Today we are continuing our conversation through the book of John. We have moved out of the final discourse between Jesus and His disciples and now we are at Jesus’ arrest. John is walking with us towards his objective:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
Last week we saw the difference between Jesus and Peter in their responses to Judas and the mob coming to arrest Jesus.
The directive can come: Be more like Jesus. Be just like Jesus. Don’t be anything but just like Jesus. That isn’t a bad perspective to have, but it can become all about directives. It can be do this, don’t do this, do more of this, do less of this, start, stop…
And actions without foundation aren’t sustainable. They can be twisted and they are confusing. But what about moving from directives to a search for perspective?
Jesus had a unique perspective, definitely different from Peter. As we seek to be Christlike, it is about the external action; it is about the internal realities.
Perspective is key--seeing the world as Jesus sees the world. The prayer is, Jesus help me see the world as You see the world. Relationships, situations, challenges, opportunities, hurts, changes--all as You see them.
It can be easy to respond or react. It can be easy to try to figure out what to do. But the life that changes us is a lifetime of seeking deeper Christlike perspective. Jesus, help me as I continually work to see the world as You see the world.
The challenges of perspective continue as we walk further into the narrative in chapter 18. This week we are going to process Peter’s denial of relationship with Jesus. And next week we will finish the chapter as we look at Jesus’ initial interrogation after being arrested.
Before we move forward, I am going to walk us into a massive question that I will give you some extra time to process and share with each other. In fact I am going to ask a pre-question that will help us move into the larger question:
What can you learn to do on YouTube?
Now we move into the deeper question: What have you been learning? Thinking about the highs and lows of this past year and the pandemic and all that’s happened internally and externally:
What have you been learning?
Learning. Here we are, walking out of summer and into a school year, a season of learning. Math, English, Social Studies, Science… but that is not where learning starts or stops. Learning is insight, responses, feelings, boundaries, limitations, perspective, faith, understanding, hopes…
Today we are coming to a moment where Peter blows it. A moment when it “should have” been all over. We feel the weight of Peter’s failure and he should just disappear from the narrative.
At least it is easy to feel that way. But as we will see, it isn’t--life continues. I am going to spoil the story a little:
John could end his letter with the stating of his objective at the end of chapter 20, the words we have been saying week after week: Believe!--in who Jesus is and in what life in relationship with him does. But John doesn't.
John ends with Jesus’ interaction with Peter--Peter being reinstated. Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep! And this culminates with Jesus saying words to that Peter had heard before but he had to believe that he would never hear again:
“Follow me!” (John 21:19)
I am going to ask you another foundational question that I want you to explore together.
What makes learning in the midst of adversity unusually powerful and even effective?
There is some tension in life--in our culture, iin how things really work, in what we see as success, in what we see as failure. Maybe the tension has always existed. I am not going to say that it is the most intense in human history, but I am going to say that it exists--intensely.
The tension: Failure is a part of life. Pain is unavoidable. Struggle is an opportunity for growth. While at the same time: Do not fail. Run from failure. Failure and pain are ok as long as they have clean and clear resolution and restoration.
So as we read through John, it is very easy to come to this moment of John’s failure and blaze forward to John’ reinstatement in two chapters.
We love these stories: The breakup that led to finding true love. The 6th bankruptcy that led to a breakthrough and huge wealth. The addiction that led to perspective to help others. The fear that was overcome and is now conquered. The shame that is part of a powerful story. The lateness that lead to missing disaster. The insecurity that has been exposed and has been proven to be unnecessary. The delay in success that ultimately was a success. The illness that is forgotten. The failure that was forgiven.
But what about the breakup, the bankruptcy, the addiction, the fear, the shame, the insecurity, the failure?
So there is the tension that pain exists, that it is part of life and even an important part of life--yet pain is a sign of your failing that should be ignored, gotten out of, or run from.
So three questions:
What is the cost of avoiding, ignoring or running away from all pain?
What is the cost of looking away from the pain and failure of others?
What is the cost of looking away from our own pain and failures--ignoring, pretending that they don’t exist and / or hiding?
Yes we are walking towards Peter’s reinstatement, but we aren’t going to rush there. We are going to first sit in his failure and his pain. And this is the key: we are going to seek perspective in the midst of this pain moment.
