THE SUCCESSFUL FAILURE
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Apollo 13 was one of the biggest flops in the history of our space program, and yet it was also one of the most celebrated. Can a catastrophic failure also be a colossal success? Just ask the three astronauts of that ill fated flight. It was 1970, and they were on their way to the moon when an explosion changed their plans radically. For the next 6 days it took all the ingenuity of these three men, and a vast ground crew, just to keep them alive. Everything went wrong, and they could have died a number of different ways. They could have frozen to death, but they learned that in zero gravity air does not move, and so if they stayed very still their body would heat up the air around them, and form a sort of cocoon of warm air. Had they panicked and moved about they would have frozen.
They could have died of poisoning, or been lost in space, or blown up. It took 24 hours a day of thinking and improvising just to stay alive. All over the world people were praying, and they were able to get back to earth in the lunar module, which was never even designed for anything but taking them down to the surface of the moon. It was like crossing the ocean on the Queen Mary, and half way over deciding to make the rest of the journey in a canoe. They did not get to the moon, nor did they do any of things they were suppose to do. None of the goals were achieved. All they did was to get through dozens of hopeless situations, and survive to tell about it.
Commander James A. Lovell said of this amazing flop of a flight, "We could've been assured a catastrophe. But the dedication and knowledge of the ground and the flight crew were such that we were able to make it a successful failure." President Nixon awarded them the Medal of Freedom for their successful failure. Peter is the great example in the New Testament of successful failure. He made the most blunders of anyone, and yet he survived, and like a cat tossed in the air, he landed on his feet, and became a loved hero.
In our text we see the flight plan of Peter blow up in his face. He thinks he is in control of the situation, and has such a grasp of the way life should go that he has the audacity to take Jesus aside to set Him straight. Talk about aggressive leadership. Here is a disciple telling the Master the score. Peter has put his foot in his mouth before, but never up to the knee. He has become a megalomaniac, that is one who has grandiose delusions. He has just confessed that Jesus is the Son of the living God, and that he is the Messiah, yet he begins to rebuke the Messiah because he does not like what he is saying. Jesus is telling it like it is, and the truth is not pleasant. He will suffer, be rejected, and killed. That is not an acceptable program to Peter, and so he takes Jesus aside to reprogram the plan of God.
There is only one other person in history who had that kind of pride, and that was Lucifer. No wonder Jesus said to Peter, "Out of my sight, Satan!" Peter had become a tool of the devil in trying to reprogram the plan of God. Can a Christian fall so low they can become an agent of Satan? Yes they can, and it is not just by falling low, but also, as we see here, by rising too high. Peter was exalted, not just to the moon, but to the very gates of heaven. Jesus gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and He had the power to bind or loose on earth, and that would lead to binding or loosing in heaven. Peter's promotion went to his head, and he began to think that he now had the authority to even alter the course of the Messiah, and set policy on the plan of salvation.
Peter was a mere fisherman, but Jesus chose him to be a spiritual astronaut, and he sent him soaring to the heights of leadership and power in the kingdom of God. And what does he do? He blows the mission to pieces by abuse of power. How many other leaders do you know who were called Satan by the Lord? There were no others. Peter was the greatest failure in his abusive power. And yet we see that he not only survives, but he does so quite successfully. He is able to stay on top as the leader of the 12. He does everything wrong, and still comes out a winner. He is the most successful failure in the New Testament. Consider this record of his failure:
1. He lost faith while on the water, and began to sink.
2. He rebuked his own Messiah, and received the strongest rebuke of anyone.
3. He refused to have his feet washed, and had to be forced to cooperate.
4. He cut off the ear of Malchus in Gethsemane and needed to be rebuked.
5. He went to sleep when Jesus asked him to watch with Him.
6. He denied his Lord 3 times.
7. He refused to believe the eye witness testimony of the women who saw Jesus after the resurrection.
8. He fell back into prejudice against the Gentiles even after Pentecost.
9. He needed to be rebuked by the Apostle Paul for his inconsistency.
These are just his major mistakes and blunders. He had a number of minor ones as well. You cannot come up with a list like this even for the scoundrels in the New Testament. Yet, this walking comedy of errors is not made to wear a dunces hat and sit in the corner. He is made the leader of the group. Tragen was one of the greatest of the Caesars, and the senate raised a towering column to record his victories, but today in Rome you will no longer see the Emperor on top of that column raised to his honor. You will see instead a statue of a man with two large keys in his hands-the man called Peter. Peter fumbled and failed his way to the top, and by so doing, he reveals by his successful failure just how fallible man can be, and still be used of God. Consider, for example, that Peter was-
I. AN EXTREMIST.
Keep in mind, Peter was no intellectual scholar like Paul. He was a man moved by feeling rather than reason, and feelings can be changed a lot faster than the mind. It takes time to think through an issue, and weigh the values, and change one's convictions. But it only takes seconds to go from hot to cold in ones emotions. Peter was always going from one extreme to the other.
1. On the stormy sea he shouts "bid me come to you Lord on the water," and a few moments later he is crying out "Lord, save me!"
