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Easter [2011]: Hope for All Sinners (Mark 16:7)

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April 24, 2011

Special Easter Message

This message is a modified rerun from Easter, 1998, but it’s a rerun worth giving again, because in this verse God offers hope to all sinners. So if you haven’t sinned since 1998, this message is not for you. But if you have sinned or failed God in any way, you might want to listen. Our text is God’s message of hope for all sinners.

Mark’s record of the resurrection inserts two short words that offer hope to all who have failed God: “and Peter” (Mark 16:7). The angel at the empty tomb told the women, “But go, tell His disciples and Peter …” Why did the angel add, “and Peter”? I’m sure that the risen Lord told him specifically to include those words. Peter, who had miserably denied the Lord! Peter, who had boasted of his allegiance to Christ, but then denied Him three times!

“And Peter”—How those words rang in Peter’s ears! You can be sure that the angel said those words. Peter couldn’t have forgotten the scene. The women had reported to the disciples the news of the resurrection. There was Peter, slumped in the corner, in the gloom of depression. But at the words, “and Peter,” he perked up. “What did you say? Are you sure that the angel said, ‘and Peter’? Tell me again! Were those his exact words?”

Scholars affirm that Mark’s Gospel was written largely under Peter’s influence. Picture Mark, quill in hand, writing, “Go, tell His disciples.” There’s Peter looking over his shoulder, saying, “‘And Peter!’ Mark, my son, don’t forget to write, ‘and Peter!’” Remember, this is the same Mark who had failed Paul on the first missionary journey. Yes, you can be sure that the words are accurate. Those two short words say to us:

The risen Savior offers hope to all who have failed God.

From Peter’s life, I offer three insights on how the risen Savior can turn our failures into hope.

1. Failure cannot be hidden from the risen Savior’s gaze.

Since Adam’s first sin, the automatic human reflex to failure has been to try to hide from God. It’s irrational; it’s impossible; but we still try to do it. But, please observe:

A. Jesus knew about Peter’s failure before it happened.

Jesus had predicted Peter’s denial prior to the event (Mark 14:29-31). Peter had insistently denied that he would do such a thing. But that which surprised Peter was no surprise to the Lord. Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew Peter. And He knew about all your failures and sins before He saved you.

B. Jesus noticed Peter’s failure when it happened.

Luke’s Gospel records the awful scene when Jesus was enduring the mock trial while Peter, in the courtyard outside, was denying Him. While Peter was still speaking, a cock crowed. Then Luke adds the chilling words, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61). What a look that must have been! It communicated more than words ever could do! Both love and reproof were bound up in that look. Peter went out and wept bitterly. I wonder if we would fall into sin if we knew that the Lord is always watching.

C. Jesus noticed Peter’s failure after it happened.

This is indicated in our text by the words, “and Peter.” The Lord didn’t act as if Peter’s failure had never happened. He didn’t just brush it under the rug, as we tend to do. He acknowledged Peter’s failure after the fact by those words, “and Peter.”

We can’t hide our failures from the risen Savior’s gaze. He knows more about us than we know about ourselves. He knows every rotten thought we have before we think it. He knows every awful thing we say before we say it. He knows how we will fail Him next week and next year. He knows our failures as we are committing them. He doesn’t overlook them and He doesn’t want us to overlook them. He wants us to confess our sins, not cover them.

Has the Lord ever reminded you that He is watching even as you are committing some sin? I read a story about the revivals in Ethiopia during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Food was scarce because of the war and the plundering by soldiers. One Ethiopian Christian had to leave his family to find work. He was coming home after a year with his entire year’s wages of $25 when some robbers took his money. Angry, he shelved his Christian testimony and went to the house of a powerful witch doctor named Alemu, to get him to put a curse on the robbers.

For years Alemu had confined himself to the darkness of his house, not bathing or cutting his hair. As soon as the Christian man entered his house, Alemu sensed that a spiritual power was present. Before the man could speak, Alemu demanded the name of his god. Embarrassed, the Christian started to explain that he had come to ask for a curse to be put on the men who had robbed him. But Alemu was not interested. He only wanted to know about the spiritual power that had entered his house.

So, very embarrassed, the Christian man recovered his senses and told Alemu about Jesus Christ. When he told him that Jesus had been raised from the dead, Alemu became greatly excited. It was the simple answer he had sought so long—there was someone greater than Satan. He became a believer and went on to start a church and to become its leader (Raymond J. Davis, The Winds of God [SIM], pp. 19-20).

Even if we think that we get away with our sin at the moment, the Lord will not let us forget it later. He has ways of bringing it to our attention until we deal with it. So the words “and Peter” tell us that failure cannot be hidden from the risen Savior’s gaze. We’re only fooling ourselves if we think that we can hide it. We need to turn from it and confess it to the Lord immediately. That is always the first step to recovery when we’ve failed.

