Faith Tested

             I.      Introduction

A guy named Pete gets a job as a switchman with the railroad, and undergoes weeks of training. The supervisor then takes him into the switch booth to test his readiness. The following exchange takes place:

Supervisor: “Imagine you were sitting here alone and you learned there was a train coming from the North on that track, and another coming from the South on the same track. What would you do?”

Pete: “I’d throw this switch right here and put one train on the other track.”

Supervisor: And what if that switch didn’t work?”

Pete: “I’d go down to the track and throw that big switchlever there, putting one train on the other track.”

Supervisor: “And what if that switchlever didn’t work?”

Pete: “Then I’d come back here and call the dispatcher to stop both trains.”

Supervisor: “And what if the phone didn’t work?”

Pete: “Then I’d go to that gas station across the street and use their phone.”

Supervisor: “And what if their phone didn’t work?”

Pete: “Then I’d go get Uncle Joe.”

Supervisor: “Uncle Joe??? What would he do?”

Pete: “Nothing, but he ain’t never seen a train wreck.”

Is there a trainwreck in your life?  Many of us have been through life’s trainwrecks, either in our own lives or the life of somebody close to us.    Something terrible, something awful, that left us with a feeling of “why me?”  When I was young, and I’m fortunate that I don’t remember this traumatic event, I’m was told that a man in a mask burst into my room, grabbed me by my ankles, lifted me up, and while I hung there naked, he smacked me on the bottom.  They told me he was the doctor, I certainly hope so.  As a newborn, I was already having a hard time maintaining my dignity.  I mean, really, what did I do to deserve THAT?  And it seems sometimes that, just life in general, has been trying to smack me around ever since.

Perhaps you’ve been smacked around, too.  My mother passed last year.  Last time I taught, I shared about my divorce.  Maybe you have a marriage that failed, or perhaps one that’s currently failing.  Maybe you or a loved one lost a job, maybe you have a mother or father that died.  I have a friend up in Conroe who has a granddaughter that’s permanently brain damaged since the age of 8 months because of a tragic home accident.  When calamity happens, we want to ask why, we want to question God.  Some may want to step away from their faith in anger at God; they say, how could God allow this?  They say, why do bad things happen to good people?

Perhaps one of the most significant tensions for Christians is the difficult question, “If God is all-loving

and all-powerful, then why is there evil and suffering in the world?”  The logic goes,

  • If God is truly all-loving, then He would not allow evil and suffering.
  • If God is truly all-powerful, then He would have the power to stop evil and suffering.
  • But evil and suffering exist, maybe God isn’t all loving?  Or maybe not all-powerful?  Or maybe He doesn’t even exist?

We have all wrestled with this question, especially when we are witnessing one of life’s many trainwrecks.  The logic is sound, except for one consideration:  God’s wisdom.

Look at the above questions.  Each logical step begins with “If God [this], then God [that].”  We have replaced God’s infinite wisdom with our limited understanding.  Our assumptions are flawed.

What God does or what God wills or what God should not or what God should not do is not subject to our own personal limited beliefs and understanding.  And because we make these assumptions about God, then our conclusions can be wrong.  We believe God should do somethings, then we are disappointed when God does not behave according to our wishes, then we are disappointed in God, in life, in others, and in ourselves.

From the very first chapter, the book of Job wages war against this distorted, prideful type of thinking.  It shows us that our incorrect, naïve views of God and the complexity of life is what disappoints us, not God.

As we will see in our studies of Job, just because we’re blessed, doesn’t mean we cannot be broken.  And if we’re broken, it doesn’t mean we’re cursed.  We confused being blessed with having things go our way.  We confuse blessings and cursings with our emotions, how we feel about what’s happening. 

God is more loving than we can imagine and more involved than our suffering suggests. His power is greater than our “if this, then that” conditions, and His wisdom is far beyond our “then He would” pettiness. The book of Job tells us that God is at work in thousands of ways outside of our experience of suffering. The question is not whether we will suffer, but when. And when we do, we need to ask ourselves if we will consider, like Job, that His thoughts may be higher and His ways much greater than we can even imagine.

There are lots of answers to the question of suffering.  For the unbeliever, God will use pain and suffering to turn the unbeliever away from evil ways.  Repent, turn from sin, and face God. 

For one who professes Christ but leans on men or perhaps lean on their own understanding, God sometimes uses calamity to strengthen faith.  Whatever we are leaning on in this world, if it isn’t God, God will help the believer remove that worldly source of strength.  If a Christian leans on money, God sometimes takes that crutch away through a family emergency, perhaps loss of a job.  If a Christian leans on his own works, God may allow health issues to make him dependent on God.  There are many things we might lean on – our family, our friends, our stuff.  For a strong, upright and faithful Christian, God uses calamity to sanctify the believer, to bring the believer closer to God. 

And then sometimes, we don’t have any idea why we suffer.  We look at ourselves for unrepentant sin, something we’re doing wrong, we think God’s trying to tell us something, and we just can’t figure it out.  It’s undeserved.  We’ve been smacked on the bottom and been through a trainwreck, and we don’t know why.

And all the while, completely ignoring the suffering our Savior endured in order to save us.

          II.      The Book of Job

We’ve begun our study into the book of Job this week.  Job is considered the oldest book in the bible, though that’s not certain since we don’t know who the author is.  It’s possibly written by Moses, or by Job, but also possible by Elihu or Solomon.  Depending on the author, Job was written sometime between 1440 BC and 950 BC.

The beginning of the book of Job is an illustration of undeserved suffering.  Job is a prominent and wealthy servant of God, and in a matter of minutes, Job loses everything.  If you think you’re having a bad day, it’s nothing like Job’s day.  Financially, emotionally, physically, spiritually, devastating loss in every category, all at the same time.  To Job, it might appear that God had deserted him.  It might appear that God is angry with him.  God offered him no comfort or explanation.  Yet through all of his suffering, Job remained faithful to God and even stopped to worship Him in the midst of suffering.  That’s inspirational, a perfect example of how God wants us to respond in everything.

Let’s walk through Job’s life and see what happens.  If you have your bibles, let’s turn to Job 1:1 –

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.

Job was “blameless and upright.”  He was morally sound, mature, full of integrity.  The Hebrew word for “blameless” is “תָּם tâm” and also means “perfect.”  Job walked the straight and narrow path.  God himself says He finds no fault in Job.

