April 9, 2019- Peter Betrays Jesus, and We Do Too- Mark 14:66-72

peter-denial

And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”  But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.”  And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:66-72 (ESV)

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Peter. He thought he had the inner fortitude to confess Jesus even when it could mean his hide.   There are times when we all think that we can be confident to confess Christ, and then our old Adam comes out and our words and actions betray Him.

The ability to remain faithful is not within us. This may have been the lesson that Jesus had for Peter as well as for us. Whether we stand or fall in the faith is not reliant on on our own desire, willpower or merit.  If Peter, the apostle, who walked and ate and lived with Jesus, could betray Him, who do we think we are?

The saint side of us (which is a gift of God, a result of God choosing us as His own) wants to cling to Jesus and wants to live for Him, even when it means our own personal discomfort or sacrifice.  We as sinners want to be God and we insist on having our own desires fulfilled- our own personal comfort and our own advancement and benefit.  It is inevitable that the saint and the sinner will have some skirmishes.

The apostle Paul discusses this struggle in Romans 7 – the things he wants to do he does not do, and the things he does not want to do, he does.  It is the struggle we all have and will have as long as we live in this lifetime.

Yet God gives us the gift of repentance. He gives us the Good News that Jesus died for ALL of our sins- even the times when we are faithless, when we fail, when we outright break His law.  No one is “too bad” for God’s grace and forgiveness.

Jesus forgave Peter and commended him to service and ministry even though Peter betrayed Him. We still sin and our actions betray Jesus every day.  Even so, we are still, by faith in Jesus, by the grace of God, named and claimed as His own children.

Thankfully Jesus doesn’t just leave us to the consequences of our sins. We are baptized, washed, covered in His righteousness, because we believe He is who he said He is and that we trust that He is enough.

March 28, 2018- Judas in the Mirror? John 13:21-30

judas 2

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”  His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.  Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.  As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.  Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor.  As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. John 13:21-30 (NIV)

Who among us has betrayed a friend at some time or another? Whether we betray others to save our own hides, or for personal gain, or even from our own fear, the sin of betrayal has a special kind of sting to it.  It is a violation of an intimate understanding between friends, a breach of trust.

Jesus is fully human as well as He is fully God.  Judas’ betrayal had to be painful for Jesus just as it is painful for us to be betrayed by a friend or a family member.  The ones closest to us have the greatest power to hurt us, because they are the last ones who should.

It is easy for us to think that we would never betray Jesus the way that Judas did- selling the Holy One of God down the river for less than the equivalent of what it would take to fill up a Toyota Camry. The reality is that any one of us could have been Judas given the right set of circumstances.

We sell out Jesus every day. We betray Him in our actions. Like Peter we try to stay strong and we plead our allegiance and our love for Jesus, but in our moments of crisis we deny Him. (Matthew 26:69-75) Like the disciples, we aren’t able to stay with Him and pray an hour in the garden without falling asleep.  (Mark 14:32-42)  In our fallen humanity we are not even able to come to faith in God, let alone stand strong for Jesus.  The Holy Spirit must intervene on our behalf.

The good news is that Jesus still loves us. He still went willingly to Caiaphus and stood before the Sanhedrin, who had plotted to kill Him.  He was handed over to Pontius Pilate and was chosen for crucifixion by the people, while Barabbas was set free.

Thankfully Jesus does not betray us. He is faithful even when we are not.  We can always trust Him and we are set free, knowing that because He took our place on the Cross that we are free to share in abundant and joyful life now, as well as we enter into His eternal life.

We want to stand strong with Jesus. We want to pray with Him in the garden, but we are weak.  Jesus walks the path with us and for us because we cannot endure it alone.  He alone was able to bear the cost of our sins- and the sins of this fallen world.  He will not betray us.

 

March 2, 2018 – Betraying Jesus- Mark 14:37-42

sleeping disciples.jpgHe (Jesus) came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” Mark 14:37-42 (NRSV)

Jesus had to have had some level of frustration with Peter and the rest of the disciples. All He wanted was for these guys to stay awake and pray with Him as He anguished in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Instead all of the disciples had found some way to abandon Jesus- if not by nodding off then it was by trotting off and selling Him to the authorities for today’s equivalent of enough money to buy a few gallons of gasoline.

