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.

April 18, 2018- Necessarily Annoying? Acts 4:1-4, Romans 10:17, Luke 12:11-13, Hebrews 12:1-3

annoying.jpg

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. Acts 4:1-4 (ESV)

There is a saying that “well behaved women don’t make history.” The same can also be said for well behaved men. There is a place for gentle speech, logical argument and parliamentary procedure with all its niceties when relating to and when attempting to convince other human beings of a particular point of view.  However, when one’s speech versus silence is the difference between life and death, it can be necessary to be annoying.

It is necessary for an ambulance driver to run a siren and to take the ambulance through traffic lights- to make it highly audible and highly visible and to some, annoying- when the ambulance is being used to make a way to save a life. Desperate times require desperate measures.

We probably wouldn’t still be talking about the apostles Peter and John two thousand years after they died if they hadn’t made themselves annoying for the cause of Christ. It would have been a lot more polite of them if they hadn’t preached Jesus crucified and risen, at least not in the temple. They could have stayed out of jail for the night too, but then who would have heard their message of salvation? What may have become of the five thousand who came to faith by the apostles’ words- had they not been able to hear?  (Romans 10:17)

The fact that we still read about Peter and John and Paul and all the apostles and saints who have held fast to faith and proclaimed Christ even to martyrdom, says something for the truth of who Jesus is, and for the validity of the Word of God. The same good news that saved the five thousand is still saving millions- perhaps even billions- more, because God gave these men the conviction and the courage to be bold and get the truth out, even though they were considered by some to be obnoxious and annoying, even though it led them to persecution and civil consequences, and led many of them to suffer martyrs’ deaths.

It is not always easy to share our faith, especially in contexts where it could make us annoying, or even get us in trouble. The political and social climate is increasingly hostile to the Gospel message.  Even so, God gives us the ability and the courage to witness for Him especially when it is scary for us, or when we annoy the powers that be when we speak the truth because the truth offends their perceived authority.

We have the Holy Spirit to lean on in this: (Jesus said) : ”And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say,  for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-13 (ESV)

When we are bold for our faith and we speak the truth of Jesus Christ, we are in good company. Throughout the centuries we are supported by the witness of the apostles as well as by countless martyrs and saints.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)

Faith comes from God. The endurance to run the race He has set before us comes from God. We run in HIS strength. We, along with the saints before us, look to Jesus, cling to His Cross, and in Him we can take comfort that the joy that was set before Him is set before us also.

April 11, 2018 Jesus Brings Real Healing- Acts 3:1-10, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

peter and john lame man

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms.   And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.”  And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.  But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”  And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.  And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Acts 3:1-10 (ESV)

There have always been false prophets and unethical teachers who prey upon people by promising miraculous physical healings. Because claiming the ability to heal people of incurable illness or lameness is a tragically common scam perpetrated by those who would make money from “faith healing,” we read this passage and it seems a bit surreal.

However, this miracle of physical healing is real. It is an act of Jesus through the apostles Peter and John, recorded for us in Scripture. No money exchanged hands on either end. There were no strings attached. There was no “seed offering” required. The lame man was only anticipating the charity of some pocket change, or a bit to eat.  He was not expecting the greater gift that Jesus had for him.

We come to Jesus in some ways like the lame man- we know we are broken and not able to fix ourselves, but we can’t see beyond our immediate need. We ask for pocket change, or a quick fix for a bad situation, when Jesus comes to us so he may heal our fatal weakness.  We don’t even know what we need to ask for, but God still provides for our needs.

We cry for bread for today, (and we should, as we are told to ask God for our provision) but Jesus has already gone far beyond that. In His suffering and death on the Cross He has covered our essential, fatal weakness- our sin.  He has defeated the death and the grave that we deserve, and won eternal life for us.  He gives us abundant life today as well as life forever. Jesus’ aim for us is to be with Him and to live forever, and that is the approach that He always takes in our forgiveness, healing and formation.

We are baptized into His suffering, and we are marked with His Cross forever, but we are also raised with Him into eternal life. (Romans 6:4)

In this life there are conditions that we must endure, and there are thorns that God will not always choose to remove from our flesh in the short term. Our healing doesn’t always become apparent in the short term, or even in this lifetime. Even so, in Christ we are made whole.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)

Jesus our Provision and our Healer isn’t about just tossing us leftovers now and then. He meets our every need. We have our life and salvation and everything in Him.

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.

 

 

January 18, 2018 – Courage, Conversion and Salvation- Acts 4:8-12, Psalm 118:22-24, Romans 8:26-27

cornerstone

 

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is:

“‘the stone you builders rejected,  which has become the cornerstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:8-12 (NIV)

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; Let us rejoice today and be glad. Psalm 118:22-24 (NIV)

Imagine the courage it would take to do what Peter did- to stand up to the authorities and defend his faith.

What would we do in Peter’s position? This was the same guy who had denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed (Matthew 26:75.)  Yet after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension Peter had been filled with the Holy Spirit.  He had supernatural courage that only God could give him to speak boldly even when such speech could cost him his freedom or even his life.

