1) The Triumphal Entry: What God Can Do When We Partner With Him
2) Easter: Emptiness that Fulfills
3) Jesus' Resurrection: Peter's Reconciliation
4) The Ascension and Continuing Ministry of Jesus Christ
THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY:
What God Can Do When We Partner With Him
Luke 19:36-39 record a significant day in the ministry of Jesus. It is the day the crowd cried "Hosannah," which means "Lord, save us," as they waved palm branches and honored His presence. It is often referred to as the triumphal entry.
The tradition of waving palm branches began when God commanded in the book of Leviticus that once a year, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, which ends up being around harvest time, September or October, to wave palm branches and live in booths or tabernacles to remind them of what God had done for them in delivering them from Egypt. It was a time for celebrating God's salvation.
When Solomon built the temple, he decorated it with palm branches as a reminder of God's provision. And in the book of Revelation we find references to the continuation of this practice. "And I looked and there, behold, before me was a great multitude that no one could count. People from every nation, from every tribe, people and language and they're standing before the throne and in front of the lamb and they were wearing white robes and they were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God and to the one who sits on the throne, the Lamb of God.'"
In summary, to wave the palm branches signifies thanking God for some special work of deliverance He has accomplished. It is to express personal thankfulness toward God for a deliverance. The waver is personally thanking God for what He has done!
That sets the stage for what the crowd does in Luke 19. It says, "As he approached Bethphage and Bethany on the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples saying to them, go to the village ahead of you and as you enter it, you will find a colt there tied which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it to me and if anyone asks you why you are untying it, tell them, 'The Lord has need of it.' Now those who were sent ahead went and they found it just as He had told them. And as they were untying the colt its owners asked them, 'Why are you untying the colt?' And they replied, 'The Lord has need of it.' They brought it to Jesus. They threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it and as he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down to the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen. 'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.' Yet some of the Pharisees in the crowd said, 'Jesus, teacher, rebuke your disciples.' Jesus replied, 'I tell you that if they keep quiet the stones will cry out." Doesn't it feel good to see Jesus being praised. To hear Jesus being celebrated. But it is easy to miss the profound message in this story. Jesus told people stories all through the New Testament not to make them feel good, but to make a point. And God recorded this story not to make us feel good but to make a point.
First, we need to put this story in context. Luke chapter 19 begins with Jesus' arrival in Jericho and as He is passing through Jericho He sees a man in a tree named Zaccheus. Jesus spoke to him saying, "Zaccheus, today I will stay in your house." And Zaccheus is excited about spending time with Jesus. What a contrast with the religious leaders who only wanted to spend time with Jesus to trip Him up, to catch Him in some contradiction with which to accuse Him.
While Jesus is celebrating with Zaccheus and his friends in that house, He tells them a story, a story with a point. This story is about money and stewardship. If there was one thing Zaccheus and his friends understand, it was money. Jesus spoke to them where they were in their understanding because He wanted them to understand the gospel for themselves not because He wanted to impress them with how much He knew. The point of Jesus' story is that trustworthy servants are faithful when the master is away, not just when he is in their presence. Jesus was essentially telling them that His kingdom was not going to start immediately but that there was going to be a period of time in which His servants would have to prove themselves faithful. In this context, the triumphal entry takes on heightened significance.
John's Gospel chapter 12 gives us the exact timing for these events. John 12 informs us that Jesus arrived in Bethany six days before the Passover. The Passover was on Saturday and if He arrived six days before Saturday, that means He arrived in Bethany on Sunday. Later Sunday evening Jesus is at the house of Simon the leper (Mark 14:3) and having a meal in His honor with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Lazarus is sitting around enjoying the company of Jesus, Martha is preparing a dinner, and Mary anoints Jesus' feet with precious oil. It was a special night for Jesus and those who were there with Him. The next day, Monday, Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives.
The Bible writers record events that occurred in the life of Jesus to teach a point. As John 20:30-31 tell us: "Jesus' disciples saw him do many other miraculous signs besides the ones recorded in this book. But these (in the book of John-the main theme of John) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life." Bible writers had to be selective. Luke 19 records the story about Zacchaeus just before the triumphal entry. John 12 records Mary's anointing of Jesus' feet just before the triumphal entry. Both writers were telling us that the triumphal entry was not what it appeared to be on the surface. That something significant was going to take place after it.
Bethphage and Bethany are suburbs, if you will, of Jerusalem. They are about a mile to the east, just over the Mount of Olives. Just over the hill. From here, He sent two of his disciples to a nearby village to find a special colt that had never been ridden and were to bring it to Him. He said to them, "If anyone asks you why you are untying it, tell them the Lord has need of it." This little part of the story is recorded to remind us, again, that God has a plan. "Go and you will find."
We need to recognize this for two reasons. First, it is a major theme in the Bible. God's Word keeps saying it. God's Word keeps pointing it out. It is like a lighthouse beacon, it keeps on flashing around and around and around. In Scripture God is saying, "Trust me, I've got a plan. I'm not caught off guard by the events. I'm invested in seeing you through. Trust me." You get that message? God is interested and involved and invested in your life. He knows what's coming.
