I was watching Olympic track events in 2021 when, in one evening, two British runners were disqualified for false starts. Normally athletes train for four years before their Olympic performance. This year, because of the pandemic, they had five! And in a split second, the runner does what he’s not supposed to do, and it’s all over. There’s no mulligan or just joking or “Can I get a do-over?” He’s just done and disqualified.
And I’m just betting that’s how Peter felt after Jesus died.
In the gospel of Luke, we read that Peter panicked, lied and said, “Man, I don’t even know what you’re talking about!”
“As he was speaking, a 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.” 62 And Peter went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:60-61).
Peter spent the most miserable Saturday of his life in hiding. While folks in Jerusalem were celebrating Passover with their families, Peter was weeping bitterly.
He couldn’t undo his denial, and surely he wondered if he’d been disqualified.
True followers of Jesus sometimes fail.
Have you experienced the crushing weight of personal failure? The kind of brokenness where you feel the ground beneath you crumbling away, and you can’t undo the damage.
- Maybe it was the moment you realized your marriage was over.
- Maybe it was that life-altering announcement from one of your kids.
- Maybe it was that first Monday morning you didn’t go to work because you no longer had a job.
- Maybe you’ve spun a web of polite little lies that didn’t hurt anyone, but now you’re the one stuck in the web.
Motherhood is the context where I experienced the darkest and most devastating sense of my own failure. And yet, God used motherhood and foster parenting to teach me about his goodness through my failures.
Followers Fear Disqualification
After 16 months our little foster girls were reunited with their family.
When we received a message a month later asking us to foster again, I was weary and worried. I didn’t think I could do it again, and I went to bed that night with the heaviest sense of condemnation and failure I have ever experienced.
We had gone into foster care believing it was how God wanted us to show his love. I had verses to prove it was the right thing to do: John 13:34 “Everyone will know you as my followers if you demonstrate your love to others” (VOICE), and James 1:27 “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress” (NLT).
I tried to conjure up the same kind of fist-pumping courage that I’d had two years earlier as a first-time foster parent. But no amount of verse-quoting could move me back to that confident place of Christian usefulness I had declared. I was terrified to foster again.
From the outside looking in, it seemed the good and right thing to do. I wanted to do the right thing. And I worried, if becoming foster parents had been God’s best before, would it be wrong to not do it again?
But, I was scared that God would not strengthen me for the task. I was afraid he would allow it to be too hard. I felt broken, and I was afraid I would break further or break others. I wanted it all to be easy and fun, but I knew that wasn’t always God’s best plan.
C.S. Lewis once wrote in a letter, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” *
Not only was I unsure of how painful God’s best would be, I wasn’t even sure what God’s best was in this situation.
As I lay in bed that night, I felt assaulted by condemnation. When I closed my eyes, it was as if I was seeing a news ticker tape scrolling across the screen of my mind with accusations against me: “What kind of mom are you? Don’t you care about kids? What are people going to think of you? You’ve ruined your witness for Christ.”
The weight of condemnation felt suffocating. Physically, I was having a hard time catching my breath, but the ticker tape kept scrolling, “Are you even a Christian? You should just withdraw yourself from church right now. You are disqualified.”
I believe we can trace every kind of failure, sin, and shame down to the tangly root of unbelief. I effectively call God a liar when I do not believe what God has said about himself.
In my case, I falsely believed God was disappointed and surprised by my weakness. But the truth was that he has said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I believed my limitations were hindering God’s plan. But God’s truth said, “My plan can’t be thwarted.” (See Job 42:2)
“I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)
The lies we believe cause us to fall into sin and wallow in shame. They bring consequences and condemnation.
Jesus’s Approach After Our Failure
What does Jesus do for his followers who’ve failed, who feel desolate, broken, ashamed, and just want to exit their own lives?
Well, what did Jesus do for Peter?
When Peter’s eyes were still swollen and his head was still aching, the resurrected Jesus came and found him.
Peter’s devastating and miserable Saturday was followed by Resurrection Sunday. At some point on Sunday–after Peter and John had sprinted to the empty tomb that morning and before the two Emmaus disciples ate with Jesus that evening—sometime during that day, Jesus appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34, 1 Corinthians 15:5).
We aren’t privy to a single word of that conversation. But based on Peter’s impulsive dive when he saw Jesus on the beach, we can infer a few things about their first post-resurrection private meeting.
First, Jesus initiated it by appearing to Peter. We’re not told that Peter ran all over Jerusalem looking for Christ, who he couldn’t find in the tomb. This is a man who saw two dead soldiers lying outside an open grave that only held soiled burial cloths. He wasn’t looking for Jesus. Scripture says twice, Jesus appeared to Peter.
Second, when Peter saw him, he likely fell to his knees. The first time Jesus revealed his power in a sinking boat full of fish, his holiness dropped Peter to his knees in a deep awareness of his own sin and shame. Remember what Peter said? “Go away from me. I am a sinful man.” When Jesus, after his resurrection, appeared to Peter privately, I’m guessing he fell to the ground in sorrow and repentance. I wonder if the plea tumbling from Peter’s heart came from Psalm 51:
Be merciful to me, O God, because of your constant love.
Because of your great mercy wipe away my sins!
Wash away all my evil and make me clean from my sin!
I recognize my faults; I am always conscious of my sins.
I have sinned against you—only against you—and done what you consider evil.
So you are right in judging me; you are justified in condemning me.Psalm 51:1-4, GNT
That’s a poem of repentance. Turning toward God, and turning away from sin.
And third, we don’t know what Jesus said in that moment, but I wonder if any words were exchanged at all. Remember, as soon as the rooster crowed, Jesus looked at Peter, and Peter wept. No words.
The fact that Jesus was presently standing before Peter, alive, might have said it all. I have triumphed over sin and death in order to find and forgive you because you’re mine.
I imagine they hugged and cried. We don’t know for sure.
But we do know that Peter knew he was completely restored because a few weeks later, when he saw Jesus stoking a fire on the shore, Peter threw himself in the lake and did the first-century crawl stroke with his cloak wrapped around him.
Followers Respond to Jesus’ Approach
When you and I are weakened or crushed by the weight of sin and shame, Jesus invites us to unburden ourselves in repentance. As 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
We turn away from unbelief.
You might say it out loud to God, “I didn’t believe you, and I am painfully aware that I was wrong.” And after you’ve turned away from the lie that showed up in your behavior, turn toward God and believe the truth that he is faithful to you and that he is just to forgive–which is to say, he is right and fair when he cleanses you.
And do you know why it’s fair and just? Because Jesus took your punishment. Justice has been served because Jesus served the sentence for you. It is finished.
*Letters of C. S. Lewis (29 April 1959), para. 1, p. 285 — as reported in The Quotable Lewis (1989), p. 469)