Saturday, February 28, 2015

Betrayal in the Garden


Two of the greatest love stories ever told. The one, at Camelot…the other, at Calvary. Two of the noblest kings ever to live. The one, King Arthur…the other, the King of the Jews. There are many comparisons and contrasts between Camelot and Calvary, but one scene from Camelot illustrates a great theological dilemma that only the cross could resolve.  We start with a scene from Camelot, where the immoral relationship between Queen Guinevere and Arthur’s most trusted knight, Sir Lancelot, has divided the Round Table. When the scheming Mordred catches them in an encounter, Lancelot escapes. Guinevere is not so fortunate. She faces a trial. The jury finds her guilty and sentences her to die.  As the day of execution nears, people come from miles around with one question on their minds: Would the king let her die?  Tragically but resolutely, Arthur decides: "Treason has been committed! The jury has ruled! Let justice be done!"  Arthur stands high in a castle window, as Guinevere enters the courtyard, she walks to the unlit stake.  Arthur turns away, emotion brimming in his eyes.  A herald mounts the tower where Arthur has withdrawn -- “Your Majesty. Shall I signal the torch?"  But the king cannot answer.  Arthur’s love for her spills from his broken heart: "I can’t! I can’t! I can’t let her die!"  Seeing Arthur crumble, Mordred relishes the moment: "Well, you’re human after all, aren’t you, Arthur? Human and helpless."  Tragically, Arthur realizes the truth of Mordred’s remark. Being only human, he is indeed helpless. But where this story ends, the greatest story ever told just begins.  Another Execution Scene. Another time. Another place. Another king.  The setting: A world lies estranged from the God who loves it. Like Guinevere, an unfaithful humanity stands guilty and in bondage, awaiting judgment’s torch.  Could God turn His head from the righteous demands of the law and simply excuse the world’s sin? Like the wicked Mordred, Satan must have looked on in delight:  Without even waiting for His Guinevere to look up in repentance, the King stepped down from His throne, took off His crown, laid aside His royal robes, and descended His castle’s polished steps into humanity’s pockmarked streets. That scene in the movie was an epiphany of understanding. Suddenly, it all made sense. We know now why He had to die, why there was no other way. When love and justice collide, only the cross offers a happy ending. (Philippians 2:6-8)  (From Ken Gire’s book Windows of the Soul. Copyright © 1996 by Ken Gire, Jr. Zondervan Publishing Houses.)

It is just over a month until Easter.  We will consider the story of Jesus’ betrayal, death, burial and resurrection…the most important events in the history of the world.  After Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in chapter 17, the private ministry of the Lord and His disciples has now ended, and the public drama of redemption is about to begin (John 18:1-11).  Man will do his worst, and God will respond with the very best. This reminds us of what Paul shares in Romans 5:20, “But, where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”  Perhaps the best way to see and understand the truths of this section of Scripture, is to pay attention to the symbolism that is involved.  First, we have the Garden of Gethsemane (which means “oil press”), and which is located on the west side of the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem.  Jesus would often retreat to this garden to pray, rest, and meditate. (Luke 22:39)  Human history began with a garden…the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8ff), and the first sin of man was committed in that place.  Jesus is obedient to His Father when He comes into this garden, and…because of His obedience…righteousness and life are available for all who would trust in Him. 

Now, Jesus has been rejected by His people and at the very moment is being betrayed by one of His disciples.  Jesus is fully aware of what lies ahead of Him.  He leaves eight men near the entrance, and then takes Peter, James and John and goes into another part of the garden to pray.  Judas has lived with Jesus for perhaps three years, and has listened to Him teach…yet, He does not really know Jesus. The traitor brings soldiers armed with clubs.  The word “band” means this number is equivalent to a Roman cohort -- 600 men! Judas wants to be certain that he has enough men to handle the job, apparently…if only he had a clue at all, as if the Father couldn’t dispatch 600 men with but a whisper.  He has no idea that the Lamb of God is going to meekly submit, and that there will be no battle.  Jesus understands what is about to take place. Judas expects some sort of deception, so he arranges to identify Jesus by kissing Him (Matthew 26:48-49).  The kiss is a sign of affection and devotion…so the fact that it is used for betrayal symbolizes just how base an act of treachery that is taking place.