Secondly, we need to keep reminding ourselves of this because the world seems so out of control. Every day the world's pressures and concerns impact our lives. Every day Satan plants seeds of doubt and discouragement in our hearts. "Did God really say that?" "Where's your God now?" "Use your common sense. You don't need Him." "God gave you a brain, figure these things out yourself." Whether you are a middle school girl or a guy struggling to build a business, God has a specific plan for you, a plan beyond the generic truths that apply to all Christians. It is not simply, "I know who you are. I've saved you and I will come back for you later." There are things He has planned for your life if you will just allow Him to work out His best plan for you. No detail is unimportant for His consideration.
God not only orchestrates billions of stars in the galaxy every day, in a universe bigger than even our scientists can fathom, He also does something much, much harder. He orchestrates a plan of life on this earth with billions and billions of free-will individuals. And amazingly, no matter how much they try, they cannot mess up His plan. He has a plan, He has a design, and He is able to work it out despite widespread rebellion. God is looking for individuals who will enter into His plan with Him, that they might be a part of what He is doing. Luke 19:30 says, "Go." Verse 31 says, "Tell." Circle those two words because those two words are action words. "Go find and then tell!" The two disciples went and did as Jesus instructed. They did what they were told. Don't you wish that characterized your life every day? "God said it, and I did it!" Wouldn't it be good if we could all say that?
Notice the phrase, "the Lord has need of it." The Lord has need of it? We are not in the habit of thinking that the Lord needs anything, but that is what it says. God could have fulfilled this need in any number of ways. He could have had a wild donkey wander in from the wilderness. He could have poofed a donkey into existence right there in the middle of Bethany, but He goes to an individual and asks for his cooperation. He goes to him and asks, "Will you return to me what I have given to you? Will you partner with me in what I am about to do?"
God is not dependent on His people, but He wants to involve them in His purposes. God wants partners. God wants willing individuals to join with Him in His plans and share His purposes. This does not imply a weakness or insufficiency in Him. It points to just how humble He really is! Instead of hogging all the glory, He wants to share it with us!
Here was a man who had a donkey who became a part of God's redemptive history because he was willing to give what he had to God. Someday we get to meet him. He is part of history because he gave what God could use in the completing of His will, His plan. Does it matter how much or how little you have? God partners with people to use simple things for great results. Moses was asked to give a walking stick. Rahab gave a corner of her house to the spies. David gave up his slingshot for God. The widow gave two cents. The young boy gave five loaves and two fishes. This man gave his donkey.
Donkeys in Jesus' day were very valuable. They were burden-bearing animals. They carried things. They transported things, so they were the trucks of their day. Donkeys helped with the farm work. They pulled farm equipment, pulled loads of stuff and so they were the tractors of their day. Donkeys carried people. They were the cars of their day. I tell you this because I want you to know that giving a donkey was not a small gift. If you saw someone out in the parking lot jump starting your car, you would say, "What are you doing?" And the guy says, "The Lord has need of this." Would you let Him have it?
Matthew goes on to explain that this man not only gave his colt but also the donkey's mother. This man's gift gets even more significant. But he was willing to give it up. It was significant for this man and God used it for a significant purpose. What has God given you that He wants you to give for His significant purpose? It may be significant for you, but it can become even more significant if you give it to God.
The lesson here is not about donkeys. It is about attitudes. It is about partnering with God. Two days before this happened, Zaccheus turned over the keys to his house to Jesus. Mary gave Him precious, expensive oil signifying His soon death and burial. And both will forever be remembered for what they did. Neither sought to earn anything from God for their actions, they merely sought to partner with Him in accomplishing His work. There is a great difference between the two reasons for giving something to God. One person tries to earn God's favor. The other gives to God out of gratitude and faith.
As the story progresses we see people spreading their cloaks on the road. Matthew and Mark add that many others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. When He came near the place where the road goes down to the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully praising God in a loud voice for the miracles they had seen. "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest."
I want you to recognize there are five groups of people at this event. There are some who offer their cloaks, there are some who work to cut branches and provide branches for Jesus. Others stand and cheer, they offer words to Jesus. Some are just part of the crowd, observing what is going on. They are just watching. They are just giving it their attention, but they are not really part of what is happening. The fifth group is the critics, who refuse to believe.
There is a wide range of people and a wide range of responses that people have to the arrival of Jesus. To some He is a deliverer, to others He is a threat. People have the gift of choice. There are many things that a person cannot choose. You cannot choose your parents, where you are born, or maybe even your culture. Your will cannot undo these realities as if they were not a part of you. So, in a sense, our will is not absolutely free. We do not usually make random choices that have no root in our past, upbringing, or biology. But no matter who we are, or where we live, or what we have done, God has given us the privilege and responsibility to choose Him. God has given us that freedom!
Where would you fit in these five groups? Where would you like to fit in? God has given you the power to choose. Not all your choices are determined. But realize that your eternal destiny will be determined by the choice you make regarding Jesus Christ! No past can rob you of that power. No matter your past you can step out of it to choose Jesus. In that day when all who have been redeemed will raise their voices in praise for the mercy and grace of God Almighty, there will be people from every walk of life. People with good families and people with bad families will be there. People from relatively healthy cultures and people from sick and dysfunctional cultures. People who experienced physical health through most of their lives and those that were sickly and weak. People who have experienced mental illness and those with sound minds. All kinds of people will be there. And the one common thread they will have is that each sought God's mercy offered in the Lord Jesus Christ! Each had the internal power to choose Christ despite their backgrounds and past and actually made the redeeming choice.
