Monday, March 26, 2012

24 Hours (A Look Back and a Peek Forward)

24 Hours

I am writing this on the 28th of the forty days of Lent. Hopefully this is true for you as well, but for me this has been the most powerful Lent in my memory. Thanks to Adam Hamilton’s powerful study and devotional guide I have reflected deeper and longer than ever before on Jesus’ last day and passion. Preparing to preach through his last 24 hours on earth has also strengthened the impact of Lent for me this season.

We have journeyed with Jesus through the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the trials before both the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate (Luke also tells us that Jesus faced a quick trial before Herod Antipas as well, before Antipas sent Jesus back to Pilate). We experienced again the cries of the crowd as they (we) chose a savior who would save by violence (Barabbas) over a savior who would save by sacrificial love and non-violence (Jesus). We listened as Pilate, “wishing to please the crowds,” issued the death sentence, and we tried not to turn away from our savior as he was stripped naked and flogged. Yesterday, I suggested that this was the full-frontal disclosure of the love of God.

All of this has been powerful and moving for me. Contemplating the amazing depth of love required for that kind of self-giving, has been overwhelming. And for Jesus to endure all of this and still pray, upon the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” is almost unfathomable. To think: He prayed that for the very men who beat, mocked, spat upon, and nailed him to an ancient instrument of torture. When Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he wasn’t playing around.

Remembering Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness for his executioners, highlights the fact that Jesus really did die for sinners. He died to cure that darkness and sin deep within everyone of us. We merely have to face facts about our depravity and lean on his transforming grace.

But, we’re not finished yet. There are twelve more days until Easter. This Sunday, we will finish our retracing of Jesus’ final 24 hours at the cross. Before it’s all over, Mark tells us that the sky turns black. Darkness seems to prevail. But there is glimmer of hope. The Gospels tell us that the “veil of the Temple” is torn in two. That veil was the separation of the Holy of Holies (where God was) and where people could freely move about in the Temple. Only the High Priest could go in the Holy of Holies, and even he could only go in once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

On Good Friday, the veil was torn. The barrier between us and God is cracked. THE Day of Atonement has come once and for all, and Jesus becomes the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.

On this Sunday, we will remember that. We will walk with Jesus to the Cross, and we will be aided in our journey by our youth who will dramatize the crucifixion to close out our service.

Then we will wait. Why? Because we know that death didn’t have the last word. The veil has been torn. On Easter Sunday, we’ll learn that nothing now will hold Jesus back. Until then, blessing on the rest of this journey.


Pastor Michael

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Trials and Denials

53 They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. 54 Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. 55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. 56 Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. 57 Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58 "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.' " 59 Yet even then their testimony did not agree. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus,"Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" 61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" 62 "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." 63 The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. 64 "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65 Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, "Prophesy!" And the guards took him and beat him.

66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus," she said. 68 But he denied it. "I don't know or understand what you're talking about," he said, and went out into the entryway. 69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, "This fellow is one of them." 70 Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean." 71 He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about." 72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.

--Mark 14:53-72

Sunday we continued our journey with Jesus through the last 24 hours of his life. So far we have walked with Jesus about halfway through his last day. We picked up on Thursday afternoon (all times are roughly estimated):

Thursday, 3pm

Jesus sends disciples into Jerusalem to find and prepare place to eat Passover meal

Thursday, 6pm

Jesus washes disciples feet, then they eat the Passover meal, remembering Exodus (especially Exodus 12). Jesus presents himself as the Passover Lamb whose blood will break the bonds of slavery to sin and death. Jesus also predicts his betrayal by one of the Twelve.

Thursday, 11pm

Jesus leaves upper room to walk through Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives (Garden of Gethsemane). There he prays in anguish for the “cup of suffering” to pass from him.

Friday, Midnight

Judas arrives in the Garden with a band of Temple guards to arrest Jesus and betrays him with a kiss.

Friday, through the early morning

The Sanhedrin gathers at Caiaphas’ house. They try to build their case against Jesus. He is questioned and their determination to have him executed is strengthened. Peter follows “at a distance,” and denies Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.

Friday, 7am

The Sanhedrin take Jesus to Pilate (for they have no authority to carry out the death penalty). (This is where we will pick up this Sunday).

This past Sunday, we focused mainly on Peter.

We remember Peter mostly for his failures. He’s notorious for his impetuousness, taking his eyes off Jesus when he was walking on water and starting to sink. He also once tried to correct Jesus prompting Jesus’ scathing response, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” And, most infamously, Peter’s biggest failure was denying Jesus three times on the last night of his life.

I’d just like to point out one thing in defense of Peter on this night: At least he’s there! The rest of them aren’t. Well, maybe John was, but nobody else. The others are running scared. Only Peter pulled out his sword and started to defend Jesus in the garden. Only Peter followed Jesus as the soldiers carried him away to Caiaphas’ house.

Still, when the rubber meets the road, Peter buckles. Standing around in the chief priest’s courtyard warming himself by the fire, Peter lost his nerve...three times...and denied that he even knew who Jesus was.

When the rooster crowed for the second time that morning, Peter was distraught. The weight of what he had just done came crashing down on him. He had failed his Lord.

