Mercy: "God's Mercy, My Failure"
Pastor Don Prewitt
I am very proud of the way that you all are living out your faith by loving, serving and giving mercy to people who need Gods mercy. You have always been a giving church, a sending church and a church who invites and welcomes the world to experience Jesus Christ. Thank you for doing what Jesus does!
And yet in my heart:
I long for the day that the church at large will even more look like a kaleidoscope of people: all races, all generations, homeless, and homed, cleaned up and dirty, all standing hand in hand before God almighty.
I long for the day that in a greater way, the LGBT community wouldn’t run away and hide every time they find themselves in the presence of the church, but rather they would feel compelled to run toward the church of Christ.
I long for the day that Gods people around the globe will experience even more of a revival of hurting and being broken for the people that do not yet know Christ.
I long for the day that I along with the body of Christ at large will spend even more time outside of our buildings loving those that don’t deserve mercy, over the time spent inside of our buildings.
I long for the day that we will live out even more than we have in the past, James 2:14, that proclaims: MERCY WILL TRIUMPH OVER JUDGEMENT.
But I honestly believe in my heart that unless those of us in the church of God (and Im not just talking about Harbor Light) can embrace the undeserved mercy of God in our own situations we will find ourselves stuck sadly in a pit of judgement, rules and fear, just like the Pharisees of the Bible. The mercy of God is not just for “those people” but for ALL people. You and I included.
Today we delve into part two of our 40 days of mercy talking about Gods Mercy and our failures.
Lets review what the definition of mercy is: Undeserved forgiveness and unearned kindness.
Take out your message notes.
Because we are an imperfect people and we live in an imperfect world we all experience failures in life. The night that Jesus Christ was arrested, before he went to the cross, two of his best friends had massive failures. Judas had the failure of betrayal. And Peter had the failure of self-denial.
They’re actually the exact same sin – they both denied Christ. But they are just different expressions of it. And Judas rejected the mercy of God and later went out and killed himself, while Peter accepted the mercy of God and later went out and became the leader of the church.
Lets look at God's mercy and our failures. I want us to learn some lessons from the life of Peter and this huge failure that he had.
So let’s get right into it. First, what causes personal failure in our lives. There are three things that Peter did wrong.
And the first thing if you’re taking notes is this. He overestimate his strength.
1. WE OVERESTIMATE OUR STRENGTH
This is a big cause of failure in our lives. When we think that we’re stronger than we really are. We think we can handle more and we think that we can handle temptation.
The story begins in Matthew chapter 26.
Now they just had the Last Supper where Jesus said I’m going to be arrested, I’m going to die, but three days later I’m going to come back to life and I’ll meet you in Galilee after that
Listen to Matthew 26: Starting in verse 31 ‘“Jesus said ‘Tonight every one of you will desert me. For the Scripture says that when the shepherd is killed, the sheep will be scattered. But after I’ve been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.’ Then Peter boasted, ‘But Lord, even if everyone else fails you, I will never deny you!’ Jesus replied, ‘Peter, the truth is that before this night is over, and before the rooster crows at dawn, you will deny knowing me three times.’ Peter insisted, ‘But Lord, I would never do that! Even if I have to die with you I’ll never deny knowing you!’ And all the other disciples vowed the same thing.”
They all said the same thing. They all said we would never do this Lord. Jesus said you’re going to do it tonight. When they take me, when they arrest me, you’re going to fall to pieces. You can count on it.
Notice three times Peter says I’ll never deny you. I would never do that. And I would never deny knowing you at all ever.
This is over estimating our strengths. Have you personally ever felt like you could handle something, overestimating your strength, and then the next thing you know you are failing a class, or your business is falling apart, or you dabbled with an affair. Have you ever felt like you had it under control when you really didn’t?
We all need to be aware of thinking, this could never happen to me.
1 Corinthians 10:12 says this “If you think, ‘I am strong! I can handle this. I’d never fall for that temptation,’ then be careful! For you could easily fall too!”
But what about our strengths?
Write this down: An unguarded strength is a double weakness.
