From Regret to RestorationErwin W. Lutzer | May 24, 1992
Selected highlights from this sermon
It is possible to be brought from regret to restoration. No matter how horrible our mistakes have been, no matter how badly we botched it, God’s grace extends to those in the greatest need. We have been bought, we have been redeemed, we are special, and we belong to Him.
I think it was John Greenleaf Whittier who said, “For all sad words of tongue or pen the saddest are these, what might have been.” I suppose that all of us know that the “might have beens” of life have a way of catching up with us. The regrets of life!
Some of the regrets that we have come to us because of the fact that we make honest mistakes, just human frailty. I think of Craig Nimmo, who was a mechanic for Wycliffe, fixing an airplane. And as he was turning a bolt with his hands, someone called to him. And because he was distracted he forgot to make sure that that bolt was tight, and when the plane was in the air, it lost gasoline and caught on fire, and seven people were killed. And he attended the funeral of those seven men, and here were seven brand new widows sitting there. And he knew that it was his mistake that had caused the accident. Imagine living with that kind of grief and regret. That kind of regret, however, is not brought on by the Holy Spirit of God. It is the natural regret that all of us face when we’ve made a mistake and it’s hard for us to forgive ourselves.
There are other kinds of regret that people have. It’s the regret that you may have as you look through a family album, and you look back to the days when you were a child, and you see the swing in the back yard, and now with all of the decisions of life upon you and the disintegration of your family, and the problems that you have brought upon yourself, you say to yourself, “Oh, if only it could have been different. If only I had not made that mistake. If only there had not been all of these wrong choices and sins, how different my life would have been.”
It’s the regret that we often live with, and yet I want you to know today that it is possible to be brought from regret to restoration. It is possible to be brought from the circumferences of God’s blessing to the very middle of the will of God for your life. And I want to say to those of you today who are skeptical, who are not walking closely with Jesus, that He’ll receive you where you are, pick up the pieces, and as long as you live have something in life for you to do. And that’s why I’ve entitled this message Moving from Regret to Restoration. And if you come to The Moody Church regularly you may know that this happens to be number nine in a series of messages on the life of Peter.
And so I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to Luke 22 where Peter himself went through a tremendous amount of regret. All of us know that on the night in which Jesus Christ was betrayed, Peter boasted too much, he prayed too little, he acted too soon, he followed too far, and he thought too late. Mark says that when he began to realize what he had done, and the way in which he had betrayed Jesus, when he thought thereon, he wept. But oh was Jesus interested in Peter? You’d better believe it. And is Jesus interested in you today? Please believe me. He is. He knows where you are sitting. He knows the context in which you find yourself, and today Jesus is going to speak to you and to me, and say, “Come closer.”
What hope is there when we blow it? What hope is there when we deny that which we know to be true and live contrary to what we exactly believe to be the case? What happens when we don’t live up to our expectations, and by the way, none of us ever does? And those of you who are perfectionists who are trying to, all that I can say to you is, “Good luck. Enjoy it and die young.” We can’t live up to all of our ideals.
But what hope is there now for Peter? He ends up denying Christ. Let me give you four incentives that you will have today to move closer to Christ, to open your life to Him regardless of the hurt that you are bringing, to say to Jesus today, “I want to let You come into my life.” If you are a believer, you want to be cleansed from the failure of the past. And if you have never believed on Him, you want Him to be your Savior.
What are the incentives? First of all, Christ prays for us. This is in verse 31. Jesus is speaking to Peter and He says: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus prays for us. Notice how He prays for Peter. He uses his human name, Simon, because He knows that Peter is about to fall. A couple observations about the prayer! First of all, it is very personal. Now, as you know, in the Greek language, the word you when it is to be plural versus when it is to be singular is indicated. We don’t do that today. We can say you as an individual, or you as a large congregation, but I want to read this passage of Scripture as it is in Greek. “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded permission to sift y’all (you Texans among us – it’s plural). He wants to sift all of the disciples, but I have prayed for you (singular), Peter. Peter, I have prayed for you by name specifically because I know that when you fail I want you to be restored so that you can be a blessing and strengthen your brothers.”
