Open Letter to Those who have Failed Jesus

My pastor’s sermon a few Sundays ago, His Word Endures Forever, came for me on the heels of seeing, and listening to, John MacArthur.

One of the sermon’s points was especially impactful to me after listening to Mr. MacArthur’s witness of a long and unblemished ministry.

(If you’d like a chance to listen to His Word Endures Forever, it can be accessed here. My pastor, Nathan Franckhauser, talked about how Christians are apt to shrink into themselves when they are called out on a tarnished witness or reputation.

The label of hypocrite can be as effective as a piece of duct tape over our mouths, shutting us up, telling us we aren’t worthy to speak—especially when the label holds truth.

Nathan called it the modern-day Scarlett Letter.

But he pushed on, building into the idea that even when the accusations are accurate, we still have an obligation to stand for truth.

How do those who wear that letter have the confidence to move forward?

Open Letter to those who have Failed Jesus:

Dear Unworthy,

I’m unworthy too. But you know what? We were never worthy to begin with.

Now we’re just blatantly and painfully aware of it.

I’m not going to lie and say your sin wasn’t that bad. It was bad. It was crucify-the-God-of-the-Universe-on-a-cross bad. But you know that. You’ve come to understand what Simon the Pharisee couldn’t grasp—those who are forgiven much, love much.

Turning toward the woman, He [Jesus] said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.”

Dear Unworthy,

You tremble, wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked at the blood-stained feet of Jesus. You’re no longer trying to whiten ratty robes with the bleach of good works. Now you kiss nail-scarred feet and are rewarded as loving hands place shining robes over your shame.

You don’t take lightly the cost of those robes.

These are the truths you’ve come to understand. Here’s what you may not understand yet:

Jesus didn’t place that robe over your shame to hide your wretchedness from others.

That was never the point. Jesus covered your shame so that you would become acceptable in the sight of a holy God.

And our God can work with a tarnished reputation.

1 John 2:1-2 says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

John is writing this letter to the church, encouraging them, admonishing them, hoping they won’t sin. But he wasn’t naïve. He knew sin would happen. John reassures us that when we do fail, our recourse is to run straight to the One we failed.

Because Jesus alone is the one who can make it right again. Jesus alone covers us with righteousness and sets us back on our feet. His Spirit whispers into our spirit, “Get back in the game.”

And, if anyone can sympathize with living under the shadow of a tarnished reputation, it is Jesus Christ.

Though sinless and spotless himself, the shadow of his birth was never far from him. When he preached his first sermon in Nazareth, his neighbors said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

Though sinless and spotless himself, the shadow of his birth was never far from him. When he preached his first sermon in Nazareth, his neighbors said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Click To Tweet

No one looked at him and asked, “Isn’t this the son of the Blessed Virgin?”

No reasonable person believed that narrative.

Did Mary’s story remind the pious Jews of the hated Roman conquerors, Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus—both who claimed to be divine by having descended from the goddess, Venus.

Even Jesus’s own family thought he was insane. “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” Mark 3:21

Yes, I know. That was Jesus. And though he took on our sin, he himself never sinned.

So, what about Paul?

We comfort ourselves with the knowledge that God forgets our sins (Isaiah 43:25 & Psalm 103:12). But we remember. We live with their shadow.

And our enemy doesn’t forget either—especially when the label of hypocrite will benefit him.

But Paul’s sketchy reputation didn’t stop him from heading boldly into ministry. And, indeed, his brothers and sisters in Christ rejoiced for what Jesus had done through him and in him.

Paul had a deep and personal understanding of his unworthiness. He wasn’t just writing prose or trying to make a pretty point in 1 Timothy 1:15-17. He knew how wretched he was apart from Jesus.

But still, it can be argued that Paul’s recorded sins—though horrible—were before he knew Jesus. Is there an unworthy example for us?

Dear Unworthy,

What about Peter?

Peter, who ate and drank and slept by and walked with and listened to and touched Jesus. Peter, who denied knowing Jesus during Jesus’s most desperate night—not once, but three times.

Peter. The worst, most fickle friend a man could have.

Peter, the worst, most fickle friend a man could have. Click To Tweet

Peter. Unworthy. Just like us.

What did Jesus do?

Jesus reminded Simon Peter about the conversation he had had with the other Simon. Jesus looked Peter in the eyes and asked, “Do you love me more than these.”

You know the answer— those who are forgiven much, love much.

Jesus didn’t stop there. He asked Peter, “Do you love me?” not once, but three times. One redeeming question for each heart-breaking betrayal.

Jesus didn’t stop there. He asked Peter, “Do you love me?” not once, but three times. One redeeming question for each heart-breaking betrayal. Click To Tweet

Then he commanded Peter’s service.

As he now commands yours and mine.

Failing Jesus doesn’t have to be spiritual duct tape across our lips. Does a tarnished reputation damage our witness? Yes, but the Good News that Jesus preached in that first sermon in Nazareth was that he had come to put right what was damaged beyond repair.

Peter lived the rest of his life in service to Jesus. Not every moment of it was perfect service. But every moment of it was in service to a perfect God.