Job “feared God and shunned evil.”  Many misunderstand the phrase “fear God;” it does not mean to be afraid of God.  To fear God doesn’t make one a  coward; it means to recognize God’s power and authority.  To have a healthy fear and respect of the power of God is necessary for good spiritual discipline.  It teaches us to say things like, “God is God, and I am not.”  Proverbs 1:7 says

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”  

I think the phrase “feared God and shunned evil” together are interesting – “feared God” meant Job always did the right thing, but more than that he shunned evil, or also avoided the wrong thing.  He was a complete man of God, not one who did good when people were watching and evil when people were not.  Job was not a hypocrite who said one thing and did another, he was a man of perfect integrity, doing what was right and avoiding what was wrong.

He was also a very wealthy, prosperous man.  Let’s look at his tax return –

  • seven sons, 3 daughters.  Excellent, so he had a lot of deductions for dependents
  • 7000 sheep.  Enough wool to make something good.  Or at least something baaaad
  • 3000 camels
  • 500 oxen
  • 500 donkeys.  I’m sure there’s a purpose for owning 500 donkeys, I just know what that would be.  True story: my brother once gave his wife a donkey for Mother’s Day.  He’s a country boy, and his life is very different than mine.
  • and a large number of servants.

Job was like sort of a cross between Billy Graham and Warren Buffett.  In verse 4 through 5, we also learn that Job was blessed not only with material wealth and public prestige, but also a loving family.  Seven sons and three daughters that regularly broke bread together and Job would pray for them and offer sacrifices on their behalf.

Now, in verse 6, we step away from the human world and into the spiritual world where there is some sort of conference going on in Heaven.  The angels of the Lord are presenting themselves before the Almighty, and Satan also arrives in heaven.  Verse 7-8

The Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”  The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”

There’s a lot about these two verses that disturb me.  I always imagine Satan dwelling in Hell, sending out his little minions to do his bidding.  But Satan is here in heaven. 

But you know what disturbs me more?  I’d like to avoid the devil and stay as far away from him as I can.  Yet here God is saying to Satan, “Dude, are you bored?  Check out my man Job.”  Why would God do this? 

The short answer is, we don’t really know.  No one can truly know the mind of God.  Here’s a few things we do know, however – we know that Romans 8:28 says

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

All things, including what’s about to happen to Job.  How could calamity be considered good?  Well, Job wouldn’t know this of course, but he turned out to be an example for thousands of years of God’s power and absolute control.  That’s good for us to know, even if Job didn’t. 

We also know that God promises not to give us more than we can handle.  In 1 Corinthians 10:13,

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

God will not permit anything to come into our lives that we are not capable of withstanding.  That doesn’t mean tragedy won’t come our way – only that when it does, we’ll either be able to stand up under it or provide a way out.

Job 1:9-11,

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.  “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

I’m not surprised Satan cops an attitude with God.  Satan says that the only reason Job fears the Lord and is a man of perfect integrity is because God pays Job to be a great guy.  God has built a hedge of protection around Job and blessed Job abundantly.

Have you ever prayed for a hedge of protection?  It’s a good prayer, to protect ourselves from evil.  But this verse shows that the hedge of protection is taken down as easily as it is put up, either by God or by a very aggressive landscaping company, but more importantly, if the hedge of protection is taken down, it may not have anything whatsoever to do with our morality.

Are we shallow Christians that believe that if we are doing God’s will, God will bless us?  That’s what the heresy of the Prosperity Gospel teaches, a “name it and claim it” attitude.  Are we making some sort of bartering agreement with God?  OK God, I mowed my neighbor’s yard this week.  I helped a little old lady across the street.  I said, “God bless you” when somebody sneezed.  Now listen God: you owe me. 

That is a shallow Christian that misunderstands the will of God.  We do not do God’s will in order to receive blessings.  We do God’s will so that God may do His will.  We may or may not receive blessings on this earth.  In my experience, we all receive an abundance of blessings that we take for granted – the air we breathe, the food we eat, the homes we live in – but earthly blessings are fleeting.  God’s blessing to us is His son Jesus, sacrificed for our sins and shortcomings so that we may have life everlasting with our Savior.  That’s our blessing.

And yet, on this earth, God *is* a God of blessings, but He is not *only* a God of blessings.  He’s not some magician we produce at parties to pull a rabbit out of a hat for us.  I’ve heard some people give an excuse for their behavior by saying, “God just wants me to be happy.”  That is not God’s primary desire.  The gift of joy comes from the Lord, but God’s primary goal is for us to bring glory Him, to worship He who created us and to point others to the good news.  We cannot excuse our behavior by saying, “God wants me to be happy.”  When you read about the disaster about to befall Job, can you still say God wants Job to be happy?  No, God wants Job to glorify God.

We also know here that Satan badly misjudges Job, and God is perfectly right and accurate.  Satan believes that if Satan is allowed to wreak havoc in Job’s life that Job will renounce God and curse God to His face.  God knows Job, though, just as He knows you and me.  God will be able to use Job’s calamities for God’s purposes.

Job 1:12,

“The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”  Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.”

What would happened if this exchange was about you?  What if God and Satan were talking about you in heaven?  “Have you considered my servant Michael?  Have you considered my servant Tony?  Have you considered my servant Koren?  Put your own name in the blank.  God knows where you are spiritually, and He promises not to give us more than we can handle, but how would you feel about God talking about you with Satan?

God is sovereign, all powerful.  We like to believe that God is all good and nothing evil comes from Him, but that’s an incomplete picture.  God *is* all good, but He is also sovereign, in charge of everything.  Notice Satan must ask God’s permission before he is allowed to mess with Job. 

The humans in us would like to say God’s answer should be, “Nope, don’t mess with Job, he’s mine.”  We like to think of God and Satan as being the great generals of a massive battle between good and evil, battling it out in the heavens and on earth.  Obi Wan Kanobe versus Darth Vader.  Professor X versus Magneto.  Captain America verses Thanos.  Aslan versus the White Witch. 

