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.

Matured

I. Introduction

Well. I’m glad that’s over. I want to put 2020 in the history books. Then I want to take the history book and buy it. Then I want to plant a tree on top of it, just so I can burn it down. Then I want to salt the ground so it never returns.

For much of 2020, Diane and I were mostly unscathed by this tumultuous year. I had changed jobs in October of the previous year to a far more secure position, and I held out hope that even if business turned severely down, it’s unlikely to lay somebody off in their first 3 months.

But then my Mom started to decline. We visited her in March and she was great but having some early dementia issues. By June the dementia had become severe. By October she was gone.

Then when we returned home, we found a plumbing leak in the walls. Insurance only covers a small portion of the repairs. We’ve torn out sheetrock, the bathroom vanity, the bathroom tub, and it’s partially repaired, but tomorrow they begin tearing out the wooden floors. I think on Tuesday somebody is supposed to come shut off our oxygen. We’re experiencing the ongoing joy of living in a continuous state of remodel since my mom passed, digging into savings to pay for it, and we still have several more weeks to go.

I’m ready for a new beginning. Come on, 2021. Let’s see what you’ve got.

As I’m prepping this first bible study lesson for me in about 3 months, I think about that scripture from Hebrews, verses 4:15-16 –

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need.

I am so thankful Jesus identifies with us, lived a life like us, and everything in life we experience – loss, hardship, hunger or thirst – Jesus also experienced and identifies with our sufferings. Today, we’re going to dive into the book of Luke and see the impact that suffering and persecution had on the early life of Jesus.

II. Book of Luke

The author of the book of Luke is named… um, Luke. He was a historian and a physician who travelled extensively with Paul, and was likely a gentile. Luke wrote this book and the book of Acts likely when Paul was in prison in Rome, and was possibly writing the book of Luke and Acts while Paul was writing his letters to the Colossians and to Philemon and to Timothy.

Many seem to believe that Luke was one of the original 12 apostles, but he was not. Luke says in Luke 1:
Since many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting to me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in an orderly sequence, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Luke chronicled the life of Jesus from birth to death so thoroughly and accurately and guided by the Holy Spirit that his letters to Theophilus are cannon, scripture, included in God’s Holy Word. And Luke, like none of the other synoptic gospel writers, captures the seasons in the life of Jesus.

III. A Season – His Birth

We just finished with the Christmas season and I enjoy driving around and looking at the Christmas lights. I couldn’t help but notice driving around yesterday that it’s 356 days until Christmas and some people already have their Christmas lights up.

Christmas sermons and candlelight services teach and remind us that the arrival of Jesus brings us hope – hope in this life, hope for our future, hope in Him, hope in eternal life, hope in our relationships with one another and that we will see our loved ones again.

And we probably heard in one of these sermons the story from Luke 2 of the birth of Jesus in a Manger, sweet child of hope that Jesus is as He comes to us as the Son of Man and the Son of God. But I want to focus today on the trials and tribulations that were going on in the life of Jesus at the same time. Luke 2 describes the miracle in verses 1-7 –

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all the people were on their way to register for the census, each to his own city. Now Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was betrothed to him, and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

We often remember the beautiful parts, but there were a lot of hardships. Joseph and the pregnant Mary had traveled at least 4 or 5 days to answer the census call. It may have been longer; it was common for Jews to detaour around Samaria. Obviously, I’ve never been pregnant, but it seems to me pregnancy has enough challenges without having to ride at 9 months pregnant over rocky hillsides on the back on a donkey.

And the scripture doesn’t mention the donkey. While traveling on a donkey was common, it was also a luxury. Most poor people walked. We know that Jesus and Mary were poor; after giving birth, as written in Luke 2:23-24, they sacrificed a pair of turtledoves in accordance with ceremonial laws of Leviticus 12:8, but Leviticus says that a lamb should be sacrificed, unless they could not afford it, then turtledoves were acceptable. The wise men with their expensive gifts hadn’t arrived. So it’s unlikely they could afford a donkey. It’s possible they borrowed a donkey, but they stayed in Bethlehem for up to two years, so it’s unlikely somebody would loan an expensive donkey for that long.

