Sunday, November 23, 2014

The effective, fervent prayer of Christ, Luke 22:39-46

 Many years ago I built a house in Harford County, MD on eight wooded acres.  And as part of that process I cleared a large portion of the land.  There were a couple of acres of meadow at the bottom of the hill that I piled up two great big mounds of fallen trees and brush and so forth.  Eventually it became time to burn these big huge piles of brush and logs.  The first one I made a little fire off to the side and fed it gradually with the debris from the large pile.  It took a really long time to do it that way.   So when I got ready to do the next pile I decided to just torch the whole pile at once. 

Being out in the country, I didn’t have any running water or any way to deal with the fire, except for a blanket and an empty five gallon bucket. But there was a very small stream that started on our property about 50 yards away that barely had enough water in it to get your feet wet.  But anyhow, I didn’t feel like messing around with this pile so I struck a match and threw it on this pile of debris.  This pile, by the way was huge.  It was about 15 feet high by about 20 feet in diameter in the middle of a small meadow. 

Well, I’ve started a number of campfires and bonfires in my day, but I have never seen a fire start like that one did.  It quickly caught and within seconds it became a roaring blaze.  The fire spread so fast and grew so big I began to panic. I began to pray out loud- very loudly, very fervently.  Still praying, I picked up the blanket and ran for the stream.  Throwing it in the water I tried my best to soak it in the little bit of water that was in the stream.  And when I looked back at the burning pile, it was now this huge blaze shooting maybe 25 feet up in the air.  It sounded like a forest fire, and I could easily imagine it jumping across the meadow to the ring of trees surrounding the clearing.  So I began to pray even more in earnest and ran towards the fire.  By now it was so hot I couldn’t get close to it, so I swung the blanket and threw it towards the flame hoping it would land on the part that was burning the fiercest.  Thank God He directed the blanket and it did sort of land in a good spot to help smother a part of the flames.  But then the blanket burned up.  And so I ran back to the stream with my bucket.  But the stream was so shallow that I could only get about half of the bucket filled up. 

So anyhow, I continued to run back and forth, and I continued to cry out to God for help as much as I could considering how winded I had become.  And there was a minute or two when I seriously thought it was over.  I almost ran back to my truck and started blowing the horn.  I was going to drive over to the next couple of houses that were in the woods and blow my horn all the way, hopefully to get them to evacuate their homes.  I was sure that the whole woods and our homes were going to go up in flames.  Somehow though, God kept the fire from reaching the trees around the meadow.  But for the next couple of years, those trees never grew leaves on that side facing the clearing.  The heat had just killed the branches facing the meadow all the way around the clearing.

James 5:16 says that the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.  And I have never read that verse of scripture without thinking of that day when I almost started a forest fire.  I know it was only God that kept it from getting out of control.  My prayer wasn’t exactly according to any sort of protocol.  I wasn’t a shining example of a righteous man.  But I will say that I was very fervent, and I will say that my prayer was effective, in spite of my spiritual limitations.   However, I don’t think that my fervency was the determining factor, but that God was merciful and He was effective.

Today however, we are going to look at the effective, fervent prayer of the ultimate righteous man, Jesus Christ.  And I hope that we will see in this prayer some characteristics that we can include in our prayer life that we too might be more effective.  Last Wednesday night, by the way for those of you that weren’t there, we looked at the intercessory prayer of Abraham as our example.  And I believe that was very instructive as it laid a foundation for intercessory prayer.  We saw in that study that prayer should be reverent, we should be eager to do it, it should be humble, it is an invitation to God to examine us, it is communion with God, it is fellowship with God, dialogue with the Lord, prayer reiterates the promises of God, it believes in the power of God, is in accordance with the nature of God, and trusts in the justice of God, the goodness of God.

Now in this record of Christ’s prayer we are not going to see all those principles reiterated.  Luke gives us an abbreviated record of this event.  But certain aspects of Christ’s prayer are highlighted here, which I think are certainly indicative of an effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man.  Those attributes are exactly what the writer of Hebrews was talking about in Heb. 5:7 “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.”

So let’s look at the text and notice first the place of prayer.  In vs. 39 we are told that Jesus and His disciples left the upper room after the Passover meal and went out on the Mount of Olives.  The other gospel writers are even more specific; they say that they went to a garden on the Mount of Olives called Gethsemane.  It was the place of an oil press, used in the production of olive oil.  They say that today there are eight olive trees in the place they believe to be the Garden of Gethsemane which were there in the time of Christ. 

But I hope the significance of that name is not lost on us.  Christ went to the oil press on the Mount of Olives, because according to Isaiah 53: 10, “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering…”  God chose to put Jesus in a place of crushing, that He might become the oil that would heal the world of sin. 

And so too God often places us in a place of great stress, a place of crushing pressure, that we might turn to God for strength to be able to endure it.  James tells us that it is part of the process of sanctification, that we might be made complete. James 1:2-4  “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,  knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Prayer working through the stress of our trials produces the oil of endurance that enables God to complete His work in us.

One other note about the place of Jesus prayer and that is found in vs. 41, “And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray.”  Listen, there is a time for corporate prayer.  There is a time for leading in prayer.  Christ’s magnificent prayer in the upper room found in the book of John is a great example of public prayer.  But I believe our most effective prayer is often found in times of private prayer.  Many times we are told that Jesus withdrew to a mountain alone to pray all night.  Jesus was a man of private prayer.  And on this night, when the intensity of Satan’s attack and the crushing wrath of God on sin would be poured out on Him, Jesus wanted to get alone before God His Father.  Folks you don’t have to have a specific location to pray, we can pray to God at anytime, in any place.  But we do need to get alone with God on a regular basis and really get down to business with Him by ourselves, all night long if necessary.  If Jesus needed to do it, then how much more should we?

So God puts Jesus in the place of crushing in the Garden of Gethsemane that He might be poured out for sinners.  Then we see the paradox of prayer in vs. 40,  “When He arrived at the place, He said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’"  We’re going to focus on the Lord’s prayer here this morning, but in contrast we see the disciples failed efforts at prayer. We know from vs. 46 that Jesus comes back to them and says, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Actually, the other gospel writers add that Jesus came back another time as well and woke them up again.  But Christ wasn’t desiring that they would pray for Him.  He was concerned about them, telling them that they needed to pray for themselves that they would not enter into temptation.  Jesus had already told Peter in the upper room that Satan had asked permission to sift them like wheat.  They had been forewarned that there was going to be a special time of temptation.  And now He is saying that they needed to pray to not enter into temptation.  But instead they are sleeping. 

