Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Dealing with repeated failure

Consider Peter’s failure in Galatians 2.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

We know the apostle Peter’s reputation as the biggest and best disciple, for he shows moments of true greatness. He is the first disciple named in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels. He is the first disciple to clearly understand that he is not worthy of Jesus: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)

His absolute moment of greatness comes when he confesses ”You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. He is the first to recognise who Jesus really is.

Following the crucifixion he is first, after the women, to rush into the cave tomb after the resurrection and realise that Jesus’ body isn’t there.

But just as much as the spectacular successes are the equally spectacular failures.

Peter has a habit of telling Jesus off, beginning with his implied complaint about Jesus telling him where to cast his net (Luke 5:5). Or the time early in Jesus’ ministry where he tells Jesus off for disappearing from public ministry to pray. “Everyone is looking for you”, chides Peter.

Later he tells Jesus he’s not going to die, provoking from Jesus the response “Get behind me Satan”.

And just before Jesus’ crucifixion, he denies Jesus 3 times in the High Priest’s courtyard. “I never knew him”, says Peter.

But then we have this story in Galatians 2. It’s something else again. Peter has been completely rehabilitated, Jesus has restored to him the job of making disciples. In the power of the Holy Spirit, he’s done a heroic and consistent job in the face of fierce opposition. He’s even gone out on a limb and preached to the Gentiles, and seen them become Christians before his own eyes, a fact he will testify to before the Jerusalem council.

Now though, his fellow Jews have put him under pressure, and he has slowly withdrawn himself from table fellowship with the Gentiles, his brothers and sisters in Christ. So much so that Paul, a junior apostle, publicly tears strips off him. It is all the worse because he’s been forgiven and restored from failure so many times  previously. He even possesses God’s Holy Spirit.

Yet even now, the unstoppable love of God continues to be poured out. Later in life, the chastened Peter will joyfully suffer for his Saviour. Tradition says he was crucified upside down for his faith. Likewise, according to tradition, it is Peter who dictates Mark’s gospel; he writes two letters for the encouragement of suffering Jewish Christians. This repeatedly failing shepherd of the sheep is used to feed God’s sheep yet once more.

We too will fail, and fail often, sometimes disastrously. In the mercy of Christ, and by continued trust in him, God restores. God's name can and will be glorified in our darkest moments.

1 comment:

Jennifer Matthews said...

To the world we follow a failed leader, so we are in great company, what we think is a disaster can be turned around by God. This has turned out to be my experience so often that I think to fail is to see God at work more. We learn so much more by our failure than our successes.