Saturday, December 13, 2014

Good Intentions

Pastor David Wendel's 2014 Advent devotions are rooted in the passages of Scripture found in the daily lectionary of Lutheran Book of Worship. The verses explored by Wendel are part of the Gospel of Luke's account of Jesus' crucifixion:
But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and death."
Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me." (Luke 22:33-34)
The interchange between Peter and Jesus happens just before Jesus' arrest and subsequent execution. 

Peter, we know, isn't good for the promises he makes here. On the black night of Jesus' show trial, Peter is identified by people in the crowd as one of Jesus' followers and on three occasions, denies any association with Jesus. 

The seasoned Christian has a tendency to either lament Peter's spinelessness or to take comfort in our own fear.

But maybe we should have a different reaction. 

All of us tend to condemn those who say one thing and do another. And for good reason. There are few things more contemptible in others--or in ourselves--than intentionally committing to one thing and failing to do it. Or intentionally committing not to do one thing, then doing another. With other Christians, I often confess to God that I have "sinned against [Him] in thought, word, and deed, by what [I] have done and by what [I] have left undone."

It's still sin to willfully break our promises to God. Peter still needed to repent and reclaim his faith in Christ after Christ had risen (John 21). 

But the evidence indicates that Peter's "denial" was not seen by Jesus as being on a par with Judas' "betrayal." 

There appears to be a difference between what we often call "good intentions," the breezy, thoughtless promises we make that carry no commitment and no real intentionality, and those promises we truly intend to make but that we allow our sinful natures to prevent us from fulfilling. 

In the former cases, our spirits are disengaged from and indifferent to the promises we make. 

In the latter, our spirits are willing but our finite, selfish human natures--what the Bible calls our "flesh"--is weak, irresolute, flaky. (See here.)

I think that Peter's denial fell into this latter category. Unlike Judas, there was no premeditation in Peter's failure to stand by Jesus. He'd had actual good intentions.

That's why, I think, Jesus didn't give up on Peter. On the first Easter Sunday, an angel tells the women who have come to Jesus' tomb, thinking Jesus was dead that, in fact, Jesus had risen from the dead, then gives these instructions: "...But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee.'" (Mark 16:7)

The angel, God's messenger, singled Peter out for inclusion.

Peter remained part of Jesus' plans and within the scope of His forgiving grace despite failing to meet the bold commitments he made on the Thursday of Jesus' arrest.

I take comfort from this. 

Like Peter, I've made bold commitments to Jesus. And I have failed to keep them. Sometimes spectacularly so, at least in my own mind.

But the God we meet in Jesus penetrates my heart and knows the difference between so-called good intentions and the actual variety. In his charge to his son, Solomon, King David in the Old Testament said: 
"And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever." (1 Chonicles 28:9)
In Jesus Christ, God grades those who genuinely repent and trust in Christ as their only hope on a grace curve.

He "remembers that we are dust" and, so meets us with forgiveness when we, seeing our failure to fulfill our intentions to love God and to love others, repent and seek His power to live differently today than we did yesterday.

It's to bring the possibility of such grace to us that Jesus was born, died, and rose again: to make us right with God, to help us to live in the light of heaven and not the darkness of hell, and to give us life with God that never ends.

Thank God for that.

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