I can imagine how completely worn out Joseph and Mary were when they arrived, and they just needed to rest. But the scripture says all the inns were full. Nine months pregnant, travel-weary and dirty, and no place to sleep and give birth. The Greek word for inn here is καταλυμα “kataluma” and isn’t a hotel room like we may think of today. The inns would have had a large communal room and everybody just picked a spot on the floor to sleep, but even these large rooms had no space.

Instead, they made their way to where the animals slept. Usually manger scenes show a cozy little barn, but Jews back then used caves – cold a damp caves – to keep their livestock in at night. And then, Mary, exhausted form traveling, gives birth to our Lord and lays Him in a trough that animals eat from.

Joseph and Mary were having the B.C. equivalent of our year 2020. Cold, damp, poor, away from home, sleeping with the animals, and giving birth in a trough.

Yet even in these difficult circumstances, God is at work. God is in the business of creating and fulfilling promises, and He promised we would know His son by the fulfillment of prophecies. From the town of Galilee, into the town of David, and born of a virgin, God is fulfilling prophecy.

IV. A Season – Egypt

Now that Jesus is born, all is easy, right? That’s what many new Christians believe – that if they give their life to Christ, their life will be blessed and there will be no more hardships. No more job losses. No more living room plumbing leaks. No more moms passing away. Everything will be hunky-dory.

God never promises us that. God promises He will be with us, but He never promises us we will be free of trouble. Some people think the “abundant life” Jesus promises implies good fortune forever, but that’s not what Jesus means. Later in Jesus’s life, he is led to the desert without food or water and tempted by the devil for 40 days. And later again, Jesus is scourged, tortured, and crucified. God did not spare His own son from these troubles. He doesn’t spare us, either. He promises He will never leave us during our struggles.

No, Jesus’s like didn’t miraculously become easy after His birth. Let’s pick up two years later – our Christmas stories place the 3 wise men bearing gifts at the birth of Christ, but that’s not likely. We don’t know how many wise men there were – μαγοι (magoi), the original Greek word actually means “astrologers,” or “sorcerers.” There may have been 2 or 3 or 30. We probably get the number 3 from the gold, frankincense and myrrh they brought. The magi had successfully followed the star to Jerusalem, but they believed the newborn king of the Jews would be born to the current king reigning over the Jews, Herod. When Herod started asking questions about the star, the magi realized it wasn’t Herod’s child they were looking for. In fact, the magi realized the newborn king would topple Herod’s kingdom, a threat to Herod. The magi continued on their way to Mary and Joseph and presented their gifts, and then went home a different way.

Herod was likely furious, threatened. Someplace in the city of Bethlehem, born within the last 2 years, was the newborn king of the Jews, a threat to Herod’s lavish way of life. Matthew 2:16 –

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

No, the life of Jesus wasn’t easy. Not even 2 years old, and men were out to kill Him. But God is still at work, fulfilling prophecy. We continue in Matthew 2:17-18 –

Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Mary and Joseph had to flee Bethlehem. An angel tells them to flee to Egypt. How would the very poor Mary and Joseph who could only afford 2 turtledoves for their sacrifice afford to travel such a journey?

Where the Lord call, the Lord equips. Mary and Joseph had the gifts of the magi. And God is still fulfilling prophecy – in Hosea 11:1 God says,

When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.

I don’t know how long the family was in Egypt. Herod died only a few months after the family fled, but I’m not certain the family returned immediately. It could have been as long as 6 years before Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Israel, Luke 2:39-40,

And when His parents had completed everything in accordance with the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. Now the Child continued to grow and to become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the favor of God was upon Him.

I take heart from this scripture – even though it describes the life of the Lord, I think it can apply to all of us when we experience the difficulties of life. We continue to grow and become strong, we increase in wisdom, and the favor of God is upon us.