We think Satan is reeking his havoc on Earth from Hell, but that’s not quite right.  From the book of Job and in 1 Peter 5:8, we know that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, and Revelation 20:10 tells us that Satan will not be cast into the Lake of Fire before Judgment Day.  God isn’t battling Satan, God is sovereign.  God is referred to as “The Almighty” in the book of Job 31 times.  When Satan wants to do evil, he must ask God’s permission.  This is true in the New Testament, too, by the way.  In Luke 22, the disciples are squabbling over which one of them will be considered the greatest in Heaven, and Jesus rebukes them and tells them to be more concerned about serving.  Then he says in Luke 22:31: 

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.”

Look, Satan is asking for permission again.

Does it bother you that God gives permission for suffering?  A big mistake in our Christian walk is to misunderstand what “God is in control” means.  We think that since God is in control, we have a right to expect Him to keep bad things from happening to us.  We want to think that because we want to keep bad things from happening to our friends and family, and if we think that, God should think that.  We are children of God, are we not?  How could God let something bad happen to us or our loved ones if He is in control?

But let me ask you some blunt questions.  Did God have a son?  And did that son suffer?  And did that suffering work for God’s glory?  God does have a plan, God is in control, and it is human folly to think that God’s plan does not include suffering.  As Christians, we know that our suffering will be used by God for His purposes.  We know that it is our response to disappointments in life that makes us stronger in our faith to our almighty God.  The sinner doesn’t have this comfort.  To the sinner, suffering is pointless.  Suffering makes a sinner bitter.  Suffering makes a Christian better.

Let’s see what sort of things we’ve learned so far about God.

Lessons Learned about God

–         God is sovereign over all, good and evil.

–         God provides hedges and removes them according to His will.

We’ve learned a few things about Satan during this exchange. 

Lessons Learned About Satan

–         Satan has access to God’s throne in Heaven.

–         Satan has to ask God’s permission before he can touch God’s people

What happens to Job after this?  Satan may not lay a finger on Job – God set that boundary and Satan must obey – but Satan sends destruction.  Job 13-19, the Sabeans steal the ox and donkeys, then kill all the servants.  Then lightning strikes and kills the sheep, then the Chaldeans steal all the camels, and then a mighty wind collapses his son’s house and kills all of his children.  In a matter of minutes, Job loses everything.  First his wealth, then possessions, then his children.  Everything. 

Now I know that in this room, we all have tragedies in our lives.  Death.  Divorce.  Pain.  Unemployment.  Why do we have to suffer?  When we’re facing a calamity, the first thing as Christians that we must do is self-reflection.  We must look inside ourselves for unrepentant sin.  The Old Testament is replete with examples of God sending His perfect wrath in order to turn His people away from evil and toward Him.  We’ll never be 100% righteous, but we know when we are sinning and it feels too good to stop.  God will get our attention one way or another. 

But what if we’ve examined ourselves for unrepentant sin and find none?  God did not allow Satan to bring harm to Job just to say to Satan, See, I told you.  God’s not trying to prove a point.  God knew Job’s faith was real, and God knew this before he allowed Satan to do what he did.  God’s purposes in allowing suffering are complex and it is not possible to reduce the purpose of suffering to some simple explanation.  But our response to that suffering illustrates our faith.

I know how I have reacted to suffering in my life.  Anger.  Depression.  A mix of both.  Sometimes it’s been directed at God, how could you do this?  How could you let something like this happen?  But let’s see how a faithful man of God reacts, see what he does and does not do.  Job 1:20,

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.  Then he fell to the ground in worship.

Instead of tearing robes we wear black, but ancient signs of grief included tearing his robe and shaving his head.  It is ok to grieve.  It is ok to cry.  We are commanded to love one another, and I’ve discovered that love means emotional risk.  The loss of love is most certainly a time for grief.  God gave us emotions, and it’s ok to have those emotions.  But Job didn’t stop at the crying and wailing about his calamities.  Job said,

Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

and naked I will depart.

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;

may the name of the LORD be praised.”

Job fell to the ground and worshipped God.  An amazing response.  A teachable lesson to me.

As Christians, we can recognize that everything in this life is a gift from God.  Our possessions, sure, but our relationships, our children, our very breath of life.  We came into this world naked, slapped on the bottom by a strange man in a mask.  We come into this world with nothing.  And when we leave, we take nothing with us.  The Lord gives it all to us, and the Lord takes it all away again.  “May the name of the Lord be praised.”  It is easy to praise the name of the Lord when he gives.  When he takes away, can we still praise the name of the Lord?  Are we only thankful for things he gives?  He may have many reasons for taking away, all according to His purpose.  Can we give thanks to God for taking it away?

How do we remain thankful while suffering?  Rather than blame God for what he doesn’t have, Job thanks God for what he does have.  In 1 Thessalonians 16:18, Paul tells us,

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

We recognize that it is God’s will for us to be thankful in all circumstances.  Job could thank God because Job realized that everything Job had didn’t belong to Job; it all belonged to God.  God owns everything.  Job had the privilege of managing it for a little while.  And in Job’s careful stewardship and praise, we learn one more thing about God: When Satan attacks, God uses it for His own good and His glory.  Job 1:22,

“In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

It’s ok to be angry.  It’s ok to be depressed.  Our emotions are something God gives us.  Job certainly had intense feelings of grief.  But Job did not sin because he didn’t say God was wrong.  He didn’t say God was neglectful.  He didn’t say God has bad intentions.  Through all Job’s grief, he said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job stayed strong.  He didn’t whine, “Why meeeee?”  His character remained that which God approved, even in the midst of suffering.  Job was strong, patient, even resigned.  And Satan must have been disappointed.  Here was a man who loved God more than money, more than his earthly possessions, more than his family.  Job’s relationship with God was not dependent on his circumstances, his position in society, or his stuff.

In Chapter 2, Satan goes back to God and says, “well, ok, so that didn’t work, but you didn’t let me touch him.  He’s still a healthy person.  Let me take away his health.”  I don’t know what this illness was, maybe he had more than one thing.  In chapter 2, we know he has boils from the sole of his foot to the top of his head, and they itch.  In Chapter 7 through 30, we learn that it also includes a haggard appearance, running sores, loss of sleep, depression, severe weight loss, acute pain, darkened and peeling skin, and fever.  Oh, and bad breath.  In chapter 2 verse 8, Job sits down in the ashes of his life and scrapes himself with a piece of broken pottery.  Sort of symbolic, like his life had now become a piece of broken pottery.

