Sunday, December 14, 2014

What will you do with Jesus? Luke 23: 1-25

What will you do with Jesus?  That is the question of the ages. It is the question that every person of every age must answer for themselves.  It is in this scenario played out here in the final chapters of the gospel of Luke that we see one person after another faced with the question of “what will you do with Jesus?”  See, it is not enough to simply believe that He exists.  All the players in this last act of the ministry of Jesus certainly believed that He existed.  But they all must decide not if He is, but who He is, and then what they will do with Him.

So far Luke has presented a long cast of characters who had to answer that question.  And sadly, as we continue to look at three more today, there is a uniformity in their answers.   They all reject Him.  We saw in the last chapter to start with that Judas, one of the 12 apostles rejected Him, which resulted in him betraying Christ for 30 pieces of silver.  He not only rejected Him, but in the end He valued Him as worth no more to him than a slave – 30 pieces of silver being the price of a slave. 

And then we saw the rest of the disciples reject Him as well in the Garden of Gethsemane.  When the soldiers and the lynch mob came in the middle of the night, for a moment they attempted to put up a brave front and fight, and then they took off into the darkness.  They all deserted Him.

Then we looked at Simon Peter, the staunchest, bravest disciple of them all.  Possibly the closest to Jesus.  And yet he too rejected Him.  Peter ended up sitting by the fire of the soldiers who arrested Jesus and before the night was over he denied even knowing Him three times. 

Then we saw the rejection of the high priests and Sanhedrin, the elders of the Jews.  They made up the religious ruling parties of the Jews.  They asked Jesus flat out if He was indeed the Son of God. Luke 22:70, “Are You the Son of God, then?” And He said to them, “Yes, I am.”  And their answer was to blaspheme Him and hit Him in the mouth and call for His crucifixion. 

Now today we will look at three other responses to this question; “What will you do with Jesus?”  We see first  of all Pilate, a Gentile,  the governor of Rome.  Secondly, we see Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee.  He was not a Jew, but was an Idumean, who ruled over the region of Galilee. And thirdly, we will look at the crowd, the multitude, made up of the mass of people who were gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover.

So the account begins by saying that the whole body got up and brought Jesus before Pilate.  The whole body relates to the Council of the Elders spoken of at the end of chapter 22.  The high priests, the scribes and the 70 members of the Sanhedrin.  You will remember they had arrested Jesus in the middle of the night in the Garden of Gethsemane and held two bogus trials.  The first was at the house of the high priest to try to find something that they could indict Him for.  But they knew that was not a legal trial, so they reconvened again at dawn in their chambers so that it would be official.  And all that they had determined in their trials was that they wanted to put Him to death.  They had not found witnesses that could agree on anything, but they still wanted Him dead.  However it was not legal under Roman law for the Jews to put someone to death.  That is why they usually resorted to stoning people that they found guilty of blasphemy or some other serious crime.  However, they don’t want to stone Jesus because they feared the people.  They didn’t want to be seen as responsible for putting Jesus to death.  He was still a popular figure.  So their plan was to have Rome put Him to death.  So as soon as it was light, they all went down the street a block or two to Pilates court to charge Him with crimes against the Roman government, thinking that they would put Jesus to death.

They wouldn’t enter Pilate’s court though because they did not want to defile themselves by entering a Gentile establishment.  So Pilate came out to them.  He must have been stunned to see the entire Jewish council standing there in the street at the crack of dawn.  That was undoubtedly an unprecedented thing and signaled to Him that they were seriously agitated about something. 

So they essentially bring  charges of insurrection before Pilate, which they were certain would be worthy of the death sentence.  They said, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” All of which was an outright lie, by the way.  They don’t want to defile themselves by entering a Gentile building, but they don’t mind defiling themselves by bringing false charges against an innocent man.

So now the question comes to Pilate; “what will you do with Jesus?”  We could spend an entire message just on Pilate himself.  The other gospels have more to say about him than Luke gives us here.  But what we see in a nutshell, especially in this first response, is that Pilate wants to duck the question.  He doesn’t want to have to give an answer.  He doesn’t really want to deal with Jesus. 

He asks Jesus if indeed He was the King of the Jews.  I’m sure that was a mocking, sarcastic question.  Pilate was the governor of Rome.  He was over the entire region.  He had certainly heard of Jesus.  He knew what Jesus was going about doing.  He may not have understood what Jesus was teaching, but he certainly was not so na├»ve that Jesus could be the King of the Jews and he would not know  it. 

But surprisingly, Jesus answers his sarcastic question anyway. Jesus answers, “It is as you say.”  John’s gospel adds some really important details here that reveal the mindset of Pilate.  In John 18:34-38 it says Jesus answered, "Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?"  Pilate answered, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”

Now that reveals the dilemma of Pilate.  He desperately wanted to avoid this conversation about truth and the kingdom of God.  He wanted to avoid having to deal with the question of the ages, “what will you do with Jesus?”  And now Jesus takes this sarcastic, mocking question of Pilate and turns it around into a challenge.  What will you do with Jesus?  What will you do with the truth?

Pilate’s answer in the short term was to send Him away to Herod.  He wanted to duck the question.  And how much like Pilate are so many people in the world today.  They don’t want to deal with the question of what to do about Jesus.  They want to avoid thinking about such things.  How can you know, they ask?  What is truth, they ask?  How can you really believe the Bible, they say?  They want to avoid the question of what to do about Jesus.  They want to live out their lives without conflict,  without having to choose, without having to decide anything.  They are classic examples of burying your head in the sand and hoping that when you take it out again the situation will have somehow been taken care of.  They would rather have others do the heavy lifting about theology.  They would rather have a form of religion, but deny the power of it.  They just want to be left alone to live life as they see fit.  So like Pilate, they want to pass on that question.  But like Pilate, they will not be able to be left alone for long.  One day every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, either now resulting in your salvation, or one day in judgment resulting in damnation.  But everyone must one day answer that question; “what will you do with Jesus?”