Listen, the lack of prayer is a great cause of failure in the Christian life.  We fall in private before we ever fall in public. In my own experience I have learned that when I am tempted to sin, I can overcome that temptation just by praying for God to deliver me.  But when I neglect prayer, I  find my flesh is not strong enough to resist temptation. Peter had been warned, but he was tired.  It was late.  He didn’t see the spiritual battle that was coming, the temptations that were going to come.  He thought that he was able to withstand the sifting that Satan had desired to put him through.  He was confident that he would never fall away.  And yet when he was supposed to be praying, he was sleeping.  And when he awoke he acted in the strength of his flesh and struck the servant’s ear with his sword.  Then he denied Jesus three times at the fireside of the soldiers as Jesus was being tried. 

Listen, we have been warned.  The Bible makes it clear that we will endure trials, temptations and tribulations. Peter said in 1Pet. 5:8 that the devil goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. In Acts 14:22 it says, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”  And also in 2Tim. 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  We should learn from Jesus’ instructions to the disciples that we need to “watch and pray that we may not enter into temptation.”  “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 

I heard someone paraphrase that verse the other day which reads, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is looking forward to the weekend.” It’s amazing how low on our priorities church is today.  One of the reasons we come together in church is to pray, to acknowledge our need for strength and implore God’s help.  And to pray for one another, and strengthen one another. We neglect church to our peril.

So that is the paradox; a neglect of prayer on the part of the disciples contrasted with the fervency of Christ in prayer. Now let’s look at the posture of fervent prayer. Vs. 41 says,  “And [Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and began to pray…”  Actually, a more complete picture is given by Matthew and Mark.  They say He prostrated Himself.  He fell on His face.  If you combine the three accounts, Jesus left the disciples at the gate, He brought Peter, James and John a little further inside, and then continued on by Himself a stone’s throw away and knelt down to pray, then as the intensity increases in His anguish, He falls face down, prostrate on the ground in prayer.

You know, the Bible doesn’t dictate to us the posture of prayer.  It was the custom in those days to pray standing up.  We have the freedom to pray in whatever position we may find ourselves in.  But the principle that Jesus taught concerning prayer is found in Matt. 6:5-6 "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”  The principle is to get alone with God and unveil your heart before Him.  Because God sees the heart. 

The posture in prayer presented here in Christ’s example is that of humility.  He knelt down, then He fell down.  That is the posture of humility.  We saw Abraham do the same thing when he ran up to the Lord, bowing himself down to the ground.  True prayer comes in humility, not in arrogance or pride, or with a sense of entitlement.  Jesus was entitled, if anyone was.  But yet Phil. 2:5-8 says, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,  who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” 

Notice twice there in those verses the humanity of Christ is emphasized.  “Being made in appearance as a man, being made in the likeness of men.”  That’s very important in correctly understanding this passage in Luke.  Because here we see Christ in His humanity.  Christ is fully God and fully human.  He had to be both in order to be a fitting substitute for sinners.  In order for Heb. 4:15 to be true which says,  “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”  He had to be made like us, to be tempted like us, so that He might intercede for us. 

This dual nature of Christ is hard for us to understand.  But in this hour especially, Christ is fully human, so that “God could make Him who knew no sin, to become sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2Cor. 5:21)  So the posture of prayer is that of humility.

Next, we see the petition of prayer. Vs. 42, “And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”  It’s so important that we see that Jesus is not even in this hour of great anguish asking for anything that is not the Father’s will.  What He was going through was so terrible, so grievous, so stressful that it says that He was sweating profusely, and the sweat was like drops of blood.  He asks if there is another way then He would like this cup to pass from Him.  Now what is He talking about?  Is He asking to avoid the cross?  I don’t think so. 

Jesus is not going through some momentary lapse of spiritual resolve here.  Far from it.  Jesus had said just a week before at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that He had come for this purpose and He would not shrink from it. John 12:27  "Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour.”  Jesus’ goal was the cross from the very inception of God’s plan for salvation.  I believe with His last ounce of strength He would have resolutely crawled to the cross.  It is inconceivable that Christ shrank from the cross.  It was the goal line, and nothing would deter Him from it.

So what then?  I believe He shrank from the horror of sin.  He had never known sin.  He was holy, righteous, spotless.  He is so holy and righteous that the prospect and the reality of having the sin of the world placed upon Him was a horror that we can not imagine.  2 Cor. 5:21 says that He became sin for us.  That realization  is incomprehensible to us, and violently reprehensible to Christ. 1 Pet. 2:24, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”  Peter echoes the themes of Isaiah 53 which adds in vs. 4 that “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

And Christ had never known separation from God.  He and the Father were One.  He had always been with the Father.  But sin would cause a separation from God the Father which would cause Jesus to cry out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus knew the horror of being separated from God.  The horror that we are destined to endure were it not that Jesus suffered it there for us.

What Jesus was asking for was that if there was any way He could atone for sins without the horror of iniquity being laid on Him, then He would that it would pass. It was an honorable request.  It was the request of a holy, righteous God incarnate who abhorred sin.  Listen, the root of our confessions to God, the root of our petitions before God must include an abhorrence of sin.  We must understand that our sin is an affront a holy God.  I’m afraid that Christians today have no concept of how repulsive their sin is to God.  That is why there is this attitude out there that God just loves everyone, and doesn’t care about sin.  Love is all that God is.  No, my friend.  God is HOLY.  God is just.  God hates sin.  God cannot abide sin, He must separate from sin.  And as such we should remember the words of David who said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me.”

Thank the Lord Jesus said “But not My will, but Your will be done.”  That is the key to effective prayer. Rom. 8:27 says,  “He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”  Jesus gave us an example of prayer in what we call the Lord’s prayer.  He says,
“thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”  For our prayers to be effective we must ask in accordance with the will of God. 

I’m afraid so many Christians today use prayer as an excuse for disobedience.  They say I’ll pray about it, when they should say I’ll do it.  Prayer is not a substitute for obedience to what God has clearly presented in His word.  Listen, we are poor judges of what is good for us.  If I had gotten everything I prayed for at various times in my life I would be in all kinds of trouble.  One thing for sure is that I would not be standing here today.  We need to pray that God’s will would be done and then trust that His will is good. 1John 5:14  “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”

Then in vs. 43 we see the proliferation of prayer. “Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.”  I confess I do not understand this fully.  Why did Jesus need an angel?  What could an angel do that He could not do?  I can only rely on what the Bible says about angels in Heb. 1:14 “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” Somehow, in Christ’s humanity, in His anguish and separation from God, He could be refreshed by an angel so that He might endure this trial.  I think Jesus had reached His physical limits in His striving against sin. 