What do I mean by that? The very areas that we think: There’s no way I’d mess up on that! We could potentially be setting our selves up for failure and sin. Jesus was tempted in the desert immediately after his baptism which was a big experience. Peter had his biggest failure, denying Christ, right after the Last Supper which was a very intimate powerful experience.
So we should never presume that we know where temptation is going to come from. We can easily overestimate our strengths.
The second reason we fail and this one’s even bigger: We fear the disapproval of others.
(We overestimate our strength)
2. WE FEAR THE DISAPPROVAL OF OTHERS
We may not realize it but this causes more problems in our lives than almost anything else. Every time we make a decision based on what other people will think, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Have you ever found yourself worrying what other people think, fearing disapproval and just going with the flow? I have. The danger is that we can become people pleasers and cowards. We make commitments that we can’t possibly keep simply because we’re trying to make everybody happy.
We see this as the second reason Peter stumbled in his denials. Matthew 26 verse 58, 69-70. The Bible says this after they had left the Last Supper in the Upper Room
“Peter followed Jesus at a distance to the courtyard of the high priest's palace. He went in and sat down with the guards] to see what was going to happen to Jesus As he was sitting in the courtyard, a servant girl came up to him and said, ‘You [I recognize you. you...] were with Jesus of Galilee, weren’t you?’ But standing there in front of everyone Peter denied it. ‘I don't even know what you're talking about!’ he said.”
Think about this. Peter has just spent three and a half years with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He’s lived with him for three and a half years and the first time the rubber hits the road he’s in the crisis and he denies him. He’s more worried about what other people think than he is about identifying with Christ.
Like Peter we can worry about what other people think. Let me ask you this: Whose opinion matters to you more than God's?
Have you ever asked yourself why the opinions of other people matter so much to you? Why is it that we cringe at any criticism? Why does it turn our stomachs in a knot if someone disagrees with us?
I believe that some of that concern of others thoughts of us comes from our misunderstanding of our own identities in Christ. If we don’t know who we are as the people of God we can easily be manipulated by the disapproval of other people.
The Bible says in Proverb 29:25 “It is a dangerous trap to be concerned with what others think of you, but if you trust the Lord, you’ll be safe.”
So Peter and us often fail when we:
Overestimate our strenths
We fear the dissaporoval of others
and then lastly
3. WE SPEAK WITHOUT THINKING
Peter is clearly nervous, he’s up tight, he’s fearful when asked if he knew Jesus. Just think of the crisis that’s going on. Jesus Christ has been arrested. He’s back behind this wall going through mock trials and being tortured, and Peter is on the other side of the wall in the courtyard wondering what’s going on. Then all of a sudden a stranger comes up and goes, You’re with that guy. And he says, “No! No! I’m not.” He’s worried about what other people will think. Now his anger comes out.
And the Bible says this in verse 71-74 of Matthew 26:
“Then Peter went out to the entrance of the courtyard and there another woman saw him and said to those standing there, ‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ Again Peter denied it, and this time he swore an oath and said ‘I don't even know that man!’ But after a while, the men who had been standing there came over to Peter and said ‘We know that you are one of them"
Don’t you hate being called “one of them” sometimes? That’s like the kiss of death at the office. You’re one of those people. We all want to be one of us. We all like the feeling of being one of the in crowd. The Bible says this causes so many problems in our lives.
James 3:5-6 “The tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do!
Have you ever, like Peter, spoken out of emotion rather than out of the truth. Your scared, you just say whatever is needed to get out of the situation. And then you find yourself blinded by a lie that you never meant to tell?
So lets review:
Peters (and possibly our) failures came from
1. Overestimating his strengths
2. He feared the disapproval of others
3. He spoke without thinking
That’s what Peter did wrong. What did he do right? Peter actually did three things right. And these 3 things that Peter did right after his failure will help us to make right after sin and failures in our own lives:
1. PETER GRIEVED!
In Matthew 26:75 “When Peter heard the rooster crow, he remembered that Jesus had said, ‘Before the rooster crows, you’ll deny me three times.’ Then Peter went outside and wept bitterly.”
