Lou: Thinking further about the prodigal son story, is it necessary to repent and to confess one’s sins before one is forgiven?
Graham: In the story, the boy had hardly begun to speak when the father interrupted and said, “I forgave you long ago.” An even more stunning illustration is Jesus forgiving on the cross. There was no indication that the soldiers who were nailing Him to the cross were saying, “Please forgive us; please forgive us.” They didn’t even ask, and He said, “I forgive you anyway” (Luke 23:34). God is forgiveness personified.
On the other hand, our response to God’s forgiveness does matter. The offer of forgiveness does us no good unless we are moved by His forgiveness to repent. We often have it the other way around, “If I repent, maybe He will forgive me.” Instead, it is learning of His forgiveness that moves us to repentance–some of us, anyway. As Paul said in Romans, it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4). But God’s kindness doesn’t make repentance unimportant. If I don’t respond to His gracious forgiveness, it doesn’t do me any good. Repentance means changing my mind and confessing, “I am sick, help me, what must I do to be well?”
Lou: So the difference here is based on the reason we come to God. Are we drawn by His gracious character? Or do we hope that our repentance and confession will win God over to where He might be willing to forgive us? In that case, the story would have the father saying to the prodigal son, “Well, since you have made all these promises, maybe I’ll welcome you home.”
Graham: I want to say this very reverently, but if it requires that I bring the blood of His Son to God before God can say, “Well, now I can forgive you,” that denies the prodigal son story. You don’t have to bring Him anything. God sent His Son to die to answer all those questions and to draw us to Him, to handle all the emergencies in the Great Controversy. Why? Because He had already forgiven us, but we didn’t know it. He sent the Son to make it clear. And the Son hanging on the cross said, “I forgive you. You don’t understand what you’re doing.” That’s incredible! That kind of forgiveness wins some to repentance. It won one of the thieves hanging on the cross next to Him.
Lou: What is our topic for Chapter Fourteen? Please introduce where we are going next.
Graham: The title of the next chapter is: “God Can Completely Heal the Damage Done.” It’s really talking about perfection, a topic which has probably given many people hypertension or ulcers. It is a topic that can be very discouraging. But in the Bible, perfection is not a requirement. Perfection is an offer. Do you want to be well or not? How well do you want to be? The message of perfection, instead of being forbidding, can be very comforting news.
Lou: So this chapter is about God’s wonderful treatment of us. The next chapter is about how He goes on to heal us.
Lou: Here’s a question related to the previous chapter (see section “The Teachings and Example of Jesus” in Chapter Twelve). “Why did Jesus heal the paralytic on the Sabbath?”
Graham: Many of His Sabbath healings were elective, weren’t they? After all, the paralytic had been by the pool of Bethesda for thirty-eight years. This was no emergency. As a rule I think Jesus tried to keep a low profile. If He became very public, His actions would be so controversial that He wouldn’t last very long. But when it came to the Sabbath, He risked His life repeatedly to clear the Sabbath of misunderstanding. An arbitrary approach to the Sabbath puts the Father in the worst possible light. So Jesus ran the risk of healing and helping to redeem the Sabbath of arbitrariness, because the Sabbath speaks so eloquently of God. And He ran into trouble every time.
Lou: Here’s another very important question: “In the parable of the prodigal son, the father just forgives. No one has to die. There is no sacrifice or animal that has to be killed, and the Father doesn’t have to die. Why couldn’t God forgive all of us in the same way?”
Graham: Well, in a way He does. I think the story was told in that way to indicate that absolutely nothing had to be done to persuade the father to love his son and to forgive him. I believe the father had forgiven the son long before the son headed for home. But that’s not the whole story in the Great Controversy. God is forgiveness personified, but questions have been raised. God has been accused, and these questions must be answered. Satan’s charges must be met. All the misunderstandings regarding the consequences of sin or the seriousness of sin must be handled. And that’s why more has to happen than this story tells. But the story is clear that nothing needs to be done to win the Father to our side, to “assuage His wrath” before He’ll forgive. The story of the prodigal son is really more about the father than the son. We call it the story of the prodigal son. But it’s actually the story of a father who was so delighted that his son came home, he didn’t even let his son finish his speech of repentance.
Lou: Several people wanted you to retell the rat poison story to again underline the difference between the legal approach and the “larger view” you have been talking about in this book.