Jesus shocks both Judas and the officers by boldly presenting Himself to them.  He has nothing to fear and nothing to hide…He willingly lays down His life for the sheep.  By surrendering, Jesus helps to protect His disciples from harm…He keeps them safe not only spiritually, but physically as well (John 17:11-12).  It is fascinating that all of the soldiers draw back and fall to the ground when Jesus tells them, “I am He.”  Perhaps their fall is a manifestation of Divine power or an exhibition of the majesty of Jesus…we do not know.  What we do know is this -- Jesus is in control of this situation.  The Jewish leaders had tried to arrest Jesus on a number of occasions, and always without success.  They may be prepared for conflict, but when they are met with surrender and calm, they are overwhelmed. 

All of the disciples have courageously affirmed their devotion to Christ, now Peter decides to prove it with an act of violence.  He draws out a sword and decides to bring the fight to those present…he cuts off the ear of the servant of the high Priest, a man named Malchus…like this provocation had any chance of succeeding.  Peter obviously has not understood Jesus’ plan…that this is going to be a “spiritual” battle, and not a physical one. The sword represents rebellion against the will of God.  His spirit, heart are not yet in the right place…but, they will be.  Jesus does not need Peter’s protection…as He could have called 10,000 angels to come to His defense.  Jesus’ miracle in healing Malchus’ ear symbolizes and reveals Jesus’ grace toward us…and so the story will move ahead.

So in case some left it out or forgot to mention it when they explained what it meant to be a Christian, let me be clear: There is no forgiveness without repentance. There is no salvation without surrender. There is no life without death. There is no believing without committing.  Kyle Idleman, "Not a Fan" (p. 35)

There are so many lessons to learn from this event.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace who came not with a sword, but with grace and love.  This is not a political statement in my estimation…and those who would use this event to defend pacifism do so out of context, in my estimation.  But, what we do understand is that Jesus wants us to live lives of surrender…and to understand that we are not going it alone in the spiritual battle against the world and Satan.  He is willing to come along side of us and fight our battles.  He sent His Holy Spirit to do just this…to empower us to live lives based upon His estimation of matters in this life, and not from our own standards, as exemplified by Peter.  It really does come down to a choice that we have to make every single day – am I going to live for Christ, or am I going to live for myself.

Blessings, Don

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Passing the Torch


James May shares this -- the flame in the Marathon Tower in each Olympic stadium is the most recognized symbol of the Olympics, dating back to the Games of ancient Greece.  Athletes competed in a relay race, passing a torch from one to another until the last runner, in a long procession of runners, would sprint to the top of the stadium and light the flame to signal the beginning of the competition among the greatest athletes in the world for the Gold Medal. For many years the flame was extinguished due to neglect, world turmoil and other events but it was officially reignited in 1928. The idea of the marathon relay, where runners would once again carry the torch, was revived in 1936 for the Berlin Games. The relay began at the location of ancient Olympia and ended in Berlin, Germany after passing through seven countries and covering a total of 3,050 km. The journey of the torch took 12 days and 13 nights, and 3,331 torchbearers each took a turn at carrying it along the way. From then on, the Olympic Torch Relay has remained an important part of the Olympic tradition and the torchbearer is the person who is honored by carrying the Olympic Flame. The flame carries a message as it passes through each town, city and village. It announces that the games are about to begin; it embodies and spreads the ideals of the Olympics and speaks of the union and peace amongst the people, the allegiance, the courage, the fraternity and solidarity of all of the competitors. As with the Olympics above, what is taking place in this portion of 1 Kings 19 is a passing of the torch of sorts, but there are other lessons intertwined in the text…and so, we explore.

When we last left Elijah, he was discouraged and depressed.  But, the Lord has a message of hope for his frustrated servant.  When Elijah was having his self-pity party back in the cave, the Lord could just as well have said – fine, just stay there, and I will move on, find someone else to do my work.  But, the Lord does not do this, as he did not deal with Elijah according to his poor attitude, but on the basis of His grace and mercy.  And considering this is how the Lord deals with us when we are struggling, we can all be thankful. In 1 Kings 19:15-21, the Lord tells Elijah to return to his place…to return to serve, to handle the tasks he has to perform.  No matter how much or how often His servants fail Him, God is never at a loss as to know what to do.  His servants’ responsibility is to obey. 

