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Weekly Word

Entries in Cross (2)

Tuesday
Mar012016

Prayer and Temptation

Luke 22:39-46.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 28, 2016.

If the cross is the visible, public trial of Jesus then here we see the private trial in which he wrestles with God over the things before him.  Ultimately Jesus gives us a key to facing trials and temptations, and that key is prayer.  Without prayer we are unprepared for them, no matter how strongly our spirit wants to please the Lord.  Peter is very determined to stand with the Lord, but will fail in the time of trial.  Jesus is not just praying for himself.  He is also teaching his disciples a lesson in temptation and overcoming the flesh.  It is also a glimpse of the agony involved in saving mankind.  Rebellious humanity can be saved, but only at great cost to God Himself.

Pray About Temptations

In verses 39 through 41 the scene transitions from the upper room inside Jerusalem to a garden outside of Jerusalem.  Judas is off to betray Jesus, so we only have Jesus and the eleven going across the shallow valley east of Jerusalem.  There they enter the Garden of Gethsemane, which is near the bottom of the Mount of Olives.  He knows he is about to be arrested and is very clearly picking the ground upon which it will happen.  It is important to recognize that Jesus gives them the command to pray.

Jesus is not running away or trying to hide.  We see this in the words “as he was accustomed.”  Jesus could have snuck out of the city and kept going.  However, he stops and spends time praying while his betrayer marshals troops to come after him.  Jesus goes where Judas would know to find him.  They had spent time there and it had become a part of their routine, especially in this last week.

Jesus also tells them why they should pray.  Somehow it will enable them to avoid temptation.  The terminology is actually the idea of entering into temptation.  Temptation itself is merely a trial or a test in which we are tempted to choose something other than God’s will.  There is nothing wrong with praying to avoid such tests.  However, some tests cannot be avoided.  Thus we need to pray also that we will not give in to those temptations or fail the test.  The Bible refers to this as falling.  It is as if you are walking the way of the Lord and something trips you up and causes you to fall down.  We also have some further description in the other Gospels.  Jesus tells them that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  So when we take time to pray about the temptations and trials that we see ahead of us, it can enable us to overcome the weakness of our flesh.  Peter’s strong declaration of faithfulness to Jesus becomes the perfect illustration of this.  There is no reason to think Peter is lying.  He really does want to be the kind of disciple that would stick with Jesus even when everyone else leaves.  Yet, in the crush of the trial his flesh is unable to stand up.  Jesus is showing us that our lack of prayer and wrestling with God over the temptations of life keeps us spiritually weak.

Another aspect of prayer is that Jesus clearly wanted some people to pray with him.  Sometimes you need people close in prayer and sometimes you need to get alone.  This passage gives us a bit of both.  Luke’s account here is somewhat short.  But the other Gospels tell us that Jesus left 8 of the disciples in one area and then went a distance away with Peter, James, and John.  He even then separated a little further from them.  Thus they are close enough to hear him praying but not right next to him.  When you are facing difficult trials the sense of being alone can become overwhelming.  Having people who will not only pray for us, but also with us is imperative.  Make sure that you have friends who will pray for you and with you.  Yet, some things are so deep and so personal that we need to get alone with God.  In fact, Jesus often went off by himself to spend time in prayer.  This seems to be a mixture of both.  He wants to get alone in prayer and yet he needs them to pray with him.  May God help us to learn how to come alongside of a brother or sister in prayer when they are going through difficult circumstances and hard trials.  You don’t have to force yourself upon them.  Simply let them know that you are there for them in whatever they need.