Graham: Just to give the essence of it, the difference is this. In the legal way of approaching the plan of salvation, the father says to the son, “If I catch you taking that poison, I’ll kill you!” Then the father hears the son falling down in the garage. He runs in there and finds the son drank the poison and is dying. And the father reminds him, “The punishment for drinking the poison is that I’ll kill you.” And the boy says, “Please forgive me.” And the father says, “Well yes, son, I love you, so I’ll forgive you.” The trouble is, being poisoned, he dies anyway. The legal model has difficulty conceiving of sin as a poison in itself, that sin is intrinsically bad.
In the other model, the father says to his son, “Don’t touch the poison, I don’t want you to die.” He runs out to the garage. The boy is dying. Forgiveness would not keep the boy from dying. The boy needs an antidote. If only he’d trust his father enough, the father could heal him. That’s the key difference in these two models. Is the death from sin an imposed penalty because we have offended the One in charge? Or is the death that comes from sin the result of poisoning ourselves? We don’t need forgiveness as much as we need a healing antidote. And if we trust God, He can heal the damage done. That’s the difference between the two: Sin is not primarily a legal infraction, it is a poison.
Lou: That seems like an absolutely pivotal understanding. It makes a real difference in terms of how God views sin and why God hates sin. It isn’t just His personal opinion.
Graham: No! He doesn’t want us to die! And certainly He wouldn’t kill His dying Son, would He? Would He say, “Hey, don’t die too quickly, because I have to kill you as a penalty.” Doctors don’t kill their dying patients, and God does not kill His dying children.
Lou: This is a bit of a footnote, but someone raised a question about the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:3-11). She said that she had tried to find it in her Bible and it wasn’t there. Why is that?
Graham: That would be a serious loss. It’s one of the greatest stories in the Bible and absolutely unique. But it’s actually missing in the earliest manuscripts. When it does appear, sometimes it is between John 7:53 and 8:11. Sometimes it’s in another part of John or at the end of John. One or two manuscripts have it in Luke. Scholars agree that they’re not quite sure where it belongs. But lest we be disheartened, they also agree there is no way anybody would have made up such a story. It ran so counter to the thinking of the day. There is no way some monk in a monastery would have thought up a story like this, where God would be so generous to an immoral woman! He wouldn’t do it. So the general agreement is that the story bears all the earmarks of genuineness and should be left where it is in most manuscripts. But some versions put it in brackets and others in a footnote. Some leave it out entirely. I would say to people, don’t give up too soon. Look in the footnote, then look at the end of John, then look at the Appendix before you decide it’s not there. The issue in the manuscripts is about where the story appears, not whether the story is a faithful representation of Jesus.
Lou: In your presentation, you referred to the fact that we will be comfortable with God even though we are in the presence of Someone who knows everything about us, even things we ourselves may have forgotten. Yet there are references in Scripture about how God has taken all our sins, put them in the depths of the sea, and will remember them no more (Jer 31:34; Mic 7:19; Heb 8:12; 10:17). Wouldn’t it be more reassuring to say, “He has blotted them out and they just don’t figure into any recollection whatsoever?”
Graham: Yes, I think some derive comfort from the thought that God will be unable to remember their sins, some kind of divine amnesia. They would prefer that none of their neighbors and friends, especially their guardian angels, will know about their sins or be able to remember them. But I think it shows even more trust in God to understand that He can remember very well, but He would never haunt anyone with this memory.
Now there is a vital reason for none of us forgetting, not even God. The history of the Great Controversy will be the history of the evidence of how God has won that conflict. After He has won it, He will not destroy the evidence, or the conflict could arise again and again. This explains why Jesus is pictured as keeping His human form (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:26-28; Acts 7:56). You may remember the wonderful painting of a little girl sitting in Jesus’ lap, picking up His hand and saying, “How did You get this mark?” Should that happen, will He say, “I don’t know, I’m hoping somebody can tell Me some day?” Of course not! There’s no point in His keeping His human form if the whole thing has been forgotten.
There is even further evidence that the record of sin will not be forgotten. The sins of many saints up there have been recorded in Scripture. In order for the record of David’s sins to be forgotten, all Bibles would have to be destroyed, along with all memory of the Bible’s contents. Psalm 51, David’s beautiful prayer for a new heart and a right spirit, would have to go. All that would be gone.
