Success or Failure?

Bible Readings

  • 2Samuel 15:1-14
  • John 13:18-38


What is success?  What is failure?

Listen to this story:  When he was five years old his father died. With his mother working, the five year old had to cook for his siblings.

He dropping out of 7th grade and left home by himself.

He falsified his date of birth and enlisted in the United States Army.

He left his first job after only two months.  It became a pattern, until he enrolled as student of law.  He practiced law for three years, but it ended after a courtroom brawl with his own client. He got fired from his next job.

He then started a successful business, which he later sold.  The next business was a failure.  The depression years saw him losing one job after the other.

His next business, a motel, first burned down, which he rebuilt, but because after the war petrol was rationed, the tourists dried up, he was forced to close it.

Was his life a failure?  Maybe up to that point in time.

After lots of experimenting he later opened up a restaurant, which became one of the biggest in the world:  Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Is success measured by accomplishment and wealth?  Not really.

In September 1970 Harland Sanders and his wife were baptised after becoming friends of Billy Graham and evangelist, Jerry Falwell.  If he died as someone who has seen the light of Christ, he would have been successful, rich or poor.

Let’s use this story when we look at the life of Christ.  Chapter 12 of John ends the public ministry of Jesus on a negative note, recording blunt opposition to his ministry, while others were afraid to confess that they believed in Him out of fear for the authorities.  John 13 pictures Him with his disciples the night before they nailed Him to the cross. One of Twelve of his disciples betrayed Him, the other disown Him.  Was his ministry a success, or was it a failure?

Not all of you

John 13:10 and 13:18 give us a clue to understand God’s perspective on the work of his beloved Son.  Jesus said to his discples,

“You are clean, but not all of you.” (John 13:10, NKJV)


“I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’ (John 13:18, NKJV)

Remember the word of John 1:12-13? It reads,

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13, NKJV)

Jesus also said,

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. (John 6:37, 39, NKJV)

When Jesus payed in John 17, He said:

I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:6,9,12, NKJV)

It was never the expectation of Christ that all who He crossed with would become believers.  And He also taught his disciples to not expect anything different:  they will sow the seed of the Word like a sower; a large proportion of the seed will reach the stage of having any fruit.

Whatever we try to attract the masses into worship services will not necessarily make people followers of Christ.  And we should not despair when our efforts don’t always work.  What we surely shouldn’t do is to do the work of Christ with a worldly mindset, and in worldly styles. The best we can do is to stick to what the Lord commanded, remain true to his Word and let the growth in his hand.  It is by no means a hopeless case, because the crop will be a hundred, sixty and thirty fold.  We need to keep in mind that we are just doing the work of Christ, we cannot improve on his redemptive work:

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” (John 13:20, NKJV)

Christ betrayed, not derailed

Matthew recorded the events in the last week of our Lord in this order:  first there was the dinner in Bethany held in honour of the Lord.  It was during this dinner that we get to know more about Judas – he was a thief who served himself out of the collection bag of the disciples.  He did not understand that Christ knew his heart.

After this dinner he then went to the chief priests to negotiate price to betray Christ.  They gave him thirty silver coins, the minimum price for a slave.

What follows was the Lord’s Supper.

Now we find Judas around the table, having his feet washed by the Saviour, with the money of betrayal in this pocket.  And Christ knew all about it.  Our Lord quotes a verse from the history of David, betrayed by his own son, Absalom and his best friend and counsellor, Ahithophel, “He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against Me.”

At first, without calling the name of Judas, Jesus just said, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray Me.”

They were at loss and stared at one another.  Next to Jesus the apostle John sat, and next to him, most probably Peter.  Peter prompted John to ask Jesus who it would be.  The response of our Lord was probably loud enough for only John to hear:  Jesus answered,

It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it. (John 13:26, NKJV) 

He dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas. I believe they looked one another in the eye.  Maybe their hands touched.  The deepest expression of love ever seen on earth could be seen in the eyes of Christ, but the most frightful expression of hatred of God and his Son darted out of the eyes of Judas.  And Satan entered into him.  That was the point of no return for Judas.  No grace for ever!

And it was night

When he left, he stepped into the darkness of the night.  He overplayed his hand.  There was not point of turning – and his end is not even tragic, it is the logical consequence of a man who has only hatred and disdain for Christ in his heart:  he died at his own hand, having no hope, no future, no light – only darkness.

It takes us back to the first chapter of John:

 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. (John 1:5, 10–11, NKJV)

Our Lord would be betrayed, but no derailed. O, my friends, Judas did not have Christ in a corner.  It was the other way round. The redemption plan of God had to be completed.  “What you are about to do, do quickly.”  What was it that Judas had to do.  The rest of the disciples did not hear what Jesus had said to John about Judas.  They thought Jesus sent Judas out to get something.  What Judas had to do was to betray Christ, to set the final plan of God’s saving plan in action.

And it makes me wonder: Where are you with Christ?  Do you worship Him as Lord, Teacher and Saviour?  Is your desire that of Peter, that Christ would not only wash your feet, but cleanse all of you so that you would part in Him? It is also possible that you might have sat at the table of the Lord, that you took the bread and drank of the cup, but that you still do not understand what Christ did for you to save you from eternal death.

Judas betrayed Him, the Jewish council had Him nailed to the cross, but – mysteriously – it was the plan of God.  Peter preached on Pentecost Day:

Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. (Acts 2:23–24, NKJV)

It is still day; the light is still shining, and the words of our Lord rings in our ears as words of life:

While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”(John 12:36, NKJV)

He also said:

I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. (John 12:46, NKJV)

Love betrayed

With Judas out of the way, and the final hours before God’s plan of salvation of lost sinners are ticking off, our Lord understood that what He came to do would bring glory to Father:

Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately. (John 13:31–32, NKJV)

He repeated to them the command to love one another and once again told them that He was about to leave them for a while.  Peter wanted to know where He was going, but the Lord said he could not follow Him.  Why he could not follow Christ?  After what Judas was intended to do, Peter probably wanted to assure Christ that he would always follow Him.  “I will lay down my life for you.”

Peter at that stage had no idea that he could not lay down his life for the Lord before He that did not lay down his life – and conquer death for Peter.  The cross was still ahead.  He had to meet the risen Christ.  But before then, he would fail and disown his Lord, let alone lay down his life.

Sadly, before the rooster crowed, he disowned his Lord.

Let’s not look down at Peter.  What he did was unthinkable; but his failure is not our benchmark of what is acceptable; let it be a benchmark of what is a failure.

We who know that our Lord is all He said He would be – the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, He who was nailed to the cross in our place, He who conquered death, He who sent us his Holy Spirit – how are we doing before the people?

O, that the Lord would give us courage to not be ashamed of his Name and his words before the people.


Was Christ’s ministry a success or a failure?  Is the church of Christ a success or a failure?  No, all those who the Father gave to the Son, will come to Him; not all people will come.  His mission was a success, glorifying the Father, and destroying the power of Satan.  The light is still shining in the darkness.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 12 February 2017

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