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Jack Graham - Failing Forward

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    Jack Graham - Failing Forward
TOPICS: Why Believe?, Failure, Grace, Second Chance

Take your Bibles; turn with me to the Gospel of Luke chapter 22. And we're going to pick up our reading first in verse 31. This is around the table of the Lord... that Last Supper: "'Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.' Peter said to him, 'Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.' Jesus said, 'I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny Me three times that you even know me.'"

And then after Jesus was arrested, betrayed by Judas Iscariot, Peter finds himself following at a distance, and in verse 54 here's what we read; here's what happened: "Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him to the high priest, and Peter was following at a distance". Underline that in your Bible. "Peter was following at a distance". We see the duel nature of Peter in that verse. He wanted to get close; he wanted to be close or as close as possible, and yet, he wasn't close enough to the Lord. When the Lord needed him the most, he found himself at a distance from the Lord. Maybe you find yourself at a distance from the Lord today. There was a time when you walked closely with the Lord. You were near and He was dear to you, but now over time you've left your first love, and like Peter you find yourself at a distance. And when you are at a distance, you are vulnerable to the attack of the enemy.

And notice therefore what happened to Peter: "And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. And then a servant girl", just a little girl, "seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, 'This man also was with him.'" He was with Jesus. Verse 57, "But he denied it, saying, 'Woman, I do not know him.'" How many times was that? How many times has he denied the Lord? Say, one time. Verse 58: "And a little later someone else saw him and said, 'You also are one of them.' And Peter said, 'Man, I am not!'" How many times is that? That would be two. "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.'"

How many times would that be? Three times, as our Lord predicted. "But Peter said, 'Man, I do not know what you are talking about.'" The other Gospel writers include the fact that he swore with an oath; he lies, he denies, he profanely swears, that he never even knew Jesus. "'I don't know what you're talking about!' And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter". Can you imagine that look? In that moment, after one, two, three times that Peter denied the Lord, the Lord was brought out and their eyes locked. And just as Jesus had predicted, his man... the big fisherman, so often bold and courageous, powerful, persuasive, fails! And he knew and remembered, saying what the Lord said: "how he had said to him, 'Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times'", and read that out loud with me, "And he went out and wept bitterly". Broken by his fall. It just tears him apart.

When we fail, and we do fail, none of this is a surprise to the Lord. But when you fail, rather than falling back into the past of defeat, and living there in shame and regret for the rest of your days, you can fall forward into the grace of God! People want to know: "Can you lose your salvation"? "Can you fall out of grace"? I never read in the Bible about anyone who falls out of grace. When I read my Bible, I read of scores of people who have fallen into grace! Into the arms of Christ! Into the power of a brand new life! And when that rooster crowed... yes, it was a sign, it was a signal of Peter's failure, but it was also a signal and a reassurance that God was in control and for Peter it would be the dawning of a new day, a brand new day! Well, that's what this message is about. But before we talk about "Failing Forward" we need to say a little bit about why we fail, why we sin when we sin, why we do the wrong thing instead of the right thing.

Now, remember, I said many of these steps and missteps are subtle and maybe even small. We get ourselves in an area of vulnerability and compromise. We all have certain tendencies and weaknesses in our lives that most of the time we know about and, and in this case, Simon Peter gave the devil a stick to hit him with and he hit him hard! In the case of Peter this catastrophic collapse when he denied, when he lied and denied, swear that he even knew Him, it was momentary and temporary and what we need to do when we see someone fail, rather than judge then and stone them, we need to not mistake the moment for the man! What happens in a moment does not make a man! Certainly our choices over time form our character. We've said that many times! But if I didn't believe a person could be changed by the power of Jesus Christ, I would fold this Bible and never speak again from this pulpit. I believe so strongly that anyone who has failed, anyone who's living with regrets and failures can live again, and love Christ again!

Now there are some steps to our failures, and so let this be at the outset a warning. First of all, in Luke 22, verse 31, if you look at it again: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat", now can you imagine hearing this from Jesus? "Simon, my man, you're a target of the devil". Now the "you" there is plural so it certainly could have included everyone in the group who would face the attacks of the enemy when Christ was arrested. But the fact is, Simon Peter was especially under attack. How scared would you be if the devil himself was personally calling you out? I'd be pretty scared. Peter would later write in First Peter 5:8, "The devil roams about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour". He was speaking from experience because the hot breath of Satan was on his neck and Satan had him in his target line.