Lou: I suppose statements about our sins being “blotted out” and buried “in the depths of the sea,” are God’s way of reassuring us that though He knows us that well, He loves us and accepts us just as though we had never sinned.
Graham: My mother knew me very well, better than anyone. When I was invited to come to Loma Linda in 1961, she could have come before the Board and said, “You don’t want my son. Let me tell you some of the things he has done.” Yet I wasn’t concerned. I knew my mother would rather die than say such a thing! I knew my reputation was absolutely secure with my mother and with my father. Well, if our reputation can be secure with our parents, our reputation is totally secure with God.
Lou: Perhaps we are comfortable with God remembering. But what about our remembering, Graham?
Graham: No one will be admitted to the hereafter who cannot be entrusted with the memory of other people’s sins. God does not want us going up to Rahab and saying, “Hey, tell us a little. What was it like before you met the two spies?” That’s why in the middle of Paul’s list of dreadful sins in Romans 1 is the sin of gossiping. And then there’s 1 Timothy 5:13 (RSV), where Paul talks about people who not only go from house to house learning to be idle but become “gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” Such people would not be safe to save for the Kingdom. They would make life a misery for everyone else. There will be no news service up there spreading the bad news about the things the rest of us have done.
Lou: I want to press you just a little bit further on this. I’m not thinking so much about my recollection of what others may have done. I’m thinking about the burden of my own memory and the things I’d like to forget.
Graham: I think that might require some good conversations with the Lord, and God would say, “Look, I’m not thinking about them. Why are you? Don’t worry.”
And you might say, “Well, I was afraid You might bring it up.”
“Really? No, not a chance.”
Lou: I suspect that I will be praising Him throughout eternity for being that kind of God!
Graham: Absolutely! And time is so healing, isn’t it? I know people who have had enemies who became their best friends. And when that happens you don’t bring up those unpleasant occasions anymore, except maybe to laugh about them. I can think of a couple of people who have hurt me, but I am now on very good terms with them. We never think about that anymore. We’re almost better friends because of it. That’s why David and Uriah can meet in the hereafter and not come to blows.
Lou: This question has come up again and again: “If God is as kind as Jesus is, how can He turn and destroy sinners in the end?”
Graham: If all God really wants is love and trust freely given, He can’t say, “You give Me that, or I’ll destroy you.” So that leads me to go back to the Bible and try to understand what He means when He says, “I will destroy.” For example, when the Israelite King Saul committed suicide the Bible said, “Thus God slew Saul” (based on 1 Chronicles 10:13-14). Yet God never laid a hand on him (1 Sam 31:2-5)! And then, of course, there is the cross. Jesus died as sinners will die, yet God did not destroy His Son. So I think we can find a consistent meaning through there.
It’s true that God uses the word “destroy” in the Bible. It is language that we can understand when we are hard of hearing and have to be almost terrified to take God seriously. But if we really want to know what He will do to the wicked in the end, look at what happened to His Son. He died the death of a sinner.
Lou: So what DO the many biblical references about God destroying the wicked mean?
Graham: I particularly want to know what He’s going to do to me if I’m a lost sinner in the end. The Bible says, “He made His Son to be sin, though He knew no sin” (based on 2 Corinthians 5:21), and He died the sinner’s death (based on Romans 8:3; 1 Peter 2:24). So I should go to the cross and watch Jesus die the sinner’s death. The death of the wicked is absolutely devastating, but God isn’t taking you by the scruff of the neck and saying, “Since you’ve chosen not to love Me and trust Me, I am going to kill you as painfully as I know how.”
Lou: Here’s a question that reflects a widespread concern. “Are you saying that God never really kills anyone? What about the Flood?”
Graham: I believe God has put millions of His children to sleep in what the Bible calls the first death. And He promises them all resurrection, something none of us could do if we should take someone’s life. At the Flood, the Life-giver interrupted many lives. None of them are even aware that they are asleep. God will awaken each one in the resurrection, either the first resurrection for those who have trusted God or the second resurrection for those hardened in rebellion (based on Revelation 20:4-6). Yes, I would see God doing that.
But taking away our eternal life in the end, what the Bible calls the second death (Rev 20:6, 14-15)? I believe that destruction is not at His hands. That’s when He leaves us, gives us up to the awful consequence of our choices. And cries as He gives us up, just as He did in Hosea (Hos 11:8). But the difference between the first and the second death and how God acts in relation to them is a very biblical distinction.