Even though it was God’s plan that He would crush Him, He also strengthened Him that He might endure the weight of the sin of the world. 1Cor. 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” This was a supernatural burden that required supernatural assistance and restoration so that there might be a proliferation of prayer.  The angel strengthened Him that He might be able to pray even more.  And that is what happens when we pray and reach the limit of our endurance. Rom. 8:26-27 “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” 

Listen, no matter how terrible the load is that you might bear, if you bring it to the Lord He will help you carry it.  Jesus said in Matt. 11:28-29  "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.”

Finally, let’s look at vs. 44, for the perseverance of prayer.  “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.”  See, the angel came to strengthen Him that He might continue in prayer.  Listen the prayer wasn’t the thing that was crushing Him  so much that blood mingled with His sweat, but sin was crushing Him.  Prayer was strengthening Him.  Prayer was triumphing over sin.  Remember what Heb. 5:7 says; “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.”  Prayer fortified His righteousness which produced triumph over sin. 

There are only two weapons at our disposal in the armory of God according to Ephesians 6.  The Word of God which is the sword of the Lord, and prayer.  And this is what it has to say about prayer as an offensive weapon against the forces of darkness. Eph. 6:18  “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit (in agreement with the Spirit), and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” 

Listen, I hear people say about a lost loved one, or someone they know that isn’t saved, “well, I can’t make them become a Christian.  I can’t force it on them.  They are going to have to make up their own minds.”  And with that attitude we throw up our hands in surrender and resume our regularly scheduled program on the television.   But folks, we do have a weapon that can prevail against the spiritual forces of evil in high places.  We have been given the weapon of prayer.  I don’t know how it works.  I don’t know how  to fly a F-16 either, but I do know it is a powerful weapon.  However, God has given me and you the power of  a nuclear bomb; the Word of God and prayer.  And so I’m going to pray at all times in the Spirit (that means according to the will of God) an be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.

Like Jesus, I’m going to agonize in prayer for my loved ones.  I’m going to pray all night if necessary that they be delivered from evil.  Let me ask you something, ladies and gentlemen.  When was the last time you prayed all night long for someone?  When was the last time you agonized so much in your soul that you broke out in a sweat?  Thank God that Christ did not shirk from laboring that night in the garden.  He triumphed over evil for our sakes, so that we might be delivered from sin. 

I believe the Bible teaches that we can change things through prayer.  The Lord said to Sarah when she laughed, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”  And the answer of Luke 1:37 is that nothing will be impossible with God.  I could add another “P” to my list and mention the partnership of prayer.  Jesus asked the disciples to pray with Him.  God wants to partner with us in the business of the kingdom and one of the ways we do that is through prayer.  And when we pray, the Holy Spirit prays, and Christ our great High Priest prays.  We have a partnership in prayer with God.  What a shame it would be to neglect so great a privilege.

Folks, Jesus is our Savior, but He is also our example.  He is our pattern that we should follow in His footsteps.  So we pray as He prayed.  We join in the fellowship of His sufferings.  As Heb. 12:3-4 says, “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.”

Listen, we need to wake up as a church and pray that we might not enter into temptation.  We need to pray for our weakness in the fight against sin, that God would strengthen us and restore a right spirit within us.  And then we need to pray for our loved ones and the lost that the eyes of their heart would be opened and that the truth of God would shine in their hearts.  Jesus rose up from His prayer in triumph that night.  He faced His trials with confidence that God would not abandon His soul, but that He would raise Him from the dead.  Jesus had confidence born out of prayer.  And so can we. Heb. 4:16 “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The invisible kingdom of God made visible; Luke 22: 28-34

As I was thinking and trying to prepare for this message this week, I found myself wondering how I could present this passage in such a way that it would make a difference.  Not to just prepare a message that after it was all said and done we might say, “well, I learned a little bit about Peter, I learned a little about what happened in the Upper Room, but so what?”  I mean, why are we here this morning, to just learn a few facts about the Bible?  To just fulfill some sort of societal obligation we may feel to go to church?   How does this affect my life on Monday morning? What is all this – church, preaching, what’s it really about?

As I considered this passage, I ultimately came to question the purpose of the church. I’m afraid that the church today, with all it’s embellishments as an institution has lost it’s sense of identity.  And in the process, I think Christians have lost their sense of purpose.  But the Bible teaches that Christians and the church are not supposed to be separate entities.  The Bible teaches that Christians are the church, we are the body of Christ.  We are the visible manifestation of the kingdom of God.  And yet I’m afraid that those words mean very little in contemporary Christianity today.  Because we have lost sight of the church’s purpose, it’s origin, it’s  history and don’t know why we are here or where we are going. 

One of my favorite memories from childhood is of attending an outdoor theater in the Outer Banks of North Carolina called the Lost Colony.  It is one of the longest running musical plays in the United States, 77 years and still going strong today.  It tells the story of the first colony of pioneers to settle near what is now Manteo, NC, and the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the new world. 

It seems that I must have attended that play at least 8 to 10 times as I grew up.  It became something of a prerequisite of summer vacation.  The smell of mosquito repellent and the sound of crickets in the evening always brings back memories for me of the Lost Colony even to this day.

If you ever get a chance to see the play I would highly recommend it.  The script incorporates broad Christian themes and features prayers and songs written about God and thankfully still presents them without apology, all these years after it was first written.  I hope it continues to do that. 

So when the lights go down on a summer night and the first characters step out of the evening gloom into the spotlight, one of the first to make his appearance is that of Old Tom, the town drunk.   The play’s opening scene is set in England, and Old Tom is kicked out of the local tavern for not having enough money to pay for his beer. Old Tom is a caricature of some of those early pioneers, common folk that did not own land, and had little prospects of a bright future in England, who were willing to leave their motherland for a fresh chance in the New World.

Throughout the play, Old Tom provides some periodic comedic relief in what is a sort of tragic tale of how the first colony was formed in England by Sir Walter Raleigh, and arrived in the new world to establish a fort near Manteo on the waters of the sound. Soon afterwards, Eleanor Dare,  who was the daughter of Governor John White, gave birth to Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America.

But life in the colony was difficult. After suffering a number of setbacks with their crops and skirmishes with some of the native Indians, the colonists sent Governor John White back to England in the summer of 1587 for supplies.  However, because of the war with Spain, Governor White was unable to return to Roanoke Island for three years. When he finally returned, the colony had vanished, leaving only one clue as to their whereabouts: the word "CROATOAN" carved on a post. The fate of those first colonists remains a mystery to this day.