So then we turn to the second character in this passage who is confronted with the question of “what will you do with Jesus?”  And that is Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee.  He happened to be in Jerusalem for the Passover at this time.  Even though he is not a Jew, he has a vested interest in keeping the Jews happy.  His father was Herod the Great, the one that had all the babies under two years old killed in Palestine after Jesus was born.  These guys were like a mafia family or something.  They did great public works to buy the loyalty of the people, but actually they were a murderous, treacherous lot and the son Herod Antipas is no exception. 

Herod Antipas was the one who had John the Baptist put to death, if you will remember.  Herod had a great ball and the daughter of Herodias his wife danced before them.  And Herod in a state of drunken lust tells her that she can have anything she wants, up to half his kingdom.  She goes back to ask her mother what she should ask for, and her mother tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  The reason that Herodias hated John the Baptist so much was because John had rebuked Herod publicly for taking Herodias when she had been the wife of his brother Philip and then divorcing his present wife and marrying her.  John the Baptist had the audacity to tell Herod that what he had done was a sin, and so Herod had John arrested and put in prison. 

Yet interestingly, Herod liked listening to John. Mark 6:20 tells us that “Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him.” But as we know, even though Herod knew that John was a righteous and holy man, even though he knew he was a prophet from God, he had him put to death to please his wife, to try to cover up their sin. 

Listen, nothing makes people more mad than rebuking them of their sin.  Nothing makes people madder than preaching about sin.  Some people asked me the other day what we could do to grow our church.  If I simply stopped preaching about sin I’m sure we would have a much bigger church.  The world hates to be told that what they want to do, what they think is ok to do is sin.  And yet the faithful man of God will preach the truth about sin, because unless a man is convicted of his sin he will not repent, and if he doesn’t repent of his sin he cannot be saved. We must come to understand God’s wrath against sin, in order to comprehend why a loving God would send men to hell.  And we must understand that sin is an affront to a holy God, to understand why God would send His Son to die on the cross to pay the penalty of sin.  Sin is not a peripheral doctrine that can be overlooked, but sin must be dealt with.  However, the world doesn’t want to hear about it, and they hate whoever dares to convict them of it.

So here is the deal with Herod.  This is a man who had heard the truth.  He had listened repeatedly to the preaching of John the Baptist.  The text says that he was very perplexed,  that means he was convicted of his sin.  But rather than repent of it, he had locked John up in prison and then executed him to stave off the anger of his wife.  Then later on, when Jesus’ fame was spreading around Galilee, Herod’s guilt caused him to wonder if John had come back to life somehow.  So he had been hearing about Jesus for 3 years and wanting to see Him.

Notice vs. 8, “Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him.”  So Herod was curious.  He wanted to see Jesus produce a miracle.  He wanted to see something sensational.  But it wasn’t going to make him a believer, it would just satisfy some venal desire on his part to see Jesus dance on the end of his puppet strings.  

So finally Herod gets his chance.  Verse 9 says that he questioned Jesus at some length.  And yet Jesus answered him not a word.  Listen, there are a lot of people in the world today that would like to see some manifestation of God.  They brazenly say that if God wants them to believe in them, then God is going to have to do a miracle.  And God’s answer to them is exactly what Jesus’ answer to Herod is.  Nothing.  God does not have to prove Himself to anyone.  In fact, He will not.  God’s name as He delivered it to Moses in the burning bush was “I Am.”  God doesn’t start out in Genesis with a long list of reasons why we should believe in Him.  The Bible doesn’t offer a course in apologetics.  Genesis 1:1 simply and boldly states; “In the beginning, God…” And Jesus doesn’t waste anytime defending Himself either. A few hours before when Jesus was in the Garden He asked the mob, “whom do you seek?”  And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”  And Jesus answered them with just two words, “I Am.”  And they fell to the ground at the power of that name.  Jesus is the Son of God, and it is incumbent upon man to believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of those that seek Him.

Herod is faced with the Son of God, and yet when he questions Jesus, He does not answer him a word.  Herod had all the testimony that he was going to get.  He had the testimony of John the Baptist.  He had recognized his preaching as the truth and yet he had his head cut his head off.  But it’s not that Jesus doesn’t give Herod a second chance.  The fact is that Herod had already decided what he would do with Jesus.  It says in Luke 13 that Herod had decided to kill Jesus.  He was seeking Him to have Him killed.  Herod rejected the Son of God because he did not want to be convicted of his sin.  He did not want to repent of his sin. 

And that is shown in the actions of Herod now that he has an audience with Jesus.  When Jesus doesn’t dance when Herod calls, when Jesus doesn’t perform a miracle to satisfy the vanity of Herod, then he shows his true colors.  He mocks Jesus.  Vs. 11, “And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate.”

So when Herod is faced with the question of the ages, “what will you do with Jesus?” he mocks him, he treats him with contempt, dressing him in a king’s robe as some kind of sick joke and sends Jesus back to Pilate.  That is what the atheists and agnostics and God haters are doing today.  They mock God.  They sneer at God.  They have contempt for all things holy.  And yet in reality their motive is not some superior intelligence, but that they love their sin and refuse to repent of it. John 3:19 Jesus said, "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”  And I am afraid that many people in our community will never receive anything more from God than the preaching of the word of God.  We preach the truth of God’s word here, plain and unadulterated.  And yet, like Pilate, they have rejected the truth.  They seek some sort of sign, some sort of miracle from God, but God has said in 1Cor. 1:21 that by the foolishness of preaching men will be saved.

So Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate, and that also introduces us to the third group of characters in this passage, and that is the crowd, the multitude.  Throughout Jesus’ ministry He had been followed by the multitudes.  They were an ever changing, but constant presence in His ministry.  He miraculously fed them on at least two occasions. They heard His messages. They saw Him perform many miracles.  They had the privilege that Herod and Pilate did not have.  Herod wanted to see miracles and did not.  But the multitudes saw many miracles.  And just a week earlier they had followed Jesus into Jerusalem calling out “Hosanna!” and throwing down palm branches in His path as He rode into town on a donkey.  Popular opinion was high at that time.  Their expectations were high.  The crowds fed off that popularity and the expectation of even greater miracles, perhaps even the prospect of Jesus taking the throne of David.  They are moved by the tide of emotion, they are aroused by public sentiment and popular approval.  And they now this fickle crowd has gathered at the sight of this mob of soldiers, the condemnation of the high priests and scribes, and the judgment of the 70 elders of the Sanhedrin.  And their affections are swayed by the force of that religious persuasion to join them in their condemnation of Jesus.

