Thursday, November 5, 2020

Promises for the flawed and the fearful

I can hear the raw emotion in Peter’s voice as he asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” Peter and the other 11 men Jesus had chosen had been with him for three life-changing, eye-opening, jaw-dropping years. Peter himself had walked on water with Jesus, seen Jesus transfigured, and seen Jesus do so many mighty miracles that those three amazing years must have felt like ten! And now Jesus was suddenly saying, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Can you see the desperate look in Peter’s eyes as he asked, “Lord, where are you going?” “Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you shall follow me afterward.’” (John 13:36)

But Peter wasn’t satisfied with that. As the other disciples looked on, all appearing equally desperate and confused, I expect the emotion in Peter’s voice intensified as he asked, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for your sake!” There was passion in Peter’s claim. He was basically saying, “Lord, don’t leave! I’ll be a hero for you! I’ll go the distance. I’ll give you my all.”

But Jesus knew Peter. And Jesus knew what would soon happen. “Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for my sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied me three times.’”

Boom. Cue the suspenseful music. Zoom in on Peter’s widened eyes. See the shock on Peter’s face as the other disciples all exchanged fearful glances in the dim light of the upper room. But amidst it all, Jesus was calm. Peaceful. There was no anger in his voice. Not even disapproval. Just certainty, and love. For after all, it had already been written that “having loved his own who were in the world, he [Jesus] loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

But Jesus didn’t love his disciples because he thought they were all heroes who were ready to die with him. And nor did he love them because they were models of amazing maturity. No, quite the contrary – he loved them enough to die for them because he knew they could never measure up to God’s high holy standards. And he loved them because His Father had chosen them, and this ragtag bunch had become his friends (John 17:6; 15:15). That’s why Jesus could be so calm as he pointed out Peter’s imminent betrayal.

Sin isn’t a show-stopper for Jesus. Jesus’ total awareness of Peter’s inevitable failings didn’t stop Jesus from telling him that “you shall follow me afterward.” And nor do our failures stop Jesus from saying the same to you and me. Rather than responding in anger or disapproval, Jesus reminds us that that is why he died – so we could be forgiven.

Jesus’s very next words to his stunned disciples were, “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me” (John 14:1). He said those reassuring words to flawed and confused disciples who would soon all abandon him in fear. But Jesus still affectionately promised to “come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3-4). Words of comfort for the obviously undeserving in tremendously difficult days. Sound familiar?

This touching exchange between Jesus and his disciples makes it abundantly clear that Jesus isn’t threatened by our failings. He calls us despite being certain we will fail him. And as we come to him, confessing our faults and sharing our hearts, we can be sure Jesus will turn to us and say, “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.”

© 2020 Ken Peters