Now let me ask you something: Why is it that Jesus prayed for Peter in such a specific way? Is it because Peter was so strong? Is it because of his eminence? No, Peter was rash. He was egotistical. He was filled with failure. It wasn’t because he was mild and consistent and always doing the right thing. In fact, Peter is going to do the opposite. He’s going to do something quite terrible. He’s going to deny Christ.
I want to tell you today that the grace of God extends itself to those who are in the greatest need. You show me someone who is wretched and broken down. You show me someone who is fallen and who is crushed, and I will show you someone to whom the grace and the mercy and the attention and the love of Christ extend. And those of you who are here today who are hurting, those of you who, because of your experiences in the past and because of misunderstandings or mistreatment are in pain, I want you to know that you are number one on Jesus Christ’s list of people to intercede for. The Bible tells us that our high priest is in heaven and He intercedes for us, and He reminds God the Father that we have been purchased at high cost. We have been bought. We have been redeemed. We are special and we belong to Him. It’s a personal prayer. He prays for you by name.
Not only is it a personal prayer, but also I want you to notice that it is a prayer against Satan. You see, what Satan wanted to do was to take the upcoming experience that Peter was going to have. What Satan wanted to do was to use that experience to show Peter that he was nothing but chaff – to sift him! It was just like in ancient days when they would take grain and the oxen would walk on it, and then they would take the grain and throw it up in the air, the wheat and the chaff together. And supposedly the wind was to blow the chaff away, and the wheat was to remain.
Satan had his eye on Peter, and Satan said, “Peter, I want to destroy you. I want to prove that you are nothing but chaff, and if the wind blows hard enough and the temptations become too strong, you’re going to be blown away, and I want to prove that you are really nothing.”
Now a couple of observations! Notice that Satan had to have permission from Christ to do this. I want to remind you today that no matter how difficult the temptation and the need you face, ultimately even the tests that come to us from Satan have to be approved by Jesus who cares for us. And you know that there are always four people – four personalities involved in temptation. First of all, you are involved, aren’t you? Christ is always involved. Demons are always involved. People say, “Could it be that my fear of witnessing is really something that is instigated by Satan?” Well, it certainly was in Peter’s case – the fear that overwhelmed him. And then, of course, angels are always involved because angels are observing us. They are watching the tug of war that is going on. We’ll see in a moment that angels knew all about this.
Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, who was the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, said on one occasion that a secret sin on earth is an open scandal in heaven. We sin secretly and we think nobody knows, but God is watching. Satan is watching. Angels are watching. We are involved, and it’s big news in heaven. And the question is, “Is this person going to endure the trial, or is he not?” Do you remember Job learned that as God and Satan were watching him? And the angels were watching him to see whether or not he would hold fast his integrity and go on believing even though his children were wiped out, his family was wiped out, and all of the devastation came to him personally.
So I want you to know today that God is putting all of us through a sifting process, and the question is whether we are chaff or wheat. Satan says, “You are pure chaff, and you are like the wicked that are going to be blown away” (the Bible says in the Old Testament. Jesus wants to prove that amid the chaff there is some wheat. Christ prays for you. He knows you by name, and He loves you.
Secondly, we can be encouraged because Christ understands us. Notice what He says in verse 34: “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” A question: Why did Jesus predict Peter’s downfall? Well, do you know what the answer is? It’s that Jesus wanted to make it easy for Peter to return to Him, and to come back despite the failure.
First of all, I want you to know though that Jesus knows our circumstances intimately. He knows that Peter is going to be there in the palace of the high priest. He knows that there is going to be a rooster in the vicinity, and He also knows that the rooster is going to crow at exactly the right time. Notice what it says in verse 60. Peter denies Christ. Remember there is a servant girl there that Jesus knows all about who is going to taunt Peter. Peter said: “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And notice it says: “And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed” at exactly that specific moment! Now Jesus knew about the servant girl. He knew about the rooster. He knew where Peter was going to be. He knew all about the circumstances. He knew more details than Peter’s mind could possibly absorb or handle.
My friend, today I want you to look at me just for a moment. I want you to remember that Jesus Christ knows all about you. He knows details about you that He would never even share because you’d be bogged down. He knows your aptitude. He knows what you would do if you were under different circumstances than you are. He knows what you would have been like if you had been born in a different home. In fact, in all the different homes of the world He knows all of the contingencies, all of the “what ifs.” Everything is present to Him, known with intensity, clarity and accuracy. Jesus knows you. Now that is comforting because people sometimes misunderstand you. There are some of you here who say today your reputation is ruined no matter what you do because you are being misunderstood. Let me give you a word of hope. God understands you perfectly, and He knows what is true and what is false. God does.