Have you been a skeptic? You do not see God and so you do not believe in Him? Become an investigator. See if what we are talking about is real. You owe it to yourself to find out. But let me ask you, "If the events of the cross are true, what greater thing can God do for you than He has already done?" It is a dangerous thing, spiritually, to snub the cross. It is to crucify afresh Jesus all over again! Either you accept that Jesus was pierced and died for you or you agree with His tormenters who beat Him and drove nails through His flesh. There, ultimately, is no middle ground! God's grace has been extended to you, but you must receive it or it will do you no good.
If you are a sideline observer, get involved. If you give verbal assent to Jesus, that is not enough. God wants your heart not just your interest. He is not putting on a TV show or a play to hold your interest, to entertain you. Isn't it time you put your faith into action? Your life needs to feel the impact of the Son of God. If Jesus has not positively impacted your life then you are not a Christian, you are not a believer! Salvation occurs when a repentant sinner receives by faith the work of Christ at Calvary. If there is no spiritual life then there is no saving faith! Do not allow spiritual life to pass you by because of mere neglect. Choose Jesus, get involved with Him!
If you are a practical Christian, you genuinely believe in Jesus Christ and are doing many of the right things described in the Bible. You find that God's Word really does help and you are trying to do what the Bible says because you find it works in your life. Step up and learn to walk with God when the details are unknown. Step out on faith and do the things that God says to do when you cannot see exactly how the situation is going to work out.
Sometimes God is very specific about what He wants us to do, or not do. Do not commit adultery, do not steal, thou shall not lie. Those are clear and direct, specific. Other times the future is uncertain and unknown to us. And God wants us to walk into that darkness with Him trusting that He will work out His perfect will within that darkness. Practical Christians have trouble doing this. They are good with the specific commands and injunctions, but walking in the darkness frightens them. "Practical Christian, the next time God calls you to walk into something you do not understand, Go!" And if you do go you will gain the sense that God is real and that life can be an adventure.
"Hosannah!" Celebrate the God who wants to bless your life. The thief comes to rob, kill, and destroy. Join me in praying, "Lord, save us from the thief." Follow Jesus. Give Him what you can and watch what He does with it. He will make it worth more than if you expended it on yourself. Partner with God and He will do great things with what you give Him!
Emptiness that Fulfills
A couple years ago, Johnny Hart, who writes the comic strip BC, wrote a little strip with three guys standing around talking. The first guy asked the question, "Would you be willing to lay down your life for somebody else?" The second guy says, "Boy, that would be stupid." Third guy: "Yeah, why would I want to do that?" The first guy asked another question. "Well, what if you loved somebody so much that you'd want to give your life for them?" Second guy responds, "You mean, I'd die in their place." Third guy: "So, I would die, so they wouldn't have to?" First guy: "Bingo." Second guy again says, "I don't think anybody could love that much. If he did, I wouldn't want to lose him." The first guy smiles and says, "Well, guys, I've got good news and good news."
Easter is about good news and good news. Something that looks bad, God using for great good. A mock trial, injustice, a cruel beating, a brutal cross, a stone tomb are not things that are normal for celebration. It seems like a contradiction. And because it's such a contradiction, oftentimes Easter is misunderstood. I want to focus on Easter again to clarify what the message is. More specifically I want us to understand what Easter is all about at its core. And what kind of difference should it, can it, will it make in our lives.
Easter is about emptiness and fullness. Emptiness and fullness. It's like a drinking glass that is full. This is good news. A full glass. But when you pour that water out over a plant then you may say, "Oh, this is bad news. This is not what the glass was made for. It is now empty where before it was full." Or is it? The fullness that was in the glass is now gone so that the fullness could be in the soil surrounding the plant. Death, in a sense, came to the glass so that life could come to the plant. God left heaven's glory so that we could know Him on Earth. Easter is about His emptying for our fullness.
Let's look at Luke 23. In this passage, we are going to look at four different images of emptiness. Four images that all work for our fullness. Luke chapter 23:50-52 speak of Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph is known only for one thing. After the crucifixion, he went to the authorities and asked for the body of Jesus so that he could put Him in his personal tomb.
The first image of emptiness we see is the empty cross. I want you to visualize the cross of Jesus this morning. It's the place where He died. But on Easter morning that cross was empty because the promise of the cross was fulfilled. Jesus said, "I have come to give you life and to give my life as a ransom for many." The promise of the empty cross is that you and I can stand before God forgiven because it was on that cross that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. The empty cross is the first step of what Easter is all about and that empty cross is all about His grace. When Jesus cried out on the cross, "It is finished!" He wasn't simply talking about His life. He was talking about His work and His purpose. At the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, He said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish His work." God started the work of redemption in the Garden of Eden. He continued developing His redemptive history throughout the Old Testament. Jesus' work was to finish this divine plan.