Peter lived the rest of his life in service to Jesus. Not every moment of it was perfect service. But every moment of it was in service to a perfect God. Click To Tweet

With hearts submitted to God, even tarnished reputations can be redeemed.

How will God use your story?

22 thoughts on “Open Letter to Those who have Failed Jesus”

    1. We can, can’t we, Elaine. And then sometimes I think we may not understand how much we’ve been forgiven from in the first place. May he give us a right understanding of ourselves and his grace. Thank you for reading.

  1. Love your writing style – beautiful thoughts beautifully put. Such a good reminder that we all were unworthy of His when Jesus died for us. There is no difference between Christians and the unsaved BUT the blood of Christ on the former. This truth is humbling.

  2. Made me stop to think about how I react when someone fails God. Your words are so true, that we are all tarnished and unworthy of the love of Christ. Thank you for the reminder

  3. This is beautiful! Scripture is full of moments when Jesus accepted the unworthy, the blemished, the one covered in sin. Yet we still struggle to grasp the truth that He accepts us, too, in the midst of our sin. Thank you for this beautiful reminder!

    1. Sometimes I think it’s easier to see Him extend grace to someone else than believe He has extended it to us. I wonder if it’s pride, fear, insecurity? A mixture? I’m just so thankful He does cover us with His righteousness.

  4. Powerful post, Stephanie! This entire article resonated deep in my soul, but I particularly like several things. Hypocrite (unworthy) is a modern-day Scarlett Letter. And this line and tweet, “Peter lived the rest of his life in service to Jesus. Not every moment of it was perfect service. But every moment of it was in service to a perfect God.” Amen!

    1. I do like that analogy of the Scarlett Letter. That sermon was eye opening and uplifting. I’m very thankful for my pastor. Thank you for your encouragement, Karen. Peter helps me keep life in focus. If God still used Peter…He will still use us–screw-ups and all. ☺

  5. I love these accounts of how God used those whose lives and choices were far from what we’d consider ‘worthy’. We all so need to hear this message.
    Great quote here: And, if anyone can sympathize with living under the shadow of a tarnished reputation, it is Jesus Christ.
    Amen!

  6. Wow, Stephanie, this cut to the heart of the matter for the Christian community. May we all have mercy on one another as Jesus had mercy on each of us. May we be encouraged to reach out and help one another up, instead of keeping each other down. Your words “we were never worthy to begin with” says it all. God bless you!

  7. Stephanie, this is terrific and oh so pertinent. I am Paul, Peter, James and John, Thomas, probably even Judas at times. And, yes, I find my shortcomings debilitating sometimes. But your letters are encouraging, and reliable, and motivating. Thank you for writing these letters and giving your heart to God’s truth.

    1. Thank you for your transparency, Stephen. It’s so true that we are just like each one of these examples at different times and in different ways. I used to wonder at Peter, and how he could so easily betray Jesus. Now I realize I am just like Peter. Thank God, Jesus is still the same.

  8. Dear Stephanie!

    You asked: How will God use your story?

    I believe God will use my story to show people with no, or low, confidence how to enter the Christian business blogging industry.

    This blog post reminded me of how I thought about Christianity and Christ as a young girl. I did believe that I could do something to deserve the love of God, and I felt very uncomfortable if I did not attend church one Sunday, or if I did not do what I conceived as a good deed.

    Today, I believe that’s a dangerous path for me to enter again. It’s not about us – God’s love for us is unconditional, and the decisive point is that we are ALL unworthy, so in a way that’s very positive because it means none of us has an advantage related to God.

    With love!
    Edna Davidsen

    1. I love your point that in a way the fact that we are all unworthy is a positive. Not a single one of us has an advantage. No one is good but God. And as for how God is using your story, you are giving confidence and encouragement. Definitely to me, and I know to so many others.

  9. One of the most awesome things about Jesus’ love and grace is that he not only uses all of our mistakes and sins from before we come to him, but also all our sins and mistakes from after we come to him. We continue to sin all our lives, so it’s a good thing that he redeems, uses the lessons we learn for good in our lives and in the lives of others, and allows us to grow in our understanding of true repentance and reconciliation. The older we grow in the Lord, the better we should get at repenting and apologizing and the faster we should get at it. God knows we’ll be doing this for the rest of our days. Rather than justify and dodge, or continue to deny, as Peter did more than once, it’s much better to simply repent. Turn and go the other way. The sooner we humble ourselves, yield, give up, ask forgiveness, say we’re sorry, and change our behavior, the better it is for all of us. Why let our pride get in the way of growth, peace, harmony, and reconciliation? There’s plenty of grace to cover even that.

    1. Yes, Melissa. I love how you express these truths. I love reading what you write. I was thinking yesterday…more like I was cringing yesterday over how awful and self-righteous and just wrong I’ve been. I was wondering what my thoughts will be ten years from now, what I will see then that I don’t see now. I thought, “How could I have been so blind at this or that point in my life?” Then I realized, that’s just sanctification. We’ll never be perfect. Jesus will always be uncovering more nastiness inside our hearts. The closer we get to him, the more and more clear our own helpless, hopeless, and unworthy estate becomes to us. I love how you say “the sooner we humble ourselves, yield, give up, ask forgiveness, say we’re sorry, and change our behavior, the better it is for all of us.” YES.

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