By Pastor Glenn Pease
Back in 1959 Ford Motor Company admitted they made a big mistake in making the Edsel. It cost 250 million to bring it to market, and they lost 200 million during the 2 and 1/2 years they produced it. It was the number one lemon in the history of the U. S. auto industry. But smart owners turned their lemons into lemonade. They formed an Edsel owners club in all 50 states; they published a quality magazine and had annual conventions, and they made their Edsels collectors cars worth much more than they were new.
The point is, mistakes can be costly, but they can also be profitable. The whole idea involved in Rom. 8:28 that God works in all things for the good of those who love him is this very point. God will even work with us in our mistakes to make them profitable and learning experiences. This means we do not need to fear failure so much that we refuse to take a chance and do what is of some risk. Our very failure could be the stepping stone to success. This is not some kind of mystical religious principle, but it is the wisdom of very practical minded men. Years ago a writer interviewed IBM president Thomas J. Wadson, and this is what he said:
"It's not exactly my line," Watson said, "But would you like me
to give you a formula for writing success? It's quite simple, really.
Double your rate of failure."
"You're making a common mistake. You're thinking of failure as the
enemy of success. But it isn't at all. Failure is a teacher-a harsh one
perhaps, but the best. You say you have a desk full of rejected
manuscripts? That's great! Everyone of those manuscripts was re-
jected for a reason. Have you pulled them to pieces looking for that
"You can be discouraged by failure-or you can learn from it. So go
ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember
that's where you'll find success. On the far side of failure."
There are numerous illustrations of this in the secular world, and there are volumes that deal with the subject. But the best illustration of this in the New Testament is the life of Peter. We have more recorded mistakes and blunders of Peter than all the rest of the 12 put together. He was the master of mistakes, and yet Jesus chose him to be the leader of the 12. There is no list of the Apostles where Peter is not first. Is there any connection between all of his mistakes and his being the number one man in leadership? Yes there is, and the mistake we want to examine is a prime example.
Peter was the only man Jesus ever rebuked for lacking the faith needed to stay on top of water. Why would Jesus make this man he had to rebuke more than all the others the leader of the others? He did so because Peter was the only one of the 12 willing to take the chance. Yes, he sank while all the rest were safely in the boat. But that is because he was the only one willing to take the chance of leaping out of the boat. The risk taker fails more because they do more. You can criticize Peter and be justified in doing so, for Jesus rebuked him for his little faith that led him to doubt and then sink. Peter did fail here, and needed to be rescued, but look at the whole picture.
The only reason Peter failed is because he took a chance, and he was the only one who did. We focus on his failure and neglect the fact that Peter was the only man besides Jesus whoever succeeded in walking on water. His faith weakened in the storm, but the text tells us clearly in verse 29, "Then Peter got down out of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus." Peter was the greatest success in the world at walking on water. That took tremendous faith. But what we see here is that faith can be very flimsy, and confidence can collapse very rapidly in a fearful situation.
Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, said at a press conference in July of 1970, "I particularly remember the elation of finding out that we indeed weren't going to sink into the surface, and we could continue with all the other planned activities." These were among the coolest men on the planet, and yet they had their fears as they set foot on the moon. How much more so for Peter who set foot on the lake where there was no mystery about it? He knew that sinking in water was inevitable. Had the water been as still and calm as glass it still would have been a fearful step out of that boat. But in a raging storm it would seem to be an act of folly to even attempt it. But Peter risked doing the impossible with Jesus, and he did it.
Peter was rebuked, for Jesus wanted him to go all the way and experience total victory by his faith, but he failed and began to sink. Jesus was not disgusted with Peter. Yes, he got a F in completion, but he got an A for effort. He was the only one who took the test. The rest sat like bumps on a log, and they did not fail, but they also never had a chance to succeed. Peter did what none of the others ever did, he walked on water. Jesus chose him to be the leader because he was willing to take a chance. His very failure was a mark in his favor, for only those who try can fail.
We don't want to give a false impression that the rest of the 12 were of no value because they did not rise up and leap over the side of the boat. They are no less chosen of Christ, but they are less exalted. Peter is made number one because he had a courage that the others lacked. Not all Christians are risk takers, and it is not sinful that they are not. Jesus did not need 12 men leaping into the lake. He only needed one risk taker of that degree, for he only needed one head man. We are not trying to put anybody down, but only striving to see what it was about Peter that made him the one Jesus chose to be the leader of the 12. What we see is that Peter was more willing to fail and take chances for Christ. His failures were not good, but they represent a quality of character that Jesus was looking for in a leader. He was ready to risk losing for the sake of winning.
