Text: John 18
God is holy and God is good, and we are supposed to be holy and good, too; right? So what happens when we fail. What happens when we fall short. In fact, scripture says that we WILL: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But then what? Does God still love us? Does God still want us?
Today as we continue on our Journey to Easter from the Gospel of John, we will look at two spectacular failures among the closest followers of Jesus, the Disciples. And we’ll see how Jesus responded to that failure and how those disciples responded to their failure.
First, the story of Judas…
The Failure of Judas (vv.1-9)
Judas is famously known for his failure, for his betrayal. But he was also a disciple. He followed Jesus for three years, though we get clues along the way that something is going on. It seems that he is interested in money. In John 12 he complains when expensive perfume is “wasted” on Jesus feet. In that same account we are told that Judas “kept the money box” for Jesus and the disciples and used to steal from it. When Jesus sends him away after the foot-washing and Last Supper, the others assume Jesus was sending him to purchase something or give something to the poor (John 13:29). In fact Judas was going to meet the chief priests and lead the group to betray and arrest Jesus.
John 18:1-9 details that betrayal. Judas led the Roman guards and the officers from the chief priests and Pharisees to a place where Jesus often met with the disciples, the Garden of Gethsemane. We read that Jesus knew what was coming, but he went anyway. John tells us Judas was with the group come to arrest Jesus. Matthew tells us that Judas identified Jesus with a kiss. Later on in Acts 1:16-19 we read that Judas either died tragically or took his life.
And yet, Jesus welcomed him among the disciples. I am struck every year during Holy Week that Jesus knew the betrayal that was about to happen, yet washed Judas’ feet and served him the Last Supper. Even knowing his failure and betrayal, Jesus offered an act of love and an act of grace, inviting Judas to receive them. It was not Jesus who ultimately rejected Judas, but Judas who persisted in rejecting Jesus. That was his true failure and tragedy.
The Failure of Peter (vv.10-27)
Peter’s failure is also detailed in John 18, in verses 10-27. They are interspersed with some of the trial of Jesus, which we will focus on next Sunday. But you probably know the gist of it… after Jesus was arrested, Peter followed and hung near in a group of people. But he was recognized and asked if he were a disciple. He denied it with increasing vehemence until the third time, when a rooster crowed and Peter remembered Jesus telling him this would happen.
Jesus told him about it at the end of John 13 after Peter loudly professed his allegiance to Jesus. Peter claimed in John 13:37 that he would follow Jesus anywhere and even lay down his life if necessary. And Jesus told Peter that he would deny him before the rooster next crowed (the next morning).
Failure from one of the closest and most loyal. How devastating to realize it in that moment. And while Peter did not persist in failure like Judas, we do find him later going back to fishing, as if he is no longer qualified to be a disciple. But after Easter Jesus will have a moment with Peter and once again invite him to believe, follow, and serve. And Peter responds faithfully, restored from his failure. We’ll look at that scene more closely the Sunday after Easter in John 21.
How was Peter different from Judas? They were both disciples and both failed Jesus spectacularly. Jesus offered love and grace to both, but only one responded and was restored. The difference was not in Jesus’ grace, but in the men’s responses. Peter turned back (repented), but Judas persisted and turned away. Sometimes we wonder how God would consign anyone to Hell and I think these two help answer that. God did not consign Judas to this path; Judas persisted in refusing the love and grace of Christ. God would not force himself on Judas to turn him around; his ending was the result of his own persistent sin (and love of money).
The “Failure” of Jesus
Interestingly, the end of John 18 intersperses Peter’s story with Jesus’ trial. By some accounts, Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion might also have been viewed as a failure, particularly in the moment. Certainly some of the mockery was in this direction, calling him a failed “King of the Jews” while missing the fact that he was, in fact, the Promised King! The efficacy of Jesus’ death and the victory of his Resurrection will turn around this apparent failure, but in the snapshot that is John 18, it seems like everything and everyone with Jesus has failed.
The Good News I want to declare to you today is that your failure and my failure need not have the last word. If you are sitting here today fully aware of how you have failed God or others or yourself, know that Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you right now. Doubt it? He washed Judas’ (and Peter’s) feet. He served the Last Supper, the signs of his body and blood and grace, to these two in the midst of their betrayal and denial. He loves you and he offers forgiveness and grace.
Will you receive it? Peter almost didn’t, refusing to have his feet washed, first denying that he could ever fail Jesus. Judas did not receive it and persisted in that. God is not scared of your failures, nor does God have a limit on grace, only forgiving failures up to a point. In Jesus Christ God loves you right now and freely offers forgiveness, healing, and a way forward. Thank God! For those with ears to hear! Amen.
Some Music Used
- Here is Love
- Lord Have Mercy
- God, Be Merciful to Me
- Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone
- Ah, Holy Jesus
- One Pure and Holy Passion