“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was grieved. Jesus had just asked him for the third time if he loved him. Peter had already wholeheartedly answered yes twice. What else was he supposed to say? Had he lost the Savior’s trust?
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
It wasn’t until later that Peter realized what had happened in that painful conversation on the beach. It wasn’t that Jesus doubted Peter’s love. Instead, he had allowed Peter to affirm his love for Jesus for each denial he had made on that terrible night.
Peter’s failure had been humiliating as well as horrible. He had proclaimed his loyalty to Jesus in front of everyone during the Passover meal: “I will lay down my life for you.” He really thought he would. When Jesus replied, “The rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times,” Peter couldn’t imagine it.
He had no idea how weak he really was, how vulnerable to temptation. The memory of the servant girl was the most painful. “You also are not one of this man’s disciples are you?” He completely caved. “I am not.”
I am not. Those haunting words had kept Peter awake at night. Some rock he turned out to be. “Who am I? What am I?” he wondered. The Peter of Upper Room proclamations? The Peter who lopped off Malchus’ ear in the garden? Or the Peter who cowered before a servant girl?
In truth, the real Peter was all of those things: loyal, loving, bold, quick-tongued, and very weak in his sin. That night Peter discovered how much he depended on Jesus for strength. He was not strong. He was not superior to the others. He was not above denying the One he loved most in front of a servant girl.
Peter also discovered how powerful Satan was. Jesus had warned him that Satan had demanded to sift the disciples like wheat. But Peter had cast out demons. He wouldn’t yield to Satan. But that night Peter realized that the only spiritual power he had came from the Son. His own resolve was no match for Satan. Apart from Jesus he could do nothing.
One source of hope for Peter was Jesus’ words, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Peter had failed. But Jesus knew that would happen and he had prayed that Peter’s faith would not be destroyed. “When you have turned.” Those words were so full of hope. Jesus’ power would help him turn from his failure to faithfulness again and become a strength to the other failing disciples.
Peter’s failure did not define him. It was a horrible, humbling stumble along the path of following Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross he completely paid for the sin of Peter’s denial. “Not guilty” was the final word for Peter. He knew he did not deserve acquittal. But Jesus had settled Peter’s account with the Father and gave him guiltlessness as a free gift of love. He was not Peter “The Denier” but Peter “The Forgiven.”
One of Peter’s good friends later wrote, “For we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). This is very true. When Jesus chose us to be his disciples, he knew our future failures as sure as he knew Peter’s. We may be surprised by our own depravity, but Jesus isn’t. We may be tempted to say, “That’s not the real me.” But it is. Facing and admitting our failures is one way Jesus teaches us what the gospel is. Our failures show us what we really are: great sinners. But that’s not what Jesus wants us to focus on. He wants us to look to the cross and allow our failures show us what Jesus is: a great Savior.
The guilt of past failures and sins can haunt and inhibit us in many ways. Satan loves to bind us up with the rope of condemnation. But Jesus aims to completely set us free. John Piper preached a great message a few years ago titled, “The All-Conquering Love of Christ” from Romans 8. The whole goal of this message is to free us from condemnation so we can live a fruitful life of following Jesus. This sermon is available free for you to read or listen to (for streaming or downloading) because of the generous support of our donors. There is no obligation to you whatsoever. But if you want to help support this ministry of spreading the gospel freely, you can donate securely online.
The church of Jesus Christ is a fellowship of forgiven failures. And in Peter Jesus shows us how he can transform a failure into a rock of strength for his church. Empowered by the Spirit of his beloved Lord, Peter became a humble, encouraging, suffering, and persevering disciple of Jesus. And he became a bold ambassador of the gospel of forgiveness to the most miserable failures.
Your friend and fellow redeemed failure,