2. When Jesus came to wash his feet he cries out, "You will never wash my feet." For an emotional guy like Peter, never is not very long, for he is soon at the other extreme saying, "Not my feet only, but my hands and my head." Jesus had to slow him down and explain that the feet alone are sufficient. Peter is not one to be straddling the fence. He is totally on one side or the other. He is never middle of the road, but usually in the ditch on one side or the other. Ask Peter where he stands, and he says 100% on this side, and while he is saying it, he may be moving to the other side where he will stand with equal conviction. This sounds like a terrible weakness for a leader, but it is a weakness that can be helpful when going through radical transition. The world of Judaism was being turned upside down, and the pagan world would be next, and Jesus needed a leader who was not locked into legalism, but who was open to change, and who could lead others to accept radical change.
It was a troublesome aspect of his personality that he was such an extremist, and so inconsistent. Yet it was a necessary ingredient for what Peter had to lead the church through. He was even inconsistent in his inconsistency. On one occasion after shifting from being closed to Gentiles to being open to them, he reverted back again to the old way,
and needed to be rebuked again. Peter must have felt as frustrated at times as a chameleon crawling across a plaid shirt. He was not sure what color to be, but he still comes out smelling like a rose, because his first loyalty was to the Rose Of Sharon, his Lord and Master.
An impulsive personality like Peter's is bound to get you into trouble, for you take every feeling of the moment too seriously. You are moved by some conviction, and you follow your emotions as if it were the essence of the ages, and in fact, it is only temporary. Peter feels it so strongly that he will never forsake his Lord that he proclaims, "I will never be offended because of Thee. All others may be offended, but you can always count on one, and that is me." Then the next thing we know, Peter is denying with oaths and curses, "I never knew the man."
Peter is one of these guys who is always so enthused about something. It is the answer the world has been looking for. It is the greatest discovery of our day, the discovery of the decade; the milestone of the millennium; the highlight of history. Then the next time you see him, he has forgotten and forsaken the whole thing. These types are on the mountain top, or down in the valley, and to one extreme or the other. Peter was always the first in everything. He did not stop to think things through. While the others were doing that, he was already first on the water, or first with the sword out, or first with the words of wisdom, or of folly. As an impulsive man of emotion, he was faster on the draw than the thinkers. This led to his shooting himself in the foot frequently, but as J. Oswald Sanders points out,
"He was an extremist, attempting the impossible and often achieving it."
Peter failed more, but he also succeeded more, because he was always doing something. It may have been wise or stupid, but the more he did, the more likely he was to do what was wise. He illustrates the fact that life is a matter of percentages. If you try a lot you may fail a lot, but you will also have more success. The man who calls on 100 customers may fail to sell 75 of them, but the 25 he sells to is far greater than that of the man who only calls on 50, and only has 10 successes. Babe Ruth struck out more than anybody, but he was also the home run champ of his day. The point is, failure and success are opposites, but they are linked together. There is a direct connection, for the rate of failure is often the key to the rate of success.
It can be said of some, he made no mistakes, but then it is likely that he made nothing else either, for mistakes are the stepping stones to achievement. Successful people are those who have made plenty of mistakes, but they have learned from them. The biggest mistake of all is to so fear making mistakes that you never try. Prov. 14:4 says, "Where there are no oxen the manager is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest." If you want a nice clean barn, that can be easily done by just not having any animals. But the goal of the farmer is not a clean barn, but a barn full of harvest, and to get that you need to struggle with dirt, manure, and one mess after another. The road to a full barn may mean stepping in a lot of manure, and the road to success in any area, may be a road where you step into one mess after another. If you are not willing to make mistakes and messes, you will never get to the harvest.
The cost of success is the willingness to endure failure. Most of the successful people make a lot of mistakes as they climb, and could be called successful failures. A dairy farm with no cows looks clean and smells nice, but it is a flop compared to the messy, stinky farm of the man who has cows, and who is producing milk everyday. The successful life is not the mistake free life, or the mess free life, but the life where even the messes and mistakes are incorporated into a plan to reach goals. It may seem wonderful to have a factory where there is no waste, but it will be of no value. Better is the messy factory where there is a product being produced.
The elder brother made no foolish mistakes, as did the young Prodigal, but was he a better man for it? He stayed home and did all the right things, and ended up a self-righteous brat. The Prodigal blew it, and was a fool, but he learned from his folly, and came home to live a life of humble gratitude for love and forgiveness. Which brother would you most prefer for a friend, neighbor, or relative? Give me the mistake filled life where there has been victory, rather than the proud life of one who has no messed up past, but who is about as much fun as a boil. The mistake ridden life leads to humility, and a breaking down of that pride that makes one a judgmental legalist. Jesus loved the publicans and sinners, because they were more open to grace and forgiveness. The Pharisees were too proud. They did not need grace and forgiveness. The man who makes no mistakes does not need a Savior. You can't help the man who never fails, for he does not need help. It is the fallen who know their need of the helping hand. The Pharisees were failing successes, but far superior was the Publican who knew he messed up, and prayed for God to be merciful to him as a sinner. He was a successful failure, like Peter. And Peter was not only an extremist, but he was also-
