Failing

Original Date: 
Sunday, March 11, 2012

Luke 22:54-71 Failing

Today we continue our series called "60 Hours Which Changed the World."

60 hours is not much time. Think about how much (or how little) you have done in the past 60 hours. From supper time Thursday to the rising of the sun today, how much have you accomplished? Well, Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper, held a prayer meeting in Gethsemane, was betrayed by Judas and arrested by an angry mob, was deserted by His friends, was ridiculed, mocked and beaten, was convicted of trumped up charges in a sham trial, was hung on a cross, tortured and killed, and rose again from the dead. He even had time to lie in a grave for about 30 hours. So, 60 hours isn't much time, but in 60 hours Jesus changed the world.

Today, we look at Luke 22:54-62. It’s about 4:30 in the morning. (Which is about when I got up this morning, thanks daylight savings time). It’s the wee hours of the morning, the authorities don’t want to disturb the Roman Governor Pilate until daybreak, so they bring Jesus to the High Priest’s house. Here’s the story:

54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”
57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”
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.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

A Change of Focus
Up to this point in our series we've been focusing on Jesus. I told you last week that I want you to keep your eyes on Him. He is central to this story and it is what He does that counts.

And so we haven't been looking at ourselves--we haven't been looking for action steps or developing lists of things we should do--we've just been looking at Him. And that's enough, because looking at Jesus changes us

But now, we come to a point in the story where scripture changes the focus. In this passage, it is Luke who shifts his attention away from what Jesus was doing to what Peter was doing.

And what Peter was doing was failing.

The Story in a Nutshell
Peter is the tough fisherman with the blustery confidence. We think of Peter today as Jesus’ most exuberant, most outspoken, most bungling disciple. He’s the guy who was always in the middle of everything, and the guy who most often needed to stick his foot in his mouth.

For example, at one crucial moment in the gospel, Jesus asks His disciples who they think He is. It’s Peter who steps up and says: “You are the Christ!” It’s a high water mark. An “attaboy Peter!” moment. But minutes later, as Jesus explains that He is going to die, Peter tries to hush Him and gets called Satan. (Mark 8:27-33)

So, right after the last supper, when Jesus predicts that his disciples will fall away, it’s not a surprise that it’s Peter who pipes up and says: "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." That was Peter in a nutshell: brashly enthusiastic and full of grand statements.

But Jesus’ reply isn’t much of a surprise either: “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:33-34)

That’s kind of the way things went with Peter. He made promises he had every intention of keeping, but then failed to follow-thru on.

And so, when it did come time for Jesus to go to prison and death, Peter fails. Called out by a dewy-eyed maid, he denies having anything to do with Jesus. Trying to get a glimpse of Jesus on trial, he pretends he has no idea who Jesus is. Questioned about his Galilean accent, he actually gets angry.

The sad truth is Peter failed to keep his promise. He disowned his Lord. Push came to shove and he lost his allegiance to Jesus.

Scattered Sheep
Now, in Peter's defense, it should be pointed out that he is not the only one to fail Jesus. Peter is the one the gospels tell us about, and he's the one who actually verbally denies having anything to do with Jesus, but it could rightly be asked: Where are the other disciples? We know from the other gospels that John at least stayed close to Jesus, but not even he comes to Jesus' defense. Where are the others?

Jesus predicted they would fall away, and they did. All of them. Judas betrayed Him and Peter denied knowing Him, but not a one of them was prepared to go to the cross with Him.

So the question is: What happened? What led to Peter flat out denying any connection to his Lord? What contributed to the disciples leaving Jesus to suffer alone? What happened?

And, more importantly, what can we learn from their failure? How can we keep from having the same thing happen to us? How do we know that, when push comes to shove, we won't end up abandoning Jesus as well?

As I look at our text, as well as the events leading up to it, I see at least four major reasons the disciples--and Peter in particular--failed. Four reasons for Peter's failure, and the lessons we learn for our own relationship with Jesus.

Failure to Pray
The first thing we notice is that Peter and the disciples failed to pray.

Last week we saw Jesus in the garden telling the disciples to "Pray that you will not fall into temptation" (Luke 22:40). Jesus knew they were in a precarious position and so He told them to get started on some preemptive prayer. He told them, in effect, that prayer now would give them future power to avoid and resist temptation.

But Peter and the disciples didn't pray. Instead, Luke 22:45 tells us that when Jesus came back from His own prayer time He found them sleeping. Jesus gave them the key for overcoming temptation and they missed it.

So why didn't they pray? Luke says they were "exhausted from sorrow." In Matthew and Mark's account Jesus says: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41; Mark 14:38). That's the key. They couldn't pray because the flesh controlled the spirit. They were too fleshy, too caught up with earthly matters and the desires of their bodies--in this case the desire for sleep--to focus on the spiritual needs they had.