Of course, the details presented by the play during those three years is a matter of speculation.  But it ends with a ragtag remnant of the colonists rallying together and marching out of the colony in search of yet another new land while singing a hymn.  One of the last speeches is given by Old Tom who had been somewhat transformed after enduring the trials this colony of pioneers.  He says, “O Roanoke, O Roanoke, thou hast made a man of me!”  Even though he too suffered through years of desolation and hardships with the colony, he emerges at the end of the play as having been forged by those trials into one of the stalwarts of this remnant band of colonists that bravely head out into  their unknown future. 

As I reflect on that play, I think we can see some parallels between those early colonists and the church.  We can look at the Lost Colony is a metaphor for the church in the sense that as they were called and sent by the Queen of England to be colonists to America,  so we are called by God to be His ambassadors, to be colonists so to speak in a hostile world.  We are ambassadors of the kingdom of God.  God has selected us, called us, and sent us to go into the world and be His representatives, to make disciples, to establish His kingdom in the world.  And while I don’t want to take the analogy too far, I do see a parallel between those early colonists and Christians.  Like Old Tom or many of those early colonists, we had very little credentials to recommend us for the work of the kingdom.  But Christ called us, He changed us, and He has commissioned us and sent us to be His disciples to a hostile world.  And in the process of enduring the hardships and trials of our calling, we have been transformed by the power of the gospel.  And that is the message and the hope that the church is to share with the world. 

I think Jesus was trying to present that principle to some extent that night in the Upper Room.  This ragtag band of disciples He had called from the fringes of Jewish society.  There wasn’t a blue blood among them.  Not a single one of them were from the elite religious ruling parties.  Most of them were common fishermen, unlearned, unschooled. A pretty rough lot.  Peter, who was the natural leader of the group, was a brash, outspoken burly guy with a temper.  Thomas was a doubter.  Matthew was an ex tax collector who was viewed as a traitor to his countrymen.  James and John were two brothers who were always trying to elbow their way to the preferred side of Jesus at the expense of everyone else.  Simon the Zealot was probably a revolutionary.  Judas was a thief and a traitor. The rest of them were so nondescript that they might best be described as Paul reminds us of what we are, that  there were not many mighty, not many wise, not many noble in that ragtag group.

Out of all the great people in the world, all the wealthy families, all the royalty in the world, all the intellectuals in the world, Jesus chose these 12.  These were the men that God chose out of all the people in the world to bestow the special privilege to be part of Christ’s intimate circle.  These would have the privilege of eating, sleeping and traveling with Jesus for three years, 24/7.  Most of them owned little more than the clothes on their back.  Much of the time they had little to eat, and slept outdoors in the open.  I’m sure they did not look like much from outward appearances.

Yet these unlikely looking prospects were called to be Christ’s Apostles.  According to Ephesians 2:20 they would become the foundation for the church.  Now that is important.  Because when we consider what the church is, and what the purpose of the church is, this principle of the apostles being the foundation is essential to a correct understanding.  What exactly then is the church?  I think this passage gives us a clue in vs. 28-30, "You are those who have stood by Me in My trials;  and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you  that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” 

Now just before Jesus made that statement you will remember that the disciples were squabbling over which of them was the greatest.  They were still expecting somehow the imminent, physical fulfillment of the kingdom of God and they were elbowing one another aside for the choicest seats, the places of influence, the positions of power.  They still somehow expected that Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman government and restore the throne to Israel and take His seat there, ruling the world with a rod of iron.  And they expected to be His ministers in that new government.  Lot’s of OT prophecies such as Isaiah 9 pointed to that government which shall rest upon His shoulders and there will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. 

And it would seem as though Christ is talking about that physical kingdom in vs. 29.  This is what the disciples had been waiting for.  Jesus said that God had given Him the kingdom, and now He was giving them the choice positions in the kingdom.  He is giving them 12 thrones to rule over the 12 tribes of Israel.  They must have been ecstatic to think that it was finally becoming a reality. 

We know, of course that they misunderstood Jesus’ meaning because in less than 24 hours He was crucified and within a little more than a month He had ascended into heaven. And here we are 2000 years later and Jesus hasn’t yet come back as He promised.  So what then was Jesus talking about?  Well, I think the verse immediately following this statement offers a clue to get us thinking on the right track.  Jesus turns to Simon Peter in vs. 31 and says, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Now I think that the clue is the name Jesus calls Peter.  He calls him Simon.  Do you remember when Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter? In Matt. 16:18 Jesus said to Peter whose given name was Simon Barjona,  "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”   I think that first of all Jesus calls Peter Simon to remind Him of what He said here in Matt. 16:18.  “Upon this rock I will build My church.”  Upon the foundation of the Apostles I will build my church.

Secondly, let’s consider the word church: Ekklesia;  the Greek word for church.  It means literally “called out ones.”  An assembly of people called out by God, a gathering, a company of Christians, the body of Christians throughout the earth.    Now that is the Bible dictionary translation.  But let me state it plainly as plainly for you as I can.  The church is the visible manifestation of the invisible kingdom of God.  Let me say it another way, the church is the invisible kingdom of God made visible. 

To go back to our metaphor, to the native Indians England was invisible.  They had never been there and could not imagine what it was like.  But the colonists represented England.  They carried the flag of England.  They claimed territory for England.  The colony was under the rule of England.  So, in effect, the visible kingdom of England was this tiny colony in America.

In the same way then the church is the visible manifestation of the invisible kingdom of God.  Folks, I think that principle should be revolutionary. Because it ties together what is often viewed as disparate themes in the Bible into a cohesive unit.  I think people have been thrown off very often because sometimes the kingdom is referred to as the kingdom of God and other times the kingdom of heaven.  And when they hear the word heaven and conclude that it is a reference to something in the future, some vague reference to heaven.  But it is a simply a means of referring to the church. Jesus said, the kingdom of God is near you.  He was standing in their midst when He said that.  He went about preaching that the kingdom of heaven was at hand.  The titles were synonymous.  Interchangeable.  They both indicate that the reign of God whose throne is in heaven over all the universe, is at hand.  It was right here because Christ it’s king was here.  And Christ presented the way to enter the kingdom.  He was teaching the characteristics of it’s citizens and how it operates on earth. 

When we understand this it should be revolutionary.  The church is not a building.  It is not an institution.  It is a kingdom.  It is the reign of Christ in the hearts of His people.  You don’t join the church by getting dunked under water or by signing on a form or agreeing to follow certain rituals.  You join the church by coming into the kingdom of God.  And you are born into the kingdom of God by submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  You turn your life over to Him and allow Him to reign, to live no more according to your former desires of the flesh, but to live according to the Spirit of Christ who now dwells in you and leads you and teaches you through God’s word. 

