What Our Failure Achieves

"Peter's Betrayal" by Carl Bloch, Frederiksborg Palace, Copenhagen (Domain)
“Peter’s Betrayal” by Carl Bloch Frederiksborg Palace, Copenhagen (Domain)

Peter is as real as it gets in the Bible. He is the combination of a gritty human earthiness and wide-eyed love for Christ. I could write a small book on the lessons he teaches me; for now I’ll settle for a significant moment between him and Jesus.

All of You

Having just eaten their last meal with Jesus, the disciples clash about who might be the greatest among them. Jesus interposes and redefines greatness based on service. Then, he addresses Peter in a telling way that settles the matter about his spiritual eminence among the disciples.

31 Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren. (Luke 22:31-32, NKJV)

We don’t notice why these verses are more significant than how we usually read them unless we study them closely. The word “you” in verse 31 is plural and would be a second-person plural pronoun in English, as in “you (all)”; however, “you” is singular in verse 32. Reread it; the interpretational revision is striking. Some versions, like the NIV and NLT, properly reflect this.

Thus, addressing Peter, the most seasoned disciple in age and piety, Jesus explains that Satan had plans to destroy the faith of all the disciples. Then, based on his foreknowledge of Peter’s disgrace (vs. 33-34), he directly challenges Peter—“when you are restored…” He charges Peter with a responsibility for the rest of the disciples.

Satan’s maneuvers had not been limited to Judas; and noticing in Peter some proneness to fall, he demanded him of Jesus, like with Job. If Satan could get the one disciple with the most gleaming faith, he could ruin the whole band. After all, Peter was the one who dared walk on water; the one who confessed the deity of Christ; and the one who jetted from his boat and swam ashore to the resurrected Jesus.

A Charge to Keep

There are many lessons these verses offer, but I’ll select only three.

  • We should see worth in people despite their failings. Jesus goes on to tell Peter in no uncertain terms that he would deny him. Yet he had just implied that Peter’s faith wouldn’t be shattered. Just because people fall into sin or commit a serious offense or crime doesn’t mean they should be written-off. They still bear tremendous value, even greatness. But it will never be realized if after carrying the weight of their misdeed, we gracelessly finish them off.
  • We should pray for those with influence. We know that we should pray for officials and titled leadership. But we should also strategically pray for the salvation of those with significant influence on the minds of others—key business people, celebrities, professors, drug dealers, gang leaders, well-liked family and friends. How many have been saved because Saul became Paul? We thank God that C.S. Lewis didn’t remain an atheist. I think you get the point.
  • Our failures should make us empathetic enough to help others. What we learn about God and ourselves through failing becomes our ministry to others. In other accounts of this very conversation, Jesus tells the disciples that they all would desert him; however, Peter would dissociate himself entirely from Jesus to save himself. Out of that sore experience—because it hurt Peter to his heart—he was to rebuild the faith of his brothers. The Book of Acts and legend of Peter’s death prove that he did.