The Lord Leads The Way

At verse 42 we get a glimpse into the prayer of Jesus.  He is our pattern and template for faithfully serving God.  So this prayer and others are important to understand.  First we see Jesus asking to avoid the cross.  The magnitude of what lies ahead weighs heavy upon the humanity (i.e. the flesh) of Jesus.  As the eternal Son of God he has already agreed to this and is just as committed as the Father.  Yet, here he is in the flesh about to go through with it and his flesh is pulling back away from it.  Now he must reaffirm the commitment in his humanity.  His time has come.  He knows that God will allow him to be taken and killed.  There are moments in life in which we face a particular decision.  Regardless of how we choose, we will then be caught up in a series of events that we can’t control.  The die is cast.  This is that moment for Jesus.  If he runs he can avoid it.  But if he stays here they will catch him.  Of course this is no gamble, but control of how this will end up is being surrendered.  Once he is arrested the human side of Jesus will have no escape short of God’s intervention.  Such heavy laden decisions must be approached with spiritual fear and trembling.  Lord help us to learn to pray in such a way that we are able to discover his will and surrender our flesh to it.

Though the flesh of Jesus is pulling away, it is not greater than his desire to do God’s will.  Specifically he is here to save mankind.  In Hebrews 12:2, speaking of Jesus, says, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  He knew the end game and how important it was.  He knew what would be lost if he didn’t and what would be won if he did.  Jesus was not obligated by anything but his own love for us.  May this image remind you in your own times of doubt that the Lord loves you with an everlasting love that is willing to suffer the depths of sorrow in order to reclaim you.

At this point God strengthens Jesus by an angel.  This also happened at the beginning of his ministry when he was fasting for 40 days and the devil tested him.  Here as well as there, Jesus is in need of physical strengthening.  I do not believe the angel is strengthening the resolve or faith of Jesus.  But rather, the angel is enabling his physical body and physical psyche to endure the stress of the situation.  We do not realize how much our lack of knowledge about things in our life is a blessing.  It is a blessing because it enables us to live with peace.  If we understood completely what lay ahead of us we would most likely not eat or sleep.  Yet, in those moments when harsh realities set upon us and we become fully aware, God has many means of providing strength for us.  In fact, we should pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen us in such times.  We see Jesus agonizing over the coming contest with severe mental and physical struggle.  This only causes him to pray more earnestly.  Our flesh tends to give up on prayer when we become overstressed.  Yet, it is important to pray more earnestly in these times.  We don’t have to be desperate, although we sometimes are.  Jesus can identify with the agony that we endure in such times.  He can empathize with what hangs over you.  In fact, because He has already overcome the world, we can rejoice.  We have hope that just as God brought Him through, so He will bring us through too.

Jesus is not the only one who is stressed here.  The disciples are exhausted from stress, lack of sleep, and sorrow.  Jesus had to wake them several times calling them back to pray.  I do not believe this is just because they didn’t want to pray.  Stress and sorrow can overwhelm a person so much that they physically shut down.  I am not excusing them, so much as pointing out the issues involved.  Some can even get to a point where they are barely able to function.  We must learn to recognize the spiritual danger around us before we get so low.  Does the Lord understand our lack of strength?  Yes, and he even empathizes with us.  Yet, before his arrest, he makes sure that these words would be stuck in his disciples’ hearts.  “Pray lest you enter into temptations.”  Prayer is far more important than we realize.  Sure we must put feet and hands to our prayers.  But don’t thing that your faith will survive the trials of this life without it, whether from yourself or others in your life who love you.

Prayer and Temptation Audio

Tuesday
Aug262014

Misunderstanding Greatness

Luke 9 is filled with situations that deal with the issue of greatness: the greatness of Jesus, the greatness of his disciples, and the world’s idea of what greatness means.  Today’s passage is Luke 9:51-56 and focuses on Jesus being rejected by a Samaritan village.  When Jesus is rejected several of the disciples want to destroy the village.  This story forces us to ask the question, “How should a great person react to rejection?”  Isn’t greatness defined by how many people receive you?  In truth, Jesus was great.  The crowds initially flocked to him for self-interest.  But, the closer he came to the cross the fewer people there were around him.  So let’s look at this passage.

