Recovering From Failure

Luke 22:31-34, 54-62

March 18, 2012 | Brian Bill

People across the country tuned in this week to watch another former Illinois governor head off to prison.  Seeing him shaking hands and signing autographs as the media followed his every step stirred up various feelings inside of me.  I felt really badly for his wife and daughters even though he’s getting what his crimes deserved.

When I started out as a pastor over 20 years ago, a number of well-known televangelists failed and their sins became public.  I remember not feeling very compassionate because I secretly thought that their excessive flamboyance somehow led to their failures.  I think I was actually spiritually smug about their sins.  Shortly after this, a well-known evangelical leader failed and I was really bummed out because I had heard him speak several times and had read a number of his books.  He was one of my spiritual heroes.  In this same time frame a pastor who was mentoring me in an internship imploded and then just disappeared.  

I remember thinking, “How could all this happen so suddenly?” 

To answer that, let me demonstrate using this tire from my bike.  I hadn’t ridden my bike all winter and when I took it down this week I noticed that the tires were almost flat.  Have you ever had a slow leak in a tire?  Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out where the leak is coming from but you notice that air is escaping somehow. I’m told that tires can simply lose air over time, even if there are no punctures present. 

Peter had some slow leaks going on in his spiritual life.  In Luke 22:31-34 we’re going to see that our failures are not final with God: “‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’  But he replied, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.’  Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.’”   Let’s pull out two truths from the passage.

1. Satan is our Adversary. 

Satan is on a short leash and can go no further than God allows

Satan is out to take us out.  He wants to sift us: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.”  The word “sift” is an agricultural term.  When wheat was harvested, the kernel would be crushed and then the wheat would be tossed into the air to blow the chaff away.  They would then put the grain into a square box covered with netting, turn it upside down and start shaking it violently.  The idea is that all the dirt and junk would fall out, leaving behind the clean grain.  Satan is out to turn us upside down and shake us to pieces.

1 Peter 5:8 says: “Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  And in Revelation 12:10 we’re told that Satan accuses believers day and night.  Behind every spiritual failure is a spiritual enemy.  I find it very interesting that Jesus allowed the Adversary to attack a follower.  Why didn’t He just tell Satan to buzz off?   Here’s why.  He knew that Peter would ultimately profit from this, though it would be extremely painful.   Satan is on a short leash and can go no further than God allows.

2. Jesus is our Advocate. 

I love the fact that Jesus intercedes for us: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that you faith may not fail.”   While Satan goes after everyone, he seems to have a bulls-eye on leaders because they are a threat to him.  If he can torpedo Peter’s faith, others will be disheartened and discouraged.  Jesus didn’t pray to keep Peter away from the sifting but for his faith to not ultimately fail.

I want you to notice that Jesus tells Simon that He is praying for him.  Friend, take comfort that Jesus is pulling for you.  Hebrews 7:25: “Because he always lives to intercede for them.”  He knows Peter will stumble but He also knows that his unfaithfulness will only be temporary; he will not fail forever.

I see a three-step process in this passage that led to Peter’s recovery. 

  • Rebellion.  Jesus told Peter that he would turn away: “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
  • Repentance.  Jesus told Peter that he would turn back: “And when you have turned back.”  I love that Jesus uses the word “when” referring to Peter turning back.  There’s no question but that he will repent.
  • Restoration.  Jesus told Peter that he would have a turnaround and would eventually “strengthen his brothers.”


While Peter’s denial of Christ was a huge spiritual blowout, there were actually some slow leaks going on for some time.  Leaks like these are often unseen and unnoticed…at least at first.  Here are some that come to mind.

1. Peter was proud.

[Let air out] The disciples had just been arguing about who was the greatest.  In John 13:37, Peter said that he would lay down his life for Christ.  In Luke 22:33 Peter declared his willingness to go with Jesus “to prison and to death.” Check out what he proudly proclaimed in Matthew 26:33: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”  He thought he was better than anyone else.  He went a step further in Mark 14:31 when He even contradicted what Christ told him: “But Peter insisted emphatically, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’”  We need to be on guard against pride in our lives according to 1 Corinthians 10:12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”  

2. Peter was prayerless.

[Let air out] In Luke 22:45 we see that Peter fell asleep instead of doing battle in prayer.  In verse 46, Jesus tells them that prayer can keep them from temptation: “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”  Without prayer, there’s no power to fight.  

3. Peter was impetuous.

[Let air out] Peter was prone to react according to his feelings, not by his faith.  He’s similar to how Craig Groeschel describes Samson: “Emotion-driven, not Spirit-led.”  A clear evidence of this is found in John 18:10 where we read that Simon took a sword and sliced off a servant’s ear and then fled in fear.

