Broken Promises

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    We’re all familiar with broken promises to some extent. I mean, who among us hasn’t had a promise made to us and then broken? And when it comes down to it, all of us have broken a promise, too.

    And we feel the worst when we break a promise to God. Or when we do something and feel as though we’ve betrayed God. How can we go back? It seems so brash, so brazen, to go back into the presence of the Creator whom we’ve just betrayed, disobeyed, broken a promise to—and expect him to take us back! Yet that’s exactly what he wants us to do.

    See, the fact that we messed up was no surprise to him. He saw it coming, and unlike us, who only have to deal with the consequences after we mess up, his heart breaks even as he sees us going that direction, because he knows the pain it will bring us. The good news is that he also has a plan to restore us—but we have go back to him in order for him to do that.

    There’s a wonderful story in the Gospels about a betrayal that Jesus anticipated, its results, and the restoration. In the Gospel of John it’s found in the context of the Last Supper. Jesus is explaining to his disciples what is going to happen to him, and as usual, they don’t get it. Jesus has just told them that he’s going to die and then enter into glory, when Peter says, probably somewhat impatiently, as though he were wishing Jesus would just speak plainly so he could get it, “Lord, where are you going?” (13:36). I can see Jesus turning toward him with infinite love and patience as he says, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”

    “But why can’t I come with you now, Lord?” he asks. “I’m ready to die for you” (13:37). I can see the fire gleaming in Peter’s eyes as he pictures him and Jesus wading into battle, perhaps sacrificing their lives in the glorious struggle. Yes, Peter might have thought, I’ll go down fighting. No one will harm Jesus as long as I’m still standing.

    With that same love and patience mingled with compassion for Peter and what he was about to go through, Jesus responded gently but firmly, “Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me” (13:38).

    If it ended there, it may have seemed a sharp rebuke, but Jesus goes on. We have a chapter divide there, but the chapters and verses were put in as a tool to locate Scripture; they were not in the original. Sometimes they form a false divide, and this is one of those cases, because right after Jesus tells Peter, “You will deny me,” he says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled . . .” (14:1). You’re going to deny me; don’t let your hearts be troubled.

    See, Jesus knows that we are going to mess up, and he knows that we’re going to do it before we ever do. So with that understanding, we can return to him the moment we’ve messed up and let him get about the business of restoration. At the end of the book of John, we see Jesus talking again to Peter. Jesus asks Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (21:15) In this passage, we see the tenderness of Jesus as he meets Peter where he is. And if we look at church history, Peter does end up dying for Christ, after being a major force in the spread of the church. This is what happens when Jesus restores.

    In this passage Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” and follows each response with a command to Peter to “feed my lambs,” and then “take care of my sheep,” and finally, “feed my sheep.” Jesus is reinstating Peter and commissioning him to go out and do the work of the church. By asking three times and commanding three times, Jesus is reversing Peter’s triple denial.

    This story began the night of the Last Supper—the night Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, and the night before he went to the cross. The cross was the culmination of Jesus’ purpose on earth, the act that would allow us to be reconciled to God. Jesus’ whole purpose was to restore what had been lost through the fall, to reconcile humans to himself. The story of Peter interwoven here with Jesus’ last days on earth is a beautiful illustration of Jesus’ desire and ability to restore.

    So the next time you come to the Lord’s Table, do it in remembrance of not only your broken promises but also the great sacrifice that Jesus made so you could be reconciled—and approach the throne of heaven with the confidence of a beloved child.

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