Jesus promised to pray for Peter, that his faith would not fail. He would fail, but his faith would not fail. He would fail forward, that he would become a better man, a more devoted disciple, that the prayers of Jesus would propel him into a future greater than his sin. Romans 8:34-35 says this about the prayers of Jesus for you: "Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who is indeed interceding", interceding means praying, "praying for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword"? This is a promise that no matter what attack you may face in your life, the God of the universe, the One at the very throne of the universe is praying for you and has promised, if you belong to Him, you will be kept in the power of His love.

We know that Jesus is praying for us and with us. Let's join Him in that prayer, that our faith fail not. Now having said that, Peter did fail just as Jesus predicted, and here's how it happened. There are three steps downward that I want to show you. One, is pride... just pure old pride, as old as the devil himself. Back when we read the prophecy of Jesus that Peter would deny the Lord, what did Peter say? "Not me"! He begins arguing with the Lord! We're told in the Gospels that he even said, "All these others may deny you, but not me! I'm better than that; I'm stronger than that"! You see what is happening here? He boasted of his own commitment. He's debating Jesus. "Lord, everyone else may fail You; but I will never fail You! You know me! I'm your guy"!

He was proud, and his pride led him to overconfidence and self-reliance. He's doing what many of us do and that is to trust in self and our self-sufficiency rather than to depend completely upon the Lord. Look up here and listen to me. Don't ever say "I would never commit that sin; I would never do that! I would never fail at this point". Don't you say that! The Apostle Paul said 1 Corinthians 10:12, "Let him who stands, take heed", pay attention, "lest you fall". Better men than me and you have failed and fall in the Lord, including Simon Peter. So don't get arrogant and say, "Oh, I'm really walking with the Lord now! I've got it together! I would never fail the Lord like this"! Peter was so full of himself. Left to ourselves there is no sin that we would not commit. Given the right set of circumstances, if we are following the Lord at a distance, there's no sin, no failure that is out of bounds.

In fact, you know, Peter's failure was really at the point of his strength. What would you say was the strength of Simon Peter. I would say it was his boldness, his courage, his commitment. A guy you can count on to step up and say it! He was strong at the point of his courage. So Satan not only attacks us at our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities (learn something on this!) but at the point of our strengths. I memorized something from Oswald Chambers, the great devotional writer many years ago, that I constantly remind myself: "An unguarded strength is a double weakness". Write that in the little white part of your Bible at the back. That's a good one! "An unguarded strength is a double weakness". And often we become self-reliant upon our strengths and it is in our strength or in our self-sufficiency that we lose it all! We're all just one big bad mistake from spiritual collapse and failure.

So don't brag about your bold faith! Don't be talking about your great love for God! If you're going to brag, you brag on God's great love for you! If you're going to boast, boast in the Lord! Peter was boasting and his pride put him under. Secondly, prayerlessness. Remember back in the Gethsemane when Jesus got Peter, James and John to go with Him a little further and when He prayed... when all hell was about to break loose, He said, "Pray with Me"? what happened? Peter and those men fell asleep. And as a result while He... Jesus had told Peter and the rest of them, "Pray here so that you don't enter into temptation". It wasn't even that Jesus needed their prayers; they needed their prayers! They needed to be strengthened in the face of the darkness that was encroaching. But they didn't pray.

And let me tell you that this is a danger that we all face. Prayerlessness. We tend to pray when we know we're helpless and hopeless. But so often we're prayerless day to day and then when the enemy attacks we're not ready for the attack. Jesus taught us to pray in the model prayer, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one". This is to be a kind of daily devotion... a prayer, the Jesus way to pray day to day. And we're to pray for protection lest we face temptation. And we do. Look, you me, none of us are any stronger than our prayer lives! And by that I mean every failure in my life... I can point to every failure in my life and it was a prayer failure. When we don't pray, Jesus said, "Pray that you do not fail or fall out"!