3. Peter was predisposed.

[Let air out] While Peter seemed to be “all in,” I think there was something keeping him from fully committing himself to Christ.  I can’t quite put my finger on it but to use Facebook language, he was more a “friend” of Jesus than a full follower.  Luke 22:54 says that “Peter followed at a distance.”

What about you?  Are there some slow leaks going on in your life right now?

Let’s turn over to Matthew’s account and see how Peter handles some increased pressure.  If you listen, you’ll be able to hear more air hissing out of his tires.

  • Denial #1: Matthew 26:69-70: “Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. ‘You also were with Jesus of Galilee,’ she said.  But he denied it before them all. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he said.” It’s hard to believe that this was the same guy who had just whacked off a servant’s ear.  
  • Denial #2: Matthew 26:71-72: “Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, ‘This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.’  He denied it again, with an oath: ‘I don’t know the man!’” Peter now gets up and moves toward the door.  Peter calls out an oath and refers to Jesus as the “the man,” as if He were a complete stranger to him, and uses an expression that conveys contempt.  
  • Denial #3.  About an hour later (see Luke 22:59) we read in Matthew 26:73-74: “After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, ‘Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.’  Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’”  Galileans were careless with their vowels and failed to clearly differentiate the various guttural consonants…kind of like how people from Michigan talk.

As Satan sifted, Peter shifted…and then His failure was exposed…but it wasn’t final for him.  Let’s look now at some steps of repentance that Peter took


1. Crowing of his conscience.

As Peter is cursing he hears a cock crowing.  I picture him freezing in mid-sentence because the last part of verse 74 indicates that this happened “immediately” after his third denial.  Matthew 26:75: “Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’  And he went outside and wept bitterly.” Peter remembered what Jesus had said.  Let me just say that it’s good when we feel bad.  Our conscience is a gift from God; He can use our guilt to bring us back to that which is good.

2. Look of love. 

At the point of Peter’s denial, Jesus fixes His gracious gaze on Peter.  This is portrayed powerfully in the Passion movie. Let’s watch a brief clip right now. Luke 22:61 indicates that “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.”  With his face covered with spit and bruised by the blows He had received, Peter sees pain…and he sees pardon.  The look of love from His Lord broke Peter’s proud heart.  

Romans 2:4 reminds us that when we consider God’s kindness, we should be moved to repentance: “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” 

The words to that great hymn say it well: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face.  And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in light of His glory and grace.”

3. Sorrowful brokenness. 

This caused Peter to run outside and weep bitterly as the words that Jesus spoke consumed his conscience. Mark 14:72 indicates that Peter “broke down and wept” continuously.  This word means that he wailed violently.  2 Corinthians 7:10: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”  The path to restoration requires repentance.  Craig Groeschel says that while you can’t un-sin, you can repent.

Move from rebellion to repentance so that you can be restored

I wonder if you feel a bit like Peter today.  You’ve failed and you feel like you can’t be forgiven.  Maybe your marriage is a mess or a close friendship has fractured.  Perhaps you’ve been fired from your job or your business is a bust.  Maybe your kids haven’t turned out like you wanted them to.  Maybe there’s a slow leak going on or perhaps you’ve already had a blowout.  Move from rebellion to repentance so that you can be restored.  I love the truth found in Proverbs 24:16: “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.”


After Jesus is put to death, the disciples are afraid and go into hiding — they’re not sure what’s going to happen to them now.  Three days later on Easter Sunday, Jesus rises from the dead and begins appearing to many people.  I love what the angel said to the women who had come to the empty tomb in Mark 16:7: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.’”  The angel wanted Peter to get the news that Jesus was now alive.  This customized message was designed especially for someone who felt like a failure.

In John 21, we read that Peter is still bummed out so he decides to go fishing with his buddies.  Maybe if he does something he’s good at, he’ll begin to feel better.  He’s actually going back to his old life.  They fish all night and don’t catch anything.  Mark this down.  It’s always unsatisfying to go back to the way you once lived.  Peter’s now in a free-fall down the slippery slope of failure.  He can’t even catch a carp!  

Early that morning a man on shore asks them how the fishing was going.  They shout to him and tell him that they struck out.  This man tells them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat and then they will find some fish.  When they followed through with his suggestion, they caught so many fish that they couldn’t even pull in the net.  It was at that point that the disciples recognized that this man was Jesus.  Peter, true to his impulsive nature, jumped into the water and swam for shore.  After having breakfast on the beach, Jesus restores Peter to ministry.  

One pastor writes that there are a lot of things that Jesus could have said to Peter.  He could have responded to him like we would have.  He could have treated him with silence and given the cold shoulder.  He could have expressed anger and let Peter suffer.  He might have said, “You know, Peter, I just don’t trust you anymore.”  He could have brought up his failure in every conversation.  He could have talked to the other disciples about it: “Remember that night when Peter denied me?”  He could have excluded him and found subtle and not-so-subtle ways to punish him.  And if he ran out of ideas…He could have asked us!  We’re pretty tough on people who sin differently than we do, aren’t we?