Vs. 13 “Pilate  summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people.” That would be the gathering crowds, the multitudes, many of them the same people that just a few days earlier had shouted hosanna are now in this crowd that is being driven by the resentment of the religious leaders.  And so in the space of just a few days, we see the fickle crowds allegiance switch from calling for Him to be King, to calling for Him to be crucified.

And the amazing thing is that Pilate is still doing his best to wash his hands of the whole affair.  He says three times, “I find no guilt in this man.”  And yet the crowd, spurred on by popular opinion calls ever more for His crucifixion.  Pilate even offers to scourge Jesus.  That was typically 39 lashes with the cat of nine tails, a bull whip tipped with glass and barbs that cut the back of Jesus to shreds.  He brings Jesus back out again before the people and offers to release Him, but they call out for him to release instead a man named Barabbas, who was a notorious murderer and criminal. 

Vs. 23, “But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail.”  I’m afraid that we are entering a period in our culture today when Jesus has lost whatever superficial popularity that He might have ever enjoyed.  There was a time when the popular culture respected Jesus, at least on the surface.  There was a time when the Bible was respected as holy and righteous.  When men feared God.  But those days are practically gone in today’s society.  The same multitudes that called out to God in prayer meetings all across this country after the horror of 911 have now tossed every mention of God out of schools, public arenas, out of the military, out of political circles.  God isn’t wanted anymore.  Public opinion has shifted dramatically from a superficial acceptance of Christianity to downright animosity.  To be a Christian today is to be hated by everyone.  And even many religious organizations have joined in denouncing truth and righteousness as bigoted and narrow minded. The political correctness of our society demands that there can be no truth.  Tolerance is the new righteousness.  The voices of the Christ haters have become louder and louder.  It drowns out reason.  They don’t want to listen to reason.  Evil is venerated and righteousness is demonized.  Hatred for all things Christian has become all the rage now.   Denouncing Christ is popular.  And more and more people are joining in with the throng every day.  It is a sad time to be a Christian.  Many of us are like Pilate, we are afraid to buck the crowd.  We are afraid of popular opinion.  And so by our unwillingness to stand up for Christ we participate in His crucifixion.

So Pilate now is faced again with the question of what to do about Jesus.  Herod mocked Him and scorned Him and ultimately wanted Him dead. The fickle multitude has turned against Him as well, and they call for His crucifixion.  And now Pilate must answer that question, “what to do about Jesus?”  He had wanted to avoid it.  He wanted to pass on that question.  But in the face of all of this opposition, he finally succumbs to the pressure of popular opinion and seals his own fate for eternity.  Vs. 24, “And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted.  And he released the man they were asking for who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, but he delivered Jesus to their will.”

Listen, have you answered that question today for yourself?  “What will you do about Jesus?”  Have you been trying to duck that question?  Have you really been trying to avoid answering it?  Or are you like Herod?  Have you answered that question already?  Is your heart already hardened?  Have you considered the choice of continuing in the pleasures of sin or the repentance of sin and made the choice to reject Jesus Christ?  Have you hardened your heart against the preaching of the truth of God’s word?  Or perhaps you have been like Herod in the sense that you are waiting for God to show you some sort of sign from heaven in order to prove that He exists before you will believe in Him. 

Unfortunately, God is not obligated to answer that demand.  But rather God makes His own demand in Hebrews 11:6.  He says that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”  God sets the requirements, not us.  And He requires that we come to Him in faith, believing that He is.  The Great I Am.  He is, and He is the rewarder of those that seek Him.

Or perhaps today you are like the crowd that followed Jesus when things were going good.  When the food and miracles were happening they were excited about the benefits of following Christ. When Christ was popular you went along with the crowd.  But when the way got difficult, when popular opinion began to change, the crowd quickly turned against Him.  When Jesus didn’t perform in the way that you thought that He should, did you desert Him?  Did you turn against Him when He failed to meet your expectations?  Did you reject Christ when you found out what it really meant to follow Him? To worship Him?  To serve Him as King?

Listen, I don’t know your heart today.  But God knows.  He sees your heart, He knows your motivation.  He knows your disappointments.  He knows your doubts.  He knows your fears.  And yet He still loves you enough to willingly go to the cross for you.  He loved the murderous, fickle crowd enough to pray even as they were nailing Him to the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Listen, Jesus went to the cross for Judas, but Judas wouldn’t repent.  He went to the cross for the Sanhedrin, but they would not repent.  He went to the cross for Pilate, but Pilate would not repent.  He went to the cross for Herod and he would not repent.

And Jesus went to the cross for you as well.  The question for you today is, “what will you do with Jesus?”  The Bible says, if you confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Jesus went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sins, so that we might be given His righteousness.  That transaction is made possible by believing in Him, who He is, and what He came to do.  As He told Pilate, He is a King.  He came to be King of your life.  What will you do with Jesus?  Will you bow before Him now, in faith and repentance so that you may receive His salvation?  I pray that today is the day of your salvation.  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

From faith to fear to failure; Luke 22: 49-62

I’ve often jokingly said that I discovered panic attacks.  And I’m only half kidding when I say that.  Almost 18 years ago I went through a period where I had debilitating panic attacks every day for about 3 years.  I may make light of it sometimes now, but I can assure you that panic attacks are no laughing matter.  So along the way I learned something about panic attacks.  And one of the things I first learned was that when you have a panic attack, your body wants to respond in one of two ways; fight or flight.  That is the automatic response of your nervous system when it gets stimulated to the degree of a life threatening situation.  Your adrenaline starts pumping, your breathing starts becoming shallow, and your heart is pounding.  Your body basically is trying to prepare you for either fight or flight.  If there really is a survival situation going on, then that kind of natural nervous response might enable you to react in a way that would help you to save your life.  But when there is not a life threatening situation, then it is a horrifying feeling to have suddenly come over you and it can be difficult to shake off.

