Promises pack power. They dispense certainty. They offer security about pieces of the future. Much of life rests on promises. Employers promise paychecks. Banks promise safe-keeping and the immediate-availability of your money. Marriage rests upon promises of permanence and fidelity. Traffic operates on the promise that people who are driving the opposite direction will not cross the line. Advertising prompts consumers’ purchases, actions and trust with promises. Pastors promise spiritual integrity, confidentiality and morality. The Gospel promises forgiveness and eternal life.
Somehow, that last promise is different. Its promise seems more extensive than the others. Its certainty ensures more. God’s promises carry an added dimension that human promises lack. What is it?
Compared to God’s promises, human promises could be considered whimsical, wishful or fantastic. Why? The answer lies in the tension between God’s absolute sovereignty and humanity’s ability to choose. Both concepts are biblical. But, God possesses a perspective that humans only desire. He knows things in advance. He has foreknowledge.
A promise made with knowledge of the future may seem unfair, like insider trading. But, judgments of its unfairness assume that such God uses such knowledge for His benefit alone. Anyone making that assumption misunderstands God and has little knowledge of His acts, His ways and His word. Indeed, the Gospel benefits God. He desires the presence of the people He created - forever. He desires that no one perish without salvation (2 Peter 3:9). (God’s promises recur as a theme in 2 Peter.)
Listen to John 13:36-38. Notice how Jesus (who is God) makes a promise with prior knowledge, but no prior knowledge that logically leads to the promise. In fact, Jesus’ prior knowledge could easily have led to judgment or wrath, not kindness or hope.
“‘Lord,’ Simon Peter said to him [Jesus], ‘where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later.’ ‘Lord,’ Peter asked, ‘why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus replied, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly I tell you, a rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times.’”
Peter desires to go wherever Jesus is going. But, Jesus is headed to the cross and, then, back to heaven. Jesus tells Peter, “You can’t go right now.” Then, He makes a promise. Jesus says, “But, you will go later.” Jesus extends certainty to Peter. He offers hope. Jesus delivers kindness after a momentary disappointment for Peter. Peter could have faced a situation where he would never go where Jesus was going. Instead, Jesus admits to him that he will eventually follow.
Peter appeals briefly to his devotion and zeal, attempting to go immediately with Jesus. He makes a promise to Jesus, hoping it will tip the scales of opportunity. But, Jesus has prior knowledge. He knows what is coming. His knowledge unravels Peter’s promise. Yet, it does not unravel Jesus’ promise.
Jesus reveals what He knows. He tells Peter, “Soon, you will actually deny me three times.” He knows Peter will disavow their relationship. Peter’s zeal and devotion will momentarily evaporate. He will succumb to panic, fear and pressure. Later, when Peter realizes he has done what Jesus predicted, he is devastated. Jesus knows that, too.
Jesus made His promise to Peter with full knowledge of Peter’s approaching failure. Peter’s failure betrayed Jesus. In a critical moment, he turned his back on the Messiah. He did the opposite of what he had promised Jesus.
When Jesus made His promise to Peter, He possessed “prior knowledge” that makes His promise unreasonable. Jesus is kind to a man He knows will abandon Him. Later, Peter will realize that salvation overcomes sins past, present and future. God does not withdraw His grace from believers when they fail. He promised salvation to believers with prior knowledge of all their approaching failures. He has made that same promise to you.
You and I make promises without knowing the future. And, sometimes events and circumstances prevent keeping those promises. Jesus promises consist of more than aspiration. They consist of truth, thorough truth. He knows the facts. What He promises always comes true, even good promises He makes to people who fail Him. I think that is more than a promise. Do you?