Before I tell the story as John does in John 18, I want to first point to some of the hyperlinks that would be in the minds of the readers of John, moments when people they loved and cherished failed. Here is a quick overview of just a few of them:
- Adam - The first man to whom God had entrusted the Garden of Eden. He sinned against God by direct disobedience and failed to take responsibility. When his eyes were opened, shame took hold, causing him to hide from God. As a consequence of their sin and unrepentance came the fall of man. (Genesis 3:12)
- Abraham - The forefather of faith, he let other men walk off with his wife on two different occasions. (Genesis 12 and 20)
- David - He loved God, yet he murdered a man to gain his beautiful wife. His attempt to conceal his adultery with murder resulted in the death of his firstborn son. He couldn’t hide it from God. (2 Sam 11 and 12:1-25)
- Solomon - The wisest man in the world, he was arguably the world’s greatest sex addict with 1,000 sexual partners. (1 Kings 11)
- Samson - A physically strong man, his weak choice for a beautiful but untrustworthy wife leads to his capture, bondage and the loss of his power and sight. He committed suicide as he brought down a building he was chained to, killing his oppressors. (Judges 16)
- Aaron - While Moses was spending time with God up in the mountains, Aaron, who had seen God defeat Pharaoh, formed an idol made of gold and the people bowed down to it. When Moses came back down from the mountain, he was angry and asked God to forgive them. The people were struck with a plague. (Exodus 32)
- Saul - As the first powerful king of Israel, he did not fully do what God instructed him to do. As a result he was rejected as king and lost his anointing. (1 Samuel 15:23)
- Moses - When he was 40 years-old, he became incensed when he discovered an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave—so he killed him and buried him in the sand. Instead of dealing with the consequence of being found out, he fled Egypt and began a new life. (Exodus 2)
- Jonah - When God spoke to Jonah, He commanded him to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh—but he refused out of stubbornness. Instead, he did the opposite—he ran away from the Lord and set out on a ship sailing directly away from Nineveh. It was there that God sent a violent storm to capsize the ship, but just before, the sailors tossed Jonah overboard and the seas went calm. Instead of drowning, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish that God provided. While in the belly of the fish, Jonah repented and begged God to save him. And the Lord listened. Jonah went on to spread God’s message to the Ninevites, they repented and God did not destroy them.
Process this as we move forward: how do you feel when you read the narratives of peoples’ failures in scripture? What are some of the potential responses of seeing, hearing about, feeling, being reminded of associating with people’s failures? What if we run from them or ignore them?
- What are some of the potential responses to hearing about others' failures?
- What are some potential results of ignoring them?
I heard some of these: If they failed, there is no hope for me. Excuses excuses excuses. I am so much better than them. Judgement. Fear. Shame. Anger. Estrangement. Superiority complex.
But such a key aspect of Biblical narrative is that God is not afraid of imperfect people. I love that imperfect people are loved by God, are used by God, are in relationship with God.
And because of this scriptural reality, imperfection, failure, pain should be felt, dealt with, and grown through. Ignoring it is not needed. Pretending that it doesn exist doesn’t help. Faking perfection is not necessary.
Peter talked a good game to Jesus:
Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (John 13:37-38)
And then as we come to chapter 18:
Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in. “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself. (John 18:15-18)
Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow. (John 18:25-27)
Matthew and Luke say this about his experience:
And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:62)
- What do you think Peter felt at this moment?
- At this moment, how do you think Peter saw this impacting his life moving forward?
Neither success nor failure is just a single moment. But moments matter.
Today we have talked through many things, and it is building. We talked about what we are learning and about the power of learning in difficult moments. We talked about running from pain and about hearing and focusing on others’ pain points. We have talked about Peter's pain in failure.
The concept can be simple: when life is failure, it is not over. That’s simple to repeat.
When life is failure, don’t ignore it or pretend the pain doesn't exist. That’s simple to repeat.
When life is failure, learn, grow, be stretched, be better. That’s simple to repeat.
Until you are there.
Peter’s story was not over. His failure did not keep God out; Jesus didn’t change His perspective of Peter or remove His presence from Peter’s life. John actually builds to it as a conclusion.
But now is a moment of great pain--pain that may be building true, truer perspective of grace. Because maybe pain doesn’t mean God is gone.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you. (Psalm 139:7-13, 17-18)
How is it that God doesn’t leave when I fail? I’m still processing this daily.
So a final dialogue question:
- How was God fully with Peter even as he failed?
- How do you see God being fully with you even as you fail?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read John 18:15-18,25-27.
- What do you see as a point of success in your life?
- What do you see as a point of failure in your life?
- Which is easier for you to identify? Which is easier for you to talk about? Why?
- How does the story of Peter both humble and encourage you?
- How do you explain the highs and lows of your life?
- How does Jesus relate with you through them?
- What do you think Peter learned through all of this? What can we learn through our moments of great failure?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Numbers 12
- Numbers 13
- Numbers 14
- John 4
- John 5
- John 6