V. A Season – Passover

We’re going to fast forward now to when Jesus is older, 12 years old. We know nothing else about the childhood of Jesus except what we learn about Jesus from other scripture – He was sinless and followed the Jewish law.

According to Jewish law, Jewish adults were to attend three major feasts annually in Jerusalem – Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. And Luke 2:41 says that Jesus’ parents fulfilled Jewish law by attending the feast of Passover. Many left after 2 days, but verse 43 says Mary and Joseph attended the full number of days required. At the conclusion of the festival, it was time to head home.

Most pilgrims would join a caravan for safety and mutual support, as did Mary and Joseph. In these caravans, men usually traveled in one group, women in another. I find it interesting in verse 43 –

and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days required, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but His parents were unaware of it.

Jesus is no longer described as a Child but not a Man, He is described as a boy, and I think that may have led to confusion on Joseph and Mary’s part. At the age of 12 or 13, Jewish boys go through a bar mitzvah to become a child of the covenant, and then they are considered men. If Jesus is a man, he would caravan with the men, but if he’s a child, He would caravan with the women. Verses 44-45,

Instead, they thought that He was somewhere in the caravan, and they went a day’s journey; and then they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. And when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for Him.

A day’s journey out before they noticed He was missing. A day’s journey back to go look for Him. They must have been frantic – they lost not just a son, but the Son of God.

And yet, God still uses this misfortune for His glory. Verse 46-47,

Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.

I’ve once heard it said that if you feel like you’ve lost Jesus, you don’t feel Him in your life, then maybe you should turn around. Where was the last place you saw Him? I think this verse illustrates that perfectly.

Some significance in this verse, in the synagogues, usually a rabbi sat and the listeners stood. Jesus is sitting. And it’s unlikely Jesus needed additional information about the scriptures, He is probably asking questions to engage, to challenge the rabbis to go deeper in their understanding.

Then in verses 48-49,

When Joseph and Mary saw Him, they were bewildered; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You!” And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”

Mary spoke to Jesus first, asking why He had treated them in this way. Jesus needed no discipline, since He had not done anything wrong. It was the adults’ responsibility to ensure their child was with them when they left the city.

Another interesting thing here is the transition from Joseph the father to God the Father. This is the last reference to Joseph anywhere in the bible, and Mary references Joseph when she anxiously says “your father and I have been anxiously looking for you!”

And Jesus’s response indicates He is aware of His deity. He may be a twelve-year-old boy, but Jesus understood that God was His Father and this temple was His Father’s house. When Mary referred to “your father and I,” Jesus posed His question in a way that corrected her gently. While Jesus no doubt appreciated Joseph and treated him with respect, Jesus understood His true nature.

Jesus did not apologize for doing something wrong, for He had not sinned. But then Jesus questions His mother. He wondered why they had found it difficult to locate Him. When they couldn’t find Him, they should have known exactly where He would be. When Jesus uses the phrase “had to be” in Greek doesn’t mean “necessary” or “required” or “essential.” A better word would be “inevitable” as in “Didn’t you know that I would naturally be found in my Father’s house?” Being in the temple, which represented the presence of God to Israel, was the obvious place for God’s Son to be. Jesus was patiently waiting for Mary and Joseph to return for Him. Instead of wandering around the city, He remained at the one place they should have come.

A short clip on the life of Jesus as a boy: https://arc.gt/o37kw

VI. Conclusion – Maturity

The life of Jesus was anything but easy. It had plenty of drama. Born of a young woman away from her home in a cave and placed in an animal’s food trough, then having having to flee the country at the age of two because the King Herod was trying to kill you. Then being left behind at Passover in another city. Jesus indeed experienced the equivalent of our 2020 and then some.

And how did Jesus grow after all this? Luke 2:52,

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and people.

God has used the events from this last year to teach us, guide us, grow us in wisdom and stature with Him and with each other. Let us give God praise and glory for the year we had and the year yet to come.

To God be the glory.