His wife was less than helpful. 

“Are you still holding on to your integrity?  Curse God and die already.”

I think it’s illustrative that Satan killed Job’s entire family and destroyed all of his wealth, but left Job his wife who could provide helpful cursing to Job during his grief. 

Before we pick on Job’s wife too harshly, let’s remember that she, too, was intensely affected by all of this.  She, too, had lost all of her children, she’s lost any importance she thought she had in the eyes of the community, and her husband is some foul-smelling creature sitting in a garbage dump scraping sores with a piece of pottery.  So Job’s wife was certainly under a lot of stress.   It’s easy to pick on her, but she’s in pain.  Perhaps she thought her own pain would end if Job would just die.  Perhaps she just loved Job and wanted his suffering to end.

Job still didn’t sin; sometimes it’s easier to remain faithful to God when you’re alone, but remaining faithful to God when you’re with others is harder.   Job tells her that she’s talking foolishly, that her faith is not wise enough.

“Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”

We do not always have a choice in our circumstances, but we do have a choice in how we respond.  Job’s wife responded first with her emotions.  Job responded with his faith.

Job’s closest friends were more helpful.  What did they say when Job first lost everything?  Nothing.  When they came to visit, they were shocked, they cried with him, then sat on the ground with him for 7 days and said nothing.  Nothing.  Just sat and grieved.  Sometimes there’s nothing you can say, so there’s no need to try.  Just be there.

       III.      Conclusion

I want to close with a few examples.  How many here saw the movie “United 93” about the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania because of the terrorist attack of 9/11?  It’s a powerful movie, mostly for what it doesn’t say.  There’s no commentary explaining people’s motives, just a real-time account of people’s actions.  We see the confusion of the people at the FAA, the hysteria of the passengers, the evil of the terrorists bound on killing as many people as they can.

Many of us have heard of Todd Beamer, who uttered the famous, “Let’s roll” during the passenger’s revolt against the terrorists in an attempt to regain control of the airplane.  What a lot of us may not know is Todd Beamer’s family were devoted followers of Christ.  Can you identify with Todd’s wife, Lisa, the grief she must have suffered?  She turned her faith in God into a powerful testimony and wrote a book that encourages people to build their lives on a firm foundation of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Here’s what she wrote about 9/11:

We all have the choice to look at the things we’ve lost or to look at the things we have, to become bitter or to become better, to live in fear or to live in hope.  I’ve chosen to live in hope, not because I’m a strong person but because of the heavenly, eternal perspective that God has given me.  Lately I’ve been trying to look at the bigger picture, to discover what I’m supposed to learn from all this.  Probably the most important truth is that my security must be in God rather than in anything or anyone in this world.

Think about it: the World Trade Center represented economic power, success, and security; yet it was shaken and destroyed in less than an hour. The Pentagon is the symbol of our nation’s military might; yet it, too, proved vulnerable. Where can we find true security these days?

I have found safety and security in a loving heavenly Father, who cannot be shaken, who will never leave me or forsake me, and in whom I can trust completely. For those looking for hope, I recommend grabbing the hand of your heavenly Father as tightly as possible, like a little child does with his parent. God is a hero who will always be there when you need him.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10,

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.       

Thank you, Jesus, for your sacrifice for me.  Your life for me gives me a desire to truly worship you and bring you glory.    

To God be the Glory.  Amen.

Denying Christ

I.       Introduction – What Do We Do Under Pressure?

It is easy to be a Christian at church.  We are in our safe place.  We have no triggers.  We are surrounded by brothers and sisters who encourage us.  So, it is easy to stand here in our safe environment and say, “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”

But when we are in a less-friendly environment, do we still profess Christ?  When we’re at work?  When we’re in line at the grocery store?  Even when we’re visiting with friends?

There are good, biblical reasons to share our faith; first and foremost is because Christ Himself calls us to do so.  Matthew 28:19 says,

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” 

You can’t make disciples if you don’t tell them about Jesus.  At least, not any method I’ve found.  It is through hearing and reading the Word that we get to know God.

We share the gospel because God first loved us.  And God continues to love us and forgive us despite our many failings.  In the same way, He wants us to share that love and forgiveness to each other and with the world.  It’s our calling, so show others the life of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within.

And that love from the Lord compels us to extend an invitation of eternal life to a lost and dying world.  Especially in these days of fear of the global pandemic, the world seems to have woken up to the fact that death is possible, even inevitable, and wants us to hide in our rooms and lock the door and keep death at bay.  We proudly proclaim that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and we want others may know eternal life and not be sentenced to an eternity of hell because they choose not to belief that Jesus is who he says He is.

At least we do here, inside of the safe walls of the church.  But when I am in the world, there are less-flattering words to describe the demonstration of my faith.  Reluctance.  Shyness.  Embarrassment.  I care too much what people think about me, and I don’t want people to think I’m some sort of religious nut.  And there are far more worldly people ready to judge me than there are sympathetic religious nuts like you and me.  We – I – need to learn and practice to overcome any fear and pride, and realize there is nothing more important in this life than sharing the good news.  Ephesians 6:13,

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Hence, the very purpose of our bible study class, Stand Firm.

When I was a younger Christian, I was not an example of a good Christian.  You couldn’t tell I was Christian by my lifestyle even though I grew up in the Catholic Church and believed in Jesus.  If I had to fill out a questionnaire and check a box about my religion, I was not afraid to fill in the little bubble that said “Christian.”

When God is calling you, as I believe God was calling me, He challenges your own belief.  If I say I have faith, then God says, well, let’s see if you have faith.  And He puts me on the edge of that faith to let me honestly see that my view of myself can be hypocritical.  I think I am a good person, but I fall short.

I missed my opportunity to share my testimony a few weeks back on Resurrection Sunday, I was spending the Lord’s Day with my wife.  Things are well between us today, but we have been through some very rocky ground.

Some of you know that in 1996, I divorced my wife.  I wasn’t much of a Christian then.  My wife would say I showed no evidence of being a Christian.  Christian or not, going through a divorce was, as you can imagine, a most difficult time for me.  I still loved my wife, but I divorced her anyway.  I was scared, I was selfish and I leaned on my own understanding on what I thought was best for me.  And God showed me the first of my hypocrisies: I wanted to believe I was a good Christian, and there was the truth that I had divorced my wife. 