IF YOU ARE TAKING NOTES Circle “wept bitterly” That’s grieving. Imagine how disappointed Peter must have felt in himself. I just lived with the Son of God for three and half years. I watched him do miracles. I watched him heal people. I watched him raise the dead. I watched him teach like no one has ever taught. I watched him offer mercy and forgiveness to me dozens and dozens and dozens of times. I watched him never do anything wrong. Yet the first time I’m put to test about my commitment, my faithfulness, my trust in Jesus I deny him three times in a row because I’m worried about what three strangers think?
We, like Peter, need to grieve our failures and sins. We don’t minimize them. We don’t pretend they didn’t happen. We don’t justify our failure. We don’t rationalize the failure. We don’t make excuses our sins. We grieve them. We feel the pain. We don’t brush it off. We don’t downplay it. And we don’t rush to feel better.
To get past it we’ve got to go through it. We don’t like feeling bad but grief is a good thing. Grief is the way we get through our failures and sins. And grief is the way we learn the lessons.
When Peter, realizing that he had acted and spoken out of fear rather than identity and denied he ever knew Jesus, he grieved over that sin. I love the fact that he owns up to his failure. He doesn’t go, there’s a good reason I did this. They might have killed me. He just goes out and he grieves. He’s humbled by this and he’s regretful of it. Grief, as I said is a good thing. It is the key to healing.
The greater the failure in our lives the more time it’s going to take. And we have to let time work in our heart. We cannot force healing. We cannot rush feelings. Recovery is an act of God's mercy. Healing is an act of mercy. And it comes slowly with time. And recovery and growth come in stages. All God wants us to do is just be honest – I blew it. To be humble. The Bible says this in Psalm 51 and by the way this is the prayer David wrote after he committed adultery. The whole prayer is his prayer of confession. In verse 17 he says “The sacrifice God wants is a broken and contrite spirit, God will not reject a humble and repentant heart.”
So he does the first thing right. Simply by grieving (or a better word for this might be REPENTING).
Today when we sang that song I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God. This is what we’re talking about here. Understanding the deeper pain that causes us to give in, to overestimate our strength, to speak when we shouldn’t, and to live for the approval of other people. When we know whose we are, we know God's mercy and God's grace is going to be there. We are children of God so even though we just really messed up God's going to still love us. He’s not going to change. That’s the miracle of mercy.
So the first thing that Peter did right was to Grieve his sin and failure, and the second thing he did right was:
2. HE LET HIS PEOPLE SUPPORT HIM
The very first thing Jesus did when he started his ministry was he formed a small group. And he chose 12 people to be part of that small group. This is why we make such a big deal about small groups at Harbor Light. Because Jesus did it. And for 300 years all Christianity was done in small groups. They didn’t have big gatherings like this. Heres an an example of Peter getting support from his “people” or his small group after his biggest failure.
Mark 16:10 Easter morning. We know that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had gone up to the tomb of Jesus and the angel said He’s not here. He’s gone. Go tell the disciples. So it says
“Mary Magdalene went and found the disciples together, grieving and weeping.”
Circle the word “together. I want you to listen very closely.
When we go through a major failure or sin in our lives we must resist the urge to isolate ourselves. When we fail we want to keep it secret. That’s the worst thing we could do. We don’t need to tell everybody but we do need to tell a few people who love us, who are going to pray for us and who will support us. The Bible says that if we
“Confess our sins to each other we will be healed”.
Have you ever felt alone in your stuff? Trapped in your own sins and failures? Have you ever hit yourself over the head with “If only I hadnt...”
There is healing found when we walk those things out together. Mercy is found in small gatherings of believers. We were never meant to go through life on our own. You were never meant to go through life by yourself. We’re better together. We’re meant for community.
So Peter had a place to go. He grieved. He let his “people” or small group support him. This would be a great place to remind you that we have many small groups in our church, including the 40 days of mercy groups. I highly encourage you to find a small group of believers to become your people.