It’s difficult because at that time, your body does not respond to reason.  It is responding to feelings.  Though there is no real threat, your nervous system suddenly goes into hyper drive and the effect can be debilitating. It doesn’t mean that you are a coward.  You might be as brave as the next guy in a threatening situation, but it’s that something triggers your nervous system and your mind becomes like a scratched 33 rpm record that keeps repeating and repeating the same what if scenario and causes your nervous system to rev up to the breaking point.

As we look at this story today, I don’t think that Peter and the other disciples necessarily  had a panic attack, at least like the kind that I just described.  But I do think that the principle of how we respond to fear is applicable to some extent to both situations.  Peter and the disciples had a legitimate life threatening situation that was suddenly thrust upon them.  Jesus had been warning them that something like this was coming, but it was so unreal to them that they had fallen asleep in the garden.

The setting was the middle of the night in a dark wooded olive grove.  They were sleeping out in the open.  They were exhausted.  It had been one stressful thing after another with Jesus for a week now, ever since they entered Jerusalem.  And suddenly they are awakened by Roman soldiers with lanterns flickering in the darkness surrounding them.  They have clubs and swords.  The well known enemies of Christ, the chief priests and the elders were there with their officers of the temple.  It was sudden, it was frightening, and it was alarming.

So at first the disciples reacted just as the psychologists say is normal under those circumstances in a life threatening situation.  They get ready to fight.  Remember in the upper room Jesus had said that if they didn’t have a sword they should buy one, and they said they had two of them.  That was enough, Jesus said.  Now they are facing this mob in the middle of the night, and it makes perfect sense  why Jesus said they should get a sword.  So they say, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”  And before Jesus can answer vs. 50 says that one of them struck the slave of the high priest with the sword and cut off his right ear.  Now Luke doesn’t say who that was, nor do Mark or Matthew.  And the reason that they don’t identify the person responsible was that it was undoubtedly a capital offense to strike the servant of the high priest.  But John who writes his gospel after Peter is long dead does identify him in John 18:10  “Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave's name was Malchus.”

Now there were 11 disciples with Jesus that night, and some have raised the possibility of another one or two people with Jesus as well.  But the mob has them vastly outnumbered.  So Peter is certainly courageous.  He had boasted earlier in vs. 33 “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!”  He knew that regardless of how many soldiers and henchmen the chief priests had, that he and the Lord was a majority.  So I can imagine that all the disciples were kind of in the same mode.  Peter was their leader, so they would follow his example.

But then Jesus does something really contrary to everything they could have imagined.  Jesus says in vs. 51, “’Stop! No more of this.’ And He touched his ear and healed him.” And then Jesus turns to the chief priests again and said, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as you would against a robber?  While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me; but this hour and the power of darkness are yours.”

From the disciples point of view, this must have been astounding.  Jesus heals this servant of the high priest and then basically gives himself up to be arrested by this lynch mob in the middle of the night.  He says this hour and the power of darkness is yours.  He surrenders Himself into their hands to be arrested and taken away.  And I think this is where the situation goes from being astounding and incomprehensible to terrifying.

Peter had actually in his boast earlier alluded to what might have been the key to their response to this sudden turn of events.  Peter had said, “with you I am ready to go both to prison and to death.”  With Jesus in all His power Peter was brave enough.  But without Jesus Peter and the disciples didn’t know what to do. It was terrifying.  Jesus had been the visible power of God in their midst for 3 years.  He had been able to do anything, from walking on water to raising the dead.  They had plenty of confidence when He was with them.  But now, to submit Himself to the mob, to say that in this hour He would surrender to the power of darkness was incomprehensible.  It was so unbelievable that it was terrifying.

And so that terror produced the second type of response to fear, and that is flight. Mark 14:50 “And they all left Him and fled.”  That’s the second natural response of the body to fear;  you take flight.  All the disciples took off, probably in 11 different directions.  We know according to Mark’s gospel that a young man, probably John Mark himself, was with them, and he was seized by the officers, but he escaped by pulling free of his covering and running away naked.  So we can assume that all the disciples took off in fear for their lives, narrowly escaping arrest.

Peter, even more so than most.  For he had struck a man with the sword and cut him.  And that man happened to be Malchus, the slave of the high priest.  So Peter had much to fear.  In fact they all did, because Jesus is not acting like they thought He should.  They expected Jesus to do more of what He did when the soldiers had first entered the garden.  He had gone towards them it says in John 18:4-6 “ and said to them, "Whom do you seek?"  They answered Him, "Jesus the Nazarene." He said to them, "I am He." And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them.  So when He said to them, "I am He," they drew back and fell to the ground.”  That’s the kind of Jesus they would follow anywhere. Able to knock soldiers to the ground with just a word.

But when Jesus seems to surrender Himself to them, and then allows them to arrest Him and lead Him away that is something that the disciples cannot understand.  In spite of everything Jesus had told them, they somehow still expected that He was going to enact a physical kingdom at this time, and it would mean the overthrow of Rome and Jesus would take the throne of David in Jerusalem and they would sit at His side and judge the 12 tribes of Israel in this new kingdom of God.

I remember what was the catalyst for my panic attacks.  For me it was unexplainable medical issues.  It was the fear of something unknown, that was beyond my comprehension, that was unexpected, unexplainable.  That kind of situation prompted my psyche to go into panic mode.  And I think that happens in the garden to some extent.  Something unexpected happens.  Something incomprehensible.  Something that seemed to counter to their doctrine, to their faith.  And it caused them all to stumble, to even fall in their faith.

Folks, I think there are some parallels in this event to what often happens in our lives as believers.  We come to know the Lord, we come to something of an understanding of the doctrines concerning God, and then circumstances suddenly test our faith to the breaking point.  Our doctrine founders.  We don’t understand why this is happening.  God seems to have broken His promises.  God didn’t do what we thought He was supposed to do, when He was supposed to do it.  Someone we loved didn’t get healed.  Someone we prayed for didn’t get delivered.  The money we desperately needed by Friday to pay that bill did not come, even though we prayed fervently for it.  And we go from faith to fear in a moment.  And in that fear we find ourselves reacting in the flesh in one of two ways; fight or flight.  And both of those ways are the wrong way we are supposed to respond.  They are the response of the flesh, rather than the response of the Spirit.