That is why Jesus said in Luke 22, I give you a kingdom.  As My Father has given Me the kingdom, so now I give it to you.  You are going to reign with Me.  Because you have suffered in My trials with Me. 

Folks, have you considered that God has chosen to give you the kingdom?  Jesus said in Luke 12:32  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.”  You underestimate your calling, ladies and gentlemen.  You are not called to visit church.  You are not called to attend church.  You are called to be the church.  You are called to inherit the kingdom of God.  To rule and reign with Christ.  And God has called you here just as surely as Christ called the 12 to Him, that we might be His ambassadors.  That we might establish His kingdom on the earth.  That we might proclaim the good news to a hostile world; that Christ has made it possible for every person, every nation, every tribe to enter the kingdom of God.  It’s not something you gain through heritage, it’s not just for the rich, or just for the elite, or just for the religious.  God has chosen to make it possible for everyone who believes in Christ, and are willing to allow Christ to rule over his or her life to be a part of the kingdom of God.  And that reign of Christ in our hearts is what makes the kingdom of God visible to the world as we are the church.

You know, in the play The Lost Colony, Old Tom didn’t start out looking like anyone you would want to entrust anything to.  But by the end of the play, he had become, even to his own surprise, someone that others had begun to lean on.  And  so it is with the church.  God chooses some unlikely candidates to be testimonies of His grace.  We see that in the disciples.  These squabbling, sometimes selfish disciples were chosen to be the foundation of the church.  I wonder if God has chosen some of you sitting here this morning to be the foundation of this church?  I wonder how you would react if you realized that God was counting not just on me, or on the guy sitting on the other side of the room, but on you to carry the ministry of the kingdom to this community?  Would you step up?  Would you submit yourself to the Lordship of Christ and focus all your energies upon carrying out the ministry that God has given you?  I would suggest that God has indeed chosen you for just such a task.  And a heavenly host is watching with bated breath to see if you will take up that mission.  We sometimes complain that we don’t see God working in the church, and yet perhaps the truth is that we are the people that God has chosen to begin the work. 

 God has chosen to give you the kingdom.  He has chosen you to administer it, to be His ministers.  Yet it’s not a job without hardships or adversity.  It is a hostile world that we have been sent to.  We have a powerful enemy that wants nothing more than to destroy the church and anyone that takes up it’s banner.    Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat…”  I don’t know for sure why Jesus called Peter Simon and not Peter. But I do know that Simon was his given name.  It was his human name.  A Hebrew name.  It means to hear.  Rev. 2:17 says that to those that overcome Jesus will give a new name.  But I think when God gives us a new name it is a name of promise.  It is not necessarily what we are, but what we can become through faith in God.  Abraham is a good example of that.  He was named Abram, exalted father, and was renamed Abraham, a father of a multitude.  It was a name of promise.  A name of faith in what he would be.

So perhaps Jesus uses Simon’s given name as a not so subtle reminder of the weakness of his flesh.  Now in the earlier reference in Matthew where Jesus gives Peter his new name, Jesus says his new name was Peter, which means rock, and He says upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  Now Jesus says, Satan has demanded permission to sift him like wheat.  Thank God He gives us the promise before He allows the peril.  The promise that God would not allow the gates of hell to prevail against him.  Jesus goes on to say that Peter would temporarily fall, but that he would return, not because of his own strength, but because Jesus would pray for Him.  Vs. 22, “but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."  I think the emphasis needs to be noticed here;  I will build My church. I have prayed for you.  The key to spiritual victory is in Christ’s power to keep His promises. 

We know from the scriptures that God does allow Peter to be sifted like wheat.  We sometimes wonder why God allows us to undergo trials, don’t we?  Why do we have to suffer?  What is the point of tribulations?  I think we get some insight here in this verse.  First of all, let’s consider what it means to sift like wheat.  Sifting was a way that the farmer separated the wheat from the chaff.  All the harvest was put through a sieve which was shaken vigorously until all the chaff had fallen out and the good grain was left.  So we can conclude that God allows the sifting and shaking in our lives so that the chaff, the undesirable stuff gets winnowed out and the good fruit remains. 

We sang about  a similar thing while ago in our hymn “How Firm a Foundation”.  “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, my grace, all sufficient shall be thy supply.  The flame shall not hurt thee, I only design. Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”  God allows trials to refine us, to clean out the excess, the dross, the impurities, so that we might be fruitful as we represent Jesus. 

Hebrews 12: 26 teaches the same principle. “And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, "YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN."  This expression, "Yet once more," denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.  Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

What God wants to burn or shake out of our lives is our self reliance, our self interests, our pride, so that we might be of greater service to the Master.  And I would secondly suggest that this principle includes a shaking and refining of the church, to get rid of the dross, the chaff, so that the grain might remain and be useful.  The visible church has both wheat and chaff in it; saints and sinners.  I believe God wants to purify His church.  He doesn’t want impurity in the church.  He doesn’t want false teachers and false doctrine confusing the message of the kingdom.  And so I believe though the gates of hell are unleashed against it, the true church of God will not fail, but only be refined, so that we might offer up to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.  Take a look at church history.  There has never been a time of real, true revival without first a time of testing, of persecution in the church.  God uses what Satan means for evil, for our good, to purify the church and make her useful for the kingdom.

Note next that Jesus says what Peter will do when he returns.  One he has returned, he will strengthen his brothers.  That’s the other pillar of the church.  On the one hand we are reaching out to the world with the good news of the gospel, but on the other hand we are holding up the heads of our brethren.  Paul makes it clear in 1 Cor. 12 that the church is the body of Christ.  And each of you are a vital part of that body.  You were chosen, designed to be part of the body of Christ.  Now understand something, we are talking about a local body, and that body is part of the universal church of Christ.  I hear people claim to be part of the church, but they only acknowledge the universal body of the church.  They feel no responsibility to the local body.  That is not what the Bible teaches.  It teaches that you are individually part of a local body, and that local body is part of the universal church.  You need to find your part in the local body of believers.  This is the kingdom of God focused on a local community.  And you were chosen to be part of that.

Paul laid out the format of the church in Eph. 4:11-13 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,  for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;  until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

So the saints under the leadership of the pastor are to be edified, that is taught and built up into maturity, so that they can do the work of service.  And the work of service is two fold, one reaching out and the other reaching in.  As Jesus told Peter, strengthening one another.  You know I try to work out.  I don’t do it as much or as efficiently as I should as I’m sure you can tell.  One of my problems is that I try to work on a specific muscle like my shoulders.  But I don’t see much results.  And what I’ve found out by studying is that I also need to build up the surrounding muscles that support that particular muscle if I’m going to really make any significant gains.  I need to develop my core because it supports my back which supports my shoulders.  They all are interdependent.

