I want to discuss the story of two men who failed but where only one who failed well. The story of these two privileged men is similar but couldn’t be any different. One of them grew up, lived, and worked in a small village all his life. In his village, everyone knew him, and he knew everyone. The other man moved around a lot with his family when he was young and eventually moved to a large city where he was quite a loner and could never seem to make many (if any) friends. But the day came when providence brought them together and they nearly became lifelong friends. One of the things they had in common was that they both famously failed – yet only one of them failed well.
THE ONE MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED WAS THE ONE WHO FAILED BEYOND REPAIR
If the twelve disciples of Christ had a “Year Book”, the one that would have been voted “the most likely to succeed” each year would have been the one with the highest academic credentials, the most sophisticated grasp of at least four languages, and a sound financial background. This was Judas Iscariot. The other disciple would have been voted least likely to succeed, because, quite frankly, he failed so often and so frequently and so magnificently. On several occasions in the Gospels he is recorded saying things that are “stupid” (which should give rest of us some comfort who also have a track record of occasionally saying stupid things). Take the time when Moses and Elijah appeared to Christ on Mount Hermon and Peter suggested that he run to the camping store to buy and erect some tents to shelter them (Matt. 17:4). Then there was the time when all the other disciples were there when Jesus publicly and sharply rebuked Peter for what he had just said –
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
While Simon Peter failed so often, there is actually no record of Judas Iscariot ever failing before he betrayed Christ. But I suspect that there were seven warning signs that led to Judas Iscariot on an accelerated process of failing before he ultimately failed by betraying Christ. Unlike those who have learned to fail well, Judas Iscariot’s path to failing badly included deceit, duplicity, dishonesty, and adopting a double life.
YOUR PAST DOES NOT HAVE TO DEFINE YOUR FUTURE
Peter seemed to have a knack for putting his foot in his mouth and doing the wrong thing. Judas on the other hand gave the appearance of having it all together and never failing. But all the while he was actually setting himself up to epically (literally) fail. Here’s what his downward (invisible) spiral looked like (which were also the seven warning signs that something was wrong and getting worse) –
1. CLOSED: While Jesus was challenging His disciples to be authentic, Judas was not open or transparent with the other disciples.
¶ “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
2. COCKY: Judas probably felt superior to the other disciples and this arrogance and pride (Satan’s origin sin) would have caused him to distance himself from his faith community.
Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.
3. CONFUSED: Judas probably confused God’s grace as God’s approval due to him being used to work signs and wonders (Lk. 10:17) and that he was selected as one of Christ’s special disciples.
¶ And He called to Him His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.
4. CONCEALED: Judas increasingly withdrew from the other disciples with excuses for his absence (John 13:27-29).
5. CONCEITED: Judas seems to have been largely unaccustomed to failing – at least, not in public – and he had certainly never learned to fail ‘well’, he was not prepared to ask for help.
6. CONTEMPT: His increasing withdrawal and bitterness toward the other disciples (who were all, apart from him, from Galilee) caused him to be susceptible to Satan schemes and therefore in the latter part of his life he was actually living a double-life.
¶ Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver Him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray Him.
7. CALLOUSED: Despite spending three years with God Incarnate who spoke with the greatest love and authority that any man ever spoke — before or since — Judas’ heart had become hardened and indifferent to the Word of God even to the extent when Christ directly warned him that his betrayal would have eternal and damnable consequences!
He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with Me will betray Me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray Him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
HOW DID PETER LEARN TO FAIL SO WELL?
It might be easy to think that Peter had learned to fail so well because he had so much practice at it! But that would be the same mistake as thinking that a blow-fly was really good at flying through a glass window inside your house! Just because you practice something over and over and over again, does not mean that you can do a thing well. But Peter did know how to fail well because he consistently did the four things that everyone who fails well does well.
1. CONNECTION: Despite failing, making mistakes, doing the wrong thing, saying something stupid, Peter remained transparent and kept within his faith community (the other disciples and Jesus).
Our Enemy knows how easy it is to inflict condemnation on God’s children and tries to leverage this by tempting them to withdraw from their church family.
2. CORRECTION: Peter was lovingly and firmly corrected, and learned how to humbly accept this correction.
3. CONTRITE: Each time Peter failed he humbled himself and repented.
4. COMMUNITY: Peter stayed close to Christ and close to Christ’s community of believers who each restored him after he had failed.
If you want to learn how to fail well it will always involve the same four principles for you as well.
FAILING ALWAYS BRINGS BROKENNESS
There is a simple and charming picture, presented by Christ at the Last Supper, of what becoming a blessing involves.
¶ Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
Jesus took. Jesus blessed. Jesus broke. Jesus takes a person who yields to Him. He blesses that person—and that blessing often intensifies when that person is somewhat broken when they fail well. Every one who has a heart for Christ, just like the apostle Peter, will fail — and not just once. In fact, as I reflect on each of the great leaders in the Scriptures, it occurs to me that each one of them failed well.
> Abraham denied that he was married to Sarah.
> Jacob tricked and deceived his dad to steal the first-born blessing from Esau.
> Moses got angry and murdered a man.
> David committed adultery and ordered the murder of an innocent man.
> Jeremiah was overwhelmed with discouragement and told God that he would no longer serve Him.
How you respond to your failures reveals what you think about God! Our God redeems our failures. He is able to take all of our mistakes and use their result for good (Romans 8:28). But we must learn to fail well. Perhaps this begins by understanding that God is a merciful, loving, gracious, forgiving, redeeming God toward us – not because of anything we have done – but because of who He is! This is why First John 1:9 is not just a new Christian’s memory verse. It’s an integral means by which we can fail well.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
First John 1:8-9
WELL, FAIL WELL
If there was a ’Year Book‘ for Christ’s Twelve Disciples, which one would have been voted “Most likely to succeed”? Probably Judas Iscariot would have. I doubt that Simon Peter would have received any votes. After all, he had failed and goofed up so many times! But in the end, both men failed in similar ways yet only Peter ‘failed well‘. How he did it should give those of us who regularly fail — and all too often feel like failures — hope that God is able to redeem both us and our failures.
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
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