Peter was shocked. I would have said “beyond expression,” except that Peter was never shocked beyond expression but just the opposite. Whether shocked or otherwise, he was always quick to speak. Having celebrated the final Passover meal with His disciples, the Lord Jesus “got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (John 13:4, 5). The act was unthinkable. Not only did it defy convention but it was so lowly a service as to be humiliating. Washing someone’s feet was the task of a servant. And even in a household without servants, the head of the home might wash the feet of his social equals, but to wash the feet of a servant? Inconceivable! Yet here was Peter’s Master, the Son of David, the Messiah, the eternal King of Israel, and the Son of God stripping Himself, bowing before His lowly followers, and deigning to wash their feet! “Never shall You wash my feet!” Peter protests (v. 8a). It would appear to be both an humble and a noble response. But the Lord had a sharp rejoinder for Peter: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (v. 8b). Just moments earlier, the Lord had stated a fact that should have forestalled Peter’s brash words: “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter” (v. 7b).
Despite the revelation of Old Testament prophecies and extensive teaching by the Lord, Peter and the other disciples did not and could not comprehend the purpose for which Christ had come nor the depth of humiliation and the extent of suffering He was about to endure. That this act of humble service foreshadowed the ignominious service He was about to render on their behalf lay utterly beyond Peter’s grasp. Only following Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and the imparting of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost would Peter be able to begin understanding what Christ had done so that he could write: “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (I Pet. 1:18-21).
We should not be perplexed by the fact that, like Peter, we are sometimes confounded by God’s work in our lives. The reasons sometimes lie with us: God’s work does not comport with our will and plans; our circumstances do not harmonize with our limited view of the world and the way things should work. The reasons often reside wholly within the sovereignty of God: God sees and knows everything; we do not; God’s infinite ways lie beyond our finite capacity to understand; God deliberately withholds understanding in order to increase our faith in Him alone.
That God’s work in our lives sometimes surpasses our human understanding should not surprise nor confuse us, much less shake our faith. On the contrary, such circumstances ought to strengthen our faith. After all, what kind of a god would we have whose every work was fully anticipated and comprehended by our puny minds? Strange difficulties come not to extinguish but to encourage faith. A situation that fans fear and doubt in an unbeliever fertilizes faith in the believer. He rises up and declares, “Yes! This is my Savior and God at work accomplishing His blessed, eternal purpose.” For, in the darkest confusion, the glory of God shines brightest. “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” In Peter’s case, the “hereafter” began about seven weeks later, following Pentecost. In our case, it might begin at any moment but often (at least fully) not until eternity. God has explained in His Word everything He wants us to know and everything we need to know. When present conditions are inexplicable, faith is not weakened but strengthened: God is at work accomplishing His infinite purposes.
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