You may be thinking, “The news that I cannot hide my failure from the risen Savior’s gaze doesn’t fill me with much hope.” But hang on! The words “and Peter” also show us:

2. Failure cannot separate us from the risen Savior’s love.

I can say that because…

A. Peter’s failure was as bad as any failure can be.

I don’t mean to dump on poor Peter. It just as easily could have been you or me. We all would have blown it just as badly if we had been in the same situation. So I’m not criticizing Peter as if he was worse than we are.

But it would be hard to conceive of a way of blowing it worse than Peter did. He had spent three years almost constantly in the presence of Jesus. He had heard Jesus teach. He had seen Him perform miracles. He was in the inner circle of the twelve. He had been in the room when Jairus’ daughter was raised from the dead. He had seen Jesus in His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. And if Jesus ever needed the support of human friends, it was during the dark night of Gethsemane and the events that followed.

To make matters worse, Peter knew that the last words Jesus had heard him speak were words of denial during Christ’s moment of need. It is an awful thing to live with the memory that your last words in the presence of a loved one were not what you wanted them to be. Peter spent a dark Saturday with the memory that the final words Jesus heard him speak were words of awful denial.

By including Peter’s example in Scripture, the Lord shows that there is hope for us even at our worst moments of failure! Some of you may know Christ as Savior, but you have done something awful. You are ashamed to tell anyone. You feel as if you can never face the Lord or His people again. But those two words, “and Peter,” show us that there is no failure that can separate us from the risen Savior’s love. Even though Peter’s failure was as bad as any…

B. Christ’s love was greater than Peter’s failure.

God’s love is always greater than our failures. Note three things about our Lord’s love for Peter that apply to us:

(1) Christ’s love sent Him to the cross to secure forgiveness for our sins.

John 3:16 declares, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” We must understand that God’s great love alone is not enough to forgive our sin. To forgive sinners and at the same time maintain His justice, the penalty for our sin had to be paid. Peter’s forgiveness, as well as ours, is free to us, but very costly to God. While Peter was denying Christ, Christ was dying for Peter’s sins. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

To experience God’s love and forgiveness, you must turn from your sin and put your trust in what Christ did for you on the cross. If you will believe in Jesus Christ as the One who bore your sins, God promises that you will not perish, but have eternal life.

(2) Christ’s love deals personally and privately with every sinner.

The Lord did not embarrass Peter by dealing with his sin in front of the other disciples. True, the other apostles knew about Peter’s sin and so eventually the Lord restored Peter in front of them (John 21:15-17). But first the Lord met privately with Peter to deal with his sin in a private and personal manner.

We learn this from two verses. In Luke 24:34, the disciples tell the two men from Emmaus, “The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon.” The other verse is in Paul’s defense of the resurrection where he states that after the Lord was raised from the dead “He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve” (1 Cor. 15:5). We know nothing more about this meeting. It must have taken place sometime early on that first Easter Sunday, perhaps just after Peter ran to the empty tomb. The actual words exchanged were too intimate to be included in the Bible. But in that private meeting, the Lord and Peter were reconciled.

That’s how you must deal with God. No one else can deal with God on your behalf. You must meet privately and personally with the Lord. You must confess your sin directly to Him and personally experience His forgiveness. If there is a need for public restoration because the sin was public, that may follow. But the primary thing is for you to meet alone with the Lord, because all sin is primarily against Him. His love is such that He deals personally and privately with each sinner.

(3) Christ’s love is based on grace, not human effort.

The Lord did not say, “Peter, you blew it badly! We’re going to work out a system of penance where you can work off your sin over time. If you really try hard and get it together, maybe I’ll take you back.” God’s grace doesn’t operate that way. Penance is not a biblical concept. Grace is!

God’s grace is unmerited favor. That means that you cannot do anything to deserve it. You cannot earn it by good deeds. You cannot get more of it by extra effort. You cannot qualify for it by making promises for the future. If you do anything to merit it, then it’s something God owes you, not grace.

The only proper response to grace is to receive it. This very moment, if you will honestly turn to God in your heart and say, “Lord, I have sinned against You. I don’t deserve Your mercy. I realize that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty I deserve. I ask for Your forgiveness”—He will forgive all your sin. His cleansing will sweep over you like an ocean wave.

Our human pride grates against the idea of God’s grace. We like to think that we got on God’s good side because He saw something worthwhile in us. If God accepts us according to merit, then we can feel that we’re just a notch above others who aren’t “in the club.” But grace humbles us because the only way we can receive it is when we realize that we don’t deserve it.

But, because God’s love operates upon the basis of grace, it means that there is hope for every sinner. There is hope for you, no matter how great your sin. No failure, no matter how bad, can separate us from the risen Savior’s love if we will turn in repentance and faith to Him.