And I hit my knees for the first time in my life.  No more faking it, no more pretending I was better than I was.  I told God I was finally ready to trust in His ways because my ways sucked.  Whereas before I was going to church for the wrong reason, mostly to improve my social life, now I wanted to know God.  Where had I gone wrong, and how could I now go right? 

Where God challenges, God also provides.  During this time, a pastor took me aside and spent several weeks repairing my foundation.  I’m reminded of this passage from Matthew 7:24-27 –

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

I didn’t even realize my foundation had been built on sand.  Who does, until the floods came?  But now I’m on my knees and I’m studying and I’m trying to figure out what it means for my life to be built on Jesus.

But what held me back from living a new life?  My knowledge that I was an awful Christian.  I spent years chasing women and hanging out in bars.  I divorced my wife.  The only evidence of my faith was some obscure questionnaire somewhere where I had filled in that little bubble that said “Christian.”  I may want to know God better, but I didn’t blame God if He didn’t want to know me.  I was an awful example of a believer.

Two pieces of scripture were key to my development as a Christian.  First was Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,” and second was the story of Peter denying Christ.  Let’s watch a little movie snippet.  This is from the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”  Jesus has been arrested and taken to Herod in preparation for the Jews to turn Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion.  Peter had told Jesus that no matter what trouble came, Peter would never leave Jesus.

II.    Jesus’ Prophecy

The scene is chaotic; when I was young, I had pictured Peter in a safe place when He was asked about Jesus.  It was far from a safe place; Peter’s own life was in danger.

There are many things I learned from this scene.  The first thing I learned was that my failures were not secrets.  It’s not as though the failures in my life were completely unknown to an omniscient God.  Jesus knows all.  He knows exactly who I am, who I was, who I am going to be.  

Years ago, when Theresa was teaching from the book of Luke, she used a phrase that I thought illustrated me perfectly.  I was frozen in my failure.  I couldn’t forgive myself, so nobody could forgive me.  I was frozen forever in my failure.

In the story of Peter’s denial, I found the story of myself.  I was Peter, and my faith was lacking.  Matthew 26:31, Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7 and tells of a future that has not yet happened.

Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble 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 have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

But Jesus is not just going to fulfill this scripture, he tells the disciples that they, too, will fulfill this scripture.  The sheep that follow Jesus Christ will abandon him and scatter.

Peter has a lot of pride in his belief in Jesus.  Pride can be defined as putting oneself on the throne of God.  God may have said something, but it doesn’t apply to me.  God may have a plan, but I have something even better planned, and God just has to get on board with it.  I am a good Christian man who drank, chased women, and then divorced his wife.  Peter, like me, has a better plan, and tells Jesus that Jesus is wrong.  Matthew 26, verse 33,

Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”

What arrogance to tell Jesus that Peter will never stumble, even though Jesus just prophesied that he would.  Peter knows better than God, just like I knew better than God what was best for me.  This same scene is played out in our bible verses today, in Luke 22:33, Peter says,

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

But is that what Peter did?  Peter’s pride led him to say one thing, but in fear, what Peter did was something else entirely.

How is your pride?  Do you ever tell God what He needs to do?  Do you pray for other people to change, for situations to change for your benefit, for good things to happen to you?  Do you do things that God disapproves of, but rationalize it somehow that it’s not *that* bad and God put you in this situation in the first place?

I remember a woman years ago, a friend of my wife, that had spent years praying for a husband.  She eventually found a substitute, a married man.  When confronted, she said she had prayed about it, she had peace, and God had told her it was ok, He was answering her prayers.  She’s saying to God, just get on board with my plan here.  Diane told her she may be praying to God, but she’s not hearing from God.

Pride is very hard to eliminate, to humble ourselves like Jesus did by going to the cross.  Every time I think I’m getting a handle on pride, I think, “Wow, I’m getting really good at being humble.  In fact, I’m extraordinary at it.  I should enter a humility contest.  Maybe I can win a Humility trophy.”  For me, it comes up most often when I compare myself to somebody else. Sometimes it’s skills – I am better at math, so I’m a better person than somebody who isn’t.  Sometimes it’s appearance: I may be overweight, but at least I’m not as overweight as *that* person.  Maybe we compare money or our car.  Some even compare their religious piety, saying, “at least I’m a better Christian than that divorced Christian man.” 

Benjamin Franklin once said,

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.

Pride is something we all suffer from.  If we think we do not suffer from pride, then it is possible pride is blinding us to our pride.  Pride is real easy to recognize in others, though, isn’t it?  It’s because when we see pride in somebody else, we’re smugly saying, “*I* don’t suffer from pride like *he* does.”  Like Benjamin Franklin, we are being proud of our humility. 

C.S. Lewis has this to say about pride:

According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, anger, grief, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea-bites in comparison; it was through pride that the devil became the devil; pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that- and, therefore know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see Something that is above you.

Peter’s pride led him to tell Jesus that Peter alone would never betray Christ, even if all the other disciples scattered.

And Jesus response was that, not only were Jesus and Peter going to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah, there was a new prophecy just for Peter.  Luke 22:34 –

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

III. Peter Denies Christ

You try telling God you know better than Him and see how well that works out for you.  For me, it didn’t.  My sin led me to my knees, but I didn’t feel like my life was good enough to present to Jesus.  The Catholic Church had taught me to feel guilty, and that divorced people couldn’t receive communion.  I was a non-practicing divorced Catholic that chased women and was not allowed to accept Christ.  Where did I go wrong?

Of course when I was given an opportunity to tell people about Jesus, I hedged.  I changed the subject.  I talked about the weather.  I mean, seriously, I was such a bad example of a Christian there was no way I could tell people that Jesus was part of my life.  It would be an embarrassment to both me and to God.  I would never put a fish on my car because I was such a bad example, I didn’t want anybody to know.   I was afraid they’d look at the fish and then they’d look at me, and see right through my hypocrisy.  “You call yourself a Christian and you drive like that?  You are such a hypocrite.”

In Luke 22:54,

Now they arrested Him and led Him away, and brought Him to the house of the high priest; but Peter was following at a distance.