The last right thing that Peter did and we should do when faced with failures and sins is: 3. HE CAST HIMSELF ON GOD’S MERCY
We know Peter did this because Peter wrote about it. Peter wrote two books in the Bible. The first book is called First Peter. Guess which one the second one is called – Second Peter. In First Peter he starts the whole book talking about how God has shown him mercy. He says in 1 Peter 1:3:
“Because of his great mercy [he knew that God had shown him mercy.] God has given us a new life. [I’m not the same old Peter. I’m a new Peter. I’ve got a new life. I’m not the old guy. I’m a new guy now.] God has given us a new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope.”
Peter had a huge failure in his life but he chose to not go around in despair. He’s not going around in condemnation. He’s not going around in guilt. He’s not walking around in shame. He’s not walking around in regret. He’s not timid and going God could never us me. No. He says I’m walking around in hope. My life is filled with hope. In spite of my failure my life is filled with hope. Why? Because of the mercy of God. And later in the same book he says this and he says it from personal experience.
1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety (or cares) on him [God] because he cares for you.”
Why did Peter tell people to do that? Because that’s what he did when he failed. He just cast all his anxiety, he cast himself on the mercy of God.
This word “cast” in the original Greek, is descriptive of one carrying a giant boulder and the boulder is so big he couldn’t throw it three feet. Basically it means let it go. It means drop it. When he says cast your anxiety or cares on the Lord. He means take them and drop them. Just let it go. You don’t have to throw it; you don’t have to toss it. You just go, God I’m dropping it. I’m dropping my fear. I’m dropping my insecurity. I’m dropping my guilt. I’m dropping my shame because you are a loving and merciful God and I’m just going to drop it all on you. I’m going to cast myself on the mercy of God.
What does it mean to cast yourself on the mercy of God? It means to pray something like this.
“God there is no way I deserve your forgiveness. I really blew it. There’s no way I deserve your mercy. I have denied you in my life. I’ve ignored you so much of my life. I’ve made dumb mistakes. There is no way I deserve your grace, your mercy, your kindness, your love. But God, you are a kind God. You are a loving God. You are a merciful and forgiving God. In fact, you’ve said that you show mercy. So I’m throwing myself on your mercy. I need a fresh start. I don’t deserve it. I couldn’t earn it. But you are merciful God so I’m just going to ask you to do what you love to do and show me mercy.”
That’s casting yourself on the mercy of God.
In closing what does Jesus do with our failures?
1. HE ISN’T SHOCKED
Jesus had already predicted that Peter would fail him. The Message paraphrase of Matthew 26 says you’re going to fall to pieces because of what happens to me. He knew this was going to happen. And just like Peter, God already knows everything about you in advance. He already knows your weak spots.
The Bible says in Psalm 103:14 “God certainly knows what we are made of. He bears in mind that we are dust.”
In other words, God knows we’re not God. We’re not perfect. We’re human beings. We mess up. We screw up. We falter. We fall. We fumble. We flub up. He knows our frame. He knows we’re not perfect. And not only does he know everything about us and what’s inside of us, he also knows every temptation and every trick that Satan is going to throw at us. So he’s not surprised. He’s not shocked when we fail and sin. Number two, this one will surprise you.
2. HE INTERCEDES FOR US!
Jesus told Peter before he had even failed, Peter, this is going to happen “But I’ve already prayed for you that your faith will not fail.”
And Jesus’ prayers are answered. Hebrews 7:25 says: “Jesus is able to save us completely [from all of our failures] because (in heaven) he lives to intercede on our behalf. He is always talking to the Father, asking him to help us.”
The third thing Jesus does when you fail.
3. HE BELIEVES IN US!
In fact, he expects us to recover. That’s why he told Peter, even before Peter’s big failure, in Luke 22:32, “When you have repented and turned back to me again…” [circle the word “when”. It’s not if. Not it might happen. He said when. He said I know you’re going to come back to me. You’re going to sin. You’re going to fail. You’re going to make mistakes. When you come back to me. This is the mark of a true believer.
Proverb 24:16 says “For even though a righteous man falls seven times, he will rise again!”
This verse says that even the good guys screw up. Even righteous people fall. They make mistakes. Sometimes good people make dumb decisions. Sometimes good people take their lives. It doesn’t mean they were evil. It means they made a dumb decision in that moment. Sometimes we all make dumb decisions. Even good people even righteous people have failures and we fail repeatedly. Seven times. God isn’t shocked by our habitual failings or sins. He intercedes for us. He believes in us. We fail repeatedly but God says I’m still going to believe in you.