We can't all be Peter, just as none of the other disciples could be. They were often chicken compared to him. But all Christians can learn from Peter's example to move in the direction of boldness and risk taking. In one sense this whole incident was much ado about nothing. Who cares about walking on water? It is one of the most useless miracles in all the Bible. Jesus never did it again, and nobody else was ever challenged to do it again. It healed nobody and helped nobody. In terms of benefit, you can place this miracles on the bottom of the pile. Who could feel the loss if it never would have happened? Obviously a miracle of so little worth must have great value in terms of education.
This whole scene was deliberately set up by Jesus to teach a lesson. He sent them out into the lake in a boat alone. This time he was not going to be sleeping in the boat when the storm hit. This was a whole new lesson for them to see how they would cope alone, and how their faith would respond with him absent. He was not going to be at their side in the flesh forever, and they needed to develop a faith that went beyond sight. They had just seen Jesus feed 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish. You would think their faith would never fail again after that, but Jesus sends them off to face contrary winds and put their faith to the test.
Peter is being tested here especially, and we see him come through with both and A and a F, but with an overall stamp of approval that made him the key leader. He got a A for daring and a F for doubting, but as we shall see, even his failure was an asset that Jesus appreciated. If we could learn to fail like Peter, we will please our Lord and be used to build his kingdom. Let's look at his success and failure, or his daring and doubting.
I. HIS DARING.
Peter dared to do what the others never dreamed of doing. Safety first was their motto. But Peter was an impulsive risk taker, and his impulse in this very unusual setting was to step out onto the water. "Lord if its you tell me to come to you on the water." Peter is saying, "dare me to come Lord", and Jesus responds, "I dare you to come." Jesus knew Peter was the kind of man who could not refuse a dare. If you challenged him to do the unusual and impossible, you better be prepared to deal with the consequences, for he will be going for it.
Such a personality trait can quickly turn you into a fool, but it can also make you a hero. It has to be kept under control, and Peter had his problems doing that. Peter dared to do foolish things also, and was like a teenager being dared to play chicken in a car, or being dared to go over 100 miles per hour. People who can't say no to a dare are often at the mercy of the most foolish and dangerous whims. It is one of those virtue-vice type traits. If you can be daring, however, and respond to a dare to do what is good, noble, and heroic, then you have a very positive virtue.
Studies show that people can be dared into doing what is best for them. George Warren Kroll was a weakling who was dared to become the healthiest boy in his class, and the blood flowed through his body responding to the challenge, and he began to build his body until it was the strongest in his class. Harry Wonda was about to quit his job as a salesman when his sales manager challenged him. "I dare you to go out and sell more today than you ever have."
It was like a call to battle, and he went out with a determination to do just that, and he did. He needed the dare to bring out the daring spirit that was in him.
Jesus knew Peter had a daring spirit, and that is why he challenged him to do the daring act of walking on water. Jesus was doing to Peter what Ulysses did to Achilles. He provided an opportunity to reveal his true nature. When the Greeks were besieging Troy the oracle came saying they would never take the city until Achilles came to the front. But the mother of Achilles fearing his death had him hidden away disguised as a girl in the court of Diomedes. Crafty old Ulysses disguised himself as a peddler and entered the home of Diomedes where he spread out a glittering array of trinkets before the eager eyes of the girls. As if by chance there was also a sword laid among them. Suddenly, a trumpet blast sounded at the gate, which Ulysses had prearranged to give the impression of an attack. One of the girls with flushing cheeks and kindly eyes sprang forward and gripped the sword and flashed it in the air, and stood forth every inch a warrior. Ulysses presented a challenge and a dare, and he found his man. Achilles went with him and Troy fell.
Jesus needed a brave leader to defeat the kingdom of darkness, and by this dare to come to him on the water Jesus also found his man in Peter the daring disciple. But we have to face the reality that Peter did not stay on top of the water very long, and so we have to look at-
II. HIS DOUBTING.
We love Peter better because he sank. Paul probably would have walked all the way to Jesus and made us all feel hopelessly inadequate. But Peter, the Rock, sank because his daring faith turned to doubting fear, and we see ourselves in Peter, for he is more like us. Paul was more of a intellectual, and he probably would not have tried it after he gave it some thought. He was smart enough to know it wouldn't work, but Peter was not that smart.
