes our setbacks don’t come down to a lack of love, but a lack of Lordship.
We can love Jesus in our hearts, but if our actions don’t line up with His invitation to follow, we cannot be counted on for Him to accomplish His work through our lives. But when Jesus is Lord of our lives we can be the Rock that Jesus can truly count on. You see, I don’t think Jesus was asking about Peter’s love, but He was helping Peter see his need to submit to His Lordship in every circumstance.
Step three is simply this:
3. Submit yourself again to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Well, Peter went on to preach the incredible Pentecost sermon that caused a revival in the streets of Jerusalem and 3000 people were born into the Kingdom of God. No one had ever seen anything like that. The power of God that was on display that day was unprecedented, and it was just the start of all kinds of miracles. That is the kind of thing that can happen when there is full surrender to the Lordship of Jesus and His plans for our lives.
When Jesus chose Peter to be His disciple, He foresaw Peter’s failures. The same is true for all of us. Jesus knows we will be weak at times, spiritually tuned out at times, afraid at times, self-reliant at times, and yet, He wants to use us. He told Peter ahead of his failure that when Peter would turn back to God, he was to take initiative to strengthen the rest of the disciples. Jesus told Peter ahead of his failure that His plan to use Him wouldn’t change.
I don’t know if your setback is spiritual, moral, financial, relational, professional, or physical. I don’t know where you have crumbled or compromised, but I know this: 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!