Lou: Graham, you referred to this beautiful scene in the New Testament where a woman taken in adultery is brought to Jesus and He says, “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:3-11). But when you go back to the Old Testament, God is ordering the destruction and death of Achan and his family (Joshua 7). Why would there be that apparent discrepancy?
Graham: If Jesus had agreed that the woman taken in adultery should be stoned, He would probably have had a large following. They would have approved of this. One explanation of the Achan story is that Achan did not repent, and so he had to be stoned. The woman taken in adultery did repent, which raises the interesting question: Had she not repented, would Jesus have joined in stoning her? I don’t think so!
I’d rather look at the Achan story in its total setting. In the case of Achan, there was irreverence, there was lack of trust. They were about to go into Canaan. God needed to make an important point in that context, whether or not there was repentance on Achan’s part. With the woman taken in adultery the situation was different. It called for Him to say something else. His gracious treatment of this woman who had been taken advantage of, and His incredibly gracious treatment of those pretentiously pious accusers, is what needed to be said at that time. Everything God does in Scripture is designed to say something that needs to be said at that time, and when you take the Bible as a whole, you see a consistency in it.
Lou: Jesus is so gentle with them in John 8. And that’s what His ministry was like for three and a half years. But then in the early church you have the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), something similar to the Achan story.
Graham: And the third angel’s message is fire and brimstone (Rev 14:10-11).
Lou: So why couldn’t God act throughout the whole biblical period the way He acted during those three and a half years?
Graham: As I understand it, those three and a half years were a demonstration of God’s ideal way of doing things. This is the way He would like to do it all the time. It wasn’t well received by many. Some despised Him for being so gentle. He was gentle with everybody. He was gentle with Judas, gentle with the men who nailed Him to the cross. This is the way God wishes to act for all eternity. He was demonstrating that you can only govern that way when the people you are governing are impressed favorably with that, when they respect you and do not misunderstand this gentleness as weakness. But where there is rebellion and disrespect, God has had to act differently.
Lou: This ties in with what you have talked about before. When God doesn’t act with that kind of gentleness, we’re in emergency situations where the uniqueness of the situation calls for an action appropriate to that situation, even though that action is still based upon love.
Graham: That’s right. I love going through the sixty-six books of the Bible to see the consistency there. God all the way through is trying to say and demonstrate what needs to be said—under varying circumstances with the whole universe looking on.
Lou: But when God comes in the person of Jesus Christ and acts with gracious acceptance, we take Him out and crucify Him!
Graham: Yes, they didn’t respect Him for this. They would have respected Him more if He had said, “Let’s stone that woman, and I’ll throw the first stone.”
Lou: They really didn’t want the kind of God that Jesus talked about.
Graham: That’s right. They even said He was possessed of a devil to describe God in that way (John 8:48). Yet He wept even as He denounced them for doing this.
Lou: The title “How God Treats His Erring Children” raises a question in my mind, Graham. You have reminded us of some beautiful, gripping stories! But they all have centered, for the most part, upon Jesus and how Jesus treated people. And I think we’re fairly clear about that. We all have that image of a gentle Jesus in our minds. But I think some still have questions: “What if this were the Father? Would He be treating people the same way? And what about the Holy Spirit?”
Graham: When most people hear the title, “How God Treats His Erring Children,” does the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit come to mind first? I’m hoping that it wouldn’t make any difference, that we can accept the repeated testimony of Jesus: “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9), “The Father loves you just as much as I do” (John 16:26), “And if I go, I will send another Counselor just like Myself” (John 15:26-27; 16:7, 13-14). It would make no difference; Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. That’s the most wonderful thing to understand. Everybody loves gentle Jesus, but the Father would treat us exactly the same as Jesus would. We may have to remind ourselves of this truth many times before we really believe it.
Lou: You used a version for John 20:17 that I’ve never heard of before. Noli? What translation is that?
Graham: The translator’s name is Theophan (or simply Fan) Stylian Noli. He was Archbishop of the Albanian Orthodox Church in America. He produced an unusual version most people have never seen. I enjoy it very much. And there’s a reason why I chose it. The Greek of John 20:17 literally means, “Don’t go on holding Me, don’t go on touching Me, don’t cling to Me, because I must go.” What Jesus said was actually very polite and gracious. So I love the translation, “Do not detain me.” Another reason I love it is the fact that Ellen White used the wording “Detain me not” in Desire of Ages. I went through my many versions and Noli had it the way I wanted it.