We see a good example of Jesus believing in Peter from a little phrase you might miss happening on Easter morning. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went up to the tomb, maybe they were taking flowers on Easter morning and the angel meets them and says he’s not here. He’s gone, like he promised. He’ll see you guys in Galilee. Now go tell the disciples.
Notice what the angel says on that Easter morning. Mark 16:6-7 “The Angel said, ‘I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. But he is not here—he’s risen from the dead . . . Now go tell his disciples, and tell Peter, that he’s going ahead of you to Galilee and he’ll see you there, just as he promised!”
Why did the angel add in Peter? Isn’t Peter a disciple? Wouldn’t he be included? Couldn’t he just say, go tell his disciples. But Jesus knew how discouraged Peter would be from his failure. Jesus knew how much he needed encouragement. So he chose to say go tell my disciples. And especially tell Peter. When you fail, God knows your name.
And he gives you a personal word of encouragement. Go tell my disciples. And especially tell Peter. I know how bad he feels about this. I know he’s taking it the hardest of all. He’s taking the hit. He’s feeling the shame. He’s feeling regretful. He’s down in the dumps. Go tell my disciples and go tell Peter. I’m alive. I kept my promise. And he singles him out. Friends, that is love. And that leads us to the fourth thing that Jesus did for Peter and what He does for us when we fail…
4. HE SHOWS US MERCY WHEN WE’RE DOWN
God has no need to beat us up. He doesn’t add to our guilt. He doesn’t add scorn and shame and a scolding. He saves us. When we have failed he doesn’t just come in and say let me tell you how bad you’ve done. No. He shows mercy when we’re down. There’s a beautiful example of this. It’s a very tender example in John 21:1-14. This is a couple weeks after the resurrection.
“Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. Seven of the disciples were there and Simon Peter said, ‘I'm going fishing.’
Friends That’s a statement of depression. I’m going fishing. Peter’s saying, “I haven’t recovered from this trauma. It’s only two weeks out from my biggest failure in life. All I need to do is go back and do what I used to do before I started following Jesus three and a half years ago. I was a professional fisherman. I’m going to go back. All I know to do is go fishing. I’m down. I’m discouraged. I’m not feeling good. I’m going fishing. Anybody want to go with me?” And the other guys go Sure. We’ll go with you. So Peter said I’m going fishing. ‘We'll come, too’ they all said. So they went out in the boat, but even though the fished all night, they caught nothing. At dawn the disciples saw a man standing on the shore but they couldn't see it was Jesus. He called out, ‘Friends, have you caught any fish?’ ‘Not a thing!’ they replied.’
Then Jesus said, ‘Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you'll get plenty of fish!’ So they did what Jesus said to do, and they instantly caught so many fish, they couldn't even draw in the net because it was so full of fish! Then John [one of the disciples] said to Peter, ‘IT’S THE LORD!’ [Well duh! All of a sudden we followed this guy’s advice on shore and we catch all of these fish. John goes, It’s the Lord! I love what happens next]
And it says “When Peter realized that he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and swam ashore, leaving the others in the boat to pull the loaded net to the shore, for they were only out about three hundred feet. “When they got to shore they saw that Jesus was cooking fish and bread over a charcoal fire. He’s got a barbeque going on here. Jesus can cook. Jesus said, ‘Bring some of the fish you just caught.’ So Peter went back aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was filled with a 153 large fish, and yet the net had not torn. ‘Now come and have some breakfast!’ Now they were sure it really was the Lord! Then Jesus served them Jesus was being kind. He was being loving. He was being merciful. He was cooked them breakfast. Then Jesus served them…] the bread and the fish.
This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead.” That’s a beautiful tender story of the mercy of God, but let me ask you a question. Let’s say that you just went through your worst day of your life. As Jesus is arrested, tortured and murdered. You’ve gone through the worst day of your life and your best friend deserts you, doesn’t show up and more than that denies you and pretends like they don’t even know you. Two weeks later would you cook him a nice breakfast? No you wouldn’t. That’s mercy.
