When You Blow It And You Know It
A few years back the University of California at Los Angeles—UCLA—was playing Stanford University in a football game. UCLA killed them! The final score was 64-0. After the game a reporter approached the Stanford coach and asked: “What was the turning point in the game?” The coach replied: “When they played the national anthem!”A few years back the University of California at Los Angeles—UCLA—was playing Stanford University in a football game. UCLA killed them! The final score was 64-0. After the game a reporter approached the Stanford coach and asked: “What was the turning point in the game?” The coach replied: “When they played the national anthem!”
Sometimes our lives seem to be like that. It seems that we start off losing the battle to sin and evil in our lives. We consistently do the things we know we shouldn’t do. In fact, if we are at all honest, we will have to admit that when it comes to fighting the battle against sin and evil in our life, the one thing we have in common is we are all failures. I suppose that’s why the Bible has been, for these last thousand years, the best-selling book on the planet. The Bible is dedicated to helping you know what to do when you blow it and you know it.
The story of Peter is a case in point. It’s actually a drama with four scenes. Scene One: The Grace. Scene Two: The Gloat. Scene Three: The Guilt. Scene Four: The Grace. I know you are thinking to yourself: “Wait, Scene One and Four are the same.” Right! The message is that Peter’s story begins and ends in grace. So does your story. So does mine. I’ll show you what I mean.
Scene One: The Grace.
On the night before He died, Jesus said to His disciples: “You will all fall away, you will all fail me, but after I am raised from the dead I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
I would never have said those words. Had I been Jesus I would have said to those disciples: “I know you are going to fail me, so I’ll just have to find some new followers. I know you are going to leave me high and dry so I will have to find some better and stronger people on which to build my kingdom.” But Jesus didn’t say that. Jesus actually forgave them before they even asked for forgiveness, before they ever did anything warranting such forgiveness. Isn’t that incredible? By the way, He does the same thing for us. Have you ever noticed that there is not a new sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross in every generation? He gave His life for your forgiveness 2000 years before you were even thought of, at least here. He thought of you there and He knew what you were going to need, and before you ever sinned, He provided forgiveness for that sin.
June 6, 1944. Forty-nine years ago today, a day of extraordinary significance in the shaping of our world. The Allies were preparing to unleash an unprecedented attack against Hitler’s Atlantic Wall through what we have come to know as D-Day: The Normandy Invasion. Just a few weeks ago, I stood in the spectacularly silent beauty of the American Cemetery atop the hills towering over Omaha Beach. I was moved to the core of my being as I walked past row after row of white crosses set against lush green grass—10,000 crosses telling 10,000 stories of uncommon bravery. Then I entered what is called “the Garden of the Missing” where inscribed upon the walls are the names of those lost in the invasion but whose remains were never identified— hundreds upon hundreds of them. And above the names, words which are now forever burned into my brain: “Here are recorded the names of Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country and who sleep in unknown graves. This is their memorial–the whole earth their sepulcher.” If, as the saying goes, “war is hell”, and if it is the ultimate evidence of human sin and evil, nevertheless the courage and sacrifice sometimes evoked by war’s evil gives hint of the divine decree “Greater love hath no man than this…” To confront the reality and the result of such brave sacrifices cut to my soul’s quick.
And something that happened that day, 49 years ago, cut to the heart of my faith. The responsibility for that massive military maneuver fell squarely upon the four-starred shoulders of General Dwight David Eisenhower. The night before the invasion was launched General Eisenhower spent hours visiting with the young soldiers under his command, speaking to them like a father delivering last words to a son. Then as wave after wave of planes and troops headed off into the darkness, Eisenhower stood transfixed, eyes awash with tears. Afterwards, he returned to his quarters and with his own hand he wrote a message which was to be delivered to the White House in the event the mission failed. But the invasion didn’t fail and so the message never made it to the White House. Now, however, the message has made it into history. This is what General Eisenhower wrote: “Our landings have failed. The troops, the Air, the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches itself to the attempt it was mine alone.” Of all the brave deeds done on June 6, 1944, his may have been the bravest of them all—the General who took the blame even before the blame needed to be taken.
That’s what we see in Jesus’ words. He was saying to Peter: “I know you’re going to blow it. I’ve known it from the beginning, but it’s all right. And when it is all said and done, I will be in Galilee waiting for you”. The story, you see, begins in grace.
Scene Two: The Gloat.
Peter said: “Lord even if everybody else falls away, I will not. I would even die with you.” Peter suffered from something which periodically afflicts us all—delusions of our own strength. Peter should have pleaded: “Lord, I need you with me.” Instead, he boasted: “Lord, I will be with you.” He puffed out his chest and puffed up his own importance, forgetting that he could be blown away by just a puff.
Some of you, not all of you I know, but some of you are in pretty good shape in your lives right now. Some of you, not all of you, but some of you have got things going your way. Consequently, you may be tempted to say to yourself: “I’m glad I’m in this business of the Christian faith and I’ll bet God’s glad to have me on His side.” If that is your circumstance, then please take the experience of Peter as a warning. Be careful. Don’t gloat.
Do you remember the little girl who fell in a deep hole in Midland, Texas a few years ago? Her plight captivated the whole nation. Well, there was one detail about that accident that I missed at the time. I guess I just didn’t notice, but that accident occurred on a playground—a wonderful looking playground—a place of joy and laughter and fun and games. You would look at that playground and you would never think to say: “Don’t let children play there because it’s too dangerous.” While it looked so wonderful and inviting, no one could see the hole. Life is like that. Sometimes when it looks the best, it can be the most treacherous. Sometimes when things seem to be going smoothly, it’s because we are in a calm before the storm.