Lou: I noticed that with the exception of Hosea, your stories about God’s kindness are all from the New Testament. Does that mean that the God revealed in the New Testament is really gentler than the One revealed in the Old Testament?
Graham: The only remedy for that is to go through all sixty-six biblical books and note how much tenderness there is in the Old Testament. For example, you could look at the parable of God in His vineyard (Isa 5:1-7), something you’ve preached on many times. How tenderly that story is told. “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” (Isa 5:4, NIV). Or “My people. . . how have I wearied you?” Mic 6:3, ESV; Isa 43:24. Of course, the whole book of Hosea is so moving. So are the texts where God says, “Anyone who touches you, touches the apple of My eye” (Deut 32:10; Zech 2:8). That is sometimes translated, “Anybody who hurts you, My people, sticks his finger in the eye of the Almighty” (based on Zech 2:8). That would hurt! And God says, “That’s the way I feel about you.”
One of the most impressive Old Testament stories, though, is God’s treatment of David. Now David sinned enough to be disfellowshipped from most churches, yet God says to his son Solomon, “Solomon, obey Me in all things, just as your father David did” (based on 1 Kings 11:6). That is one of the most generous statements in the whole Bible, so I will use it again when we talk about the subject of perfection (Chapter Fourteen).
Even in the final, awesome death of the wicked, God is still respecting the freedom and the individuality of His intelligent creatures. He has made it very plain, all through the sixty-six books of the Bible, that He doesn’t want to lose any of His children. That is certainly emphasized in the New Testament. “[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV). It is emphasized all through the Old Testament as well:
As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel? Ezek 33:11, RSV.
Like a physician, God stands ready to heal us. But He cannot, will not, force us to be well. If we prefer to leave Him, He will respect our decision and sadly let us go. But as we leave Him for the last time to reap the awful consequences, we will hear His sad cry, “How can I give you up? How can I let you go?” Hos 11:8. We discussed this text when we talked about why Jesus had to die (Chapter Eight). Do you remember the dramatic story about Hosea and his wife? When God interpreted what Hosea had done, He said, “I have pled so long, so many centuries, with My people Israel to please come home. Bring words of repentance with you, and I’ll heal you and forgive you” (based on Hosea 14:1-4).
Something similar is acted out in the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus told the story to show how glad God is when anyone does come home. How eager He is to heal! How magnificent is that story! Notice the attitude of our Father toward His sinful children:
While he was still a long way off his father saw him, and his heart went out to him. He ran to meet him, flung his arms round him, and kissed him. The son said, “Father, I have sinned, against God and against you; I am no longer fit to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! fetch a robe, my best one, and put it on him. . . . And let us have a feast to celebrate the day. For this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:20-24, NEB).
Jesus added that there is joy among the angels in heaven whenever anybody comes back (Luke 15:10). But Israel did not come back in the days of Hosea. Note this powerful appeal from God: ”Come home, Israel, come home to the Lord your God. . . . Take words of repentance with you as you return to the Lord. . . . I will heal their unfaithfulness, I will love them with all My heart” (Hos 14:1-4, Phillips). But they didn’t come. “My people are bent on turning away from Me. . . . How, oh how, can I give you up Ephraim! How, oh how, can I hand you over Israel!” Hos 11:7-8, Phillips.
As in Hosea, He will sadly hand us over if we insist on turning away. I understand that God will miss us if we are lost. He will miss us forever if we don’t come home. Think of the eternal void that brilliant Lucifer will leave in the infinite memory of God! The good news is that this magnificent picture of God leads some of us to repentance and to trust. “Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4, RSV. And when we learn to trust, we will actually look forward to seeing the Infinite One. Even though He will come in unveiled majesty and power, we will not be afraid. Sinners though we all have been, we will be comfortable in His presence for eternity.
It’s no wonder that when he heard the tomb was empty, Peter was the first one down there on Sunday morning. But it wasn’t Peter—it was Mary who had the privilege of seeing Jesus first and taking the good news to the disciples. Why do you suppose it would be Mary, of all people? The same Mary who was known for living an immoral life? Mary, out of whom Christ had cast seven devils? Would we have elected her for that high honor? But God chose Mary.
