If We are Faithless, He Remains Faithful ~ or ~ If Looks Could Heal

After a brief hiatus in the month of August while our family finished out our summer plans and prepared for the new school year, Monday Musings are back. Hope you enjoy!

This past Lord’s day at Redemption Hill, our Elder Candidate, Jon Herrera preached through Mark 14:66-72 as we continue to make our way through The Gospel According to Mark. This is a difficult and weighty text that speaks of Peter’s denial as precisely foretold by Jesus only hours before it took place. It is difficult and weighty not because it is confusing in any way or has any specific doctrines that must be handled carefully but exactly for the opposite reason. It is so stark, clear, and unambiguous, that it cuts deep into the heart of the reader and hearer. Especially when we consider that, (like what must be considered in the garden of Eden), not one of us would have done differently than Peter on that day, and we prove it continually in our daily lives when we seek to follow Jesus from a distance for the sake of comfort and safety.

Jon did a great job working through this text and spoke of the ultimate redemption of St. Peter as he went from being a shamed serial denier to being a pillar of the early church, even preaching the first post ascension sermon where three thousand were added to the number of the believers in one day. The major difference of course, besides the very gracious restoration of Peter by Jesus as related in John 21:15-19, has to do with the reality that it was only after the day of Pentecost that St. Peter had the Holy Spirit indwelling him and filling him with power specifically, as Jesus told all of the disciples, to be his witnesses and martyrs. He was willing then, by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to forsake distance, comfort, and safety for the sake of Christ. 

All of this caused me to consider and reflect upon St. Paul’s words to Timothy. 

2 Timothy 2:11–13

[11] The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

[12] if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he also will deny us;

[13] if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself. (ESV)

This isn’t the only time that Paul uses the phrase he begins with here, “the saying is trustworthy…” Four separate times in his epistles, three times to Timothy and once to Titus he uses this phrase, (see: 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Timothy 4:8-9; Titus 3:8 for the others), and every time what follows is something so credal and essential to our faith that it is as if he is actually saying, 

“Hey! Pay attention! You need to memorize and remember this and say it to yourself, and to each other, over and over again, because you need it that much, and rehearsing it, remembering it, and believing it is for your good and flourishing as you pursue this life of faith, in and by, Jesus Christ!” 

Things so necessary, basic, and essential they could easily make up a small beginners catechism for the fledgling believer whether newly born or born again. 

What is the Apostle reminding us to rehearse as if the reservoir of our memory for the things that are most important and good for us was about as effective as a sieve? That even if we are faithless, he (Jesus) remains faithful– (and here is the most beautiful part), because he cannot deny himself.

It is not a part of his character and nature to be faithless. He IS faithful. We can act, or not act, faithful depending on any number of variables at any given moment. The weariness and frailty of our human condition prohibits us from embodying this as anything more than an external virtue that we can, only with careful attention and discipline, seek to put on and wear for as long as possible. But faithful is who Jesus IS. It is a part of his being. In the same way that God is holy, just, and love. It is who he is and not something that puts on and takes off. We must put on kindness but God’s loving kindness knows no beginning or end. 

We see this loving kindness and faithfulness in the case of Peter as well. 

The part that we did not get to see in Mark’s gospel is revealed in Luke’s gospel account, in the preemptive and gracious words that are spoken to Peter in Luke 22:31-32.

Luke 22:31–32

[31] “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, [32] but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (ESV)

What is it to have Jesus Christ, the Son of God, praying for you? Even as Jesus prophesies Peter’s denial we see this preemptive grace spoken over him that though he may falter and fall Christ himself was making intercession for him that his faith would not finally fail. What steadfast love and kindness!

I know you are going to deny and betray me, but I love you and I am praying for you.

This leads to a final question and thought… 

Luke also reveals that in the middle of Peter’s thrice denial that Jesus, who is within eyeshot of Peter, turns and looks directly at him. 

Luke 22:61–62

[61] And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” [62] And he went out and wept bitterly. (ESV)

You have heard the phrase, “if looks could kill.” This illustrates the truth that we can communicate with more than just words, our body language and the manner in which we direct our attention towards something or someone can communicate realities just as affectively if not sometimes more affectively than mere words. 

So, the question becomes, what was communicated in the look that Jesus gave to Peter when he turned towards him?

No matter what Peter’s response to this look is, there can only be one thing that was communicated in that look. Hesed! Hesed is the Hebrew word in the Old Testament that is most often translated into English as, “steadfast love,” or “loving kindness.”  It was not a look of detest or dismay, or disparaging in any way. Rather, we must know that what Peter saw in the look of Jesus was the absolute loving kindness and steadfast faithfulness of Christ, his savior, who loved him and was currently in the process of willingly giving his life for him and in his place. Jesus was not shaking his head in disappointment or glaring at Peter for his obvious betrayal in his time of need. Even while he was being berated by the council, as the rooster crowed, the savior was faithfully praying, interceding, for Peter. Jesus’ look was communicating healing grace, a grace that held and preserved Peter in the face of his denial so that his end did not play out in the same way as Judas Iscariot. Even though Peter in this moment was faithless, Christ remained faithful– for even though Peter denied him three times, Jesus could not deny himself. The look that Jesus gave to Peter was not a look to kill, but a look to heal.

Whatever other look we have seen in our own minds eye from our savior to Peter is a lie and projection of our own sinful nature upon his face.

So what about you and me? How does the Lord look upon us in the midst of our denials and failures? 

The truth for us is the same as it was for Peter, and this should give us such great comfort and hope. 

Scripture tells us in Romans 8:34 that Jesus “is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us…” In 1 John 2:1 we read that Jesus is our “advocate with the Father,” and finally from Hebrews 7:25 we learn that Jesus is, “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

The same Jesus that was faithful to pray for Peter even in the midst of his denial is making intercession for all those who belong to him. 

Do you belong to Jesus? Have you been bought by the blood of lamb, and saved by his grace? Are you a member of his church and bride? Do you believe in and trust in Jesus? Then know this, even in the midst of your striving to follow hard after him and in the times that you falter and fall, Jesus is making intercession for you so that your faith will not ultimately fail. If not, why not? Turn now to Jesus in faith and repentance for your sins, trust in the faithful savior and give your life completely to him, and find in him an advocate and a friend.

Oh, and by the way, Jesus’ prayers are always answered with a “Yes, and Amen!” from the Father. And when he looks at you, his faithful gaze is full of steadfast love and kindness, because that is who he is and he can not deny himself. Don’t turn away, instead do what the old chorus says, and

“turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

Helen Lemmel ~ 1922

Have a great week, see you on the Lord’s day!

P.S. If you like what you read here, feel free to share it with a friend.

P.S.S. the featured image today is a sculpture of St. Peter from St. Peter’s Basilica, Piazza San Pietro, in Vatican City, Italy

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