I would imagine that we all know the feeling. We’ve all failed and denied Jesus, if not in word, certainly in deed.

If that describes you, there is hope in this episode from Peter’s life.

First of all, all four gospels tell us that Peter’s denial took place in close proximity to a fire. But, the Gospel of John, alone, tells us what kind of fire. It was a “charcoal fire” or a “fire of burning coals.”

That may sound sort of insignificant to you, until you know that the Greek word that John used here for fire was very uncommon in the New Testament. The most common word for fire in the New Testament was the Greek word, pur (pronounced “poor” and from which we get our words pyro-technics and pyro-maniac). But, that’s not the word John uses. Instead he uses another word, anqrakia. It means a heap of burning coals or charcoal fire. It’s only used one other time in the entire New Testament.

The other instance is also in the Gospel of John (21:9). The setting is post-Resurrection, when Jesus gathers around an anqrakia (charcoal fire) with his disciples and three times he asks Peter, “Peter, do you love me?”

Three times, Peter responds, “Yes, you know I love you.” Jesus asks him once for every time he denied him around a fire just like that one.

What does this mean? Jesus still loves him. Jesus restores him, gives him this chance to be redeemed. And John’s use of anqrakia is a clue that this is what Jesus is doing.

There is at least one other hopeful truth to be found in this passage, but let me introduce it by first asking a couple of questions: How do we know this story? How could all four Gospels tell it, even though nobody was around?

In his book, 24 Hours That Changed The World, Adam Hamilton suggests that it was such a well-known story because Peter frequently told it. Maybe it was a part of his preaching and testimony. Maybe he’d say something like this: “You might think you’ve messed up and really blown things in life, but I have to tell you, I have too. Let me tell you how bad I blew it. I denied that I even knew Jesus in a time when he needed me the most. But, you know what he did? He took me back. He forgave me. He let me declare my love to him three times around a fire on the beach, and he told me I was going to do great things for him, that I was going to preach his message around the world…”

Whether Peter said those things, we can’t be sure, but one thing we can be certain of: God can use our biggest failures in life and, if we let him, he will redeem them.

Warming myself by a fire,

Pastor Michael

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Agony in Gethsemane

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." 41 He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."

47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" 49 When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour--when darkness reigns."

--Luke 22:39-53

Sunday we continued our journey with Jesus through the last 24 hours of his life. On the last night of his life, Jesus, of course celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples, gave that meal a new meaning by naming himself as their Passover Lamb, and then departed the Upper Room to travel to the Mount of Olives.

Only three-quarters of a mile, Jesus would have walked down the steep slope from the Lower City of David into the Kidron Valley, and over to a place that all four Gospels agree was called Gethsemane, meaning “olive press.”

Jesus is weighed down by worry and grief. Knowing, as he does, all of his friends are going to let him down before the night is over has to bring with it great disappointment. After all, one of his closest companions is at that very moment betraying him to the Sanhedrin. Another of his best friends will deny affiliation with Jesus three times before the sun comes up. And, the rest of his closest friends will scatter, running to hide from the Temple guards and religious leaders.

Jesus has to get away to the Mount of Olives. The gospels tell us he does this often. He’s doing it again to get away and pray.

In anguish he prays to his Father. Why the agony? Well, apart from the aforementioned desertion, denial, and betrayal by his friends, he knows he’s about to be arrested. That would be quite enough to cause some agony, but it’s more than that. Jesus knows what’s coming after that as well. He knows that he’s about to take on the sin of the world. He knows he’s about to be beaten half to death, then hanged on a cross to suffocate and die, and very simply put, Jesus doesn’t want to do it.

I asked you on Sunday: Have you ever felt like God was calling you to do something you really didn’t want to do? Of course, God’s not going to ask us to take on the sins of the world and die a brutal death, but there are lots of smaller things that God calls us to. And, sometimes we simply don’t want to do them.

Well, Jesus didn’t want to go through with it. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed as hard as he could possibly pray, “Father, if there is any other way, please…” “If there is a Plan B, let’s do that. Lord, I don’t want to do this. Let this cup of suffering pass from me.”

In the Gospel of Mark (14:33), we read, “He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” That word “distressed” is an interesting word. In the Greek, it is ekqambeo. It is a verb that means, “to throw into terror or amazement; to alarm thoroughly, to terrify.” So, Jesus, is terrified. He’s afraid of what the next few hours of his life are going to bring.

Some people are embarrassed and unnerved by Jesus’ humanity here in the Garden. They try to explain away Jesus’ anguish in the garden, because they don’t think it become of the Son of God to be afraid.

Well, not me. I’m grateful, because it’s a reminder that, while Jesus is God in the flesh, he is “in the flesh.” In other words, Jesus is divine, yes, but he is also human. Here, in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see that clearly as Jesus, in his fear and desperation, prays for God the Father to find another way..

I, for one, am thankful for that. Because if Jesus had not walked in our shoes, if he had not been truly human, then he couldn’t save us. It gives me comfort to think that Jesus has walked in our shoes and suffered the same fears, doubts, and pains we have.

So, when you don’t want to do what God has called you to do, when you are terrified, scared to death, grief-stricken and weak, know that Jesus has been there and done the garden.

Pastor Michael