Ecclesiastes 5:1-7: Vows

Read: Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Better not to make a vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it – these are wise words coming from the Preacher in Ecclesiastes. The Jews of his day were certainly religious. Israel had the temple in Jerusalem, and they would make offerings there to God and make vows before God. There offerings were made here too.  The Preacher’s concern for vows is that in not fulfilling one’s vows, one becomes a liar – that is he or she says one thing and does another. The warning is against rash vows made by what the Preacher calls fools. They would go before God and make grandiose promises without thinking them through to completion. The Preacher wants people to be slow to speak before God who is in heaven. God is exalted to be feared and the Preacher encourages one to consider his position before uttering anything before God.

Leviticus 27 covers an assortment of vows people make before the Lord. A person could dedicate himself, an animal, his house, a field among many other things to the Lord. These items were deemed “holy” and became property of the priests for the purposes of the priests. The person would make a vow to dedicate such items then the priest would determine its value. These acts were not compulsory, rather they were completely voluntary. There was no law prescribing how much or how little the Israelites should give or if they should give at all. The Preacher is encouraging his readers to consider what they are doing carefully before making any sort of commitment to the Lord concerning vows.

The nature of vows had become by Jesus day and probably long before then a means of displaying one’s piety in public for all to see. Jesus speaks to this matter in Matthew 5:33-37. Some were apparently swearing upon anything number of things from the temple to the footstool of God as if the level of whatever they were swearing undergirded the fecundity of the vow. Jesus says that one should not swear on anything at all, rather just in a manner of simplicity, one should fulfill his or her vow, rather than make grandiose promises among other things.

Peter’s denial of Christ is a principal example of the foolishness that the Preacher is warning against. Peter, on the night of the Lord’s betrayal made a grandiose promise to never deny Jesus (John 13:36-38). Jesus knew that this was not true. Rather he predicts that before the rooster crowed the next morning, Peter would deny him three times. Peter realized what he had done and wept bitterly. He had failed to fulfill his vow concerning never denying Jesus.

In the same manner Christians would do well to heed the wisdom offered by the Preacher – don’t make hasty vows before God. One should consider the cost of what he or she is doing. When one does make a vow, one should, as Jesus taught, let his “yes” be yes and “no” be no. Vows can be a rich act of worship, acting on one’s own initiative before the Lord in a voluntary manner rather than a compulsory manner as one would do in following commandments. The blessing of a vow is not the display of piety, rather the satisfaction of knowing that one has been faithful in an act of worship to God. In the end, God wants the faithfulness of his people rather than the grandeur of promises.

Lord, let my words be few and my “yes” be yes!

John 21:15-23: Second Chances

Read: John 21:15-23

Peter denied Jesus three times, even after saying that he would never do such a thing. And when Peter did deny Jesus, he remembered what Jesus had spoken to him concerning this and wept bitterly. Without a doubt, Peter felt like an athlete who had been ejected from the game and felt like his career was over (John 18:25-27, Luke 22:62). But quite the contrary was true. Even though Peter had denied Jesus, Jesus was not finished with Peter. In fact, this gave Jesus and opportunity to model one of the things he had taught Peter: love and forgiveness. Jesus when he washed Peter’s feet said that Peter was not in need of a whole bath, rather just a small cleansing (John 13:10). Jesus, after Peter denied him three times, asks Peter if he loved him three times. Peter in all cases answers that he does indeed love Jesus. Jesus in response to these answers commands Peter then to “Tend his lambs”, “Feed his sheep”, and “Tend his sheep”. Jesus was metaphorically telling Peter to not feel down in the dumps, but get back in the game and do what he had been commissioned to do. Jesus follows this up with a parabolic saying concerning the sort of death that Peter would die. Peter, according to the historian Eusebius was crucified upside down on a cross in Rome. This sort of violent death was akin to one jerking Peter around where he did not want to go similar to an older person who he told what to do.  Peter would get back in the game and dedicate himself to the task of Preaching Jesus to the nations.

Jesus then says a peculiar statement: “Follow me!” This is certainly a throwback to when Jesus first met Peter and Phillip and said “follow me” in John 1:43. The command to follow Jesus was coming to them again at the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Many thought that the preceding statement was an indication that one of the disciples would live forever until Jesus’ return. The reality of the matter was that Jesus was just stating a fact concerning his ability to do so, not necessarily implying that one of them would actually do that. In any case, the concern was not to worry who was betraying who or anything of the like, rather to focus on the main thing: Jesus.

The command to follow Jesus went out to the original disciples at the beginning of his ministry and at the end of his ministry on earth. Like Peter though, faltering in one’s walk with God does not cast him or her out of God’s presence forever. What Jesus wanted from Peter was not a prideful heart that denied what he did or tried to rationalize what he did, rather a contrite heart and a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17), and Peter had this. Jesus took this broken man and was able to restore him so that Peter would be a leader as the gospel went out from Jerusalem. God does not give up on people; rather people give up on God. But when one does falter, one need only confess it to God and God is faithful to restore (1 John 1:9) and give someone a second chance. And one can continue to walk in the ways of God all the more.

Lord, help me to continue to follow you, even after I mess up!