Peter was nearby.  Peter was not walking with Christ, but he was walking near Christ.  I think a lot of Christians, including me, have been in this position of walking near Christ instead of with Christ.  Peter was in the courtyard.  In Luke 22:55-57,

After they kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter was sitting among them.  And a slave woman, seeing him as he sat in the firelight, and staring at him, said, “This man was with Him as well.”  But he denied it, saying, “I do not know Him, woman!”

Given the opportunity to proclaim Christ, to tell Peter’s testimony about Jesus, Peter says, “I don’t even know Jesus.  I’m not one of those religious nutjobs.”  Verse 58,

And a little later, another person saw him and said, “You are one of them too!” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!”

Peter doesn’t want to be associated with the Son of God who will give Peter eternal life.  He tells the crowd again he’s not with Jesus, and Jesus is not with Peter. And verses 59-60.

And after about an hour had passed, some other man began to insist, saying, “Certainly this man also was with Him, for he, too, is a Galilean.”  But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” And immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed.

(((Rooster Crowing)))

Of course, the prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled.  Of course, Peter denied Christ.  When the going got tough, Peter wanted to save himself.  He had a better plan than God. 

But you know the worst part?  The Lord knew.  Jesus knew.  Every denial from Peter was seen by Christ in advance, and Christ heard Peter’s denial in real time.  Christ was there.  Christ watched and listed to Peter’s every denial.  Verses 61-62,

And then the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly.

             IV.      Peter Weeps

Peter wept.  I think many of us get to a place where we are broken.  When we realize we are not the person we wanted to believe we are and our eyes are opened to just how far we fall short of the glory of God, we’re broken.  Peter wept.

I used to look at Peter and say, “Man, what an idiot.  I can’t believe he’d deny Christ like that.  Doesn’t he know who Jesus is?”

And in my bible study with that pastor back in 1998, I realized I was Peter.  I was the idiot that denied Christ.  Despite telling myself that I was such a good person, I finally realized how far short of the goal I was.  I had decided I knew better than God what was best for me and I dragged around my religion like garbage I was ashamed of, and when it came time for me to choose between obedience and selfishness, between trust and pride, I chose me.  I denied the plan Jesus had for me because I wanted to save myself.  My plan was better than God’s.  And when I finally realized I was Peter, I wept.  In front of that Pastor in 1998, I broke down and cried.

No wonder Jesus had no use for me.  I was a terrible Christian.  I was lost.  I was on the outside looking in, and that I’d never be one of the sheep that Christ promised to hold in His hands.

Ever felt that despair?  That you’re not good enough?  That Christ can’t use you because you’re flawed in so many ways?  I wouldn’t blame Jesus if He never spoke to Peter again, completely disowned him.  Just like I felt Jesus had disowned me because I had failed Him in so many ways.

I remember hearing about an organization that translated the bible into obscure languages in audio form so these unreached people could hear the Word of the Lord.  One of their testimonies was translating to a tribe that that lived apart from the main tribe due to a contagious skin disease.  People in the village that caught the disease were sent up the mountain to live the remainder of their lives, shunned by their village.  Over time, up in the mountain, the shunned people had developed a unique dialect, so it was an amazing blessing to them to hear the New Testament in words they could understand.

Something interesting happened when they got to Luke 8.  I want to show the original passage in Luke 8:42-48,

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

When the gospel got to the part where the unclean woman reached out to touch the robe of Jesus, the tribe were all on the edge of their seats and they gasped.  And when Jesus said, “your faith as healed you,” the tribe broke down and cried.

Why would they cry at this story?  It is because they believed they were so unclean, so unworthy, that when Jesus said, “Who touched my robe?” they were certain Jesus would call down fire from the sky and destroy the woman.  But Jesus responded in love.  Their disease did not prohibit them from receiving the love of Jesus.  The tribe understood that the love of Jesus was greater than any disease they had.

I repeat, have you ever felt that despair?  That you’re not good enough?  Christ can’t use you because you’re dirty and unclean?

          V.      Peter is Forgiven

But that’s not what Jesus did for the tribe of unclean people.  That’s not what Jesus did for the woman who touched His robe, and that’s not what Jesus did for Peter.  Despite Peter’s best efforts at running from Jesus, Jesus still loved Peter.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the disciples were out fishing.  They caught, well, literally, a boat load of fish, and brought it to shore.  And Jesus was there, and prepares a cooking fire and prepares breakfast for the disciples.  I can only imagine that Peter was embarrassed, staying at the back of the twelve disciples.  He had denied Jesus, what use did Jesus have of Peter?  But rather than shun Peter, Jesus seeks out Peter, well, let’s see this in John 21:15-17,

Now when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again, a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was hurt because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep.

Three times Jesus prompts Peter to declare that Peter loves his Savior.  Three times Peter had denied Jesus.  For each denial, Jesus rescued Peter with His love.

Jesus doesn’t hold grudges; that’s what our sin nature does.  We hold grudges.  We even hold grudges against ourselves.  Jesus doesn’t have a sin nature, and He welcomes us in love, despite our failures.  Sometimes I think it’s actually because of our failures.  If we resist His will, He’s not going use us.  He wants us to go with Him willingly, without resistance.  And it’s only when we realize our failures and that Christ loves us unconditionally that we truly begin to understand the character of God.   It doesn’t have anything to do with us.

God knows we are weak.  He loves us anyway, especially when we agree with God that we are weak.  Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 12 when he pleaded for God to remove the thorn from his flesh:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Despite denying Jesus three times, Jesus loved Peter.  Not because of who Peter is, but because of who Jesus is.  Not because of who I am, but because of who Jesus is.

       III.      Conclusion

Once I realized I was Peter and Jesus still loved me, it opened a door for me, one that led to joy and peace.  I learned that my dirty life was not too filthy for me to be a follower of Jesus.  My filth helped me realize that I was indeed powerless to save myself, that thinking I was a good person was not the same thing as being a good person.  I had sinned, but I was in good company.  All have sinned and fallen short.  In fact, that’s the point, nobody is worthy enough on their own merits to deserve Jesus.  Jesus died for me, not because I was a good person, but because I wasn’t.  Without Jesus, I was destined for the fires of hell no matter how I tried to fool myself that it’ll be ok.  I needed a savior.