Prayer is such a powerful force in our lives, strengthening our souls, steeling our souls. And prayer puts me on my knees, on my face before God where I'm not depending upon myself. There in the presence of God I realize I can't do this on my own! I can't handle this! That's prayer! Prayer produces power from God and expresses our trust and faith in Him! But prayerlessness... You see, pride leads to prayerlessness, so then prayerlessness leads to pressure, and that's the third thing that we see. When Jesus was arrested the disciples fled. The fear was just too much and they ran away. And this crowd... people who were awake began to gather around for this trial, this unjust, injustice that was about to take place. So Peter decided, you know, to follow at a distance.

Now he's still overconfident. He said, "I'll get close" so he came as close as I can without really getting in this thing. And it said he followed at a great distance. And then he slowly worked his way into, through the crowd and outside, in the courtyard where Jesus was facing the last night of his life. He's out there where he shouldn't be with the enemies of Christ. First, he's walking with the crowd, and then he's sitting with the crowd, and then he's in the crowd. Walking, standing, and sitting. He just flung himself into the face of temptation. Psalm 1:1 tells us that the man, the woman of God does not walk or stand or sit in the counsel... in the presence of the ungodly. He was in the wrong place with the wrong people.

The Bible says abstain from every appearance of evil. The road to failure is well populated, and the pressure and the heat is on. The Scripture says, Proverbs 13:20 "A companion of fools will be destroyed". And if you start pridefully at a distance, running from Christ and get into the wrong crowd, you're on the verge of spiritual collapse. I've seen it over and over again. Well, that's exactly what happened. Peter collapsed. He denied the Lord. He wept bitterly when Jesus looked at him. He lost his testimony for Christ, like many of us have done when we have denied or dishonored or discredited the Lord in some way.

Alright, let's wrap this up. We can all think of ways that we have denied the Lord or dishonored Him, or discredited Him in some way. And some of you this morning are thinking, "I've gone too far over the edge. I can never come back. I've failed the Lord, not once, but twice and three times and more! There's no help for me. There's no hope for me. I'm destined and doomed to live the rest of life regretting what I did. I denied my faith, I discredited my Lord, I dishonored my family, disputed my church. I failed".

But that night when Jesus looked at Simon Peter, don't tell me that it wasn't a look of love. Their eyes locked, and while Peter burst into tears, the Lord had compassion upon Him. How do we know that? Because Jesus would go to a cross for men and women like Simon Peter. Why? Because He loves us, every one of us. And He would pour out His blood on that cross so that we could be forgiven of all our flaws, failures, sins and shame. And when that rooster crowed that morning... early on Friday morning, though it broke his heart... Simon Peter's heart, and Jesus' heart that this had happened, it was a reminder, a reassurance that God was in control. He predicted it. He said exactly what was going to happen. But Jesus said something else to Simon Peter when He said "You'll deny Me"; He said "But you will rise again to strengthen the brethren".

And guess what happened? Simon Peter was restored by Jesus Himself after the resurrection. He went on to be the bold and powerful preacher on the day of Pentecost when thousands came to Christ. He became the powerful leader of the church in the first century. He, along with the Apostle Paul, God used in a mighty and powerful way! And at the end of his life the Bible doesn't tell us this, but Christian history tells us this, that Peter had another chance to either deny or confess the Lord. They captured Peter, put him on trial, said, "If you deny Jesus, you can walk out of here a free man".

And Peter's thinking, "I've been here before". This time he said, "No way! I will not deny my Lord. In fact, crucify me. No, don't just crucify me; crucify me upside down because I'm not worthy to be crucified in the same way that Jesus was crucified". There's help and hope from the Lord. When he wept bitterly those bitter tears turned to tears of repentance. Now Judas, he denied the Lord also. He went out and hanged himself on a tree because it was just remorse! Peter betrayed and denied the Lord but he went to another tree, the tree at Calvary, and he found grace and forgiveness and healing. He repented.

This is not to say that our failures and our sins don't matter; they do! The consequences. Therefore we need to repent. I close with this; it's kind of a gross illustration. You ready for it? But it's from a Puritan so it's okay. A Puritan preacher by the name of Thomas Watson said this, "Repentance is the vomiting of the soul"! That's really good. That's right! Repenting is puking your sin out! (Sorry about that, ladies.) The vomiting of the soul! Satan had him and ripped him apart but he repented and poured out his soul and his sin before the Lord, and Jesus forgave Him. And if you will repent, you can be restored and renewed and this can be the dawning of a brand new day in your life! Amen?
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