That is why I am so insistent that our focus here at the Beach Fellowship is on the teaching of sound doctrine.  There is a lot of false doctrine out there that is appealing.  We want to believe it.  It appeals to our flesh, to the pride of life.  It sounds like the kind of God we think God is supposed to be.  And yet when life’s trials come along and God doesn’t perform as you have been taught and assured that He would, you are left with the options that either God doesn’t love you, or you don’t have enough faith, or the word of God can’t be trusted.  So you find your faith foundering, in danger of shipwreck.

Well, to Peter’s credit, he tries to get back on track.  He fled like everyone else, but then he must have doubled back and followed at a distance to see where they were taking Jesus.  And they go to Annas’ house, the father in law of Caiaphas, who was the high priest.  There they begin an unlawful trial, a pretrial really, of Jesus to see what they could indict Him with.

Peter manages to get let into the courtyard, and John’s gospel says it was because John was known to the high priest, he might have even been related.  And so John is also secretly following Jesus, and somehow Peter gets word to him to help him get in.  So John speaks to the servant girl and she lets Peter in, and he goes over to the fire in the courtyard which the soldiers are warming themselves by.  That’s a pretty daring move on the part of Peter, wouldn’t you say?

I see a lot of commentators disparage Peter on this night as some sort of coward.  I don’t see that at all.  I see a man that is brave enough, but he is acting and relying on his bravery, on his cunning, on his strength to not fall away.  He is confident in that strength.  And yet we will see that his strength is not enough.

Back in our text starting at vs. 25 we see the progression of Peter’s failure of faith.  Peter’s self confidence in his natural ability had led him to fight.  And that had backfired when Jesus had stopped him and healed the servant’s ear.  That resulted in uncertainty, a failure of doctrine if you will, that caused him to take flight with all the other disciples.  They were scattered in every direction.  So now we see Peter come back, but he is hanging outside by the fire with the men who had arrested Jesus. The uncertainty of Peter’s faith has induced him to hang out with the wrong people.  He is at the fireside of the enemies of Christ.

How many times do we find ourselves as Christians hanging out by the fire of the enemy?  Especially at times when our faith is the lowest, we often end up seeking the comfort of the world.  The familiarity of the old friends, the old hangouts.  Our faith is shaken by some circumstance that we aren’t expecting, and rather than it driving us to God, we allow it to steer us back to the world.  We skip a few church services.  We say we’re trying to figure some things out.  We need to take a break.  Whatever the excuse, we find ourselves by the fire of the unbelievers, finding comfort in wrong associations.   As Christians, God never calls us to sit on the sidelines.  That is where we get in trouble.  David sat on the sidelines when his army went out to battle and began his fall from faith with a woman named Bathsheba.  And it too went from bad to worse because he wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

Remember what Jesus had said to Peter in the upper room?  He said, “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.”  And Peter’s response was, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!”  Well, now the devil was sifting Peter like wheat.  Satan was going to exploit all the holes in Peter’s theology, all the fault lines in Peter’s faith. Peter had thought he was strong enough to handle Satan.  But we should never underestimate our enemy.  When Satan moves against Peter, he only has to use a little slave girl to do undo him.

Vs. 56-57, “And a servant-girl, seeing him as he sat in the firelight and looking intently at him, said, ‘This man was with Him too.’ But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know Him.” Peter had been ready for the big battle.  He had been ready to go to war with Christ at the head of an army.  He was ready for the big things in the kingdom, or so he thought.  But this little girl completely caught him off guard.  For some reason, he suddenly was afraid.  He could probably see Jesus in there, bound and tied,  getting repeatedly slapped in the face and spit upon.  And he just couldn’t believe what was happening.  It didn’t fit in with Peters theology.  And all of his bravado went out the window when this little maid comes up to the fire and says in front of these soldiers you’re one of His disciples.

You know, the thing that reveals our true nature is involuntary response, not a planned response. Your character isn't shown by what you prepare to do, it's manifest by what you're not prepared for and how you react to that, that involuntary reaction. That reveals which nature you are living in. It's those things that catch us off guard that reveal the real weakness of our hearts and shows us who we really are.

You know, when Satan comes after you, it’s not going to necessarily be with big things.  We probably have our guard up in those areas.  It’s the little things that catch us.  Maybe it’s skipping our devotions.  Or like Peter, sleeping when he should have been praying.  It’s the little things that take us further and further away from the Lord until we find one day that we are so far away that we are actually denying Him by our lifestyle or our in our actions or our words.

So to summarize the next few verses, Peter makes another denial to another servant girl, then an hour later he made yet a third denial to a man who according to John happened to be a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off.  So there is a steady progression from faith to fear to fighting to flight, and then from sitting with the enemy to denying Christ, not once, but three times.

And there is one more element to that progression that Luke doesn’t include but Matthew and Mark both do, and that is that Peter begins to swear and curse to emphasize his denials, to try to prove to them that there is no way he could be a disciple of Christ. You know the way you talk when you’re away from church reveals your heart.  The kind of language you use reveals the nature of your heart. Matt. 15:18 says, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.”

So Luke says as Peter was still speaking, the cock crowed.  Jesus had said in the upper room to Peter that before this night had ended and the cock crowed, Peter would deny Him three times.  And as the cock crows, Peter looks up and sees the Lord looking at him.  And it says he went out and wept bitterly.

How in the world could Peter ever sink to that depth? How could a Christian ever reach the point of denying Christ? I will tell you one thing, if Peter could deny Christ, we all are vulnerable as well.  So let’s review the path he took  to denying Christ as a lesson for us.  First, over confidence based on his feelings. Peter felt he could handle temptation. He felt as if he could follow Christ anywhere. He was confident in his emotional attachment to Christ. He relied on his feelings. And secondly, he disregarded the Word of the Lord. He didn’t think the warning applied to him. He didn't take the Word of God seriously. He rejected reproof. He ignored the voice of the Lord. We cannot ignore the Word of God and survive the onslaughts of Satan. And the third step was prayerlessness. He rested instead of praying. He slept instead of watching for temptation.  Spiritual indifference leads to ruin, lack of prayer leads to disaster.