We get our courage up at times and feel determined to take a new path. We say with Peter, "Lord bid me come to you on the water." We pray for Jesus to guide us to new heights and bold adventures for him. "Lord help me take the leap of faith; to get out of the boat of complacency and non-productive habits. Help me be bold for you." Then, like Peter, we soon recognize we are not very good at walking on water. We are out of our element, and are like a fish trying to walk on the beach. We see the reality of our inadequacy, and the waves begin to pound our sand castle of faith, and it dissolves before our eyes. All we see is the impossibility of maintaining our commitment, and we cry out as Peter did, "Lord save me!" Our determination leads us into deep water, and we are worse off now than if we would have just stayed in the boat.
We are just like Peter. Even his best intentions often ended in a failure because fear and doubt overwhelmed his faith and daring. Why then did Jesus choose Peter to be the leader of the 12, when he had the same weaknesses that they had, and that we all have? The reason is obvious, for Jesus is teaching us all through Peter that it is better to try and fail then never to try at all. It is better to fail in a cause that will one day succeed than to succeed in a cause that will one day fail. That statement comes from another Peter who was Peter Marshall.
Jesus chose Peter because Peter was willing to take a chance and do something rather than nothing. You can set in the boat and succeed at being a setter, or you can leap out of the boat and fail to be a walker on water, but Jesus says that he chooses the one who fails in trying, rather than the one who succeeds in not trying. Jesus is saying to go ahead and fail in trying to do what he calls you to do. Take a chance, for I prefer a rock that tries to walk on water and sinks, over a bump in a boat that will take no risks.
Jesus never asked Peter to do this again, or anyone else. He never again walked on water. It is not anyone's goal in life to walk on water. It is not in God's plan at all, and so it is obvious this one time event was to teach us this lesson. Failure in trying is superior to success in not trying. Don't let your doubts and fears stop you from trying to do something exciting for Christ. Even the world's greatest daredevils have to fight with fear and doubt. Steve Brodie at age 23 leaped off the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886. He plunged a 120 feet into the East River. He was on the front page of the New York Times the next morning. He was arrested, but the judge didn't know what to do with him, for nobody had ever done this and lived to tell about it. It was against the law to kill yourself this way, but there was no law dealing with someone who jumped and lived. He was released and became quite famous as a daredevil.
He decided to go over Niagara Falls in a rubber suit. This also was against the law, so he got up at 5:30 in the morning and paddled out to the middle of the river above Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. He went over, and again he lived to tell about it. But like Peter, the power of the water all about him raised his doubt level to near panic. He reported afterward that he would have given anything to back out, but once he was in the current there was no return. He tried hard to get to shore, but when he saw it was impossible he felt he was going to die, and so cried out in prayer just as Peter did to be spared. By the time he came to the brink of the falls the fear was so great he went unconscious. That was his answer to prayer, for he was spared the experience of the fall, and the next thing he knew he was on the water's edge.
The point is, the most brave and bold and courageous can be filled with fear, and his faith can fail. Fear of failure is no excuse, for all men fear failure at some point. Fear of not trying should be the fear that motivates us. We are not called to walk on water or go over Niagara, or a thousand other stunts that have no value for the kingdom of God. But we are called to get out of the boat which represents the church, and join Jesus on the stormy sea which represents the lost world. That is the kind of person Jesus is looking for, and that is why he used Peter to be the first man to lead a Gentile into the church. Peter ld Cornelius to Christ before Paul the Apostle and the Gentiles were involved in ministry. The whole first part of the book of Acts revolves around Peter. Why? Because he was a man willing to change.
Stepping out of the boat onto a stormy sea is what we all do if we take seriously the call to evangelism. It can lead to so much failure. We risk offending people all the time. We risk losing friendships. We risk getting a reputation as a fanatic. It is a high risk area to step into, but it is better to fail in trying than to succeed in staying safe. Studies show that only about 10 per cent of Christians ever respond to the challenge of evangelism, the question is, are you one of that 10 per cent? We can't all be like Peter, but we can all move in the direction of being a more daring disciple. The unknown poet gives the challenge to us all.
"In this vast universe
There is but one supreme truth-
That God is our friend!
By that truth meaning is given
To the remote stars, the numberless centuries,
The long and heroic struggle of mankind....
O my Soul, dare to trust this truth!
Dare to rest in God's kindly arms,
Dare to look confidently into His face,
Then launch thyself into life unafraid!
Knowing thou art within thy Father's house,
That thou art surrounded by His love,
Thou wilt become master of fear,
Lord of life, conqueror even of death!"