So, what about us? How can we make sure that the preemptive power of prayer won't short-circuit for us? How can we make sure that when the crisis times in our faith come along we won't find our spirit giving way to the demands of the flesh?

The answer lies in making prayer a regular discipline. That's the difference between Jesus and the disciples. Jesus was able to pray in the middle of agony because He prayed all the time. Read through the gospel of Luke once and just pay attention to how often Jesus prays. It is amazing! Morning and night, before miracles, after miracles. Before preaching, after preaching. Even in the transfiguration, He's praying when He's changed.

You know what the disciples were doing right before the transfiguration? The same thing they did in Gethsemane--they were sleeping (see Luke 9:28ff).

We need regular times of prayer. Peter couldn't pray in the crisis because he didn't pray when things were normal. We need to overcome our earthly mindset and make spiritual conversation with Jesus a part of our daily discipline. It is one of the ways we can make sure that when things get difficult, we won't abandon our Lord.

Failure to Make Jesus' Priorities Their Own
Second, Peter and the other disciples failed to have the same priorities as Jesus. Peter and the others had a mistaken idea about the kind of Kingdom Jesus was going to create.

The key verse here comes from what happened right after the last supper. Luke 22:24:

24 Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.

The disciples thought Jesus was going to be a military conqueror and that they were competing to be the deputies sitting at His right and left hand (see also Mark 10:37).

Or, again, when the authorities show up to arrest Jesus, you can see that Peter and the others thought it was time to rumble. He grabs his sword and takes a swing at the high priest’s servant. The disciples thought that was the spark that was going light the fire for Jesus' kingdom to come steaming in.

But the problem is: their idea of what Jesus' kingdom should look like is not His. He has repeatedly told them that His kingdom will not be like that of the powerful nations they saw around them. He has told them that His kingdom will not be based on authority, but service (see Luke 22:25-26). He has told them that the road to His kingdom does not lie down a pathway of triumph, but of suffering (see Luke 9:22). He has told them that the instrument for creating His kingdom is not a sword, but a cross (see Luke 14:27).

Peter and the disciples were looking for a physical, earthly kingdom. Jesus was aiming at a spiritual, eternal Kingdom.

And so, you can see how Peter's misplaced priorities opened him up for failure. When Jesus failed to rally the troops but instead healed the ear Peter had just lopped off, he was undoubtedly disappointed. When Jesus went meekly away with His captors, Peter was no doubt confused. And so when the questions started coming about whether or not he was a follower of Jesus, Peter probably wasn't so sure. Just how Jesus planned on building His kingdom was finally starting to sink in, and Peter didn't know if that was what he wanted.

Peter and the other disciples had a different set of priorities than Jesus, they were looking for the wrong sort of payoff. And so when things stopped going their way, they bailed out.

What about us? Are our priorities the same as Jesus' priorities? Is our faith in Him based on what Scripture says or do we have our own ideas of how things should go?

Is your priority your own comfort? Or the advancement of God's Kingdom as Jesus describes it? Are you looking for your payoff in your own health and wealth? Or in the spread of God's glory?

If you think believing in Jesus will protect you from difficult times, then when you get sick...or when you lose your job...or when your family falls apart...or when someone close to you dies...or when anything else bad happens to you, you might be at risk of losing your faith.

But if you see things from a heavenly perspective, if you keep your focus on the things of God, then even in times of crisis you'll be able to trust that God knows what He is doing (i.e. Rom. 8:28).

Failure to Identify With Jesus
So, Peter and the disciples failed to pray and they failed to have Jesus' priorities. The third thing we notice is that they failed to identify with Jesus. Verse 54:

Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance.

Now, like I said, we need to give some credit to Peter here. At least he followed Jesus. The other disciples (with the exception of John, see John 18:15) are off the radar screen. They're gone. At least Peter followed.

But notice that Peter kept his distance. He didn't follow too closely.

Why did he do that? Well, obviously, judging by what follows, he didn't want anyone to know he was with Jesus. He wanted to follow Him, but he didn't want anyone to identify him as a follower.

He's like those people who go to church on Sundays, but refuse to talk about Jesus the rest of the week. He's like those people who follow Jesus for what they get out of it, but don't want to broadcast the fact.

Peter didn't want to get labeled as a disciple. He didn't want to take the heat that might come with being an associate of Jesus. He's half-hearted in His commitment.

Does that describe us? Do we keep quiet about our faith in Jesus because we don't want people to think of us as religious zealots? Do we downplay our faith in certain situations because we are afraid of what people will think of us?

If so, it's an open door to abandoning Jesus. If we keep our distance from Him then there is a good chance that, when push comes to shove, we're going to end up denying Him. That's what happened to Peter.

**Failure to Fear God More Than Man **
Then, fourth, Peter and the others failed to fear God more than man.

Look at verses 56-57:

A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him." But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said.