The Resolution of Jesus

It says in verse 51 that when Jesus knew it was time to be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.  This Hebrew idiom of setting ones face towards something is a picture of resolve.  If you want to go somewhere you first turn yourself in that direction.  Christ intentionally headed towards Jerusalem and his crucifixion.  It was the next major stop along his destination of sitting at the right hand of the Father.  However, this Samaritan village was along the way.

Now let me just point out that when it says Jesus was to be received up (also to be taken up) it is pointing to the ascension into heaven.  This same word is used in 1 Timothy 3:16, “He was…taken up into glory.”  It is easy sometimes to know the wonderful things ahead of ourselves and not pay attention to the difficult things that lie in the path to it.  Jesus is headed towards ascension, but rejection and crucifixion lie on the path to it.  It takes firm resolve and a steadfast spirit to stay on such a path.  In order to be glorified our Lord must first be killed.  He bravely marches towards his death because he knows it is a necessary step towards the heavenly work he is doing now.  If he is not crucified and resurrected, then he will not be able to be that high priest who intercedes for us before the Father.  Thus, it is important for us, as believers in Jesus, to understand the purpose of God in this day and age.  We have a glorious future ahead of us that God has promised.  And yet, there are many difficult things that we will encounter throughout our life on our way to that glory.  We may not understand all that they are as Christ did.  However, we must prepare ourselves to be resolute and steadfast.  I have to learn to firmly march towards things that I do not want to deal with in order to reach the good things that God has for me on the other side.

A Samaritan Village Rejects Jesus

Though John 4 records the Samaritan village of Sychar receiving Jesus, here we have the opposite.  As Jesus is headed towards Jerusalem, certain ones are sent ahead to prepare a place to stop, rest, eat, and most likely minister as well.  This would prevent a situation where they all arrive weary and hungry while someone looks for a place to stay.  Plus, it would enable the word to get out to the surrounding area that Jesus would be there.  He could minister to far more that way.  Yet, at some point, the destination of Jesus comes up and the villagers are not happy.  Jesus is headed to Jerusalem.

The racial and religious difference between the Samaritans and the Jews comes to a head here.  The wall of hostility between the two was because of the attitudes of both sides.  They were willing to embrace Messiah if he promoted their side of the religious argument.  Of course Jesus was not a partisan in this debate.  He pointed out the errors of the Samaritans and the Jews.  In fact, the religious Jews were rejecting Jesus for many of the same reasons.  He wasn’t supporting their view.

Now it is most likely that it was the elders of the village who were standing in the way of Jesus staying there.  Either way, the effect of that decision is that they will miss out on a blessing.  The blessing of healings, being set free from sin, and salvation, could have come to this village.  Pride and stubbornness often cause us to miss out on blessings that God has for us.  He is not going to force them upon us.  Yet, we push them away because of things we are not willing to experience.  Are you so tied up in the interpretations and traditions of your ancestors that you are missing what God is trying to do today?  Even the secular world has its own traditions and views of life.  Yet, whether for religious or non-religious reasons, our pride and stubbornness can wall us off from God’s blessing.

James And John Rebuked

James and John’s violent reaction to the offense of rejection is rebuked by Jesus.  But let’s look a little deeper here.  Why would James and John be so offended that they want to destroy the village?  We are given no description of what is going on inside of James and John.  However in Mark 3:17 we are told that Jesus had nicknamed these two, “Sons of Thunder.”  They both seem to have had stormy, quick tempered personalities.  We definitely see such here.  There is probably some bigotry going on here as well.  Jesus had been rejected in other places too.  But this Samaritan village receives their greater wrath.

Either way, James and John ask Jesus if they can call down fire from heaven and destroy the village.  Yes, they were probably offended on behalf of Jesus.  But they were men just like you and I.  They were offended on their own behalf too.  They don’t want to scare the villagers, or give them a sign to impress them.  Rather, they want to destroy them.  They ask Jesus because he is the master and because it is in keeping with what happened earlier in Luke 9.  Jesus had given his disciples authority to heal, cast out demons, and proclaim the arrival of the Kingdom of God.  He hadn’t given them authority to do this.  Thus they are more than asking permission.  They don’t have the ability to bring fire from heaven.  They are asking for God to back up their pronouncement.  Have you ever prayed such a prayer?  “Lord, give me the power and strength to crush and destroy those who stand against me!”  We need only look at how our Lord responded to those who stood against him to know his response to us.