There’s a lot we can learn about how Jesus restores Peter in John 21:15-22.  He tells him to…

1. Love Lavishly. 

After breakfast is over, Jesus publicly forgives and reinstates Peter.  This is for Peter’s benefit and also provides some teaching for the other six disciples who are listening to the conversation.  As Peter smells the charcoal fire and feels its heat, he is reminded of how he warmed himself next to a fire in a courtyard right before he denied Jesus three times.

I think Peter was taken aback when Jesus greeted him with “Simon, son of John.”   He probably wished Jesus would have called him Peter, a piece of the rock.  But he knew that he was anything but a rock at that moment.  Jesus then asked Peter a question: “Do you truly love me more than these?”  Was Jesus referring to the fish on the fire?  Or was He speaking of the boat and the fishing supplies?  Actually, Jesus wanted Peter to admit that his pride was now gone.  He could no longer say that he was better than the other disciples.  Instead of bragging, he was broken.  That’s a good place to be according to Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Jesus could have asked Peter anything, or did some teaching, or told a parable, but He chose to ascertain his love level.  Twice more he asked Peter if he loved Him.  In verse 17 we read that “Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’”  Through the repetition of the same question, Jesus is bringing out the depth of Peter’s penitence.  What about you?  What do you value most in life?  Possessions?  People?  Your own pride?  Is there anything or anyone you love more than you love the Lord?  

2. Serve Selflessly. 

With each of Peter’s replies, Jesus gives him a task to do.  The Lord is not looking at Peter’s past; He is focused on what Peter can do in the future.  One way Peter is to demonstrate his fondness for Christ is by loving and caring for people.  The main point here is that our love for God will always show itself in love and care for God’s people.  Peter’s told to feed the Lord’s lambs and to take care of His sheep.

I like what Craig Groeschel says when drawing out some lessons from the sins that Samson committed: “Don’t let what you did keep you from doing what God wants you to do.  You are not what you did; you are who God made you to be.”  Jesus wanted Peter to know that He still had an assignment for him.  

3. Follow Faithfully. 

The key when we fail is not to wallow away but to follow today.

  • We are to follow no matter what has happened or what will happen.  The command, “follow me” in verse 19 is a present imperative, which means “keep on following me.”  
  • We must follow faithfully no matter whom else follows.  We like to focus on what others are doing, don’t we?  After Jesus revealed some shepherding plans for him, Peter immediately wanted to know what Jesus was going to do about John.  I love the answer Jesus gave in verse 22: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?  You must follow me.”  

Peter Principles

We can learn at least two things from Peter.  

1. Failure does not have to be final

Peter had messed up by failing big time.  He felt awful.  He could have just given up — but he didn’t.  He moved from rebellion to repentance to restoration.


2. Failure can be fruitful.

If you were to study the life of Peter, you would discover that his failure had a positive effect on his life.  Before his blowout, he was reckless, brash, and abrupt.  After repenting and being restored, Peter was a changed man.  He became more tenderhearted and humbled by his obvious failure.  He went on to become one of the leaders in the early church and wrote two letters that eventually became part of the Bible.  


Many years ago, when Emily was really young, Beth and I decided to sign her up for ice skating lessons.  On the first day of class, the teacher spent the entire time teaching the shaky skaters only two things — how to fall down, and how to get up.  Her teacher knew that if you’re going to skate on slippery ice; you’re going to fall.  And, once you fall, you need to get back up.  

There’s a life application here.  God knows you’re going to fall and you’re going to fail.  Life is like an ice skating rink sometimes.  I suspect that some of you have fallen but don’t want to get back up.  Maybe you’re so embarrassed by your failure that you simply don’t want to risk another one.  

I can remember one guy in the class.  It seemed like he fell about 100 times in 45 minutes.  He’d come sliding across the ice, his arms flailing and would land right on his backside.  It never seemed to bother him.  He just got right back up and tried it again.  He looked like a yo-yo.  He’d go a couple feet and fall, get up and fall, get up and fall.  The scary thing was that this guy had some speed — and he didn’t fall all that gracefully.  Others were a bit more cautious; they took little steps so that they wouldn’t crash too quickly.  Eventually they wiped out as well.

If you’ve fallen, it’s time to get back up…you may be down, but you’re not out.  Jesus died as your substitute for all your sins.  You can fail forward.

If you’re leaking air, it’s time to plug the holes…so that you don’t have a blowout and your faith goes flat…keep up the spiritual disciplines in your life…establish boundaries…find an accountability partner.   This is a place of grace where the fallen can have a fresh start.

Stay filled with the Holy Spirit [pump up tire].  And get some help so you can keep rolling.  

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?