Once back on the horse, Elijah’s first responsibility is to anoint Hazael to be king of Syria.  This is interesting in that this is a gentile nation…and yet, the Lord chooses the leader there.  Once again, God can use whoever it is that He so chooses.  And in this case, He chooses Hazael.  Then Elijah is to anoint Jehu to be king of Israel.  Even though the nation is divided, Israel is still under the divine covenant and is responsible to the Lord.  Elijah’s third task is to anoint Elisha to be his own successor.  Elijah has complained because the past generation failed, and the present generation has not done any better (v.4). Now, God calls him to help equip the future generation by anointing two kings and a prophet.  This is sort of the Old Testament version of 2 Timothy 2:2, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  True to what it often the case with God’s leaders, the people he chooses are not especially significant…Hazael is a servant to the king, Jehu is the captain of the army, and Elisha is a farmer. Once again, as Paul shares, even the “foolishness of God” is greater than “the wisdom of men,” as by the time Elisha and Jehu finish their work, Baal worship is just about wiped out in Israel (2 Kings 10:18-31). 

No one generation can do everything, but each generation must see to it that people in the next generation are called and trained…and that the tools to do so are made available for them to continue working for the Lord.  God is calling Elijah to stop weeping over the past (because it cannot be changed), to stop running from the present (as it accomplishes nothing of value), and start looking ahead to what God is going to do.  It is always a good lesson for us to remember that when God is in charge, there is always hope!  God is giving Elijah assurance that all of his work has not been in vain, and that his ministry has not been a failure, for there are still 7000 people in the land who are faithful to God.  This is a big deal.  There is a place for big lectureships and mass gatherings, but we must remember the importance of one on one time spent with those around us.  Jesus spoke to large crowds, but He always had time for individuals and their needs, not to mention His own teaching, training He did with twelve individuals.  When Elijah finds Elisha plowing in his field, he doesn’t say a word to the young man, but simply casts his outer garment over him to indicate that the Lord has called Him to serve the prophet and ultimately be his successor.  Elisha makes certain preparations and then he goes to the task.

Bev Sesink shares this -- Parents, if you get angry with your kids for something they do wrong…and you lose it…do you wait for your children to apologize or do you set the example and go to them? Teenagers, do you find it beneath your dignity to humble yourself to obey your parents’ reasonable expectations? I remember one time saying to my mother when I was 18, “this is beneath my dignity.” If she could have, she would have rolled her eyes and laughed but she was dumfounded that I would have displayed such a proud and haughty response. Demonstrating my lack of humility. Do we display this kind of attitude toward God when He speak to us?

I think that we live in a time where a lot of folks believe that the things that God asks them to do are “beneath their dignity.”  I believe that we probably all have felt that way a time or two.  But, there are no nearby caves in order to hole ourselves off from the world.  Like Elijah, we have a responsibility to fulfill the ministry of the Lord, whatever that might be.  We can see that exercising an attitude of contempt, pride was among the mistakes that Elijah made in his life, but God overlooked and overruled it.  Elijah was walking by sight and not by faith, and this was not acceptable to the Lord.  He doesn’t like it any more when we do it, either.  But, Elijah had a sensitive heart for the Lord and sought to do what God would have him to do.  It is probably no secret as to why Elijah was the representative of the prophets in the scene on the Mount of Transfiguration.  He was not and is not recognized as a great person because he was extraordinary in any great way, and in fact we have seen that he was quite flawed. But Elijah does have an extraordinary belief and trust in a great God…and because of this, God is able to use him.

God has handed to each of us a torch to bear for him. That torch is the light of the Gospel, the knowledge of God and His ways, and the Word of God.  It is put into our hands and our hearts by the Holy Spirit and the fire is ignited so that we may burn as lights in a sin-darkened world.  And as we learn from this story, perhaps the greatest work that we can do is teach and train those of the younger generation to be faithful to God’s calling, whether this be our children, or other “young ones in the faith” that the Lord brings our way.  As with Elijah, we are not perfect…all of us have flaws…but, God uses flawed people to accomplish His purposes.  We do indeed have a tremendous responsibility to teach, mentor, so let’s seek to take this seriously, as the Lord leads us.  Let your light shine in such a way that all men can see Jesus in us, and then, run with it and to pass it on to the next generation so that we will not forget God, but carry on the faith and work of the Lord!

Blessings, Don