11 August 2009

Promises, promises

by Dan Phillips

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
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.
"Another promise," you say. "Like Peter's." Yes; when I read Peter's double-negative, I thought of this quintuple-negative.

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.

Dan Phillips's signature


J. Brian McKillop said...

Good stuff and most timely. Thank you.

The Squirrel said...

I am so glad that I don't, through my own efforts, keep myself saved. For then I would surly fail and have no hope whatsoever. I praise God that it is He who keeps me!

Good reminder this morning, Dan.


Jeff Branch said...

"He badly underestimated the fierceness of Satan's coming attack, and the intensity of the temptation he'd face.

It is "fierceness" and "intensity" that has caused me to think. I underestimate Satan's efforts in my life way to often. Imagine being a fly on the wall. Peter in the presence of Jesus Christ and still the battle with Satan wages.

Penn Tomassetti said...

Thank you!

RJ said...

What a wonderful message this morning.Iam blessed.Thank you.

Anonymous said...

"Not, not will I abandon you, neither not not will I desert you."

How often does God stoop to us to reassure us.

If he said "I won't leave", you can take it to the bank. But, given out constant disbelief he way overdoes it to reinforce the point.

Of course we still miss it more often than not, showing both our folly and his total faithfulness.

We serve a great God.

DJP said...

Really good point, Daryl. One would have been sufficient, but God stoops to our weakness. He knows our frame.

Anonymous said...

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!

Rachael Starke said...

I wonder if one of the reasons Jesus chose Peter to be His "rock" was because He knew Peter would be able to testify so clearly to the depth of the truth of God's faitfulness to us in spite of our faithlessness to Him. Peter was a walking object lesson!

I had a similar "Peter" moment a few years ago - said something collossally ignorant and sinful to someone. Repented to them and to God with, yep, a whole lot of heartbroken weeping. That's when the truth, not only of my sinfulness, but of God's faithful mercy, sort of "adhered" to my soul in a whole new way. I will forever regret the damage to my Christian testimony my original words did, but to this day I live with a stronger suspicion of my heart, and stronger confidence in the faithfulness of God. And I have a (hopefully) helpful warning/encouraging story to offer to others.

Thanks for the reminder.

DJP said...

Could be: "I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life" (1 Timothy 1:16).

Daniel C. Wilson said...

Great reading, and I confess it was sorely needed on my end.

Not only do we underestimate opposition and overestimate ourselves, but we often completely fail to estimate God at all. Not that an infinite God can be estimated in then sense of completely knowing His worth, but could we not stop and say, "I am weak, the battle is fierce, yet my God is mighty to save"?

JackW said...

"Does that rock look stable to you?"

It's a good thing you asked that because I didn't even think it was a rock. Better judgement prevents me from saying what I thought it was.

Needless to say, my mind is better now for reading this ... thanks.

donsands said...

How can open theism deal with: "..you will deny me three times"?

I was very encouraged by this post. Thanks. Peter is my favorite Bible person. I have made claims like his, and regretted it.

But I take comfort even though Simon Peter committed this sin, and denied Christ 3 times, The angel at the tomb said to Mary Magdalene: "But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”"

I wonder why he said, "and Peter".

Richard said...

All those nots lead me to think about Ephesians 3:20.

After reading verse 20 my spirit had already said what my eyes were just reading in verse 21.

Good post!

CR said...

Rachael: but to this day I live with a stronger suspicion of my heart, and stronger confidence in the faithfulness of God.

Very wise words and true for all of us. Thanks.

NewManNoggs said...

This is what I very affectionately refer to as a "gut punch." You never know where you are going to get your spiritual gut punch for the day. Sometimes you get many. But, for today, this is the "most guttiest punch of all."


Carrie said...

What an encouraging post... Daryl already said pretty much what I was thinking, but how awesome is our God? "I will never leave you nor forsake you," coming from the Lord who made heaven and earth, should be more than enough. But what good it does my heart to know that the original is even more emphatic than that! I know more about God now than I did before I read this post -- Thank you.

Chris Connally said...

That was a wonderful Bible study. Faithful is he that promised.

Romans 8:28

~Mark said...

Amen, praise God for His rock-steady faithfulness in even the midst of our sinful unbelief and adultery.

Marie said...

Another interesting thing about the passage you cite, Hebrews 13:5, is the OT context from which the writer of Hebrews was quoting: Deuteronomy 31:6 and then Joshua 1:5. In both cases, the promise was made before the Israelites were going into battle. It's so cool how the author of Hebrews makes it clear there's a much broader application of that promise than simply a military one...but I've always seen a symbolic connection there.

What do we do battle with every day? Our sin and utterly undependable nature, as you pointed out. That verse just underscores how God literally goes with us into our "battle", and will never abandon us when we're fallen on the field like Peter was.

Great post. We can all relate to Peter, I'm sure.

Live As If said...

I was really uplifted after reading your post, Dan.

Have been too focused of late on my own (supposed) strength and not enough on His.

Overstimating my own abilities and underestimating His...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for posting this, Dan. God knew I so needed this today!