Now the newer translations only say that Jesus rebuked them and they left.  This has to do with the fact that when the older translations were done we didn’t have all the manuscripts we do today.  It seems that early on some notes were added (whether by Luke or others we do not know) to explain further. 

So, the words “like Elijah” appear to have been inserted.  This explains the reason the disciples would have thought of such a drastic action.  They are clearly thinking back to the story of the prophet Elijah in 2 Kings 1.  After Ahab’s death, Ahaziah ruled.  One day he falls and is injured.  So he sends messengers to the false god Baal-Zebub in the Philistine city of Ekron for a prophetic word concerning whether he would recover or not.  Elijah intercepts the messengers and tells them to tell Ahaziah that he is going to die.  When Ahaziah hears the news he is angry and sends 50 troops out to capture Elijah.  The captain of the troops refers to Elijah as “man of God.”  To which Elijah responds, “If I am a man of God then may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.”  Fire does come down from heaven.  Ahaziah sends out another 50 men with the same results again: fire comes down and consumes them all.  When Ahaziah sends out a third group of fifty soldiers, the captain is a humble man.  He tells Elijah why he has been sent but also begs for his life and the life of his men.  Elijah then relents and goes with him.  In this story Elijah represents God’s Law and is not going to be killed by Israel’s king.  When we approach God in arrogance and the might of men we can only expect to be judged by His law. But when the man approached in humility and begged for grace, he was received.

Now that situation is very different from the Samaritan village.  We can be too quick to use examples of godly men for our own justification.  Christ had been rejected before and no such thing was ever encouraged.  He had told them when he sent them out that if they are rejected they are to shake the dust off of their feet and move on.  In the case of Elijah they sought to apprehend the man of God outside of God’s will.  But, here they do not want to apprehend Jesus.  They are simply saying, “Go somewhere else.”

Jesus rebukes this attitude.  Whether these words were added or not, anyone who has studied the teachings of Jesus knows that this is exactly the reason he would rebuke them.  The spirit of Christ was not motivating them to destroy the villagers, but rather it was the spirit of Satan.  What manner of spirit am I?  That is a powerful question.  The Bible says in Proverbs 3:11-12, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; for whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.”  They wanted to judge quickly out of hurt pride and revenge.  This is not how God judges mankind.  When God’s judgment comes it will not come out of pride and hurt.  It will come from a pure holy understanding that nothing more can be done to reason with those who have chosen rebellion.

Even the teachings of Christ stand in opposition to this vengeful request.  Love your enemies.  Do good to those who do you wrong.  Bless them that curse you.  Jesus commands this, not because it is okay.  But, he commands it precisely because the long suffering judgment of God has been appointed for a specific day and it will come upon them.  This is the day of God’s grace.  This is the day where God wrestles with man and cries out, “Why will you die?  Come let us reason!”  The spirit of this world is quick to judge and quick to destroy.  But, the Spirit of God is slow to judge in order to leave room for repentance.

Thus Jesus rebukes his disciples because he is here to save people not destroy.  It is impossible for fallen men to perfectly perform the judgment of God.  Only Jesus can do that.  He is the one whom God will send to judge the world and many will be destroyed in that judgment.  Judgment is final and we are too quick to pronounce eternal judgments.  There is no overturning it and no coming back from it.  Thus God is slow to judge.  Don’t let your emotions misrepresent God.  We too often get God’s greatness mixed up with our own.  Jesus says to us, “Pick up your cross and follow me.”  This will take a steadfast resolve and a humble understanding of what a great person does when they are rejected. 

Misunderstanding Greatness Audio