Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Questions and Denials


Bernard Ebbers is probably a name you do not know.  As the founder and CEO telecommunications giant, WorldCom, Ebbers was sitting pretty – until he brought down his own company thanks to his own corrupt practices and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.  WorldCom went deeply into debt after the company made a series of acquisitions that made it financially insolvent.  Ebbers was convicted of committing accounting fraud to the tune of $11 billion dollars, lying to his investors to keep the struggling company afloat. He also had the distinction of making TIME’s list of crooked CEOs…not exactly a glorious designation.  TIME also stated that the Securities Exchange Commission investigated $400 million that WorldCom had loaned to Ebbers.  This is a sad story, and it just goes to show that there are people in this world who are willing to get rich, get popular, and get status through any means necessary.  It would be nice if this was some late-breaking news story concerning something that just doesn’t happen very often…unfortunately, there are a dozen former CEOs just like Ebbers who tried to swindle the public.  But, as Solomon says, there is nothing new under the sun, and so we come to another corrupt CEO from the time of Christ…and this person was worse, because he was also a religious leader.  And we could just as easily pull up a list of corrupt religious leaders from recent to distant history as well, but we will save it for another day…you’re welcome.  Annas is probably the most respected and powerful of the Jewish authorities at this time, even though he is no longer high priest. He had been the high priest (A.D. 6-15) until he was removed from office by the Romans…and now, his son-in-law, Caiaphas, is the high priest.  God had originally ordained that one man serve as high priest for a lifetime, so it easy to see that the Jewish religious establishment is a mess to say the least. We will talk more about this as we go.

As we noted in a previous message, Jesus deliberately gives Himself over to the enemy.  Now, they bind Him and lead Him to the house of Annas, the former high priest who still has political and religious clout (John 18:12-27) .  The “trial” before Annas is more like an informal hearing.  It is plainly illegal and brutal.  It is hard to imagine a guard today being allowed to strike a prisoner, or a man who does not hold any kind of office interrogating a prisoner.  Annas is looking for some kind of evidence on which to base an accusation that would lead to a verdict of capital punishment.  What kind of teaching has Jesus been doing?  What about His disciples…what are they up to? Didn’t one of them use a sword to cut off Caiaphas’ servant’s ear? 

Jewish law demands that witnesses be called before a prisoner is questioned. Annas defies the law on several fronts.  At least a half-dozen points of order are ignored in the proceedings…among them -- the trial takes place at night, during the week of Passover, behind closed doors, and away from the temple, and so on.  Jesus knows His rights, but He does not insist on them.  He is an example to us when we suffer unjustly. (1 Peter 2:19-25) 

At the same time that this is taking place, there is drama concerning Peter that is unfolding.  Jesus has already predicted that his close disciple would deny Him three times (John 13:38, etc.)  He also shares that Peter will be restored to fellowship and service. (Luke 22:32)  Peter follows the crowd when he should have been taking a flight on SW Airlines and getting away (18:8).  Had he done so, he…in all likelihood…would not have denied the Lord.  While we certainly admire Peter’s love and courage, we cannot agree with his actions…for he walks right into the temptation that Jesus warned him about while they were in the Garden.  “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak," Jesus said. (Matthew 16:41) 

We do not know who the other disciple is that is with Peter in the courtyard of the home of the high priest.  And, we don’t really even know how they have access to be there.  Nonetheless, the other disciple is likely John.  Peter gradually moves into the place of temptation and sin.  He is already in the courtyard, but he comes to stand with the enemy by the fire, and before long, he sits down with them.  It is now too late…and within a short period of time, he will deny that he has known Jesus three times.  A servant girl is the first to ask him if he is one of Jesus’ disciples. The original Greek text indicates that she expects a negative answer, and this is precisely what she receives – Peter tells her “no”.  Peter stays by the fire…which is amazing, and ironic, given the cold that is entering his heart. And another servant girl asks him the same question.  The pronoun “they” suggests that others are getting on board with the line of questioning. Once again, Peter denies knowing Jesus.  The third question comes from one of Malchus’ relatives.  As we remember, Malchus is the guy whose ear Peter lopped off – so, this is surely an awkward situation.  Here the original Greek indicates that he expects an affirmative answer.  This guy would probably know the guy who wielded the ear removing sword, as he was likely standing near Malchus when Peter did it.  At this point, Peter’s resistance breaks down completely, and he begins to curse and swear. (Matthew 26:74)  This doesn’t mean that Peter lets loose a bunch of expletives like a sailor (or a fisherman), but that he put himself under a curse in order to emphasize his statement.  He is on trial, so to speak, and so he puts himself under an oath to convince his accusers that he is telling the truth.  It is at this point that the rooster begins to crow, just as Jesus had predicted. The crowing of the rooster reminds Peter of the Lord’s words, and he goes out and weeps bitterly.  The crowing rooster also indicates, once again, that Jesus is in control.  It will also serve as an invitation for Peter to come to repentance, which we will come back to later.

Chuck Swindoll shares this -- Jesus was the only person to live His entire life without doing anything wrong. Yet, He was arrested, tried, convicted, and condemned to suffer a punishment normally reserved for the Roman Empire’s worst criminals. His arrest was a betrayal and His trials a farce, His convictions illegal and His punishment a travesty of justice. Yet through it all, He remained calm, He answered questions honestly, He spoke the truth with dignity, and He calmly resolved to allow the Father to vindicate Him at the proper time. We would do well to imitate Christ in our response to the injustices we experience in our lives.

How do we respond when we are under fire?  How do we deal with stress and difficulties?  It is certainly a growth process. I know from my own life that there have been times when I did not deal with such matters as well as I would have liked, and this is primarily because I was not in the spiritual place that I should have been at the time.  Peter certainly made a number of mistakes, because he was not in a proper spiritual place, nor was he thinking clearly…so, when temptation came knocking on the door of his heart, he gave in and sinned.  We all have choices to make…usually every day…as to how we are going to process matters, as it relates to trials and temptations.  I hope and pray that we continue to grow in how it is that we respond to negative situations and circumstances, and that we will not give in to pride, but seek to do the Lord’s will.  To quote the inimitable Mr. Rogers -- “In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.” (Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember)  Good words to live by.

Blessings, Don

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