He’s showing how much he loves them even after their betrayal and denial. In this act I think that Jesus was also saying that his love for them (and us) doesn’t come from their good works but from his own deep love and mercy for them and us. Lamentations 3:22-23 say: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end... [in other words it never stops. It never ends; it’s unchanging. It’s never exhausted. God never gets tired of loving you. God's never going to say I’ve had enough of your failures. That’s enough. His mercies never come to an end. It says his mercies are new every morning. You’ve got the same old sins but he’s got new mercy for you every single morning. God is faithful to you in his mercy no matter what you do. Do you realize how faithful God's mercy is to you? The last point is the greatest miracle of mercy of all. It is this. He not only believes and he prays for us, shows us mercy when we’re down, doesn’t get upset about it. He’s not shocked. Number five.
5. HE USES OUR FAILURES TO BUILD HIS CHURCH!
Jesus had told Peter in Luke 22:32, “Peter when you have turned back to me, strengthen and build up your brothers.” He’s talking about the brothers and sisters in Christ. The family of God. The church. Use your failure to strengthen and build up others. Here’s the rest of that story there on the beach at Galilee.
John 21:15-17 “After breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ [This is echoing back a statement where at the Last Supper Peter had said I love you more than all of these and I would never ever deny you. Everybody else may, but I would never do that.”] He said Simon do you love me more than these? ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you,’ Peter replied. ‘Then feed my lambs,’ Jesus said. Then Jesus repeated the question: ‘Peter, do you love me?’ Peter said, ‘Yes, Lord! You know I love you!’ ‘Then take care of my sheep,’ Then Jesus asked the same question one more time: ‘Peter, do you love me?’ Now Peter was grieved that Jesus asked the question a third time, so he said, ‘Lord, you know everything! You know I love you!’ And Jesus replied ‘Then feed my sheep!’”
Why did Jesus ask this question three times, do you love me? I think that he was giving Peter the opportunity to make up for three denials. I will never deny you, I will never deny you, I will never deny you, and he did one, two, three times. So he said do you love me, do you love me, do you love me? Yes, Lord, yes Lord, yes Lord. Then feed my sheep. Let’s go back to the beginning. Both Judas and Peter, friends of Jesus, both of them committed the same sin. They both denied Christ. The exact same sin just different experiences. They turned their back on him in his time of need. Judas became a traitor. Peter became a teacher. Feed my sheep. What are you going to become from your failure? What are you going to allow the failures in your life to make you – traitor or teacher? It’s your choice.
The fact is God is building his church on people who’ve failed. God has only used failed people because there aren’t any non failures in life. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said this “Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it!” Some of you know this is actually a play on words. In the original Greek manuscript, the word “Peter” is the word petros and the word “rock” is the word petra. They’re very different. He said you are Peter, Petros, but you’re going to be petra, the rock on which I with my mercy am going to build on your faith and on your failures. Petros, Peter, literally mean a stone. It means a small rock. It means a pebble.
So Peter really was a pebble. He was a stone. That’s his name - stone. Petra means a giant rock. A bolder. It can mean a cliff of rocks. It can mean a mountain of granite. Jesus is saying to this guy who’s just had this enormous failure just a few days earlier, yeah you’ve been unstable. You’ve been foot in mouth. You’ve been impulsive. You’ve denied me. You’ve been a little stone. But you’re going to be a Rock because of my mercy. And the past is past and we’re going to go on. And I’m going to build my church on your failures. God wants to build his church on your failures. He wants to use you the same way he used Peter. Mercy is undeserved forgiveness and unearned kindness.
Pick up your rocks again. Feel the weight of your sins, your failures, your wrong choices. Let it settle into your spirit the wrong of some of your choices, the selfishness of sin.
Remember what1 Peter 5:7 says? “Cast all your anxiety (or cares) on him [God] because he cares for you.” Drop them, let it go, don’t even try to carry it a foot, drop it at my feet. Let your failures and your sins be a sort of offering to me. I am ready to come and bring times of refreshing to your spirit, restore you and build my church upon you...but YOU need to repent and fall on my mercies.