Reading through Mark last week, Peter's words arrested me: ὁ δὲ ἐκπερισσῶς ἐλάλει· ἐὰν δέῃ με συναποθανεῖν σοι, οὐ μή σε ἀπαρνήσομαι (Mark 14:31a).
Got that? Great! Let's close in prayer....
No seriously; let me tell you how and why this verse caught hold of me.
Peter spoke this during the last supper the apostles shared before Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus had just dropped the bombshell that every one of them would fall away from Him (Mark 14:27).
Peter, the Mouth that Roared, immediately leaps up to say, "Even though they all fall away, I will not" (Mark 14:29). Peter phrases it in such a way that indicates that it is perfectly conceivable to him that those other losers might bail. "But not I," he says tersely and emphatically — strong adversative (ἀλλ᾽) and no verb.
In response, Jesus agrees with Peter — sort of. Peter is right that he will indeed do differently from the others. But not the way Peter insists. Jesus tells Peter that he alone — Peter — would deny Him three times (v. 30).
Bringing us to Peter's retort given above, for which I'd offer this ad hoc translation: "But he very vehemently kept insisting, 'Even should it be necessary for me to die with You, I absolutely will not deny You!'"
Greekers will note the double-negative — a (pardon me) no-no in English, but in Greek a doubly-emphatic negation. Peter is saying that there is no way he will deny Jesus: "Not! Not!"
We all know the sequel, Peter's miserable failure and his heartbroken weeping.
Now, I don't for a moment doubt Peter's sincerity. Do you? Nor do I question the depth of feeling behind his words, nor the intensity of his intention and full expectation to fulfill them. Peter meant every word he said. Yet he failed. He could not deliver on his promises.
How did the Rock crumble? Where did Peter go wrong? In many ways, actually.
Mostly, Peter's estimations were all off. He did not put a high enough estimation on Jesus' words. He badly underestimated the fierceness of Satan's coming attack, and the intensity of the temptation he'd face.
On the other hand, Peter seriously overestimated his own strength of character and will, his resolve, his ability to withstand temptation in his own strength. So when the trial came, the pressure soared and Peter came up short — far, far short.
Now, turn from this to Hebrews 13:5, which I render thus: "Your way of life must be without love of money, being content with what is at hand; for He Himself has said, 'I absolutely will not abandon you, nor will I ever, ever desert you.'"
Another promise. Another emphatic promise — indeed, a very emphatic promise. The Greek student will count no less than five negatives in the last nine words: "Not, not will I abandon you, neither not not will I desert you." It is, I have heard, the inspiration for the hymn's wonderful words,
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose"Another promise," you say. "Like Peter's." Yes; when I read Peter's double-negative, I thought of this quintuple-negative.
I will not, I will not desert to its foes.
That soul, though all Hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake.
But consider the differences. When God makes this promise, is there any chance, any possibility whatever, that His estimations will be off? Is it possible that God did not know how difficult you would be, elect soul? Did He not know about your weakness, believer in Christ? Your flaws, your follies, your defects?
Did He not know of the difficult life you'd have — what kind of a spouse that person you dated would turn out to be? How your job would go? What would happen to your income, your neighborhood, your church, your health?
Is it possible that God overestimated the power of His grace to be sufficient for you? That He thought too highly of His ability to keep you, and control every last one of your circumstances (personal and impersonal; Psalm 115:3; Proverbs 21:1; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11)?
If you have the false god of "open theism," yes, I suppose all of those things (and much worse) are possible.
But if you have the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for your God, then no. His promises are better than the best solid gold.
You can bank everything on them.
Postscript: This truth is of great personal value. I had just written these words when one with a broken heart came to see me, weeping because of a faithless, treacherous person who had callously betrayed him (and many others) for love of a sin, and arrogant refusal to repent.
I had the opportunity sincerely to sympathize, and to share what a wonderful contrast such a person makes with God. Thank God that God never shifts, falters, flips, nor turns traitor. Thank God that "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" stands good now and before the Throne, as surely as "I absolutely will not abandon you, nor will I ever, ever desert you."
Thank God that God is God, and not man.