And then the next on his path to failure was independence. He acted on his own. He didn't need to seek God's will. He didn't wait on the Lord, he acted independently in his own strength. That got him into a situation that was out of God’s will. And finally, the fifth step was compromise. He followed Jesus at a distance, he sits by the fire, he mingles with the crowd that was the enemy of Christ. He reminds me of Psalm 1:1, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful," He walked in, he stood around and finally he sat down. And he sat among the scornful. He took a seat in a compromising place. And compromise led to defeat.  Peter’s strength was no match for Satan’s schemes.

But thankfully Peter’s story does not end in his denial, but in his repentance. In Judas’s story we looked at last week ended with his remorse and then he went out and hanged himself. There was no real repentance. But Peter went out and wept bitterly and he repented and was restored. And that’s the difference between a Judas and a Peter. Both will sin, but one will be repentant and restored and the other will be damned.

There are three aspects presented here that make up Peter’s repentance. The first is the prayer of Christ.  Remember Luke 22:32, Jesus said, "Peter, Satan desires to have you but I have prayed for you that your faith fail not."  You know why Peter's faith didn't totally fail? Because the Lord had prayed for him. Peter was kept by the power of God.  Listen, the reason that we stay saved is not because of our strength to hold onto God but because the Lord holds onto us. He didn't hold Judas because He never had Judas. But He held Peter. God remains faithful even when we are faithless, for He cannot deny Himself.

Secondly, the repentance of Peter was brought about through the look of Christ.  What kind of look did Jesus give Peter?  Was it a look of condemnation?  Was it a look that said “you sorry traitor you!” Or was it a look that said “I told you so, I knew you couldn’t stand, I told you that you would fall.”  No, I don’t think it was that kind of look.  I think it was the look of love, a look of total compassion. A love that loved us even when we were yet sinners, a love that was willing to die in  our place  so that we might be saved. It was a  look that pierced Peter’s heart and conscience. Romans 2:4 says that the kindness of God leads us to repentance.

Thirdly, Peter’s repentance was brought about not only by the prayer of Christ, the look of Christ, but the word of the Lord.  It says in vs. 61, “And Peter remembered the word of the Lord….” The word of the Lord convicts the heart of sin. Heb. 4:12
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  The Holy Spirit, working through the word of God, convicts the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.

Peter’s response to the word of God was repentance.  And that repentance brought about restoration.  God is always ready to restore the repentant heart.  David says in  Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”  See, God worked even in the denial of Peter for His good.  Peter wept that night in brokenness before God.  And a broken heart is the kind of heart that God delights in.  Peter had thought his independence was his strength.  But now he realizes that his independence had been his greatest weakness.  God often has to break us of our independence in order to bring us to repentance so that we might be able to learn dependence upon the Lord.  Then we might be able to say with Paul in 2Cor. 12:9-10, “And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Our brokenness and  dependence on Christ should cause us to keep our eyes on Him, trust totally in His promises and stand firmly on His word, not reacting according to fear or the flesh, but remembering that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  He will strengthen and keep us by His great power, no matter what may come our way as long as we lean upon Him.  Let us pray.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Selling Jesus, Luke 22: 47, 48

Before I became a preacher I used to be an antique dealer.  And as such I sometimes spent a lot of time around auction houses.  The typical situation was I would usually get there some time before the auction started to preview the material.  And then at an appointed time, the auction would begin. Since I was a specialty antique dealer, there were usually only a few items in the sale that I was interested in.  The items were numbered according to lots.  And sometimes the item you wanted was maybe lot 150 or 250.  That meant you had to wait for the auction house to go through 150 lots or more before they got to the item you wanted to buy.

When they finally got around to the items I was interested in, I was usually chomping at the bit.  I had a number in my mind that I thought the item was worth. But chances are, by the time I had driven to the auction, and then hung around for 3 or 4 hours, I was determined to buy it at almost any price.  And when the auctioneer started that singsong chant I usually didn’t even know for sure what price I was bidding at.  I just kept lifting my bid card up until I got it.  By that time, the adrenaline was pumping, the desire was as high as it could get,  there was the competition of the bidding war driving me on and I was willing to pay any price to get what I wanted.

Perhaps in that respect,  auction houses are a good analogy for our lives.  Sometimes we are so conditioned to go for it all, to reach for the best, to be all that we can be that we can get so caught up in chasing our dreams in life, that we are willing to give everything to get it.  But there was a downside to buying antiques in that kind of environment.  And that was when you took the item home from the auction at the end of the day and gave it a really good looking over, oftentimes you discovered that it may not have been as good of a piece as you hoped for.  Maybe in the excitement and confusion and heat of the moment, you paid way too much for it.  I think that is where they came up with the term buyer’s remorse.  And at that point, you are sorry that you bought it, but there is nothing you can do about it then.

I guess there is a point in which all of us have our price that we are willing to pay to get what we think is the best out of life. And oftentimes that comes with great sacrifice.  But the million dollar question today though is what is your price for Christ?  Jesus said in Matt. 16:26, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul? For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

In the familiar passage we are looking at today, we see one such man that sold his soul for 30 pieces of silver.  It was certainly a paltry price for Christ, and it was really a paltry price for one’s soul.  Yet it is typical of the kind of deal that the devil makes with us.  He gets us so pumped up, so excited, so focused on the singsong call of this world that we find ourselves paying far too much for far too little.  And if not for the grace of God, we might find ourselves like Judas, examining what he got in that exchange after it’s all over and finding it wanting.  Wishing desperately that he could undo the deal that he had made.

Judas’s betrayal of Christ is a well known story, both to Christians and non Christians alike. It is a tragic tale.  And if we are not careful it is possible to so vilify Judas that it becomes impossible to identify with him. His is the most hated name in history. It becomes easy to see him as the archetypical villain that we think we are safely far removed from.   However, I am afraid that there is much in Judas that we all can identify with.  So rather than trying to just retell the story, I would like to focus on certain characteristics that we might find common to us and applicable to the church at large.  There are three points that I would like us to consider; the person of Judas, the price for Christ, and the place for repentance.