The night before He was crucified, Jesus said to His disciples, "This is my blood which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins." That happened on the cross. The penalty was paid on the cross but it's the empty cross that we celebrate. Before that fateful Friday, God could open the book of life and He could look and see our names written in black ink-"Guilty of sin." But when they took Christ down from that cross, God literally started writing in red-forgiven, forgiven, forgiven across every name that will say "Yes!" to His sacrifice. You have to say "Yes!" to the offer that is made, not make a counter offer stating what you are willing to do and not do. If you want the forgiveness that the empty cross promises, tell God. In your heart, in your mind say, "Yes, Lord, I want the gift that you've offered. I want your forgiveness for my sin. I want your forgiveness for the rebellion I've done against you. Come into my life and teach me how to live a better way, a fearless and fulfilling way as you've outlined in your Word." The empty cross is the first step of God's plan of reconciling sinners to Himself.
The second step is introduced in the next few verses. Look at chapter 24, verse 1. It says, "On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. But when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus." The second step is the empty tomb. But what difference does the empty tomb make? How does it relate to our everyday lives?
The tomb was empty that day because death could not hold Him. Death is inevitable. The world knows that death always comes even though something inside us tells us we are created for something more. There's a hunger for immortality. "Death isn't right. There should be more." Yet one-by-one death takes friends, family, hundreds of thousands around this globe every day. There is no escape, no exception. No permanent extension. Death, the great unknown, the feared grim reaper, claims each and every life. But then One came that it could not hold. The empty tomb is about the power of God to overcome death.
Scripture declares since we are made of flesh and blood, He became flesh and blood to break the power of death and deliver us from the enslaving fear of death. Paul describes it with the simple words, "Where O death is your victory. Where, O death is your sting? Death has been swallowed up in victory." The empty tomb is God's promise that physical death is not the end. It displays His power over death and satisfies our hope for eternal life.
One afternoon a father and his son were riding in the cab of a pickup truck. It was a spring afternoon. The windows were open and as they were driving along a bee flew in the window and started buzzing around the cab. This event would cause most people concern. After all, who wants to get stung by a bee. But this boy was allergic to bees. A sting could kill him! As the boy sat there, frozen in fear, the father reached out and grabbed the bee. The son breathed a sigh of relief until the father opened his hand and released the bee. The startled boy started to panic, "Daddy, daddy," until the father reached over and touched his shoulder and said, "Look at my hand, son" and there in his swollen palm was the stinger of the bee. "Son, the bee cannot hurt you anymore. I took the sting." God is telling us, "Children, death cannot hurt you anymore. I took the sting!"
The third image of emptiness is found in verses 9-12. In verses 9 and 10, the women come back from the tomb and told the disciples what they saw. The disciples did not believe them. Look at verse 11. The disciples were skeptical of what the women said because their words seemed like nonsense. But Peter ran to the tomb, anyway. Bending over to peer into the tomb, he saw strips of linen folded neatly near where the body had been. Jesus was not there. The tomb was empty! The second image of emptiness is the burial linens that Jesus' body was wrapped in. This could only mean one thing. Jesus was alive. No one is going to steal a dead, broken, battered, bruised, bloody body by taking off the coverings first. But the coverings were there, folded neatly, for all to see. The promise of the empty linens is His presence with us. He said, "I go to prepare a place for you and if I go, I will return to you."
Easter is about the presence of God in our lives. He said, "I have come to give you life and give it to you in abundance." Without the resurrection, the heart of the Christian message is missing. Paul said it clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:12-18: "But tell me this--since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ was not raised either. And if Christ was not raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your trust in God is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God, for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave, but that can't be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ have perished!" The empty burial clothes mean that God's life-giving presence can be poured out for our redemption and reconciliation.
The fourth image is in verse 12. "Peter ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened." He trudged back home dazed and confused, wondering, "What is this all about? What happened?" The last example of emptiness is the empty human heart. Off in the distance, even that morning, Peter could look up and see the empty cross. He is coming from the empty tomb and he saw the empty linens, but his heart was still empty. Peter had just denied Jesus three times. He was ridden with guilt. He needed a new perspective on life to know that God was with him. And he saw the burial clothes lying there, knowing that Jesus was alive somewhere, but he couldn't see him. He couldn't sense him. He wanted to be with him. It was took much to believe. It was too much to believe for Peter, it was too much to believe for all the disciples.
Jesus went to them to make it clear. Luke 24:13-32 and 24:33-49 speak about two different situations where Jesus Christ taught disciples about Old Testament prophecies concerning Himself. To some disciples on the Emmaus road He said: "You are such foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn't it clearly predicted by the prophets that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his time of glory?" And to the disciples gathered in the upper room He said: "Why are you frightened? Why do you doubt who I am? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it's really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don't have bodies, as you see that I do! ... Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again from the dead on the third day. With my authority, take this message of repentance to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem: 'There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me.'" The emptiness of the human heart finds fullness in Christ Jesus--the risen Lord!
The world is full of empty promises, but God is different. Instead of promises full of emptiness, God gives us emptiness that is full of promise. Emptiness because He poured Himself out for us. Remember my illustration at the beginning? Emptiness came to the glass so that life could come to the plant. If Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, hadn't died on the cross or if He would have stayed in the tomb, bound up by those burial garments, He would not be our Saviour! His entire ministry would have been a lie. Jesus claimed to be much more than just a good teacher and man. He claimed to be the Messiah. He claimed that God was His father. It would have been just empty words but those words were backed up by His action. Jesus showed Himself to be truthful. The world of fallen human beings will disappoint us but Jesus Christ proved by His resurrection that He is reliable and trustworthy.