Later on, when Mary recognized Jesus and fell at His feet to worship Him, didn’t Jesus say something like, “Don’t touch Me! Don’t touch Me, Mary! If you touch Me, I can’t go to heaven?” What would that kind of comment say about our God? No, in the language of the day, this is what He actually said:
“Do not detain me (emphasis supplied), for I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren and tell them that I am going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17, Noli).
Jesus would have spoken these words kindly and graciously. Greetings took a little time in those days. He was literally saying to Mary, “Do not detain Me, Mary, do not go on holding Me or clinging to Me.” Notice also in the text Jesus calling the disciples “brethren,” His brothers. These were the very men who had let Him down when He had needed them so much in Gethsemane. Not only this, when the angels confirmed Jesus’ command to go and tell the disciples, they added something that must have overwhelmed Peter when he heard it. They said: “Now go and give this message to His disciples, including Peter: ‘He [Jesus] is going to Galilee ahead of you’” (Mark 16:7, GNB). How very God-like of the angels to add, “especially tell Peter.” The angels admire and worship God for the incredibly gracious way in which He has handled sinners in His family. How much those angels must have enjoyed adding the words, “And especially tell Peter.”
There are many more examples we could add. But if we trust Him, isn’t this the kind of God with whom we would want to spend eternity? We would be spending eternity with Someone who has an infinite memory, yet we would have no need to be afraid of that memory. For God is forgiveness personified. He has promised not only to forgive us, but to treat us as if we had never sinned. Think of all the verses that say this. For example, “Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (Isa 38:17, RSV). Or, “You will trample our sins underfoot and send them to the bottom of the sea!” Micah 7:19, GNB.
There is no pretense or forgetfulness in this. God knows what kind of sinners we all have been. The angels have watched our every deed. These things are not forgotten. Yet we are treated as if we had always been God’s loyal children. But this doesn’t mean that God has gone soft on sin. Think what it has cost Him to answer the questions and meet the emergencies that sin has caused in His family.
On some serious occasions it was necessary for Jesus, gentle Jesus, to call sin by its right name and denounce it in the strongest terms. One of these was the time when those pretentiously pious Bible teachers, trusted so much by the people, denounced Jesus’ picture of His Father as satanic (John 8:45-52). They were saying that the Son of God’s description of His own Father was heretical, unbiblical, and diabolical. And it was Sabbath-keeping, tithe-paying, Bible teachers who made that accusation. Because of their great influence on the people, Jesus turned to them and said, “No, it is not I who have a devil. You are of your father, the devil, and you prefer his lies to the truth” (John 8:45-49). Yet, when He said that, there were tears in His voice.
Later that evening, Peter, James and John went with Jesus into the inner part of the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus went there to pass through the awesome experience of separation from His Father. This would answer a couple of questions, “Does sin result in death?” Yes, but what kind of death? “Is it torture and execution at the hands of our gracious God?” No, He suffered there alone, apparently abandoned by the Father (for more on these questions see the section “Three Questions Regarding the Character of God” in Chapter Eight). Three times He came over to where the disciples were dozing, wanting their companionship and comfort. In the end, did He scold them for not helping Him? No, He made an excuse for them. He said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I understand, you three. You were just too tired.”
Think what they missed! What if the three of them had knelt around Christ, and put their hands on His shoulder while He went through that experience. Imagine Jesus running into those three from time to time in the Kingdom and saying, “Peter, James, and John, I’ll never forget how you knelt with Me in Gethsemane when I needed you so much.” What a memory they would have had for the rest of eternity! But they slept through it all. And Jesus didn’t scold them.
The same Peter had earlier made a bold speech in the upper room, “Though all the others would desert You, I will give my life for You” (based on Mark 14:29, 31). Yet a few hours later Peter was cursing and swearing to prove that he didn’t even know this Christ (Matt 26:74). Then the cock crowed, just as Jesus had said it would, and Peter wondered if Jesus had noticed. And though Jesus was on trial for His life, and had already suffered much, He was more concerned about His erring disciple in the courtyard than He was about Himself. Luke says that Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter (Luke 22:61-62). Peter may well have expected to see indignation and disapproval on Christ’s face. He certainly would have deserved it. But while he saw sorrow and disappointment to be sure, he also saw pity. It was the face of the One who had washed his dirty feet the night before. When Peter saw that look on Jesus’ face, he ran out of the courtyard and wept bitterly.