First of all, let’s look at the person of Judas. Who was Judas really?  Very little is actually said about him in the three years of Jesus ministry until we get to this last week of Jesus life before Calvary.  Nothing is known of how he came to follow the Lord.  But here is what we do know.  It says in vs. 3 and in vs. 47 that Judas was one of the twelve.  Twice Luke emphasizes that.  It wasn’t simply to identify him from other people named Judas, because Judas has a last name, Iscariot, which would have better served that purpose.  I believe it is to emphasize his relationship with Jesus.

This is someone hand picked by Jesus to be a part of His inner circle.  He was a man who from all outward appearances seemed to be of impeccable character.  He was not just one of the 70, that second tier of disciples that Jesus commissioned at a later point in His ministry.  This was one of the original 12 apostles.  He had been a part of Christ’s ministry from the beginning.  Hand picked by Christ, called to be a part of His inner circle, to be taken into His confidence.

This was a man that had not only been called and commissioned by Christ, but he had been empowered to perform miracles in Christ’s name.  He had preached the gospel in Christ’s name.  He had taken a personal hand in the ministry.  He had undoubtedly taken part in baptism’s of new disciples.  When Jesus passed out the bread and the fish it multiplied in the basket that Judas carried as he handed it out to the waiting multitude.

Certainly, he had preached the gospel so that many had been enlightened by his testimony, and even miraculous powers had been given to him, so that at his word the sick had been healed, deaf ears had been opened; and the blind had been made to see.  He had even cast out demons in Jesus name.

Judas was a man of great privilege.  He had more than likely heard every message that Jesus had given.  He had been privy to the explanations of the parables that Jesus gave to the disciples in private.  He had slept out under the stars with Jesus and the disciples on many nights.  He had eaten with them.  He had suffered with them. He had gone through violent storms on the sea with the disciples in the boat when Jesus stilled the storms.

But even more disconcerting, Judas was a friend of Jesus.  In Matt. 26:50 it says when Judas came to Jesus in the garden, Jesus said, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Some commentators have tried to make light of this salutation.  But in Psalm 41:9 David reveals the deep nature of this friendship by saying, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me.”  My close friend, in whom I have trusted!   This was no casual acquaintance, but a trusted friend.

Psalm 55 adds even more pathos to this travesty of trust. Psalm 55:12-14 “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, Then I could bear it; Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, Then I could hide myself from him. But it is you, a man my equal, My companion and my familiar friend; We who had sweet fellowship together, walked in the house of God in the throng.”

Their closeness, their friendship was symbolized in a kiss.  In vs. 47, it says that Judas approached Jesus at the head of the throng to kiss Him.  This act may seem strange to us today, but in that day it was a common greeting among friends and acquaintances.  There were many types of ways a man might approach another with a kiss. Inferiors would have kissed the back of the hand or the palm of a hand in the ancient world. Slaves kissed the foot. Kissing the hem of the garment expresses great reverence. But a customary kiss on the cheek, a full embrace was a sign of closeness, intimacy and warm affection between equals. Judas was considered a close, trusted friend of Christ.

I wonder how many of those attributes of Judas might be claimed by us. One thing that should have become clear as we considered Judas’s attributes; if someone like Judas could betray Christ then no one is exempt from that temptation.  I wonder how many trusted people in the church, officers, ministers even, people of impeccable reputation, are yet betrayers of Christ.  No one should take comfort in the fact that they are in some ministry, or in some great work of the church, even in positions such as pastors or missionaries.  Jesus warned in Matt. 7:22-23 that "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'  To have a great reputation in the community or even in the church, but have a false heart before the Lord, is to stand on the brink of hell.

How many of us have sung “what a friend we have in Jesus” on Sunday, and betrayed that trust on Monday in the office or on the jobsite.  Jesus said in John 15:14 "You are My friends if you do what I command you.”  And in 1 John, the Apostle tells us what that friendship demands. 1John 2:3-5, 15-16 “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him, the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. ...”

The question that Judas should prompt in us is have we betrayed our love for Christ with a false kiss of affection while living a life of disobedience? Have we said we loved God but in fact sold out to the world? John continues in vs. 15 “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 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.”

James 4:4 says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” I’m sure all of us recoil at the thought of betraying Christ for a few dollars like Judas did, yet I wonder how many of us have betrayed Christ for friendship with the world?  Judas followed Christ for three long years, but he stopped short of following Him to Gethsemane.  He stopped short of Christ’s prayer in the garden,  “not my will, but Thy will be done.”  He had betrayed the friendship and trust of Christ for the friendship and mammon of the world.  So let us be very careful of ourselves, lest we crucify the Lord afresh and put him to an open shame by betraying him by our selfish conduct, by loving the world more than Him.

Secondly, let’s look at the price of Christ.  Back at the beginning of the chapter in vs. 4 we read that Judas went to the high priests and offered to betray Jesus to them for a price. And in Matt. 26:15 we read, “Judas said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him.”  In Exodus 21:32 the law stated 30 pieces of silver to be the price of a slave.  It’s inconceivable that the King of Heaven was worth no more to Judas than the price of a slave.

In Zech. 11:13 it says, “Then the LORD said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.’ So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD.”  What a price for the Lord.  Someone once said, "This is not the way people generally trade; they should tell their own price."  But not Judas.  He came to the high priests and said name your price.  For three long years he had waited, anticipating a big payoff for following Christ.  But the financial payoff never came.  And now in the fever of temptation and the emotionally charged moment of treachery, he was willing to take whatever they would give him in exchange for his betrayal.

Judas’s sin was the love of money.  He loved the money of this world more than he loved God.  The love of money was evident in the fact that he carried the money bag.  In John 12 we read that he reviled the woman named Mary who broke an expensive jar of ointment and lavished it on Jesus feet.  He claimed that it would have been better used for the poor.  But John said in John 12:6, “Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.” Her extravagant love was a dramatic contrast to the calculating, selfish love of Judas.  Surely we think that is a betrayal that is beyond us today.

But I would simply remind you of what Malachi 3:8 says, "Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, 'How have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings.” Vs. 10 "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”

Sadly, I believe, that of all those who betray Christ, those persons for whom there is the least hope  are those whose God is their money. You may reform a drunkard; and even a backslidden Christian who has abandoned his body to lust may repent from it; but the man who is enamored with money can hardly be saved.  Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

It is not money, nor the lack of money, but the love of money which is the root of all evil. It is not getting it; it is not even keeping it; it is loving it; it is making it your god; it is living for it, and not forsaking it for the cause of Christ, but being ready to sacrifice what is godly for the sake of worldly mammon. Yet what a tragedy, to gain the whole world and lose your own soul.