We’ve seen that our sin and failure cannot be hidden from the risen Savior’s gaze. Our sin and failure cannot separate us from the risen Savior’s love. Finally …

3. Failure does not exclude us from the risen Savior’s service.

A system based on human merit would have removed Peter from being an apostle, or at least would have demoted him to the lowest rung of the apostolic ladder. But God often takes those who have failed the worst and makes them trophies of grace for all to see. It was Peter who preached on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 were saved and the church was founded. Two observations on how God uses our failures in His service:

A. God uses our failures to teach us.

A story is told about a promising junior executive at IBM who was involved in a risky venture and lost over $10 million for the company. When IBM’s founder, Tom Watson, Sr., called the nervous executive into his office, the young man blurted out, “I guess you want my resignation?” Watson replied, “You can’t be serious. We’ve just spent $10 million educating you!” (In Christianity Today [8/9/85], p. 67.)

The Scriptures are abundantly clear that Peter’s education through failure was not wasted. One reason he failed was his pride: “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not” (Mark 14:29). But years later he wrote, “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Pet. 5:5). Failure teaches us humility!

In the garden Peter failed to watch and pray with Jesus. But later he wrote, “Be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7).

Peter hastily tried to defend the unjust arrest of Jesus by swinging his sword at Malchus. But later he wrote, “But if when you do what is right and suffer for it, you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God” (1 Pet. 2:20).

Peter got caught off guard and denied the Lord in front of a servant girl. But later he wrote, “Always [be] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). Peter learned through his failure.

When I say that there is hope for those who have failed, I’m not implying that we should abuse God’s grace by not turning from our sin. Grace doesn’t mean that we discard the need for holiness or the God-given standards for Christian leadership (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). But God often uses our failures to teach us so that we grow in obedience to Him. If, like Peter, we will learn from our failures, then the Lord will use us in serving Him.

B. God uses our failures to teach others through us.

When the Lord predicted Peter’s failure, He told him, “And you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Later the Lord told Peter, “Shepherd My sheep” (John 21:16). The Lord uses repentant, restored sinners to restore and strengthen other sinners.

Have you ever thought about how Peter must have felt about preaching in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost? There were undoubtedly those in the audience who had heard Peter deny the Lord on the night of the betrayal. Peter could have said, “I can’t ever preach before these people. They know my past.” But restored sinners must go to those who are not right with God and tell of the abundant grace of the Lord Jesus. The fact that God has restored you can bring great hope to those who may have known of your past sins.

Conclusion

The good news is that the risen Savior offers eternal life and forgiveness of sins to you, no matter how badly you have failed God. But you must personally receive His offer of love by faith.

On New Year’s Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played the University of California in the Rose Bowl. In that now infamous game, Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California. Somehow he became confused and ran 65 yards in the wrong direction. One of his teammates went after him and tackled him just before he scored for the opposing team. When California attempted to punt, Georgia Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety which was the ultimate margin of victory.

That strange play came in the first half, and everyone watching the game was asking the same question: What will Coach Price do with Roy Riegels in the second half?

The men filed off the field and went into the locker room. They sat down on the benches and on the floor. But Riegels put his blanket around his shoulders, sat down in a corner, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby.

Usually a coach has a lot to say to his team during half time. But that day, Coach Price was quiet. No doubt he was trying to decide what to do with Riegels. Then the timekeeper came in and announced that there were three minutes before playing time. Coach Price looked at the team and said simply, “Men, the same team that played the first half will start the second.”

Everyone got up and started out, except Riegels. He didn’t budge. The coach looked back and called to him again. Still he didn’t move. Coach Price went over to where Riegels sat and said, “Roy, didn’t you hear me? The same team that played the first half will start the second.”

Riegels, his face wet with tears, looked up and said, “Coach, I can’t do it to save my life. I’ve ruined you, I’ve ruined the University of California, I’ve ruined myself. I couldn’t face that crowd in the stadium to save my life.”

Then Coach Price reached out and put his hand on Riegels’ shoulder and said, “Roy, get up and go on back; the game is only half over.” And Riegels went back, and those Tech men would later say that they had never seen a man play football as Roy Riegels played that second half.

Perhaps you have never failed in as colossal a way as Roy Riegels did. Thankfully our failures are not usually performed in a stadium before thousands of watching eyes. But each one of us at some time has badly failed God. The apostle Paul certainly had. He wrote, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Tim. 1:15).

Peter might argue with Paul about who was the biggest sinner. But neither would argue about how wonderful God’s amazing grace is toward all who have failed. The angel’s words, “Go, tell His disciples and Peter,” say to us, “The game is only half over.” The question is, will you accept the risen Savior’s pardon and go out and play the second half?

Application Questions

  1. Are some sins too terrible for God to forgive? Give biblical support. What is the unpardonable sin?
  2. Will grace—unmerited favor—lead to loose living? Why/why not? See Romans 6.
  3. Does grace mean that God removes the consequences of our sins (Gal. 6:7)? If not, how is it grace?
  4. Read Luke 17:9-17. How does a person appropriate God’s forgiveness? How can a person miss it?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Easter, Failure, Resurrection, Soteriology (Salvation)