That’s what happened to Peter. He looked at his life and he looked at the Lord and he felt that he had everything under control. So he gloated. He boasted. He said: “Lord, I’m strong. I can handle anything. I’ll stick with you.” But later on, he found himself in the pit, surrounded by his own fears and failures—and his words came back to haunt him.
Scene Three: The Guilt.
Jesus then took the disciples out to the Garden of Gethsemane. It was there that the soldiers appeared and placed Jesus under arrest. The disciples then had to make a decision. They had to choose between their friend and their skin. They chose their skin. They got out. They all fled. Jesus was hauled off to stand trial—if that’s what you want to call it—at the home of Caiaphas, the high priest. Peter, the Gospels tell us, followed at a distance. He didn’t want to get too close, but he didn’t want to get too far away either. He didn’t want to be with Jesus, but he didn’t want to be without Him either. He must have been in a turmoil on the inside. Suddenly a servant girl inserts herself into the scene. She says to him: “I know you. You’re one of His friends.” Peter’s protest is instant: “You’ve got the wrong person.” Another accusation: “You must be a friend of His. You’ve got that distinctive Galilean way of speaking.” (Maybe Peter did speak with a noticeable accent, or maybe he had been with Jesus so much that he picked up some of Jesus’ expressions and mannerisms. It would be an honor, by the way, to be known as a Christian because of the use of our tongues. But I’ll save that thought for another day.) Again, Peter erupted: “I do not know Him”–and he proceeded to cover his deception with a fog of blue language. And while the distant crowing of a rooster welcoming the dawn could be heard, Peter retreated into the darkness of his own denial. He did what he swore that he would never do. And just at that moment, his eye caught the eye of Jesus and guilt came crashing upon him with frightening force—so much so in fact, that Mark says: “Peter broke down and wept.”
Now I must ask you: aren’t we glad that Peter wept? Aren’t we glad that he didn’t try to squirm out of it all by saying: “It’s not my fault. He got us into this mess?” Aren’t we glad that he didn’t try to compose himself and put on a stiff upper lip and pretend to be strong? Aren’t we glad that he just buried his bearded face in those thick fisherman’s hands and cried his eyes out?
Note this please: honesty brings healing; secrets bring shame. Did you hear that? I don’t say many wise things, but every once in a while the Spirit of God bubbles up within me a wisdom not my own. So write this one down. Honesty brings healing; secrets bring shame. Peter knew that the only way to deal with his guilt was to get it out. Honesty brings healing; secrets bring shame. My beloved, if guilt is eating away at the edges of your peace of mind and heart—if yesterday’s failures and mistakes are clawing away at you whether they happened last week or 20 years ago, get them out . The message from Peter is: Be honest. You don’t have to tell them to everybody. But you do have to tell them to the One who already knows them.
When the King of Prussia visited a Berlin prison in the seventeenth century, all of the inmates crowded around him professing their innocence. All of them began claiming that they had not committed the crimes of which they were accused and that they had been unjustly imprisoned–all of them, that is, but one. One man remained in his cell and never spoke. The king was intrigued. He said to this prisoner: “What did you do?” The man said: “I was charged with theft.” The king said: “Are you guilty?” The man said: “Yes, I’m guilty. I’m getting what I deserve.” The king of Prussia turned to the guards and said: “Get this guilty man out of here. I don’t want him contaminating all the innocent people! “
That’s what we learn from Peter. There’s something about being honest that sets us free from yesterday’s failures.
Scene Four: The Grace.
The story ends with two words which Mark added right at the end of his Gospel. Two wonderful words. After the resurrection, Mark tells us that the women went to the tomb looking for Jesus. The angel said to them: “He is not here. He has risen from the dead. Now go and tell His followers”—and here are the two words—”go and tell His followers and Peter…” Mentioned by name, Peter. Isn’t that great? It’s as if all heaven and earth had seen Peter fall flat on his face in failure–and now all heaven and earth had come to lift him to a second chance at glory. Peter’s story began in grace and it ends in grace. Our story begins and ends the same way. Our God is a God of the second chance.
Let me be personal at this point. This week I begin my twelfth year in this pulpit. My beloved Professor James Stewart of Scotland used to say: “Every sermon well preached will cause you to die a little.” There’s truth in that. You see, what makes a sermon a sermon is the anointing touch of the Spirit. When the Spirit touches it, the Spirit sets it on fire. And when the Spirit sets it on fire it burns something down inside of you. Take to the pulpit in the grip of that Spirit and it will cost you. Ultimately it will consume you.
For eleven years now I have taken to this pulpit. There has come that moment in worship each week when the last hymn is being sung and I look out at you and I wonder what’s going on in your hearts. I wonder if there are those who have made some resolution regarding sin in their lives, some resolution that’s going to inject new power and new life into their daily experience. I wonder if there are those who are so burdened with cares and fears and anxieties that they cannot hear what I am trying to say or what’s worse, I wonder if my own errors and insensitivities block someone from hearing the Gospel. I wonder if there are those who are so touched by the power of Christ in these moments that for as long as they live, they shall never forget this day in this sanctuary.
You see, I know what it is to pour yourself out with all the passion you possess in the hope that the people to whom you speak might come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord, as Master and Friend. And I know the cost of wondering if it happens at all. But you must understand that more than anything else in all the world, I want you to know that you matter to Jesus Christ. I want you to know that your story begins and ends in His grace. I want you to know that even when you blow it and you know it like Peter, that God calls your name in love and offers you another chance at glory. I want you to know that God loves you, every single one of you, as if you were the only one in all the world to love.
And so no matter what it costs, I’m going to keep taking to this pulpit. I’m going to keep telling you about Jesus. I’m going to keep calling you to commit your life to Him. I’m going to keep preaching His Gospel until, under the consuming fire of the Holy Spirit, there is of me nothing left…