One of the things you might have noticed with the Jesus Creed we have been studying is that Jesus sets the bar pretty high. We are to love God with ALL our heart and with ALL our soul and with ALL our mind and with ALL our strength. Everything we have and everything we do and everything we think and desire and plan for in our lives needs to be shaped by our understanding of what it means to love God. To love our neighbor as ourselves also sets the bar high because when Jesus was asked who our neighbor is – his response was to say that everyone is our neighbor. It’s not just those who live next door or down the street or in our community that we need to love, our neighbor is anyone and everyone who might be in need of love.
So the standard in the creed is complete love and the teaching of Jesus spells this out. Here are just a few of Jesus’ teachings that help define what it means for us to love God and others.
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. – Luke 16:13
Those of you who do not want to give up everything you have cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:33
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times but seventy-seven times”. – Matthew 18:21-22
Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:27
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:48
Easy right? Just be perfect, give up everything we have, forgive everyone and take up a cross and then we are living out the Jesus Creed. No problem. Actually – a big problem.
When I get to the end of the day and the end of the week I realize how much I fall short in all of these areas. There are times I knowingly and willfully fail to live out this creed and there are times I look back and realize I didn’t even know I was failing to love God and others, but I did. My life echoes these words of Paul, Romans 7:15, 21-24.
Looking at the situation, we might think that there just isn’t any hope for us, but there is hope and we find it by looking at how Jesus interacted with one of his disciples – Peter. Peter is an interesting person. On one hand he is the lead disciple who is bold and courageous in living out his faith. He was one of the first to follow Jesus. He was the first to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah. He was the only one who got out of the boat and walked on water with Jesus and he made a bold claim to stand with Jesus no matter what.
But on the other hand – Peter’s failures are also well documented. Right after Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah he was giving Jesus direction on how he needed to be the Messiah. To this, Jesus said to Peter, get behind me Satan. While Peter was the one who got out of the boat to walk on the water with Jesus he quickly took his eyes off of Jesus and started to doubt and be afraid so sank – to which Jesus said, You of little faith.
It was Peter who asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive his brothers and sisters, and I think Peter said this looking at the disciples and wondering when he could start holding a grudge against them. Jesus made clear that Peter had to keep forgiving them. And after Peter said he was willing to die with Jesus, it only took him a few hours before he was so filled with fear that he denied knowing Jesus, not once or twice, but three times.
So while Peter followed Jesus and gave himself to living out this creed, he routinely failed. It wasn’t just a few times he failed, it seemed to be every time and if the failure of Peter was the end of the story, we would all be in trouble and there would be no hope for us in living out this creed, but failure is not the end of the story. For Peter, the end of the story didn’t come when the rooster crowed and he realized that he had failed Jesus three times, the end of the story – or maybe the beginning of the story – happened a few weeks later when he was forgiven. John 21:15-19
Three times Peter had failed to stand with Jesus on the night he was arrested. Three times Peter had an opportunity to deny himself, follow Jesus and carry a cross, and three times Peter had failed. Three times Peter had been asked to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and to love his neighbor as himself and three times he had failed and yet Jesus did not hold those failures against him – instead Jesus offered forgiveness. To Peter’s routine failures Jesus offered robust forgiveness. The forgiveness Jesus offered wasn’t just a casual, that’s ok don’t worry about it, it was a forgiveness that washed the slate clean and invited Peter to once again join Jesus in his mission and ministry. It was a forgiveness that covered over sin and restored a relationship, even a partnership.
Look at what Jesus said to Peter after Peter was able to express his love. Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep. Jesus was not only restoring Peter as a disciple, he was inviting Peter to join him once again in the work that Jesus was doing – being a shepherd. Jesus came to be a shepherd of God’s people and here is Jesus inviting Peter to join him in that work. Robust forgiveness to Peter’s routine failure. Not only is Peter forgiven and given a second chance but he is restored into a relationship with Jesus that invites him into partnership with God. So instead of Peter’s failure being the end of the story, in many ways it was the beginning.