Michelangelo, the great Renaissance artist, one day exploded in anger at his fellow artists. He said, "Guys, why do you fill up gallery after gallery, room after room, cathedral after cathedral with pictures of Jesus in weakness. Of Jesus on the cross? Of Jesus hanging dead as if that is the end. As if the curtain had come down leaving us with desperation and despair. That event only lasted a few short hours, but for all eternity, Jesus is alive. He reigns and He triumphs." Michelangelo was correct. But our concern is not just correctly portraying Jesus in picture but in our lives. Do you live like Jesus is still hanging on that cross or are you living as if Jesus is alive! Have you said "Yes!" to the offer of forgiveness He offers? Have you said "Yes!" to His presence? Have you said "Yes!" to His perspective? If not, the final image of emptiness is your heart, walking away from Him. Don't leave this life without Him!
It was a foggy morning. The fog was just beginning to lift as the sun was beginning to rise and Peter and the disciples had been fishing all night and caught nothing. They were frustrated. And then on the shore stood a solitary figure. Jesus showed up and that changed everything. It changed the fish story. More importantly, it changed Peter. Peter had denied Jesus three times. Jesus had met with Peter and the disciples in the upper room, but it wasn't until this scene on the lakeshore that Peter knew that his relationship with Jesus was 'Ok'.
Isn't it great that God's Word reveals real men with real struggles. They are not white-washed historical figures. They are men with failures so that we will know how to deal with our failures, we will know how to return, how to get straight, how to get back on board.
The book of Mark is the gospel that Peter inspired because it was written by Mark under Peter's guidance, so it gives Peter's insights, his specifics into what happened and that is why it tells us how he started drifting. In Mark chapter 14, we will see what caused Peter to drift. Then we will read 1 Peter and see what he has learned that made him into a mighty warrior for Christ.
While eating the Passover meal, the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples what was soon to happen. Mark 14:17-28 says: "In the evening Jesus arrived with the twelve disciples. As they were sitting around the table eating, Jesus said, 'The truth is, one of you will betray me, one of you who is here eating with me…. It is one of you twelve, one who is eating with me now. For I, the Son of Man, must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for my betrayer. Far better for him if he had never been born!…. All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, 'God will strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.'" Peter heard what Jesus said and declared his loyalty. "Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will." Jesus turned to him and said, "Peter, I tell you the truth. Today, yet this very night, before the cock crows two times, you will deny me three times." But Peter insisted , "Jesus, you're wrong, even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." The others also pledged their loyalty.
Peter was an aggressive individual. He brimmed with self-confidence. Peter meant what he said to Jesus. He fully intended to stay by Jesus' side. The problem is that he tried to do it in his own strength. Jesus is quick to recognize this. He warns Peter, "You are going to deny me three times in just a few minutes. You are going to desert me." Self-confidence is the first step in drifting away from God because we think we can handle everything on our own. "I have come a long way, I can deal with this. Jesus, let me make you proud of me because of how much power and how much strength I have, how mature I've grown. I can figure this one out on my own. I'm not a kid anymore. I want to do it myself. God, go help those other people. They need it more."
First Corinthians warns us that when we think we are spiritually strong we need to be careful because we are ready to fall. Proverbs promises that a proud attitude leads to ruin. The problem is thinking yourself to be more than you are. Building yourself up and pushing God out. We slowly but surely edge God out of our lives. Not because we hate him but because we do not think we need Him. We leave Him out of our family life. Pretty soon we edge Him out of every important area in our lives. Our self-confidence deceives us.
When Jesus is arrested, What does Peter do? He attempts to fulfill his promise to Jesus with a sword. He is willing to risk his life in a sword fight for Jesus. But that is not what Jesus wanted. How does a man who was willing to draw a sword to show his loyalty, desert that very person minutes later? Obviously, Peter was willing to risk his life for Jesus, then why the desertion?
Remember, the gospel of Mark was written by Mark under Peter's guidance. We find an interesting reference in Mark 14:51-52 that does not appear in the other three gospels. Peter must have wanted it included for a reason. "There was a young man following along behind, clothed only in a linen nightshirt. When the mob tried to grab him, they tore off his clothes, but he escaped and ran away naked." That young man must have been humiliated.
Humiliated! Just the sound of that word frightens us. Peter saw what happened to that young man and he wanted no part of it. "That is not going to happen to me," he might have thought. Frightened and running from humiliation, he ran into a little servant girl, a teenage girl, who cowered him into denying Jesus by simply saying, "You were one of those with Jesus, the Nazarene." Just then the first rooster crowed a warning to Peter to deny Jesus no more. Peter soon denied Jesus two more times. And then the rooster crowed a second time. "And [Peter] broke down and cried" (14:72). Peter was willing to die for Jesus but he was not willing to risk humiliation for Him!
Notice a second thing about Peter. Look at Mark 14:32-41. Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to pray with Him during that agonizing time in the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus anticipated the suffering that would soon be His. "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me." Three times He pleaded with them to pray with Him and three times they slept instead. The second cause for Peter's fall was neglect. They had a full day. They had a full meal. Jesus had already talked a long time. It is dark and it is late. They did not know what was going on, but Jesus did and Jesus compelled them, "This is important, pray with me." But they neglected it. Doing the right thing is usually hard. It requires effort. It requires more energy than just doing enough to get by. It is difficult to consistently do the right thing.
