He was a young pastor, happy in his ministry and life as a husband and father. Then, during an intensely emotional counseling session with a woman, he succumbed to temptation. They committed adultery together. As he drove home that night, he knew nothing would ever be the same again. His ministry was over.
As a Christian leader, do you ever worry a big fail will keep God from using you?
You are not alone: fear of disqualification can keep many of us hiding our failures and disguising our weaknesses. If anyone had reason to fear he’d become unfit for ministry, it was Peter.
Peter’s Triple Feature
We all know the story: the night of Jesus’ arrest, three different times, people asked if he was with or even knew Jesus. Three times, he answered with a resounding NO. He left the scene weeping bitterly. I imagine Jesus’ earlier warning was ringing in his ears:
“Whoever denies Me before men, I will deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33 NASB 1995).
Earlier, Jesus had commended Peter on an insightful proclamation, promising:
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19 NASB).
Heady stuff. But in light of what had just happened, it now seemed for naught.
But was that God’s intention? Jesus had actually warned Peter of his coming test and its eventual outcome: “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32 NASB 1995). You will deny me. You will weep bitter tears. But the result of all this will be an ability to help your brothers as they go through similar tests.
God would use Peter’s experience to transform him into an amazing help to those who would fail after him. Into the ashes, God would breathe redemption and new life.
Shortly after the Resurrection, Peter met up with Jesus on a beach in Galilee. I imagine it would have been an awkward moment, meeting Jesus’ eyes with the enormity of failure heavy on his heart. Jesus took him for a walk. “Simon, do you love Me more than these?”
Peter’s passion and angst shone through his response: “Yes Lord, you know that I love You.” Two more times, Jesus asked the same question. At the third, Peter cried, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love you!”
And Jesus said: “Then tend my sheep.”
I think as he reflected back, Peter realized Jesus was giving him three chances to right the wrong of his three denials: three acknowledgements of Jesus, three chances to set the record straight.
Then, without one word about his failure, Jesus reinstated Peter. You are forgiven. Now go and shepherd others, as I have shepherded you.
Did he do what Jesus said? Yes. Did God use him? Yes!
A Lasting Legacy
Peter went on to become the leading apostle and preacher after Jesus’ ascension. We find him leading the disciples in Acts 1 when they needed to replace Judas. After being filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, the disciples spilled out into the streets. Who speaks to the crowd of pilgrims? Peter. Three thousand believed in Christ that day.
It was Peter who performed the first healings in Acts, and after that, Peter and John were the first to be arrested for preaching Christ. Peter was the one given the vision for Gentiles to be included into the Kingdom. He even wrote two of the books of the Bible. I can go on and on, but you get the point.
The story of Peter’s denial is in every single Gospel. But interestingly, none of the writers were with Peter that night. The only way they could have known about it was if Peter told them.
Why was Peter so insistent about sharing his big fail? Because God’s response was a demonstration of His grace and forgiveness.
Because the story we are to share isn’t about us or what good people we are or what moral standards we have. Our story is about our redemption through God’s grace; God reaching down in mercy and nailing our sin to the cross, as Jesus paid our insurmountable debt. That’s our story.
Through God’s redemption, His breathing life into the ashes of his failure, Peter understood: the story was not about his accomplishments or credentials. It was about God’s grace.
No doubt, those who heard Peter’s story were encouraged. A time of intense persecution was coming, and many would fail to pledge their allegiance to God under threat of death. But even as they heard their own words of betrayal, they would know that where sin abounded, grace would abound more.
My pastor friend, who felt he’d ruined his life with his sinful encounter? He and his wife worked through the issues together. God healed him and healed their marriage. He is now working in prison ministry, where men with checkered pasts gain hope for themselves through hearing what God did for him.
God Heals Us
However the scars we bear from our failures remain. But rather than a detriment, they stand in testimony to His grace. It’s the best news ever: nothing is beyond the forgiveness of God.
Julie Coleman loves to teach the Word of God! With contagious enthusiasm, she brings hope and encouragement to her audience through rich biblical teaching. Julie uses humor and personal stories to make her teaching entertaining as well as meaningful. Her warm and insightful messages make her an effective and well-received speaker.
Julie and her husband, Steve, have four grown children and make their home in the Annapolis, Maryland area.