It’s also terrifying though just to think that there are some of you who think that you are getting by with things. There are things in your private life, which if they were known would be very shameful, maybe even landing you in jail if all of the processes of justice took their toll, and today you are hiding all of that behind a very lovely and smiling face. And I want you to know today, too, that God knows that as well, but He knows your circumstances. He knows how it hurts.
Now, Jesus did this, as I pointed out, so that Peter would find it easy to come back to Him. Sometimes in counseling I have said to people, “Now I want you to know that even if you fail in this particular problem again, you can come back.” You see, the natural tendency is to cower in shame. The natural tendency is to say, “I can’t face Jesus again on this issue. I have sinned so often.” Some of you feel that way. “I have sinned so often, how can I keep coming back again and again and again?” I want you to know today that you walking away from Christ, you turning your back on Him and saying, “I can’t face Him again,” hurts Him more than returning to receive His grace, His love, His forgiveness, and His acceptance. So don’t turn away from Him. Turn to Him because He understands you.
Jesus prays for us. Jesus understands us. Third, Jesus has compassion for us. Jesus reached out and touched Peter in a very special way. Let me tell you about it. Jesus Christ is crucified on the cross. He is put into a tomb and He is buried. And He lies there, and then on the third day He comes forth from the tomb. What’s Peter doing during these three remorseful days of tears and regret? Peter feels he’s blown it so badly he’s not a member of the twelve disciples anymore. He thinks, “I no longer belong because, after all, I’ve had an opportunity to be able to witness for Christ, and I denied in the presence of a servant girl that I even knew him.” And the regret seems to wash over his spirit, and it is absolutely overwhelming. Jesus knows that.
So it says in Mark 16 that after Jesus was raised, there was an angel that was sitting there at the tomb. And the angel talks to the people that come, and then the angel says this: “Go tell His disciples, and Peter, that Christ has been raised.” Why “and Peter”? It’s because Peter thought that he was no longer a part of those disciples. And just to make sure that he is not overlooked, just so that he doesn’t run, as it were, with his tail between his legs, and be banished off in shame and regret, and be washed with depression and remorse, the angel says, “and Peter.” The angels knew all about what had happened. They were watching when Peter denied Jesus, and God makes sure that Peter is included. Today Jesus looks into your eyes and says, “And So and So, and Peter and Paul and May and whatever your name is.” Jesus looks at you and says, “You’re included.”
Now, I want you to notice that in 1 Corinthians 15 (We won’t take time to turn to the passage.) it says that at the resurrection appearance Jesus appeared to Peter first. He was the first witness to the resurrection. It says that Jesus appeared to Cephas, that is Peter, and then the other apostles, and then nearly 500 brethren. What is Christ trying to say? He’s trying to say, “Peter, let me put my arms around you. You’ve fallen, but you are not down. You’ve sinned but you are forgiven. Peter, you’ve denied Me, but I want you to know that I love you. Let’s put the past behind us and let’s get on with restoration.” Christ has compassion for you.
There’s a fourth lesson that we can learn that gives us an incentive to come back to the Savior, and that is that Christ restores us. He restores us! The passage we’re thinking of is, of course, John 21. The resurrection has taken place, and you can turn to that passage if you have a copy of the New Testament with you.
In John 21, Peter is out on the boat, and he is fishing again, thinking maybe that that’s all that he can do. He tried Christ, and then he denied Christ, and he still, even though he knows of the resurrection, feels very sheepish and ashamed in Christ’s presence. So Jesus says to the disciples who thought that they had to go back to this profession because of their failure, “Come on. Let’s eat together.” It says in verse 15: “And when they had finished breakfast (and there were some fish there on the side of the lake – on the shore – and we don’t know where Jesus got them from, but they came and ate breakfast), Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me with a fervent love?’” Now, have you ever had this problem happen where you know that there has to be reconciliation, and you know that there are some things that need to be talked about? And there’s this feeling of “Let’s just get this meal over with because there does have to be reconciliation.” You can’t leave things hanging.