And that is sort of the way the body of Christ works.  We need each other.  We need to support one another.  That can happen in a lot of ways.  But in it’s most simplest terms, it happens as we come together as a body on a weekly or biweekly basis.  We need to get beyond the elementary stages of attending church when it’s good for me.  And realize that we attend because it is good for others.  We are the church.  Christ has commissioned you to be the church.  He is depending on you.  Others in the church depend on you.  So let’s act as if we are an important vital part of this church and God is counting on us, others are counting on us, and we have a job to do. 

Unfortunately, Peter is being full on Simon at the moment Jesus tells him this.  He is full of bravado and a sense of his own self sufficiency.  He is like a lot of us when things are going good.  We think we can stand any trial, no problem.  We think we can handle the devil and temptations, no problem.  We are so confident in ourselves, that we think we can dismiss the church, we don’t really need anyone else.  We certainly don’t think we need to be preached at.   Don’t need a preacher yelling at me, thank you very much.  I’m perfectly capable of remaining faithful to the Lord. 

Peter essentially said, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death! I don’t know about the rest of these guys, but I’m good.  I am a rock. I am an island. Though everyone else falls I won’t fall.”   Listen, sometimes I think it is easier to imagine dying for Christ than it is to live for Him.  A lot of us can muster up some bravado when we imagine a great dramatic scene where we are forced to renounce Christ or die.  But we know from Peter’s example that sometimes our greatest denial of Christ comes not in a courtroom but in community. How often do we deny  Christ simply by abandoning His body?  We deny Christ by refusing to take up our responsibility to His church.

It’s interesting that now Jesus calls him Peter.  He says in vs. 34, ““I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”  I think that this time Jesus calls him Peter because He wants to reaffirm Peter’s faith.  When that cock crowed in just a few hours time, Peter would look up from that campfire of the enemy and see the Lord looking at him and he would be so ashamed that he had failed him.  Peter would remember what Jesus had said to him.  And so Jesus calls him Peter now because it is his name of faith.  Jesus is reminding him that he is a rock.  That Christ will build his church upon the foundation of the apostles and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  That is where the faith comes in.  That God could use someone as flawed and faulted as Peter to be the foundation of the church, the visible manifestation of the kingdom of God, the physical representation of Christ.  This man? This man who denied Jesus three times? 

Obviously the answer is yes.  God did ultimately use Peter in a magnificent way.  He was able to strengthen his brothers.  He is able even today to strengthen the body of Christ not only by his example, but by his letters.  Peter is a great testament to the grace of God who deigns to use flawed men and women to build the kingdom of God.  That is able to even take our great failures and turn them into triumphs. 

If God can use Peter in such a great way after denying three times that he even knew Christ, then he can certainly use men and women like you.  I don’t know about you, but I have failed Christ so many times in my life.  I’m not proud of it, by any means.  But I am grateful to the kindness and compassion of God that never failed me. 2Tim. 2:13 says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” 

Listen, I don’t know whether or not you have denied Christ in your life.  Maybe you haven’t said it outright, but maybe by your actions you have denied Him. Maybe by your lifestyle.  Maybe you’re guilty of denying Him lordship of your life.  Maybe you’re holding onto certain areas that you don’t want Him to rule over.  I hope that if you are convicted of that this morning then you will take this opportunity to repent and ask God to create in you a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you.  Because God wants to use you.  Christ is interceding for you so that you might be restored into useful service for Him.

And then finally, I hope that all of you that have confessed Jesus as Lord will consider what part God has designed you to be in the kingdom of God, the church.  God has a plan and a purpose for you.  One is to be a part of a church that reaches out to a lost world with the good news of Jesus Christ.  And secondly to be a part of the church that reaches in to help support the rest of the body.  God has commissioned you to be a part of His kingdom, to be His church.  I hope that you will prayerfully consider how you can serve this body in service to the Lord. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Sinner, the Saints and the Servant; Luke 22: 21-30

 The first three gospels of the New Testament are what we call the synoptic gospels.  They each present the story of Christ incorporating a number of similar events and all follow a similar sequence.  But as we have noticed in our study of Luke up to this point, Luke tends to present his information in such a way as to emphasize certain principles of the gospel that he wants to stress through his particular arrangement. 

This passage before us today is no different.  Luke has deliberately included some things of this last discourse in the upper room and left others out because he is primarily concerned with emphasizing certain important principles.  He is not merely presenting a biography of the life of Jesus – none of the gospel writers are.  That’s why they are called evangelists.  That means that they are presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is their goal in writing their respective gospels.  They may have different perspectives; Luke was  a Gentile whereas Matthew was a Jew, for instance.  But their goal was the same.  To present the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So in a sense, each of them are preaching a message.  The thing for us to do is to correctly interpret that message as they delivered it.

I see in this passage before us Luke presenting three portraits in this upper room that illustrate three categories in relation to the truth of the gospel.  The three categories are the sinner, the saints and the Servant. They represent three possible responses to the message of the gospel.

The first portrait in this passage that we will look at is the sinner, and that is Judas.  He should not need an introduction. He is the quintessential picture of a sinner.  Actually, we looked at him a couple of weeks ago when we studied the first 6 verses of this chapter.  I mentioned then that the most tragic thing about Judas was stated in vs. 3, which says that he was one of the 12.  He was part of Christ’s inner circle for three years.  He heard every message from the greatest preacher that ever lived.  He witnessed the greatest miracles that the world has ever seen.  And yet Judas becomes a traitor.  It’s one of the great tragedies presented in the scriptures.

The question that brings to my mind is how did this happen?  How did a person that was so privileged turn away from the truth about Christ?  And furthermore, even if you can accept that he turned away from Christ, how did he go from being a disciple, to rejecting Christ, and then to conspiring to murder Christ?  How does that happen? 

At first that prospect boggled my mind.  How a follower of Christ could not only turn away from Him, but turn against Him, eventually actually hating Him enough to conspire to murder Him.  But after thinking about it, I realized that it is not that difficult.  Actually, I would suggest that is a natural progression in the life of an unbeliever.  They progress from some sort of professed interest in Christianity, to a rejection of the truth, and then to a hatred of the truth and anyone involved in proclaiming it.  And that hatred can then easily morph into a diabolical plot to kill or destroy those people that dare to convict them of sin. Everyone that rejects Christ is capable of that. 

