A Lesson on Running from Failure
In Peter’s unique experience we find a model for facing our deepest failures. His example teaches us that we ought not to run from or ignore our collapses, since they are actually opportunities to repent of self-sufficiency and to depend on God’s grace—to show that we are weak but that He is strong.
From a literary perspective, one of the unique aspects of the New Testament is its frank portrayal of the phenomenal failures of many of its authors and main subjects. This is nowhere more apparent than in the lives of the twelve disciples, and one of the clearest examples is in Peter’s denials of Jesus.
The Bible is not a touched-up document designed to make its human authors look good—and that’s because God is its true Author, its ultimate Subject. And God has a purpose in telling the story the way He did: to reveal Himself as a God of grace. Scripture tells us of the failures of the saints to encourage us—because we will surely fail too. It reminds us that even in our failures, God forgives, and God restores.
As we consider Peter’s failure as recorded in the Gospel accounts, we ought to face our own failures that haven’t yet been dealt with and take the opportunity to bring them before God. If we acknowledge them and repent, God will sanctify us through them and draw us nearer to Him in deeper dependence. There, we’ll have opportunity to realize that if dependence is God’s goal, then weakness is to our advantage.
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. (Luke 22:54–55)
In the Gospels, we often see Peter bouncing between faith and failure. He is the type to take one bold step forward and then two steps back. Earlier on, he had stepped onto the waves with Jesus, but then he had sunk when he’d seen the wind (Matt. 14:28–31). He had confessed that Jesus was the Christ (Matt. 16:15–16), but then he had received a severe rebuke for audaciously resisting God’s plan (Matt 16:21–23). It was Peter who had defended Jesus with a sword in the garden of Gethsemane—before Jesus had commanded him to stop (John 18:10–11). Now, though all the other disciples had “left him and fled” (Mark 14:50), Peter stepped forward, setting himself apart from the others by “following at a distance.”
There was a measure of bravery and bravado in this. Peter had told Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). Now he was making his effort to do so. Perhaps he was motivated by a measure of curiosity—a need to “see the end” (Matt. 26:58) to which His Master would come. There was likely also a measure of loyalty, as Peter had expressed before: “Even though they all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14:29). And there was almost certainly a measure of love. Peter couldn’t leave Jesus now. He couldn’t desert Him absolutely. He loved Jesus so much that he put himself in a place of considerable risk. He seemed to be the bravest of all of them in that evening hour.
And yet, nevertheless, it is at this point that Peter crumbled.
Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:56–62)
Confronted in the courtyard, Peter denied Jesus—not just once but three times. Jesus had predicted this would happen, and Peter had assured the Lord he would never do such a thing (Luke 22:34). How are we to explain such a collapse?