Here they are– the same disciples who have given their lives to follow Jesus and learn from Him. Just days before, Jesus had found them ‘sleeping for sorrow’ in the garden–exhausted with grief that He was to be taken from them (Lk.22:45). And now they are disbelieving for joy! He has indeed risen from the dead. The women have already seen him but their testimony was thought to be an ‘idle tale’ Lk.24:11 So now Jesus has appeared to the eleven—inviting them to see his hands and feet and know that He is no ghost! Having seen, they ‘disbelieved for joy’. It seemed just too good to be true. He has to ask for something to eat to bring them to their senses.
And yet, these are His chosen witnesses, chosen to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all the nations, beginning here in Jerusalem where they are presently huddling.
This phrase: “they disbelieved for joy” jumped off the page at me this week as I finished up the Gospel of Luke trying to imagine what that first “Easter” week was like. How many things do I likewise disbelieve because they are just too good to be true? Not that I would say I don’t believe them but… perhaps actions speak louder than words?
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me… when I am weak, then I am strong…the joy of the Lord is my strength…Be strong in the Lord—the power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in me… all authority has been given to my commander who authorizes me therefore to go in His name and make disciples…
Furthermore, I have been given everything that pertains to life and to godliness through the knowledge of the One who calls me to share His own glory and excellence. (II Pet.1:3) And here we come full circle. It is through His promises that I partake of His nature. Through His promises I escape my own sinful bents.
What has He promised? What did He promise those first disciples? Jesus knew it was going to take more than seeing to propel them to go and tell the news. And the world would need more than their eyewitness account to believe and repent. So Jesus promised them His presence in the form of His Holy indwelling Spirit. “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.”(Lk.24:49)
Do I have any less than that? This same Spirit is the seal of my salvation, the guarantee of my inheritance to come, the One who lives in me to strengthen, teach, empower, and remind me whose I am! I’m His–accepted in the beloved, created in Christ Jesus for good works that He’s already got planned, chosen to bear fruit, given all the resources of Heaven to accomplish this end. What more is there?
There’s a learning to walk by this Spirit, and live by faith in His leading—to keep step with Him. It occurs to me that this same message we are called to preach, we are first called to live. That is, repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Do we ever outgrow it? This is good news that keeps on being good—not too good to be true, but sometimes we act like it is. How often have I wallowed along through an hour or an afternoon or a whole day or week in some frame of mind not characterized by ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’, missing out because I fail to confess where I’m at and agree with God about it! “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven!” (Ps.32:1) I get what David’s saying when he finally got sick and tired of groaning about in coddled sin and determined, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD” and lo and behold—“You forgave the iniquity of my sin” SELAH! If there was ever a TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE—that would be one. It’s a promise we can live on: If we confess our sins, He’s faithful and just to forgive and cleanse…(I Jn 1:9)
Funny thing is, when I try to enumerate these ‘precious and very great promises’ that Peter refers to as being so effectual in a believer’s life, I tend to come up with a lot of ‘me’ oriented blessings. And my list tends to be things I want now…
What I see instead in Peter’s words is that the promises aren’t primarily for my comfort and blessing, but to re-orient me from sinful desires to God’s desires, in fact His nature. For it is in His promises that I see His eternal purpose—His Kingdom agenda…“so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
The other thing you can’t miss in reading II Peter, is the promise that’s on Peter’s mind as he is writing. It’s one we hardly think about in modern times, certainly not a promise we hear preached. It has gotten to seem rather ho-hum, rather too incredible to be true in my generation. It is the promise of Jesus’ coming.
“Where is the promise of his coming?” scoffers will say.(3:4)
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness”(3:9)
“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”(3:13)
This isn’t the first promise that comes to mind for me. It seems so far off, so disconnected to my present needs. And yet it is this very promise that Peter says will have a purifying effect on the way we live.(3:14) Could it be that our generation has collected promises selectively, choosing the ones that cater to our earth-bound comforts and overlooking the others? Or maybe it’s just that our whole orientation to the ‘why’ of the promises is warped. They’re not about us, but about Kingdom living, about God’s character, about where He wants our focus.
But I am wandering far abroad from the disciples ‘disbelieving for joy’ [I have in mind a Part II: “What God hath not promised!” But that’s for another time.] Let me get back to the joy and the wonder of Jesus being alive in us through His Spirit. Jesus declares us blessed for believing even though we haven’t seen Him.(Jn.20:29) And judging from His patience with Thomas, He will walk us through our areas of unbelief too: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (Jn. 20:27) till we are chock-full and overflowing with the joy.
“…whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.” (I Pet.1:8,9)
And isn’t that what the promises are for? to give us hope to hang onto so faith can grow strong until our salvation is complete! Incredible. Let’s believe with joy!
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom.15:13)