I don’t care what people may tell me.  I don’t care how much they claim to love Jesus.  How much they may claim to have done for Christ at some time in the past.  I need only to watch their present actions, to see what they put in front of Christ to know where their affections lie.  And I know this to be the truth; that very few people are willing to sacrifice their job for the body of Christ. There is no more sacred cow in Christendom than a person’s livelihood.  For far too many professing Christians today career comes first.  Money is number one.  Church is relegated to whenever it is convenient.  God is put on a shelf until an emergency arises.

I’m afraid that some people's religion is grounded on that one question which Judas asked of the high priests that night -"What will you give me?"  That is the question of the modern evangelical.  I could pack a church building by teaching a series on what financial benefits there are to Christianity.  The concern of the church today is all about what does it benefit me here and now?  That is the theme of almost every television preacher.  How Christianity will enrich your life.  How you can have your best life now.  How you can reach your personal fulfillment right here.

Jesus said, If you are going to be my disciple you have to take up your cross and follow Me.  He is talking about sacrificing your life here on earth for glory in the hereafter.  But that was not the message Judas wanted to hear, and it is not a popular message today.  It’s a good way to empty a church.  But it’s the truth of the gospel.  And when we sell our soul for a bloodless, no-sacrifice version of the gospel, then we betray the precious blood of Jesus Christ which was shed for us that we might die to the world and live for God. The late John Stott said; “It is a wonderfully liberating experience when the desire to please God overtakes our desire to please ourselves.  True freedom is not the freedom to live life for myself, but freedom from myself in order to live for God and for others.”

Yet I’m afraid that there are some professing Christians who will sell out Christ for the smallest piece of silver in our currency. They are tempted to deny the Lord, tempted to act in an ungodly way, though what they might gain is so meaningless, so worthless it almost insignificant.  How many have betrayed Christ for the price of just a single night’s fun.  Just a one night stand.  Things that have no lasting value.  Just a fleeting, momentary thrill.

I am so fearful for our young people today who are being overwhelmingly tempted through the modern media to betray Christ, to sell out Christianity for the momentary pleasures of the world.  I can only urge them to reconsider from my own experience; that after wasting years of chasing the lie of the devil I found that what I had sold everything for was not worth nearly what it cost me.  When I found myself finally in a destitute condition and examined the life of sin that  I had traded the peace of God for, I wished I could undo it.  I wished I had not been so quick to barter Christ away for the momentary pleasures of sin that didn’t last.

Back in the eighties, in the big hair days of rock music, there was a group called Night Ranger which had a one hit wonder with a catchy tune I sometimes heard on the radio.  The song was called ironically enough, “Sister Christian.”  And the lyrics expressed concern for this young girl that wanted to give in to the siren call of the lust and the desires of the world.  The chorus says, “you’re motoring, what’s your price for flight?  In finding Mr. Right?”  And whenever I heard that song, I was always struck by that question:  Sister Christian, what’s your price for flight?  What’s your price for freedom?  What price are you willing to give for the life you want to live?  The devil is selling freedom but it only ends up being captivity to sin that destroys the soul and the body.  True freedom is only found in Christ.  As John Stott said, True freedom is not the freedom to live life for myself, but freedom from myself in order to live for God and for others.  We have to die to our selves in order to really live.

Well, I pray that no one here falls into the same temptation that Judas fell into.  His desire to live his life his way ended up with his betrayal of the Son of God.  But Matthew 27 tells us that when he realized what he had bartered away he found no joy in it, but rather found despair. Matt. 27:3-5 “Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’ And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.”

And that brings us to the last point; the place for repentance.  Listen, the real tragedy was that Judas could have repented of his sin.  Jesus gave him ample opportunity to repent before the Passover, during the Passover meal, and even in the Garden of Gethsemane.  But he didn’t repent.  However afterwards he did feel sorrow.  He felt remorse.  But it wasn’t a godly sorrow, but it was a sorrow that leads to death.  Rather than repentance he merely wanted to rid himself of the consequences of his sin. Folks, the man who repents of consequences does not truly repent. The murderer may have remorse in view of the electric chair but not of the crime of murder, but that is not repentance at all. Human law  measures sin by it’s consequences, but God's law does not.  God measures by the heart’s intent.

The air traffic controller who failed to provide a safe line of approach to an airplane and caused an accident is criminally guilty of dereliction of duty and responsible for the lives that are lost.  But the fact that he had often done something similar before and never had it result in an accident does not make him less guilty in the eyes of God.  We do not measure sin by the consequences but repent of them as the sin they are in God’s eyes.

Unfortunately, lately I seem to have much experience dealing with people who are caught up in some crisis caused by the consequences of their sin.  They come with tears and remorse and a desire to make things right.  But the truth is that they really only want God to eliminate their consequences.  They are not really repenting of their lying, or their stealing, or their drinking or their drugs, or their fornication.  And that is evident because as soon as the tears are dry and the crisis is past, they go right back to the same vices that got them in trouble in the first place.

Listen, I purposefully painted a picture of Judas this morning that looks uncomfortably a lot like most of us.  I would dare say that all of us have a price, something that is so important to us we will betray Christ for it.  Many of us have betrayed Jesus for one thing or another at some point in our lives that had very little worth once we have seen it in the light of the truth.  And I would hope that there is remorse for that betrayal.  But I pray even more that there is repentance for that betrayal.  And I will assure you of this, that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Satan will whisper in your ear that you are not worthy of forgiveness.  That you are not worthy of Christ.  And to that you say, “You’re right.”  Because Christianity has never been about being worthy of forgiveness.  Jesus came to seek and to save those that were lost. He came even to die for the Judas’s of the world. He came to restore and forgive those that repent of their sins.  We are all sinners.  And but for the grace of God we would all end up like Judas, despairing of hope.  But there is hope in Christ and there is forgiveness of sins for those that are not just sorry for their circumstances, but sorry for their sin and willing to surrender to Christ as Lord of their life.

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.”