How the Disciples’ Failures Give Us Hope for Today

Dear Roger,

You have preached almost 50 Easter sermons. What Easter principle means the most to you?

Sincerely, Julie

Dear Julie,

Jesus saw people, not as they were, but as what they might become. This is the essence of the resurrection story.

Who the Disciples Were

They were a disappointing disaster. For example, the last week of Jesus’ life was not a good one for Jesus’ disciples. We should not be surprised; they didn’t do all that well during the first three and a half years either.

Philip is panicking in the upper room and unsure over whom Jesus really was.

As Jesus was sharing the bread and the wine at the Last Supper, Luke tells us that the disciples began to fight over who was the greatest. That must have really hurt Him.

They fell asleep and left Him alone during the time of His agony in the Garden.

Peter denied Him.

Judas betrayed Him.

Thomas doubted.

At the cross, all the disciples deserted Him and fled.

Jesus told to wait in Jerusalem—instead, they all go back to the Sea of Galilee and return to their fishing business. 

When he needed their support they constantly disappointed Him.

After preaching his most demanding discipleship sermon (John 6), the entire crowd rejected him departed in mass, except the Twelve.

There’s no doubt this was the most depressed moment of his ministry.

He didn’t ask his disciples, “You’re not going away too, are you?” expecting the answer to be, “No, of course not.”

In his despair, he asked his disciples, “You’re going away too, aren’t you?” Expecting the answer to be, “Yes, we’ve had enough.”

This was the low point of his ministry. From this moment on, everything was downhill straight to the cross.

I’d like for you to consider with me how Jesus must have felt when His closest friends misunderstood, criticized, denied, betrayed Him and left him all alone at the cross? If Jesus could transform them, he can transform anyone.

Think of how Jesus felt as he was arrested in the garden and Matthew records one of the saddest verses in the entire Bible: “And they all forsook Him and fled.” 

Talk about rejection, betrayal, disappointment, and hurt!

I guess that we should not be so hard on the disciples; after all, by our sin many of us have done the same.

What the Disciples Became

Most of the Disciples disappear from the Bible early in the first century. But history records what they did. Frankly, they carried Christianity all over the known world.

The disciples did not start all too well—but they ended strong. Such is the impact and care of the person of Jesus Christ.

  • James, was martyred in the streets of Jerusalem in 45 A.D.
  • Matthew gave up financial security to follow Jesus Christ. He was slain with a sword in Ethiopia.
  • Philip was born in a little city called Bethsaida, which means the house of the fisher or the house of the hunter. He went fishing and hunting for men. He was hanged in Phrygia.
  • Bartholomew was skinned alive in Armenia, near the modern day town of Derbend in the old Soviet Union.
  • Andrew took the gospel to Russia (He is the patron saint of Russia). He was crucified in Greece.
  • Thomas, often criticized for his doubts, left no doubt as to his loyalty to the Savior. He carried the gospel to East India where he was run through with a lance.
  • Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows in Beirut, Lebanon.
  • Simon the Zealot, was a member of the Jewish nationalistic party, ready to die for his country against the hated Romans. Instead he was crucified in modern-day Iran.
  • Peter got as far as Rome where he, too, was crucified—at his request, upside down. He did not consider himself worthy to die right-side up as did his Lord.
  • John died in his 90s, exiled on the Isle of Patmos after writing the Gospel of John, three epistles, and Revelation.

How the Disciples Became What Jesus Intended

What happened to Peter can happen with us.

In the presence of Jesus, Peter had great courage. In the Garden of Gethsemane he drew his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest.

In the presence of Jesus, Peter did the miraculous. He cast out demons.

In the presence of Jesus, Peter said miraculous things. “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.

Then, sadly, in the presence of a little girl by the fire on Thursday night, frightened and scared, Peter denied three times that he even knew Jesus.

What happened? What made the difference? Standing by the fire, Peter was no longer in the presence of Jesus.

Astoundingly, in the opening pages of the book of Acts, Peter was once again filled with courage. Threatened with death if he if he kept on preaching, Peter refused to stop.

Astoundingly, Peter was again doing miraculous things. “Pick up your bed and walk.” The cripple got up and walked.

Astoundingly, Peter was again saying the miraculous. “I’ve come to tell about Jesus Christ-whom you crucified!”

He was doing the same miraculous things that he did when he was standing by Jesus.

What made the difference? At Pentecost, Peter was indwelt by the life and presence of the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Christ.

If Jesus transformed the disciples, he can transform us. 

First, we thank God for the resurrection which proved the validity of Christ.

Second, we pray to see ourselves from God’s perspective. Compared to the perfection of Christ, we all need transforming.

Third, we follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit as we allow him to live freely in us.

Just think of what the disciples were—and what they became in the hands of both Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Just think of what we are—and imagine what we can become in the hands of both Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Julie, I hope that I’ve helped you gain more insight into the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. May Jesus continue his transforming work in us both.

Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese.His latest work isGot Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answerfrom Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.