Surprised by Sin

Last week, we briefly touched on the foresight of God. He can see what lies ahead and He can fulfill His plans for the future. As Isaiah 46:10 points out, only God can declare the beginning from the end. Or, as the NLT puts it, “Only I can tell you what is going to happen even before it happens.”

It’s hard to surprise someone who sees what’s coming before it gets there. When nothing is unexpected, nothing is shocking. There is plenty in life that surprises us, but nothing is unexpected to God. This truth can encourage the Christian who finds himself surprised and disoriented by his sin.

For example, see how God’s foreknowledge informed Christ’s interaction with Peter in Luke 22. During the Last Supper, Jesus revealed something that He knew was going to happen: 
And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:31-34)
Peter looked at the current state of his heart and perceived fearless devotion. Jesus looked into the future and discerned fearful desertion. And yet, look at how Christ responded to this knowledge.

First, He did not speak out of spite or anger. On the contrary, He displayed love and tenderness. Jesus addressed Peter by repeating his name—something the Lord did whenever communicating His intimate and affectionate knowledge of someone (see Luke 10:41, Acts 9:4).

Second, He affirmed His advocacy of Peter. Even though Satan had malicious plans, Jesus interceded on Peter’s behalf, ensuring that the disciple’s faith, though frail, would stop short of failing.

Third, He reassured Peter that he would return to faithful devotion to the Lord. It’s almost as if Peter’s future sin was a non-issue. Jesus already knew about it, and because He knew His crucifixion would pay the penalty for that sin, He was free to move beyond that and encourage Peter. In fact, Jesus went ahead and instructed him on what to do once he had returned: to strengthen the faith of other believers.

We are familiar with how the next several hours unfolded. Jesus was arrested, the disciples fled, and Peter denied that he even knew the Lord on three separate occasions. His third denial was made in close proximity to Jesus: “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.’ So Peter went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62).

The Bible doesn’t tell us what kind of look Jesus gave Peter. Who knows what the disciple saw in his Master’s eyes at that moment? There may have been pain and grief. Whatever the case, I would venture to say there was no malice or wrath—only love and pity. After all, it is the goodness of God that is designed to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). And what did Peter do immediately after locking eyes with Jesus? He experienced godly sorrow, followed by genuine repentance.

Today is the beginning of a new year. We may make predictions or resolutions related to 2013, but there is much we do not know this year. One thing we do know: it is inevitable that our faith will falter in the future. We may not know when or how. But as Christians, we can know that God has already seen our future failings. And while we may be surprised by our sin, God has already provided an Advocate to stand in our place. As a result, what we will receive from God is mercy and not wrath, grace and not punishment. If anything, that is what should surprise us.