We have to make sure that we have the energy to do the right thing and not get fatigued by doing the wrong things. We must learn to prioritize and discipline ourselves. Fatigue is often the precursor to moral and spiritual defeat. Fatigue should be a warning light in our spiritual lives. When you get fatigued, you are going to be tempted to drift away. It lowers your defenses. It makes you vulnerable to temptation.
So when fatigue comes, beware and recharge your spiritual batteries. You do not get recharged by reducing your involvement, though. You get recharged by increasing your input. You do not stop the outflow, you increase the input. If you are running out of gas, you do not just pull over to the side of the road and stop. You go to where the gas is. If you are running out of gas, you do not just turn off the motor, you go to where the gas is. If you are running out of spiritual energy, you do not stop ministry, you do not stop involvement, you do not leave the family of God, you go to where the gas is. You get refueled, you get refilled, you get connected with them again. I have seen Christian after Christian pull back because they want to get refueled but they do not do anything to take in and so they end up drifting from God.
Verses 53-54 describe yet another reason for Peter's fall. It says: "Jesus was led to the high priest's home where the leading priests, other leaders, and teachers of religious law gathered. Meanwhile, Peter followed far behind and slipped inside the gates of the high priest's courtyard. For a while he sat with the guards, warming himself by the fire." Notice how Peter followed at a safe distance. He stayed back. He let the current of events pull him along. Do you try to follow Jesus at a safe distance? Just far enough that nobody really notices?
People respect men and women of conviction who are not afraid to graciously live by godly standards. Not flaunting it, not being preachy, but with genuine, humble, steadfast faith. Proverbs 29:25 teaches that fearing people is a dangerous thing. It is a dangerous trap. Fearing people means that they become god in your life. You are looking to please them, to serve them, you are letting them guide and guard what you say and do. If you cater to the world, you are going to end up drifting from God.
I want you to notice that Peter does not just keep his distance. Look at where he is. He blends into the crowd and enjoys the benefits. He sits by the guards, the guards who arrested Jesus, those who chained him, those who perhaps even drug him down that road. He is by their side warming himself at their fire. Jesus is being tried. He is going to be condemned to death and Peter is there at the enemy's fire warming himself. There is something wrong with this picture. It is a picture for us, almost a parable, about what can happen in our lives. If you get seduced by the world's campfire, you are going to end up getting burned by it. It happens subtly. Peter did not even notice.
We follow Christ for a number of years and we look at our lives and we see someone else that we went to college with and we think, "Well, how did they get so far ahead of me? They have more stuff and more recognition. They have more influence and more fun things. I am a Christian. God is on my side. I should have those things. I deserve those things. I want those things." We start redirecting our time, our energy, our finances toward achieving, toward getting those things. We get sucked into the world's economy, the world's values, and the world's priorities and forget who our Lord is. And suddenly, you say, like Peter, "I do not know the man."
Now read 1 Peter chapter 5. I want you to see the lessons that Peter learned. He did not stay in defeat. He did not stay adrift. What does Peter say cured him? What is his advice, or commands, to us? First, we are to humble ourselves under God's mighty hand (verse 6). The cure for prideful, ego-centered self-confidence that edges God out, is humble dependence. Knowing who we are and who God is, is the first step to dependence on God.
Peter continues in verses 8-9a: "Be self-controlled and alert! Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, so resist him, stand firm in the faith." Faithful diligence, self-controlled, alert. The devil is prowling. Peter knows firsthand what defeat feels like. Peter is calling all Christians to focused devotion. "Focused devotion"-lets look at those key words. To be focused on something you have to give it your undivided attention. To be focused on Christ you have to look at Him and what He has done. It implies mental focus. Devotion speaks of the heart. We are to give our hearts to God through Jesus Christ. With all our mental and emotional energies our central core is to be focused on Christ Jesus. Our devotion to God is focused for us through Jesus Christ! If we focus our mental energies and our heart's longings on Christ and His purposes, the roaring of Satan will not paralysis us with fear. And it was fear that felled Peter!
If you are adrift in your faith, What do you need to do? First, you need to recognize that you are drifting. Admit that you have drifted from better days. Peter admitted it with his eyes when he saw Jesus in that courtyard. When he denied Jesus that third time Jesus turned His head to look Peter in the eyes. And Peter was ashamed. But unlike Judas, who ran from his guilt by committing suicide, Peter faced his guilt and accepted the forgiveness of Jesus.
Secondly, you must realize that God wants you to return to Him. God wants you back. After what we have done, after our unfaithfulness, He still wants us back. Isaiah tells us that the Lord longs to be gracious. The only thing stopping Him is the unrepentant human heart. Does that include you?
Thirdly, we must remember that our sin has already been paid for. Can you imagine God the Father looking down upon the crucifixion scene and seeing Jesus hanging on that wretched cross suffering unspeakable pains of body and spirit and saying, "It is not enough! You need to do something more." The Father was infinitely pleased and satisfied with what was accomplished at Calvary. The door of redemption and reconciliation was swung wide open for all who will receive it for themselves. Your sins are paid for, all you have to do is repent and accept it for yourself!