So there is hope for us. Our routine failures are not the end of our story when it comes to living out the Jesus Creed, our failures can lead to forgiveness and new beginnings and we learn from Peter how to make this happen. Let’s go back and look at the interaction between Jesus and Peter and learn what a robust forgiveness looks like.
The first thing we see is that forgiveness requires us to be honest about our failures. That Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him was no coincidence. Jesus was taking Peter back to those failures so he could be honest about his life. Jesus doesn’t throw the failures in his face, he doesn’t even mention them specifically, but the three questions does force Peter to remember his three failures.
Honest reflection on our lives is important. We need to be clear about the ways we have failed to love God so we can address it seriously and find ways to overcome it. Confessing our sin is important. While God is always willing to forgive us and the debt was fully paid by Jesus on the cross, it is important for us to be honest about our lives and confess the ways that we routinely fail in our love for God and others. Confession humbles us so we can remember how completely dependent we are upon God.
Confession needs to be followed by repentance. The word repent means to turn and what we need to do is turn back to God to receive God’s love and mercy. While the Jesus Creed is a statement on how we want to live our lives, we need to always remember that the love that makes this possible isn’t ours but God’s. It is because God first loved us that we were then able to turn to love God. It is because God is gracious and faithful in loving us that we are able to turn to him and be forgiven.
In the OT, the people of God routinely failed to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Time and time again they worshiped idols and trusted in their own wisdom and strength. They trusted in the power they could find in this world instead of trusting in the power of God. The people also routinely failed to love others as themselves. They cheated those around them and often put their own lives above the lives of others. They failed and their failure led to disaster as a nation – they were overthrown by the nation of Babylon and most of the people of Israel were led away as captives. But in the midst of this failure and defeat, we hear this.
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, the Lord is my portion therefore I will wait for him. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him. Lamentations 3:22-25.
This is the same love that Jesus offered Peter. What could have been a devastating moment for Peter was redeemed by God’s love and grace and each time we turn to God we are reminded that this same love and grace is extended to us. The reality is that God’s forgiveness and love is offered to us long before we turn to God. In the cross, God forgave us and that love and grace is there each and every day. New every morning is God’s mercy and when we turn to this love we are forgiven and this forgiveness is not just a covering over of our sin, it is a restoration of a relationship.
God’s forgiveness then brings a courage and power to commit ourselves once again to loving God and others. Every time we turn to God and receive his love we are filled with God’s spirit which brings with it the purpose and plan that God has for our lives, which is to love God and love others. Peter is able to move forward in the mission and ministry God has for him because he confronts his failures, returns to the love God has for him and commits himself again to loving God and others by saying, Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Every time we say this, every time we make a commitment to the Jesus Creed, God partners with us in new ways.
So while the Jesus Creed points out routine failure, it also reminds us of the robust forgiveness God offers. It is God’s forgiveness and grace that sets us on our feet and sends us out to go deeper into this creed of love.
Let us commit ourselves once again to this Jesus Creed.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength… love your neighbor as yourself.
The Jesus Creed – Failure and Forgiveness
1. Identify the times this past week when you have failed to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. What do you learn about yourself and your faith when you consider these moments?
2. Identify the times you failed to love your neighbor as yourself. Why did you make these choices you did?
3. Confess these failures to God in a time of quiet prayer.
1. Read these Psalms which remind us of God’s love and forgiveness.
• Psalm 25:11, Psalm 65:3, Psalm 79:8-9,
• Psalm 86:5 Psalm 103:1-4, Psalm 130:1-4
2. Turn toward God with open hands to receive this gift of grace.
3. Forgiving others
• From whom do you need to ask for forgiveness?
• Who is God asking you to forgive?
• What would it look like for you to reach out to this person in love?
1. What mission does God have for your life?
2. How can you take a step forward in this mission this week?