John 18:16-18,25-27: Delusions of Grandeur

Read: John 18:16-18,25-27

The denial of Christ by Peter is a very prevalent story in the gospels. All four gospels record Jesus predicting this event (Matthew 26:34, Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34, John 13:38) and record the details of the event too (Luke 22:55-65, Mark 14:66-72, Matthew 26:69-75). Peter’s zeal for Jesus was displayed when he declared that he was willing to lay down his life for Jesus (John 13:37) and never leave him (Matthew 26:33) and also when Peter brandishes as sword in an attempt to defend Jesus while Jesus was being arrested (John 18:10). It was not too long afterwards though that Peter was standing around a fire trying to get warm because it was cold outside, and people begin to recognize him as one of Jesus’ followers. Three times people recognize him, and after the third time, there was a rooster crow. Peter recalls what Jesus had said the evening before. Matthew records Peter weeping bitterly because he knew exactly what he had done after he swore up and down profusely that he would never do such a thing.

John later in his gospel records what is the apparent undoing of Peter’s denial (John 21:5-7). Here, Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. Each time, Peter says that he does, and each time Jesus asks Peter to in some way care for his sheep. While Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, he also knew that Peter would become a source of strength for the disciples in the time following the ascension. Before Jesus predicts Peter’s denial in Luke 22:31, Jesus says that the others will be sifted like wheat, but Peter would be the one to strengthen them.  Peter would be instrumental in the early church in Jerusalem and would preach a sermon at Pentecost that would lead to the salvation of thousands of people.

Grandiose promises have a way of setting one up for failure. Matthew 5:33-37 records Jesus speaking in the matter of making vows. He quotes from Leviticus 19:12, which speaks to the one who makes vows to fulfill them. Apparently there was a problem with people making vows. They would swear on Jerusalem, on the throne of God, or on a number of grandiose things. Rather than make lavish promises, Jesus encourages his listeners here to simply let their yes be yes and their no be no—that is to keep what one says one is going to do simple.

It is easy to point a finger at Peter and see his obvious failing, and claim that one has never denied Christ. But would not be easy to do is claim that one has promised to never do something and ended breaking that promise at one point or another. Peter was zealous for Jesus—there can be no mistake about that, and like Peter, people generally have zeal to keep the promise. While zeal is not inherently bad, it is better to not make lavish promises. And like Peter, Christians will fail.  In all cases though Jesus is there to restore and whoever failed can get back up and when back to serving God. A Christian should simply focus on trying to obey God, rather than get delusions of grandeur about how one is never going to disobey God.

Lord, help my ‘yes’ to be ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ to be ‘no’ and nothing more!

John 13:6-10, John 13:21-38

Read: John 13:6-10, John 13:21-38

Betrayal and denial: two things no friends wants but this is exactly what Jesus predicted would happen. While they were eating together, Jesus announces that one of them would betray him. He did not name names, but gave a sign by dipping bread and giving it to Judas. When Jesus gave him the bread, John notes that the devil entered Judas, and Jesus says for him to do that which he was going to do quickly.

Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial is made in the context of some profound statements concerning love. Jesus knew that the time for him to be glorified was at hand, and through his oneness with the father, he knew that together they would be glorified. The disciples were committed to Jesus, as they knew at least in part that Jesus was the source of eternal life (John 6:68). But what they did not understand was what Jesus meant when he said he was going away. John notes that Jesus knew his time with the disciples was short in John 13:1. Peter on the other hand says that he would lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus later says that no man has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. Peter probably understood this to mean stand up and fight (John 18:11). What Jesus was really getting at was that one should selflessly serve another — that is setting aside one’s own interest for the sake of another (Philippians 2:3-4) as this is the attitude that Jesus had. Jesus on the other hand questions Peter’s resolve, saying that he would deny him three times before the rooster crows. Peter did indeed deny Jesus later on (John 18:15-18, John 18:25-26), but it was not until later that Peter fully understands what Jesus is talking about. He finally gets it when Jesus asks him if he loves him, and then commands him to feed his sheep (John 21:15-19).

The new commandment that Jesus gave to love one another as Jesus loved them was recorded in the midst of predictions of betrayal and denial. Yet even in light of these things, Jesus still does not give up on those who claim to love him as there is grace and forgiveness for them. Jesus loved them in spite of what they did to him by washing their feet and serving them. But when Jesus goes to wash Peter’s feet, Peter would have nothing of it. But Jesus says that unless he washes Peter’s feet, Peter has nothing to do with him. Peter then wants a bath for this reason, but Jesus says a foot washing is enough, as Peter did not need to be fully reinstated.  Like Peter, Christians should have the resolve to be willing to lay down one’s life for another. But the reality of the matter is that even with such resolve, one is going to falter as Peter and Judas did. Christians should be willing to love like Jesus loves when this happens and seek forgiveness and reinstatement rather than wrath. But reinstatement does not require a bath — just a little will do! On the same token, one should also be willing to let others love them when one falters too. The new commandment is to love one another, not to just love others or just be loved by others. This sort of love is reciprocal in that it requires giving love and receiving love from others.

Lord, I will inevitably fail others and others will fail me. Please help me to love as you do when this happens!