Sometimes we just plain know our loved ones are going to let us down. Whether it is something simple as forgetting to set out meat to defrost for the evening meal, or something more serious such as taking the car through the garage door, our friends and loved ones are not perfect.  Our spouses don’t anticipate our needs, they spend money on things we might think are wasteful, or sometimes they are emotionally cold.  Our kids fail to follow instructions, tend to sass back, fail to do their chores, and break things.  Our friends don’t always show up when we need them.

Jesus had to be heartbroken being abandoned and betrayed by His friends. Betrayal, as much as it stings, is part of the human experience.  All of us have both been betrayed by other people and we have all betrayed other people in various ways. Hopefully none of us succumbs to the temptation to sell one of our friends to the executioner for less than what it takes to fill up a Toyota Camry, but before we judge Judas too harshly, we should remember, we share the same root of sin with Judas.   We are sinners and we live with sinners.  Our spirits are indeed willing, but our flesh screws up.

The good news is that unlike our loved ones and those around us, Jesus is faithful. He does not betray us even when we are imperfect and in our sin and error, we betray others, and we betray Him.

We are like those friends of Jesus so much of the time. We try and we fail. We can’t stay awake to pray with Jesus or stand by Him in His anguish. It is too much for us to bear. Even so, Jesus is faithful to us.  He forgives us.  He walks with us through the valleys of shadow. He pulls us out of our weakness and comforts us when we have been betrayed.

 

 

September 12, 2017 – Selling Your Brother Down the River – Genesis 37:18-28

Joseph-Thrown-in-the-Pit 

They saw him (Joseph) from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”  But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.”  Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. Genesis 37:18-28 (NRSV)

Siblings can be vicious, especially when one sibling is highly favored over others, and /or when resources are in short supply, and/or the siblings are close in age. Jealousy can motivate the fiercest of competition. The competition and rage that jealousy inspires can end in tragedy.

In Joseph’s case he was clearly Jacob’s favorite son. His father, Jacob, had a special coat made for Joseph, and set him up in a position of authority over his older sons. It seemed to be a bit of a mistake for Joseph to share his dream of being in power (Genesis 37:1-11) over his brothers, as this revelation only poured gasoline over the fire of their jealousy and rage.

As the story continues, it looks bad for Joseph. He’s sold off as a slave to the Egyptians, but it’s a kinder fate than what he would have suffered at the hands of his brothers.

God stepped in for Jacob. Even though he was sold as a slave, and endured prison and other trials while in Egypt, he found favor with the Egyptians and eventually found his way into the Pharaoh’s court.

Joseph, the brother who was sold down the river, was put in a place to help his brothers and the rest of his family when they were in desperate need during a famine.

The telling element of Joseph’s character was that he was more than willing to help his brothers who had sold him for what would be equivalent to about $25 today.

The level of Joseph’s help to his family during the famine- including his betrayer siblings- is also worth mentioning. He didn’t send dented cans of beets and okra or old toothpaste samples and expired produce to his family.  He sent the very best of the food stores and other products of Egypt.  (Genesis 45)

In our lives we have played both roles- the betrayer and the betrayed. Even though we would like to think better, we have all been in the place of Peter the apostle who claimed he could never betray Jesus, yet he did it three times just as Jesus knew he would.  And we have all been on the receiving end of a friend or family member who has let us down or been cruel to us in some way.

Yet in spite of betrayal and hurt there is grace. In Christ there is grace to for us to forgive those who have trespassed against us, (as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer) and even to aid them in their time of need.  In Christ we can accept the forgiveness of those we have wronged and we can move closer to make what was wrong right again.

God always proves to be the hero of the story, not us. God can and does work His will even through our tragedies and our failings.

How can we be messengers of grace today?

July 26, 2017 – The Legacies We Leave – 1 Kings 2:1-4

legacyWhen David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying:  “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.  Then the Lord will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’ 1 Kings 2:1-4 (NRSV)

In many ways, King David is one of the best Scriptural examples of what not to do, especially in regard to family life. Solomon was the second son of David and Bathsheba- the son born after their first son, who had been conceived in adultery, had died. (2 Samuel 11-12)

David’s family life could have been featured on the Jerry Springer show. His domestic drama is a rather sordid tale of polygamy (which unfortunately was culturally acceptable in his time) as well as of adultery, murder, incest, betrayal and tragic death. (2 Samuel 13-14)  There hasn’t been a soap opera written with more tragedy and pathos than can be found in the life of King David.