I don’t know how it is in your family, but in our family we simply do not exist without reconciliation and talking things through. There may be hard feelings, and there often are. There are misunderstandings, but we just don’t let them pass and pretend that they do not exist. I feel sorry for families where the whole beginning of a day to the end is one long charade of pretending. If there has been misunderstanding, if there has been hurt, if there has been failure on my part, or on the part of our children, we always talk it through.
And you get this feeling here with regard to Christ. He says, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” And we don’t know what Jesus meant. Did He mean more than these fish or more than these disciples? It’s just a problem. We don’t know. Jesus just asked that question and someday when we get to heaven I’ll say, “Lord, You know, back at The Moody Church I was preaching on John 21:15, and what did You really mean? More than what, Lord?” And so He’ll clarify it, and He’ll add a good footnote to this sermon, and I might add that when it ends you might feel it needs a good footnote.
Now, notice he said to Him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love You with brotherly affection.” He said, “Tend My lambs.” I’m changing the meaning of the word love here a little bit because there are two Greek words that are happening here in the text for love. One is agape, and the other is phileo.
He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me with fervency?” And he said, “Lord, you know that I love you with a brotherly love.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me with a brotherly love?” Jesus now changes to use the word that Peter was using, and Peter says to him, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You with a brotherly love.” And he says, “You know that I love You.” And so Jesus says, “Tend my sheep.”
What’s going on here? I’ll tell you what it is. Jesus is saying, “Peter, three times you denied Me to the servant girl.” He said, “Man, I don’t know Him.” The Bible even says that Peter began to swear. Whenever you are under pressure you have a tendency to go back to sins that used to ensnare you, and swearing apparently was a problem for Peter before His conversion. He swore and denied it and said, “I’ve never met this guy called Jesus.” This was the mighty Peter.
Jesus said, “Three times, Peter, you denied that you knew Me. I’m giving you three opportunities to confess to Me in the presence of the other disciples that you love Me.” Three times Peter says, “I love You and I fervently love You.” And Jesus says, “Peter, I want you to know that this is not the end of the line. Tend My lambs. Shepherd My sheep.” And Peter is going to be a mighty man of God.
Please come to Moody Church next week because next week I am going to turn to the book of Acts and show you what a transformed Peter the Holy Spirit brought about, and how the transformation that Peter experienced is one that we can experience too through the strength of the Spirit. So, what Jesus is saying is, “Peter, you are going to be a mighty leader. You’re going to be the one opening the doors of the Kingdom. So, Peter, there’s hope for you. Of course you’ve failed, but I restore you.”
Craig Nimmo, the pilot that I talked to you about a few moments ago, ended up being accepted by Wycliffe Bible Translators, and he was a mechanic again because they knew that he was a good one. There is such a thing as restoration.
Now you say, “Well Pastor Lutzer, I’ve blown it so badly there can be no restoration” because I’m speaking to people whose marriages forever have been ruined, and there’s no way that you can go back to make things straight. But listen to me carefully. What you ought to do is to grieve over the past that cannot be changed. You ought to shed tears over that past, and then what you need to do is to say, “God, give me a new ministry. Give me a new thing to do. Let me once again hear your blessed voice. And then, Lord Jesus, show me where I fit into your Kingdom, into your family, and into your work.” Jesus wants you to be a productive member of His Kingdom regardless of the past. He says, “I want to restore you. You can still prove that you love Me, and you can still serve Me.”
Now isn’t it interesting that three people were tested that night, that fateful night in Gethsemane? First of all, there was Jesus who was tested by the devil, and He went through great agony, and drops of blood, as it were, came from His body as He anticipated the agony and the terror of the cross. Jesus was found to be pure wheat – no chaff.
There was somebody else who was tested on that fateful night, and his name is Judas. Judas came and betrayed Jesus with a kiss and said, “Here Master,” and actually what he wanted was to be able to identify Christ to receive 30 pieces of silver. Judas loved money, and a kiss is no big deal if you can get 30 pieces of silver for it, so he did that. And Judas, later on, having the silver and thinking to himself, “I love silver, and I’ve got it,” was the happiest man that ever lived. After all, he had silver, right? Well, you know that I’m speaking sarcastically because awash with regret, the Bible says he went and committed suicide because of the depression, the regret and the guilt that was too much for him to bear. The very thing that he wanted he had, but somehow after he got it, it meant nothing.