Jesus often made that connection.  For instance in Luke 11:23 "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.”  The point He is making is that there really is no middle ground in regards to real Christianity.  You are either for Christ or you reject His truth.  And if you reject His truth you reject Him. 

The devil loves to tell us that we can choose a less controversial form of Christianity.  That we don’t need to go to extremes.  That we can accept some of the truth of the Bible, but we don’t have to accept everything.  But Jesus says there is no middle ground.  You are either for Him or against Him.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  You cannot separate the truth of Christ from Christianity.  It is the purview of God alone to decide what truth is, what sin is, and what sin is not.  God alone decides how He will be worshipped.  And God has expressed that truth in His word.

So when you reject the truth you actually end up hating God.  You hate the fact that His word convicts you.  So you put yourself in the place of God and decide what is wrong or what is right as if you were god.  And so you hate anything or anyone that attempts to show you the truth of God’s word.  Paul says in Rom. 8:7 it is “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”  And James as well makes it clear that the sinner is at war with God. James 4:4 “You adulterers and adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”

There is no middle ground.  You are either for Christ or against Him.  But you might say, “Ok, but Judas isn’t just a normal sinner.  He goes beyond that.  He was entered into by Satan.”  Yes, he was.  But that too is something Christ associates with all sinners.  Jesus said in John 8:44  "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” 

John expands on that principle in 1John 3:8, 10.  He says “the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. ... 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”  So the principle then is simple, a sinner who has rejected the truth and conviction of God’s word is not a child of God, but a child of the devil.  And his deeds prove it.  If you are a child of God, then you will do the deeds of your Father; you will practice righteousness.  But if you are a child of the devil, then you will do the deeds of your father.  You love evil because your heart is evil.

The point that we need to conclude from Judas’s example is that sin is not an innocuous thing.  Sin is opening one’s heart to Satan.  Sin is an affront to God.  It does injury to God.  Sin offends the holiness of God.  To say that you have no sin is to make God a liar.  To continue in your sin is to trample underfoot the blood of Jesus Christ, to scorn it, to consider it worthless.  And unrepented of sin is an open invitation to Satan to take dominion over you, to enslave you and make you his servant of unrighteousness.  It is no wonder then that Judas is presented as the ultimate example of a sinner.

Yet, what a tragedy.  This man had every opportunity to repent.  Jesus gives him another opportunity here in this passage.  Right up to the last minute Jesus is giving Judas a chance to repent.  And we can learn from Jesus in this passage how we as Christians should approach the sinner. 

Someone said to me the other day, “we need to show the love of Christ to the sinner.”  Yes, we should.  But how do we do that?  By coddling them in their sin? By accepting their sin? By telling them that they don’t need to worry about their sin?  No, God forbid.  That isn’t love.  Showing the love of Christ to the sinner is to tell them that they are lost and doomed to judgment because of their sin.  But Jesus has paid the penalty of God’s judgment by offering Himself as a substitute on the cross.  Showing them the love of Christ compels me to tell them that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die on the cross.  But whosoever calls upon Him in repentance and faith will be saved from the wrath to come.  Urging them to repent is love.  Telling them that their sin is not sin is not love.  Far from it. 

Jesus gave Judas a chance to repent.  First He let Judas know that He knew about his sin.  Jesus confronted Him.  Vs. 21 "But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table.”   And then He told him of the judgment to come upon him for his sin. Vs.  22 "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"  But Judas hardens his heart and does not repent.  The other gospels say that he tried to blend in with the other disciples by facetiously saying, “Is it me, Lord?” even as they were doing.  He knew, and he knew that Jesus knew, but he was trying to save face by faking innocence. 

The Bible doesn’t tell us for sure what the sin of Judas was that he wouldn’t repent of.  But we can make an educated guess.  He had the money bag.  And he used to pilfer money from the bag.  So we know he loved money.  He was in it for the money, for the position, for the prestige that he had hoped would come from his association with Christ.  His sin was the same sins that we all are guilty of; the lust of the flesh. 1John 2:16 tells us “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”  The root of all sin is pride.  It was pride that caused Satan’s fall.  It was pride with which Satan tempted Eve.  The Bible says that pride goes before a fall. 

So whatever manifestation Judas’s sin took, it’s basic root was pride.  And in harboring that sin, refusing to repent of that sin, it metastasized to the point of allowing Satan to come in and eventually control him that so he was an instrument of Satan to destroy Christ.  And Judas’s sin ultimately destroyed him as well. That is the natural progression of sin. 

The second portrait is a group of characters that we encounter in this passage - the disciples.  And they were a group of characters.  Not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble, as Paul said in 1 Cor. 1:26.  Just 11 ordinary men.  Flawed, fleshly, and nothing to commend them to become this extraordinary force that would soon turn the world upside down.  Except for one thing.  The power of Christ.  These 11 ordinary, flawed men, were sinners saved by grace.  God had chosen them to be His instruments.  They had left all that they had in the world and followed Christ.  They had been saved by faith in Christ.  And that made them saints.  The Bible makes it clear that saints are believers.  Sinners that have been sanctified through repentance and faith in Christ. 

Paul makes that evident in 1Cor. 1:2 “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” Saints is not a title of those that are dead, but those that are made alive in Christ Jesus.  Those that have been born again into the family of God.  Eph 2:19 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household.” 

But as we see in this passage, the fact that you have believed and become a saint, part of God’s household, does not eliminate the presence of the old flesh.  We are still in our bodies, still in the flesh, and still prone to the desires of the flesh.  And nothing illustrates that principle better than these 11 disciples.  When Jesus says that one of them was going to betray Him, they all start asking who it was.  Some even say, “Surely it isn’t me, is it Lord?”  They couldn’t imagine that Jesus could possibly be talking about them. 

Kind of reminds me of some of my sermons when I start talking about sin.  I see some people start looking around the crowd a little uneasily, wondering who I could be talking about.  “Certainly not me. Hey, don’t look at me. I wouldn’t do such a thing.”   But the disciples reveal that they aren’t far from Judas’s sin.  Even though they are saved the root of pride is still there and it becomes evident in the next verse.  In vs. 24 they seamlessly transition from discussing who might betray the Lord to discussing who was the greatest among them. “And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.”

So even though they have been saved from the penalty of sin, there is still a process going on where they are being saved from the power of sin. That’s what we call the process of the sanctification of the saints.  These disciples have the same human weaknesses that Judas has.  They are giving in to the sin of pride.   “Oh, I could never betray Christ!”  But in their hearts they have already displaced Him from the throne and climbed back on the throne themselves. 