Nathan the prophet had even warned David that the sword would never depart from his house, and that he would face public shame for the murder of Uriah and his adultery with Bathsheba. (2 Samuel 12:10-12)

Still, David held on. All through his trials and triumphs and disappointments, his heart stayed open to God in spite of his failings. As it came close to David’s time to die, he couldn’t tell Solomon that he had followed God perfectly all his life, but David could tell him (because he had to learn the hard way) that following God’s way is the best way.

Some of us as parents and grandparents, like David, have a bit of the Springer style drama in our families that we have brought on ourselves through our own mistakes or poor judgment. We might feel hypocritical teaching our children healthy, Scripturally based habits such as regular prayer, worship and Bible study if we didn’t culture those disciplines in our youth.  We might feel hypocritical teaching and helping to enforce healthy Scriptural boundaries, such as saving sex for marriage, or staying married to one spouse for life, if we didn’t honor those boundaries ourselves.

At times all of us are examples of what NOT to do, especially if we have learned the hard way. Others might learn from those examples of what NOT to do much more quickly and thoroughly – and comparatively drama-free – if they have a candid witness to the potential fallout.  Candor and honesty (especially with children or grandchildren) can be difficult for those of us with checkered pasts, but authenticity goes a long way in reinforcing the message.

The good news is that God’s grace is stronger than our failings and shortcomings. Because of grace, every day is a new opportunity to embrace God’s forgiveness and try again. David understood this concept.  Even though we still have to live with some of the consequences of our actions, there is healing, redemption and forgiveness in Christ.  That is a message we should be happy to pass on.

 

April 12, 2017 – Holy Week Wednesday- Purchased With Holy Blood- 1 Peter 1:18-19

jesusdiesonthecross

 

“You must know (recognize) that you were redeemed (ransomed) from the useless (fruitless) way of living inherited by [your] forefathers, not with corruptible things [such as] silver and gold, but [you were purchased] with the precious blood of Christ (the Messiah) like that of a [sacrificial] lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19 (AMP)

Interesting, the paradox of this week.  First, Jesus rides into Jerusalem seated on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 –

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9 (NRSV)

Then just a few short days later, Judas betrays Jesus and offers him up to the high priests for the equivalent of less money than it would take to fill up a Honda Accord.

Jesus freely gave His precious blood, that has value way beyond any material currency here on this earth, to redeem us from the conditions of sin and death that humanity put in motion to begin with.

Somehow, it seems like a rather raw exchange.   Something in us wants to say, “Jesus, you got ripped off!”

There is a deep injustice here.  Jesus was sinless, yet He had to endure the torture and death on the Cross?  Crucifixion wasn’t really done in the neat and easy and clean way that medieval and Renaissance authors usually depict it.  The artwork is aesthetically pleasing, but not terribly accurate. It’s a lot more bloody and dirty and nasty than the sanitized painting above.  Mel Gibson had the gory details of Roman torture and crucifixion portrayed pretty closely in his movie The Passion of the Christ.

438px-Christ_Carrying_the_Cross_1580

Unfortunately we are more like Judas than we want to admit.  How often do we sell Jesus down the river for trivial things that have no eternal value?  How often do we overlook or miss an opportunity to be a part of His Kingdom to do something else?  How many times do we make decisions without thinking about whether or not our actions are pleasing to God?

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33 (NRSV)

This statement Jesus makes is scary. We don’t acknowledge Jesus in everything we do 24/7, 365.  Sometimes our behaviors and actions and the words we use betray our faith.

The good news is that (paradoxically) Jesus forgives us when we ask Him.  He forgives us just for the asking, no matter how badly we have screwed up.  We are not forgiven because we are such great people.  Left to our own devices we end up like Judas- selling out Jesus for the most trivial and mundane of things, and sinning over and over and over again in spite of “knowing better.” Our salvation is made possible only by the greatness, love and mercy of Christ.

Mercy

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39 (NRSV)

We can thank God today that Jesus took the punishment that we deserve.  We can pray that the Holy Spirit will help us live in response to His priceless gift of salvation.