I’ll tell you something. There is nothing in this world that is as valuable as a clear conscience. It is worth a hundred billion dollars. Oh what good is a hundred billion if you can’t sleep at night because of the guilt and the regret and the depression?
Alright! So Judas was sifted. Pure chaff! Jesus – pure wheat! Judas – pure chaff! And Peter? He was just like you and me – a mixture. Some chaff – some wheat! And what happened was that that great wind of adversity blew across Peter’s life, and despite his failure, it actually purified him and it made him better whole wheat because some chaff was blown away.
And that’s what sifting does to us. Mark it well! The fact that Jesus prayed for Peter did not mean that Peter was not sifted. Peter was sifted, and Peter failed in the sifting, but what it meant was that there would be restoration, and because of the restoration, Peter would be a blessing, strengthening his brothers, giving us the books of 1 and 2 Peter, and a remarkable preacher and pioneer all throughout the book of Acts.
I’m speaking to those of you who know Christ as Savior first of all, and your heart has grown cold and cynical, and you are following at a distance. And usually it’s because you’ve been disappointed with other people, and therefore you are disappointed with God, and your heart is hard and you say, “I’m going to do my own thing.” Would you come to Jesus today to be restored? Would you let Jesus love you? Would you let Jesus put His arm around you and say, “Please come back because I’m missing you?” He is missing you.
Some of you don’t know Christ as Savior at all, and you’ve never believed on Him. I want you to know that His death on the cross was a sacrifice for sinners so that we could be saved and so that we could belong to Him forever and ever.
Many years ago I was out in the state of California and saw those huge redwoods that go up into the sky – hundreds of feet high. And I noticed that there was one redwood that had fallen many, many years ago and was lying horizontal there in the forest. It was not fulfilling the purpose for which it was created. It was created to be upright, to go to the heavens with incredible straightness, like the straightness of an arrow. No, somebody had sawed it down. It was either sawed down or else the wind had blown it down. I’m not sure exactly which it was. It was totally ruined, or was it ruined? Out of that stump, out of that long tree trunk that was lying there, a brand new tree was beginning to grow, and as that tree was growing, bless its heart, growing into the heavens, it was using the old tree as a foundation, and using much of that wood as part of its root system, as it was growing up to heaven.
Have you fallen? Are you not fulfilling the purpose for which you were created? Is it because you are involved in an immoral relationship? Is it because you’ve made enough failures, and you’ve botched up so badly that your family is never going to be together again? I want to invite you today to Jesus who can take the mess. He takes that life that lies there with all of its failure and He uses it as a foundation to build a new life and says, “If you come to Me I will use what you give Me. Come to Me. Receive Me. Receive My forgiveness. Live differently. Become a part of the family, and then there’s hope for you.” You can move from regret to restoration because Jesus has His arms outstretched to you and He says, “Come on. You’ve been away from home too long.”
Some of you say, “Pastor Lutzer, I’d love to come back, but the way is long. If you knew all the things that I’d have to get right in my life, if I took Jesus seriously, you’d understand that you are asking for an awful lot.” I know I am, but I’ll tell you what. Jesus is there to help you every single step of the way. If you want to return to Him, let me help you. In a moment I am going to pray, and after I’ve prayed, I want you to pray a prayer to God of restoration. If you need to cry, cry! Just pour your heart out to the Lord and say, “Jesus, I come to You at this moment. I do love You, and I need to be restored.”
Now Father, You know the pain, and You know all the things that turn people off to You and to Your Word, and some of us probably have been stumbling blocks to others. But Jesus, in this congregation, and in the lives of thousands who are listening by radio, there is pain and hurt and regret. Would You restore Your people at this moment? Restore the backsliders and save those who have never been a part of Your family.
Now here’s the prayer I want you to pray.
Lord Jesus, I thank You that You love me. I thank You that You know me by name. You know all the hurt and the pain that I’ve caused to others. You know my mistakes and my sins, but at this moment I’m coming home. You ask me, Jesus, “Do I love You?” I do love You. Forgive me. Restore me. Just love me. Amen.