Peter's fear was conquered. Never again was he ashamed to name Jesus Christ as his master and friend. Look at 2 Peter 1:1-2. "This letter is from Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to all of you who share the same precious faith we have, faith given to us by Jesus Christ, our God and Savior, who makes us right with God. May God bless you with his special favor and wonderful peace as you come to know Jesus, our God and Lord, better and better."
F. B. Meyer says this concerning Peter's last day: "After reducing Rome to ashes by the conflagration that his wanton cruelty had kindled, Nero cringed before the passionate resentment of his subjects, and in his endeavor to divert it from himself, imputed the hideous crime to the Christians. In his search for victims he scoured the empire, striking first and hardest at the most illustrious and well-known Christian leaders. Among these Paul was certainly one, and Peter was almost certainly another.
"What befell them in Rome is not chronicled by inspiration. Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth in the second century, states that Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom at the same time; and Jerome, in the fourth century, attests that Peter was crucified and crowned with martyrdom, his head being turned earthward and his feet in the air, because he held that he was unworthy to be crucified as his Lord was. Such was the death that he experienced at Rome. By such an exodus-for that is the Greek word-he passed out from this world to the bosom of the Redeemer, whom he had so ardently loved." Crucifixion is a humiliating way to die. There is nothing dignified about it. Yet, Peter consented to be crucified upsidedown. Peter was always willing to die for Jesus Christ, but he was not always willing to be shamed for Him. Peter's love for Jesus changed that!
THE ASCENSION AND CONTINUING MINISTRY OF JESUS CHRIST
"And after He said these things He was lifted up before their very eyes and a cloud received Him out of their sight." Very little has been written about the ascension. It seems like it has been overshadowed by the cross and outshone by the resurrection. It seems that the ascension of Christ is thought of as a mere postscript on Jesus' life. But it is not. It was a phenomenal event.
What does the ascension of Jesus Christ mean for you? I believe it holds some truths that will encourage your heart. Acts 1:9-11 describe what happened. Verse 3 tells us that it is 40 days after the resurrection. Jesus had appeared to the disciples and to over 500 people throughout that 40-day period. "It was not long after he said this that he was taken up into the sky while they were watching, and he disappeared into a cloud. As they were straining their eyes to see him, two white-robed men suddenly stood there among them. They said, 'Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven. And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return!'"
Parallel passages in Mark and Luke, who also wrote Acts, tell us that He did all this in the vicinity of Bethany, which is near the Mount of Olives. This is the same place where they found the colt that Jesus rode on His entry into Jerusalem. Mark adds in chapter 16:19 that Jesus was taken up into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God. That is exactly what Jesus said would happen when He stood before Caiphus the priest. He stood before Caiphas and Caiphas asked, "Are you the Messiah?" And Jesus' answer was, "I am. And you shall see the son of man raised up in the clouds and sitting at the right hand of God." That is exactly what happened.
An exhaustive Greek study will not find any magical words in this passage that will suddenly illuminate the text for us. What you see, basically, is what you get. The event itself is the message that holds meaning for us. If it sounds a little simplistic, realize that God's greatest truths are often very simple. The bread and the wine represent His death and resurrection in the new covenant. The rainbow represents how He preserved a remnant and that He will never again destroy the world with water. And now we have the clouds. A reminder that Christ came, went, and is coming again.
The ascension teaches peace of mind. We have a God who is in perfect control. He has a plan. Every day in this world we are barraged by problems. Barraged by things that seem to be out of our control. It is easy to lose sight that we do have a God that is in perfect control. We can have peace of mind. God wants us to have peace of mind based upon our confidence in God.
How else might Jesus have ended His earthly ministry? What do you think Jesus should have done? He died; He rose again. He appeared for 40 days to people. Should He just keep doing that? Popping up here and there throughout history? "Hey, we had us a Jesus sighting in Afghanistan last week. China this week and Northern California tomorrow and maybe tonight He will be here."
I do not think that would be a good thing. Should He just have disappeared out of sight, without a trace? The appearances would taper off and then stop. Or, should He have been with somebody when it happened? He could have been sitting and talking with Mary and then is raised up and disappears.
Can you imagine Mary talking to Peter and telling the disciples, "Guys, I was talking to Jesus and He just disappeared and said He is never coming back until the end times!" Do you think Peter would have believed her? Or, as Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee talking with Peter and suddenly Peter sees Him just disappear? Do you think Thomas would have believed Peter? No! Scripture says that they were all together, with many others, and they all saw it happen. We have many witnesses to this event. Isaiah 52:13 says, "See my servant, he will act wisely. He will be raised up and lifted up and highly exalted." God had a plan. The ascension, first of all, affirms our heart that God has a plan. God does not leave any loose ends.
Secondly, I want you to see in this that God also has the power. Some Christians are a little embarrassed to talk about
Jesus floating up into space. Floating out of here. Defying the laws of gravity. That is pretty hard to swallow. That is pretty hard to believe. Some might say, "I can imagine how some of these other things could happen, but what you are saying just does not happen. It is impossible. The law of gravity prevents it. I will tell you folks. I would be more embarrassed about thinking about a God who cannot overcome the law of gravity. That is no kind of God that I want to follow. That is no kind of God worthy of our worship. Consider a jet airliner. Fifty tons of metal and plastic and it flies. It does not look like it is going to fly, but it does. It looks absolutely impossible. Our experience tells us something different though, doesn't it? Those GE turbines start spinning faster and faster and suddenly that big old mass of metal starts rolling. Faster and faster it runs down the runway and then before you know it, it is flying. Why? Because there is something more powerful than the law of gravity. And if an airplane is more powerful than gravity, why can't God overcome gravity, as well?