Consider the account as written by three of the gospel writers; Matthew, Mark and Luke; beginning with Mark: “And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away. . . .’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though they all fall away, I will not. . . . If I must die with you, I will not deny you’” (Mark 14: 27, 29, 31, RSV). Then Matthew adds:
A maid came up to him, and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean. . . . I do not know the man. . . .” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:69-70, 72, 74, RSV).
Then Luke adds:
The Lord turned around and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered that the Lord had said to him, “Before the rooster crows tonight, you will say three times that you do not know me.” Peter went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:61-62, GNB).
Later, Judas came in to the same courtyard. He threw down the thirty pieces of silver and confessed that he had betrayed innocent blood (Matt 27:3-4). No doubt He, too, looked at Jesus. Do you think he saw a different look on Jesus’ face? Did he see anger there? Was there rejection? He deserved it. But no, Judas was also one of Jesus’ children, and He was about to lose him. Jesus looked at Judas just as He had looked at Peter. There was the same sorrow, the same disappointment, the same pity. Again, it was the face of the One who had just the night before knelt down and washed Judas’ dirty feet. Overcome with it all, Judas ran out and committed suicide (Matt 27:5).
What a wonderful ending it would have been if Judas had been touched by that look on Jesus’ face, just as Peter had been. How much better would it have been if he had found where Peter was weeping and the two of them together had become new men. What a happy ending to the story that would have been! But all heaven watched a different story unfold.
Imagine also how Peter must have felt all that Sabbath. During the previous twenty-four hours he had made a fool of himself repeatedly. Twice he had made impetuous statements in the upper room. Then twice he had disgraced himself in the Garden of Gethsemane. Then came the cowardly behavior in the courtyard, denying that he even knew Christ. Now Christ was dead, and there was no way he could make it up to Him, no way he could make it right.
Perhaps the crowning revelation of the character of God came in the upper room the night before Jesus was crucified. If you look in Luke’s account, Jesus said to the twelve, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover supper with you. But the one who is to betray Me is sitting with Me at the table.” They began to argue with each other as to which one of them would do this terrible thing. But they also were arguing as to which one of them should be thought of as the most important (Luke 22:23-24). Can you imagine their arguing about who was the greatest at the same time they were debating which one of them was going to betray Him?
How did the Son of God treat them? Did He chide them for their childish behavior? Or scold them for their unwillingness to wash each other’s feet? Instead, the whole universe watched as their Creator, the One they worshiped, arose, got a basin and a towel, got down on His knees, and washed a dozen pairs of dirty feet (John 13:4-12). He even washed the feet of His betrayer, Judas. Think what it says about God that He would treat them in this way. Jesus could have looked up at them and said, “You don’t believe My Father would be willing to do this, do you?”
What moved the disciples was not so much that their teacher and leader washed their feet. What moved them was that God washed their feet. Imagine their experience as they looked down on His head bent over the basin and felt His strong carpenter hands on their feet. Then to have Him look up and say, “You don’t think My Father would do this, do you? But He would. If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father. If you are comfortable with Me, you will be just as comfortable with My Father” (based on John 14:7-9).
Think what fools Jesus’ disciples were to miss the opportunity to wash the feet of the Son of God before He died. What a memory one of the disciples could have had for eternity! Imagine Jesus meeting him a million years into eternity and saying, “John (or Peter or James), I’ll never forget how you washed my feet the night before I was crucified.” That disciple would never get over it. And they missed out on it because of their attitude and misbehavior in the upper room.
When Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray Him, did He expose that person before the others? No, it says in the biblical record that when Judas left to do what he had determined to do, they thought Jesus had asked him to go buy provisions for the feast, or perhaps even to make an offering to the poor:
Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you have to do.” No one at the table understood what he meant by this. Some supposed that, as Judas was in charge of the common purse, Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to make some gift to the poor (John 13:27-29, NEB).
Think how Jesus covered for His betrayer. Why didn’t Jesus expose him before the others? Of all people, the traitor deserved it! But the traitor was a member of God’s family, just a seriously misbehaving one. God takes no pleasure in embarrassing His children.