Sometimes we wonder if the Holy Spirit is still at work today. Where is that courage we need when we aren’t feeling it, or when we know we should speak up for what is right, but we don’t?

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)

We can be confident that God the Holy Spirit will fill in the gaps. He is strong where we are weak.  That is how Peter, who betrayed Jesus three times, became a bold and stalwart witness for Him.

The Holy Spirit still intervenes for us today. He brings us back to the One Who has become the cornerstone. He gives us the courage to stand when we no longer have- or never did have- the power to stand on our own.  He brings us back from a place of denial and cowardice into a place of defending our faith.

Different Christian traditions have differing views on soteriology (the “how” of salvation) but we can all agree on the Who of salvation.  Whether we believe that salvation is a one-time lightning bolt event, whether we believe we choose God, or that He chooses us, or whether we believe salvation is a gradual and life-long process, the Who of salvation is not in question. It all comes back to the Cornerstone the builders rejected, the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:1-5) who Isaiah spoke of so long ago.

Perhaps we can agree that the Holy Spirit has endless means of grace at His disposal. After all, Saul the Pharisee- who became the apostle Paul- was knocked off his high horse on the Damascus Road. That was a pretty dramatic conversion event.  Some of us have experienced dramatic conversion events as well.  Others of us have gently grown into faith over the years through a series of small epiphanies and discoveries about God.  God does speak to each of us differently, and we are called to respond.  We can trust that when we are asked to attest to the reality and the power of God in Christ, the Holy Spirit will lead us and give us the words we need when we don’t have our own.

April 17, 2017 – Maundy Thursday- How Deep is Our Love? Matthew 16:15-16

last supper

“He (Jesus) said to them, ‘But who do you [yourselves] say I am?  Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.'” Matthew 16:15-16 (AMP)

Early in Jesus’ ministry, the apostle Peter got it.  At this time, at least on an intellectual level, the apostle Peter understood Who Jesus is.

If we fast forward to the night of the Last Supper, after Jesus had shared His Body and Blood with the disciples, the apostle Peter still maintained what he knew about Jesus:

“Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd,  and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 

But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”  Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples. Matthew 16:15-16 (NRSV)

acts of the apostles

The spirit is willing, and Peter knew in his rational mind that Jesus is Who He claims to be.  Head knowledge, in this instance, wasn’t Peter’s problem.  Unfortunately, the things we humans do when our hides are on the line sometimes defy rationality.  Our flesh is weak, especially when that primal self-preservation instinct kicks in.

Head knowledge is something to be sought after, but not simply for the sake of knowing facts and figures.  Knowledge without practical application is at best, superficial, and at worst, pointless.  Knowledge that rests on the surface, but that really hasn’t sunk in and become part of one’s deepest heart of hearts is not of much value.

shema1

There’s a reason why the Israelites were commanded in the Shema, which is the primary prayer in Judaism, (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) to keep on repeating and meditating on Scripture at all times:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)

It is a good thing to internalize the Scriptures, and the act of reading, reciting, teaching and memorizing them does serve to write them not only on our minds but also on our hearts.

Even considering that the apostle Peter would have been taught the Shema from his earliest days, and he spent three years with Jesus, it’s still one thing for us weak humans to know Who Jesus is, but it’s quite another for us to act accordingly.

Jesus knew the disciples’ weaknesses, including Peter, who shared with us the human flaw of having a crocodile mouth but a canary patoot.  It’s one thing to pledge to follow Jesus to His death, but the irony is that it’s impossible to do that apart from the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ statement directed toward the disciples on the night of the Last Supper is telling: “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd,  and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”(Matthew 16:15)

garden

Apart from the Shepherd, no matter how much they might know, the sheep don’t have a chance.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6 (NRSV)

There are deep spiritual benefits of studying and meditating upon Scripture, but the point of any spiritual discipline, and the point of our faith is always to remain connected with Jesus.  Knowledge is meaningless if there is no practical application of that knowledge, and faith is pointless if we believe in the wrong things.  The scattering of the disciples after the Last Supper simply proves that we humans (even disciples who walked and ate and took part of the Body of Christ in an intensely tangible way) cannot stay faithful to God apart from Jesus.  It’s impossible to stand strong, no matter what you know, no matter what kinds of high spiritual experiences you can claim to have experienced, if you are apart from Jesus.

Jesus said that if a person loves his/her life, he/she will lose it. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:25 (NRSV)

This statement speaks to our self-preservation instinct.  Most of the time it’s wise and prudent to heed that instinct, but if and when our choices come down to this life and this physical body versus things of God’s Kingdom, we should choose the things of eternal life over ease and expediency in this life.  It’s easy to say, but infinitely hard to do.

The good news is that Jesus came to live in this world to show us how to do that, and to give us the strength we need to do what He calls us to do.

I pray that we will find strength in sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ with other believers, and that Jesus will hold us up to stand for Him when our weak flesh cannot.