Jesus came for a purpose. The book of Hebrews tells us that He finished His work and then sat down at the right hand of God. He accomplished His purpose. We can have peace of mind because Jesus accomplished exactly what we needed. He saw our brokenness and offered wholeness. He saw our sin and offered forgiveness. He saw our lack and offered fullness. The ascension should bring you peace of mind when you think of it. The ascension should bring you hope for the future. There is something ahead for you, something that is assured for you. The ascension is a vivid reminder that we have a physical, tangible destination. Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you." It is a real place. Not a state of mind. Not a condition.
The cross symbolizes our redemption. The resurrection symbolizes His ability to overcome death and bring life--eternal life. Suddenly, we are not just forgiven, but now we have a life to live in that forgiven state. But where and how is it going to happen? Is it really going to be real or just be imaginary. Are we disembodied spirits or something else out there? What's going on?
The ascension shows us and reminds us that we have a destination, a real destination. Turn over to Ephesians chapter 2. Ephesians is full of pictures of Christ in glory and describes Christ on the throne at the right hand of God. Ephesians 2:4-5 tells us that because of His great love for us, He made us alive in Christ, even while we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved. Now watch this: "And God raised us up with Christ and seated us in the heavenly realms in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace expressed in the kindness to us in Jesus Christ."
Did you catch something important in this passage? God raised us up. Raised. Not is going to raise. Not is raising, but raised in the past tense. And seated, not will sit us, but has seated us with Christ. That is what Paul means when he says, "We are in Christ." God sees us now through Christ. We are present before God with Him. And that gives us cause to smile. Smile because you have a hope that is certain. It is past tense. It is done. It is sealed. First Peter teaches that it is an inheritance that will never perish, never fade, never disappear, never spoil, never rust, and never expire. We have a real destination and future because God has given them to us. All other sources for eternal meaning and purpose will fail and disappoint because all other things are not God. These things can only offer temporary satisfaction and meaning. Only the Eternal One can give everlasting purpose and meaning!
We have a champion on our side. Psalm 24 describes it: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates and be lifted up you ancient doors that the king of glory may come in. Who is the king of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle." We have a champion on our side that has accomplished everything that we need for life and holiness, for restoration before God, for strengthening through the Holy Spirit. You can trust Jesus standing as your representative before God the Father.
Satan accuses us all the time. "Did you see what he did?" "They are never going to get that straight." "They are always falling down in that area." We have an accuser, but it says also in 1 John that we have an advocate. And Jesus is the kind of advocate that I want to have because I know about Him. I know how He looks at me. I know how He thinks about me. I am glad He is my advocate. He has not just seen my outward actions. He knows my heart. He knows my love for Him. We have an advocate with the Father that we can trust.
Jesus has a continuing ministry on our behalf. That cannot be said about the other religions. Buddha is not standing up for any Buddhists. Confucius is not representing Confucianism to anyone. Mohammed is not doing anything for anybody. Only Christianity has a living founder that continues to work on behalf of those who follow Him, a founder whose history did not stop with His death. It did not stop with His resurrection. It has not stopped with His ascension. When He was on earth for 33 years, He was limited in geography, time, and space, but now He is not. Through the Spirit He is with you in your home, He sees you at your workplace. He is not limited.
Jesus is the one who sent the Holy Spirit to help you, to be present with you, to guide and strengthen you, to nudge you along in life. Jesus told His disciples, "I am going to Him who sent me. I tell you the truth, it is good, it is to your advantage that I go away for if I do not go away the helper shall not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you." We have a champion in heaven and a helper on earth. The Holy Spirit is here to communicate with us, to guide, and strengthen our lives. The ascension should cause us to nod and say, "Ok, I have someone on my side. I have got the potential for spiritual and moral strength. I have a helper. I can do this! I am going to be your man (or woman). A person of action."
All these things focus on what we are to know and how we are to feel, but that is not where Jesus left His disciples. I want you to look at Acts 1:11, again. The two angels asked the believers that were present, "Why are you standing around looking at the sky?" Literally, it says, "Why do you stand gazing into the sky?" He has not put you into a waiting room until He returns. He says, "Get out there and share my truth with others. Be my hands, be my voice of peace, of truth to those around you. Get up and get going."
The disciples were not to stay on that hillside in Bethany. They were to go back into Jerusalem. They were to go to Judea, to the uttermost parts of the world. They were to share the truth that they had seen that others may also know that truth that their lives will be benefited, also. Jesus said: "I have been given complete authority in heaven and earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of this age" (Matthew 28:18-20).
Jesus ascended so that the Spirit could come and be our helper so that we can become more like Him. Jesus ascended so that He could be by His Father's side once again. Jesus ascended to prepare a place for us so that we can dwell with Him forever. Oh, what a great friend and advocate we have in Jesus!