Here's Peter--the big, tough, brash fisherman--and a servant girl--a young maid from the high priest's household--and when she asks him to take a stand for Jesus, he chickens out.

Why? Because he was scared. He was afraid that if this mob connected him to Jesus they’d shackle and bind him and put him on trial for his life as well. He was scared. And His fear reduced him to a coward in the presence of a young girl.

Jesus talked about this fear earlier in the gospel of Luke. He said:

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. (Luke 12:4-5)

Peter's mistake was that he feared this mob too much. Sure they might have trussed him up alongside Jesus, sure they might have beat him and spit on him and called him names, sure they might have built a cross next to that of Jesus and hung him on it--but after that they could have done no more. They had the power to kill his body, but they didn't have the power to hurt his soul.

Did you catch that? Jesus said, "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell." Who's that? It's God. God is the one who decides what happens to you after you die. God is the One Peter should have feared. He is the One WE should fear.

Now, we need to be careful here. When the Bible says that we should fear God we sometimes come away with the sense that God is some sort of all-powerful policeman who is itching to throw us into the prison of hell just as soon as we mess up. We might think that even His children need to be afraid of His wrathful anger.

And I think Jesus knew that His words might be taken that way. So after He says, "Yes, I tell you, fear him" He goes on to tell us something about this God we should fear:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7)

Don't be afraid that God is out to get you (unless you are an unbeliever). Instead, God is watching over you like a loving, caring Father. He knows the very number of the hairs on your head. He cares for the sparrows, certainly He will care for His children.

So what does Jesus means when He tells us to fear God? He means that we need to see that God is bigger than people. He means that we need to trust God. That we need to see that the power of the One who can cast us into Hell is much greater than those who can only kill the body.

Ed Welch, in a book called When People Are Big and God is Small writes:

If you have ever walked among giant redwoods, you will never be overwhelmed by the size of a dogwood tree. Or if you have been through a hurricane, a spring rain is nothing to fear. If you have been in the presence of the almighty God, everything that once controlled you suddenly has less power." (Ed Welch, pg. 119)

This is where Peter failed. He let his terror over what might happen to him outweigh his love for Jesus. His fear of men was greater than his fear of God.

What about us? Are we more afraid of people than we are of God? Do we fear what people can do to us more than we trust in God to take care of us?

We need to get this right, or we're going to stumble. We need to see that God is bigger than people, or else when the opportunity to take a stand for Jesus comes along we're going to be afraid of what people might think or what they might say or the names they might call us or the ways they'll devise to hurt us or whatever and we'll end up denying our Lord. We must fear God more than we fear men.

The Look on the Savior's Face
So Peter and the others failed. They failed to pray. They failed to make Jesus’ priorities their own. They failed to identify with Jesus. And they failed to fear God more than men. And thus, when push came to shove, they abandoned Jesus when He needed them most.

We need to learn from their example, because every one of us is capable of failing just like they did.

But before we finish, there’s one more thing we need to see. Verses 61 and 62:

Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 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." And he went outside and wept bitterly.

After the third denial, the Bible says Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter.

What sort of expression do you suppose was on Jesus' face? Do you think He was disappointed? Do you think He was angry? Do you think it was a look that said to Peter: "How could you?" Or do you think there was something else?

We have no way of knowing for sure, of course, but I think there was something else. I think that when Jesus looked at Peter He had an expression of love and forgiveness. I think that when Jesus looked at Peter He gave an expression which said: "I know what you've just done, and I forgive you for it." I think that's why Peter's heart broke.

I say this because the story of Peter’s denial is told in all four of the gospels. Apparently, all four writers thought it was important. But did you ever think about how they learned about it? I mean, none of the other disciples were there in the courtyard. None of them actually witnessed Peter pretend he didn’t know Jesus. So how did they know it happened?

It must have been because Peter told them about it. After the cross and the resurrection, Peter must have said: “I have to tell you about what I did. My failure. And I have to tell you about what Jesus did for me.”

We know, from John 21 and the scene on the beach, that after the resurrection Jesus reinstates Peter. Jesus forgives.

I’m glad Peter’s story is in the Bible. I’m glad the Bible is honest about Peter’s mistakes, and the mistakes of the other disciples. It gives me hope. Because the very fact that they failed the Lord, and yet were forgiven; gives me hope that there is grace yet for me when I deny, desert, or betray Him myself.

That's what these 60 hours are all about. That's why Jesus was traveling this path to the cross--so that Peter and the disciples and you and I can be forgiven for failure. So that even when we mess up there is provision made for our sin.

And so, even as we finish looking at Peter we see that our gaze is directed right back to our Savior. Even as we think about our own failures, and our own denials, we see Jesus, and we see His look of compassion and grace.