Folks, as we look around this room today and think we could never betray Christ, we need to look closely at our own hearts.  We may not have many here today that are guilty of some gross sin like conspiring to murder.  But all of us are guilty of taking care of number one.  We all are prone to the sin of pride. We all have to be on guard against dethroning Christ, of wounding others for the sake of our pride.

James says in chapter 4 that our conflicts can be traced back to pride.  He says we don’t get our prayers answered sometimes because we ask with selfish motives.  He says in vs. 6 that “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” The opposite of pride is submission. Submit therefore he says to God. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  In other words, stop trying to love the world and love Christ.  That is double mindedness.  Furthermore, James shows us the relation between pride and the devil.  He says resist the devil, resist the temptation to be proud and self serving and the devil will flee from you.  But Judas harbored his pride, and Satan saw it as an invitation.

James continues his admonishment against harboring pride by saying, “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.”  That means recognize your sinfulness and then repent of it.  Don’t just be sorry for your sin when you get caught in it, but mourn over your sin.  That is the proper attitude of repentance.  And then James says, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

All of our boasting in our possessions of this world, all our boasting about our business acumen, our ability to make money, to make a profit, James says is arrogance.  It is pride.  Such boasting is evil. And he concludes that chapter by saying  in vs. 17 that sin is not only what you do, but what you don’t do.  “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” 

So what is the right thing to do?  What is a Christian supposed to be like?  Well, Jesus is the example and portrait of the third character which is a servant starting in 22.  He presents Himself as a servant as an example of how we are to be now that we are in Christ.  James rebukes us for being self serving; that is the essence of pride.  Jesus exhorts us to serve one another as unto Christ. 

Listen, this is what is fundamentally wrong today with people’s attitude towards church.  You hear people say they went to church.  Or ask where do you go to church?  The perspective is that church is something you attend where you are served, rather than a place you go to serve.  The Biblical principle of church is that you not only go to be fed, but submit to become a part of it, a vital body part that serves the other parts which is necessary for them to be able to function so that the whole body is healthy. 

Jesus illustrates that for the disciples with a comparison.  First He compares the world’s way with God’s way.  He says “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’”  In other words, the world serves in such a way to make sure they bring credit to themselves.  They do their good deeds to be seen of men. We name hospitals after benefactors.  We have banquets to honor people who give large sums of money for civic needs. 

But Jesus says that is not the way the church is to do things. Vs. 26, “But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.”  The contrast that Jesus is making here is the contrast between self serving pride or humbly submitting in service to God.   It starts with the church leadership, but it’s to be carried out through the church body.  It means putting other people’s needs above your own.  Putting other’s well being above your own. 

Vs. 27, “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”  The obvious answer to the disciples earlier discussion of which of them was the greatest was Jesus Christ.  He is the Son of God.  And yet He lowered Himself from the throne of heaven to become one of His creation,  to be a servant for us. 

Isaiah 53:11-12  “As a result of the anguish of His soul, [God] will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.  Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.” 

Listen, we need to comprehend what it meant for Christ to humble Himself.  We need to understand that not only did He do so for our salvation, He humbled Himself for our example, that we might follow in  His footsteps. This is how God has designed the kingdom to operate.   This is the purpose of the church.  So we are to humble ourselves in service even as Jesus humbled Himself to be a servant.  For as Jesus said, a servant is not above His master.

Paul establishes that principle in Phil. 2:1-8  “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” 

So here is the progression of the gospel then as outlined in this passage; sinner, saints, and then servants.  Like Judas, we are all sinners, in opposition to God, enemies of God, doing the works of our father the devil.  But when the truth of God convicted us of our sin, we repented of our sins and had faith in Christ to forgive us our sin.  We are spiritually born again as children of God. But though the wrath of God towards our sin was poured out on Jesus Christ, we still have a battle going on between the flesh and the spirit.  We have been born again in the Spirit, but we are still living in the flesh.  Our victory over sin comes from putting to death the desires of the flesh.  Instead of serving ourselves, by the strength and conviction which God now supplies through the Holy Spirit we serve God.  It is a battle sometimes.  Our flesh will continue to want to rise up again and again, seeing to serve ourselves, to satisfy our pride.  But we must die daily, crucifying the flesh and it’s evil desires through confession and repentance.  That is how we walk in the Spirit.  Walking in the Spirit is not some mystical, goose bump inducing experience. It is day by day dying to the flesh, so that we might live in the Spirit. Rom. 8:13 “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

So that is the progression, we go from sinner to saint, to servant.  We emulate Christ’s example by humbling ourselves and serving the church.  Eph. 5:25, “Even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”  We too give up our lives to serve the church, to serve Christ.

And then finally there is a promise for those that follow that progression. Jesus says in vs. 28 "You are those who have stood by Me in My trials;  and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” 

Now though this promise is specifically tailored to the disciples there that evening, it is a promise that can be generally applied to us as well. All who suffer for Christ here on earth will be glorified with Him when He comes in the fullness of His kingdom. God has granted the kingdom to Christ.  It’s a spiritual kingdom that is manifested on earth as the Church.  The citizens of the kingdom are those that have placed Christ on the throne of their hearts.  But one day Christ will physically come back for His church as a bridegroom comes for his bride.  And on that day, we will be seated at the marriage supper of the Lamb in the eternal reign of Christ in the new heavens and new earth. 

And though the 12 disciples are given the specific honor of reigning over the 12 tribes of Israel, all those saints who have persevered to the end will receive a crown, and sit on thrones with Christ. Rev. 3:20-21 says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

Listen, I want to encourage you today, even as Christ encouraged His disciples on the night before He was crucified.  He knew that the disciples would soon go through trials for His sake.  He knew that they would suffer for His sake.  And so Jesus says this to them to encourage them.  He wants to give them a hope that extends beyond the temporal thrones, temporary greatness that they were squabbling over, and which Judas had stumbled over.  Jesus wanted to give them a glimpse of the glories of the kingdom and the eternal reign in glory that God has promised to those who love Him. 

So I want to encourage you as well.  The time is short.  Some of you are going to suffer for Jesus Christ if you continue as His disciple.  To some extent we are all called to suffer the trials that Jesus suffered.  At the very least, if we are going to really follow Him all the way,  we will suffer the loss of our pride.  We will suffer the loss of some of the worldly prestige and honor that could be ours if we abandoned the principles of Christ.  But take courage.  Even as Jesus overcame the world, so we are going to overcome this world.  I pray that you overcome the temptation to forsake Christ for temporary money or fame or glory.  That like Paul in Phil. 3:7-11 we may say,  “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”