Wherever you are in your spiritual growth, you’re not too bad that Jesus doesn’t want to get to know you.  There is nothing in your life that disqualifies you from a relationship with our loving, heavenly Father.  One of the most important things to me that I learned during this time was just how powerful my God is.  I had always assumed when I was a young Christian that God was just a little smarter, just a little more moral than me.  Catholic school had taught me I was going to have to work off my sins in Purgatory, and my sins were so great I’d be working a long, long time.  I had a little god.

I have a big God now.  Bigger than any storm, bigger than any persecution, bigger than any failure, bigger than all my sins.  There is nothing in this world, including the entire world, that is too big for my God to handle.  He is the great I AM. 

Despite our failures, or perhaps because of our failures, we just have to confess our sins to the Lord and he forgives and forgets as far as the east is from the west. Despite our failures, we are adopted children of the Creator of the Universe.

God loves His children and provides good gifts for our abundant life and to His glory.  He gave me the chance to undo the biggest mistake I had ever made.  9 years after I divorced my wife, she called me out of the blue to tell me she forgave me.  Separately and miraculously, each of us had come to Christ and been baptized, new creations, made for His purpose.  Six months later, we were remarried.  Next month we celebrate 16 months of marriage.  God is amazing.

Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:15,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

Jesus is the only way to eternal security, He is the Alpha, the Omega, the very Word of God made flesh, the Lamb of God sacrificed so that my sins are forgiven and my eternity secure.  Jesus died for me because I needed Him.  I was never going to earn my way into heaven.  Jesus paid the price, the whole price, for me, a sinner.  And He paid the price for you, too.  Despite all your flaws, God thinks you’re worth the sacrifice. 

The depths of His love for us is amazing.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Willing

             I.      Introduction

From time to time, we all come to a big decision in our lives.  I’ve lost my job; what should I do now?  I have a medical issue; how should I treat it?  Is this person right for me?  Should I compromise, or should I stand my ground?

We are faced with decisions often.  Yearly, monthly, daily.  Some of the decisions we face are very mundane.  Should I wear this tie today?  Some are more serious.  Should I go to church and bible study today?  And some are serious indeed: job, family, friends, moral choices.  Many times, the choice affects not just you, but several or many people.

Several years ago, I had made a decision to get Lasik surgery to get rid of my very thick glasses.  I read up the procedure, became familiar with the different types, selected a doctor and had the examinations and evaluations.  And then the day finally came for me to have the operation.  It was only a 10 minute operation, max, to treat both eyes.

There was a small hiccup.  Apparently I have small pupils, but they had to be very dilated before the surgery could begin.  So while it took 3 different treatments of those drops they put into your eyes, so they kept slipping my treatment later and later waiting for my eyes to dilate.  I had time to walk around the doctor’s office.

Now, this doctor had a glass-walled operating table.  I could see a patient laying on the table, bit computerize contraption over their head as the doctor began to work.  And he also had a television monitor outside so you could see the surgery up close.  And I watched an extreme close-up of an eye sliced open and lasered.  And my appointment was next.

I don’t recommend that for anybody.  I had been calm, cool, collected up until this point, but watching an eye sliced opened and lasered ten minutes before this butcher, Dr. Frankenstein, would do his science experiment on me filled me with anxiety.  What was I thinking?  What if something went wrong?  Would this hurt?  What if I was blinded?  Can I change my mind?  Can I get a refund?  You know, now that I think of it, coke bottle glasses aren’t so bad after all.  I mean, I had a lot of anxiety about this decision.

I can hardly imagine the anxiety Jesus faced with His most important decision.  Jesus’ decision would make would affect the world and he would suffer serious pain, humiliation, and then death.  How did Jesus get through this decision?  That’s what we’re going to study today in Luke 22.

          II.      Luke 22, The Ministry of Jesus

First, let’s summarize where we are in history.  Jesus has been teaching us parables, teaching us behaviors, and teaching us scripture and prophecy.  But the end of the chapter of Luke is coming, and with that is the climax, the purpose for Jesus Himself.  Soon, to fulfill prophecy, Jesus will suffer and die on the cross.

Luke 22 has a series of disappointments for Jesus.  His ministry is nearly complete, and those closest to Him let Him down.  Let’s look at a couple of quick verses –

Verse 1-2,

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching.  And the chief priests and the scribes were trying to find a way to put Him to death, since they were afraid of the people.

These are the pastors, the deacons, the bible study teachers of Jesus’ time.  They studied God’s Word looking for His purpose, and instead of recognizing Jesus for who He is, they plotted to kill Him.  There are two very serious problems here – one, despite all their studying, they don’t accept the Messiah that fulfills prophecy.  Were they really studying, seeking God’s purpose?  I think one could answer that by the second problem, they sought to deal with Jesus by trying to kill Him.

How many commandments are there?  Do one of the commandments deal with killing people you don’t like?  So these leaders either weren’t really studying and didn’t know, or they were so full of their own self-righteousness that they believed the law didn’t apply to them.

And in verses 3-6,

And Satan entered Judas, the one called Iscariot, who belonged to the number of the twelve.  And he left and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he was to betray Him to them.  And they were delighted, and agreed to give him money.  And so he consented, and began looking for a good opportunity to betray Him to them away from the crowd.

The disciples are all eating supper together, the Passover meal.  And Jesus knows He is having supper with Judas Iscariot, His betrayer.  A man who has spent the last 3 years studying and traveling with Jesus.  And Judas, hand-picked by the Lord Himself, leads a mob from the Sanhedrin to arrest Jesus.

And in next week’s lesson, the Sanhedrin put on a sham trial in order to convict Jesus who was innocent of any sin.  And between the mob and the trial, one of His closest disciples, Peter, who promised never to deny Jesus did exactly that.  And Luke 22 closes with Jesus alone, abandoned by His friends and convicted by those who wanted to kill Him.

Jesus knew all these things would happen.  How do you think Jesus felt?  Knowing all these things were to happen, Jesus was hurt, troubled, distressed, and even scared.  Jesus is God, but Jesus is also man.  He was about to suffer for who He was.

So the night before Judas leads the soldiers of the High Priests to Jesus to arrest Him, Jesus has to make a decision.  What steps did Jesus take to make sure He was making the right decision?

       III.      The Prayer of Jesus

Luke 22:39-41 –

And He came out and went, as was His habit, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him.  Now when He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you do not come into temptation.”  And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray,

How would you describe Jesus’ emotions this night? 