II. AN EXAMPLE.
Peter, with all his weaknesses, was still an example of a type of leader Jesus is looking for. It is not all the blunders he wants, but He wants a man of action who gets things done. James and John were the other two extremists in the group. They were ready to call fire down from heaven because of the lack of hospitality on the part of the Samaritans. They were rebuked for their lack of a loving spirit, but the fact is, these two hot heads along with Peter, the lead hot head, became the inner circle of Jesus. It could be interpreted that he kept these three closest to Him because they were the three who needed constant watching. There may be some truth to this, but the evidence supports the idea that these three were more aggressive leaders, and Jesus was training them for special tasks. They were hazards, to be sure, but Jesus, by choosing them, makes them examples of what the kingdom of God needs.
People who would rather make a mistake than do nothing for Christ is what He is looking for. He wants people who may fail, but who are always ready to act rather than be just passive spectators. We don't want to take it lightly that Peter is an example of just how far a believer can go astray. Peter was a channel of God's truth, but he was also capable of being a channel of Satan's lies. The whole point of the temptation of Jesus was to get Jesus to take a path that avoided the cross. Use your supernatural power so you don't have to live on a mere human level. By miracle you can make stones into bread, and by miracle you leap off the temple, and have the crowds eating out of your hand. Just bow to me, and take a short cut to rule the kingdoms of the world. Why go the hard way, when the easy way is open?
When Jesus heard Peter rebuking Him, and rejecting the way of the cross, he was hearing Satan again. G. Campbell Morgan has Jesus responding, "Peter, I know that voice, I know that philosophy. I have heard that suggestion, not once or twice, but through the years.." Peter was a mouth piece for Satan. He was trying to get Jesus to bypass the cross. Peter was being used as a tool of Satan. He was saying, if you eliminate sacrifice from your plan, there will be a better way. Jesus had to rebuke him, and make it clear, there is no easy or better way. The cross is the only way.
It is important that we see an example like Peter, for it reveals a Christian can be totally off base, and convinced that a satanic view of reality is the best. A Christian can be a stumbling block and a hindrance to the kingdom of God. This example is a powerful tool of education if we use it. Christians often assume that if one is a great Christian leader they have to be right in all their convictions. A Christian leader could never promote what is contrary to the mind of God, they think. Wrong! No Christian is above doing what Peter did, and the more power a Christian gets, the more likely he will do what Peter did. His example is for our warning. All Christians, and their views, need to be examined along side the mind of Christ. Nobody is Lord but Jesus, and He alone is the supreme authority, and everyone needs to be evaluated in the light of His example.
The world is full of damaged disciples who have given their loyalty to a fallible leader rather than to their Lord. Christian leaders fall, and take wrong turns in their teaching and theology, and their followers are hurt, and often end up falling away. This does not happen to Christians who know Peter's example, and know the best can fall and become obstacles. Where loyalty is to Christ alone, there is little danger for any leader to lead you astray. It is not on Peter the solid rock I stand, but on Christ. Peter's example is to protect Christians from standing on the wrong rock. Peter is a rock all right, but he is only as stable as his loyalty to Christ is stable. When he gets off base, he is quick sand, and so you do not build on Peter, but on Christ.
Peter is an example of how a Christian can be like the devil himself. It is folly to let Christian failure make you angry at God. Christians do this all the time. They will say that a Christian did them harm, and then do the ultimate folly, which is to let a Christians failure cause you to forsake the solid rock of Christ. Peter is also an example of just how far a Christian can blow it, and still be a loved leader. This was a terrible wall that came between Jesus and Peter. You can't call someone the very devil, and not feel estranged.
Nor can you have such a label put on you, and not feel the strain in the relationship.
Peter says in his letter that the devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. And you know Peter felt like he had just lost an arm and a leg through the lion's jaws in this setting. Nobody had ever been called Satan by Jesus, and so Peter has the record for being the worst follower of Jesus. He is an anti-disciple; a satanic cross-prevention advocate; the bottom of the pile. Yet, he is restored to fellowship, and to the leadership of the twelve. He is, beyond a doubt, the most successful failure in the New Testament.
The most successful black leader in our time was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. What many people do not know is that he was a successful failure. When he graduated from Boston University School of Theology, he went to the First Baptist Church of Chattanoga,Tenn. To candidate, and he failed to impress them. They turned him down. Little did he know, at the time, that it was the most successful failure of his career. He went instead to the Dexter Ave. Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama where he was accepted. A few months later Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, and started the revolution that made Dr. King the leading black man of that day. Because he was in the right place at the right time, due to his failure, it changed the history of our nation.
I do not doubt that Dr. King was a failure in other areas of his life, but the fact is Jesus used Dr. King to change history. Peter and Dr. King, and many others like them, were not used because they were perfect, but because they would rather fail in trying to follow Christ, than to succeed in anything else. We can't be reminded too often that it is better to try and fail than to never try at all. There is a good chance that you will fail in trying to do the will of Jesus in taking the Gospel to all people. But if you try to do that which is clearly His will, even your failure will be successful failure.