Why do you think it was important for Jesus to take some disciples to the garden for prayer?

When people face a difficult decision, what type of person do they turn to?

What’s the first thing Jesus did when faced with a difficult decision? 

The garden of Gethsemane was most probably an olive garden on the western slope of the Mount of Olives.  Other scripture indicates that Jesus came here more than once with His disciples; it was probably a peaceful, quiet place.  Jesus took His closes friends – Peter, James, and John  – with Him for support. 

The NIV says Jesus was troubled; the NASB version translates this word as “horrified.”  His human self and sense of self-preservation was now at battle with His spiritual side.  It had all come down to this.  Three years of walking among the people, healing them and teaching them, offering a chance to know and accept Him and knowing that they would reject him.  Before the next 24 hours were complete, Jesus would offer himself up for the world and for you and for me.  The worst part must have been the anticipation, the anxiety of knowing that tomorrow He would die, and die painfully.  Julius Caesar once said, “It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die than it is to find those willing to endure pain with patience. 

And with those thoughts in His mind, Jesus fell to His knees and began to pray.

It is easy to forget the power of prayer.  Our prayers are shallow.  Somebody tells us about their pain or their anxiety, and we put our hand on their shoulder and say, “I’ll pray for you.”  And I suspect most of the time we don’t.  We return to our own life and forget our promise to pray.  What are some of the reasons we don’t pray?  (No immediate gratification, we’re too busy, we doubt the prayer will be answered.)

Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer in Luke 22:41b-46 –

He began to pray, saying, “Abba, Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.  And being in agony, He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.  When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you do not come into temptation.”

a. Prayer Depends on Our Relationship

The normal method of prayer for Jews is a standing position with palms up and open to address God.  Jesus’ prayer is radical for the time; first, he’s not standing.  He fell to the ground.  He is in a position of pleading, making an urgent request.  And His first word is…. Abba.  This is not the musical group Abba of the 70’s.  Abba is a term of endearment, a child’s word.  Children in our culture might say “Dada;” the Jewish children said “Abba.”

And the first thing we know about Jesus’ prayer is that He knew who He was praying to.  He had a relationship with God, a close, personal relationship.  “Abba” is used three times in the New Testament.  The second time is Romans 8:15 by Paul –

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

And the third time in Galatians 4:6,

And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father, Abba.

When you pray, who do you pray to?  A concept?  A belief?  The Force, like in Star Wars?  Some vague deity somewhere in the sky?  God wants more from you.  He wants you to know Him as He knows you already.  He wants an intimate, personal relationship.  That sounds great.  How do I do that? 

If we are going to pray to God “the” Father then it better be to God “our” Father.  He only becomes our Father when we become his children.  How do we become a child of God?  John 1:12, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

And as His Children, do we have any chores to do?  Philippians 2:15, 

“You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them.” 

This relationship should be evident to others; 1 John 3:10,

“So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.”

You are a child of God if you have believed in Jesus and accept him and you live clean innocent lives and obey God’s commands. Then you can call out to Him, Abba.

b. Prayer Depends on Trusting God’s Power

Jesus also knew the power of God.  Everything is possible for you.  What’s the point of praying if you don’t believe God has the power to answer your prayers?  We have to understand and have faith that with God, everything and anything is possible.  The biggest stumbling block to believing that is everyone who prays has unanswered prayers.  I prayed and God didn’t answer. 

What we need to understand is that God does not always answer prayers the way we expect.  In my experience, most but not all my prayers are answered in ways I didn’t expect.  God doesn’t always answer our prayers; I don’t know why.  Some of my prayers I’m glad He didn’t answer.  Some of my prayers I didn’t wait for an answer and took matters into my own hands.  Some of my prayers, well, I prayed for God to make somebody else do something. 

It’s like this – I can pray that God make everybody I know be sweet and loveable.  But God doesn’t force His will on anybody.  But it’s not because God is not able.   The angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

c. Prayer Depends on Asking

So Jesus prayed to His daddy, believing that God can do anything and everything, and then… Jesus prayed for himself.  I struggle with this, I don’t know why.  I feel guilty, praying for myself.  I should be praying for others, and I’m selfish if I pray for myself.  But we shouldn’t feel guilty; if we can call God “Abba,” what father doesn’t want His children to be happy?  And wouldn’t it make a father happy to give His children what they ask for? 

Think for a second about the Lord’s prayer.  How much of that prayer is for us?  Our father, give us our daily bread, forgive us, keep us from temptation.  It’s not wrong to pray for ourselves, to ask God to take care of us and provide for us and protect us.   Jesus once asked in Matthew 7:9-11, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”

d. Prayer Depends on Surrendering

So it’s ok to ask for things for ourselves.  But here’s the hard part – letting God decide what is right.  The fourth part Jesus’ prayer is the hardest.  “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  How do you know the will of God?  To me, the most incredible part is that God’s will for me has, for the most part, already been written in the bible.  It’s already been revealed, I just have to seek it out.

The key, I believe to seeking it out, goes back to Jesus’ example.  Troubled and anxious and in need of God, Jesus went to a quiet place to pray, to be alone with God.  I confess I don’t always have the best quiet time with God.  I tend to shortchange prayer in my life, I pray when I’m driving or showering or studying or something.  Setting aside prayer for the sake of prayer is something I need to work on.  I study often, especially when it’s time to teach, but that’s only half of what it takes to understand God’s will.  Jesus set an example that prayer is needed, it is necessary, and it is comforting to pray to our most powerful heavenly Father. 

Jesus didn’t want to suffer, and Jesus prayed for release from the events about to occur.  But He added a “yet.”  Yet not my will, but your will.  Our prayers are most effective when we are not seeking to change God’s will, but by asking God to change us. 

What does Jesus’ prayer reveal about His trust in God?

How can our prayers reveal our trust in God?

Why was it important for Jesus to declare His commitment to God’s will?

How can a person’s actions demonstrate a commitment to follow God’s will?

    IV.      Conclusion

The best way we can begin dealing with a difficult decision is in prayer.    Pray.  Focus on God’s will.  Choose God’s will.  Then do God’s will.

Jesus gave us a four part prayer example for when we are faced with a difficult decision.  Know who you are praying to, know that He has the power to answer prayers, ask specifically what you need, and surrender your will to the Lord, your Creator, and the source of all hope.