Monday, May 9, 2016

Denial is not Simply a River in Egypt

 I love where my kids are at right now.  They are truly fun.  They are right in that middle zone where they are out of diapers, potty trained, and independent enough to dress themselves and get their own breakfasts.  Yet, they are not quite at puberty, arguably the most trying time for kids and parents.  They are right in the middle, and I am enjoying it while it lasts.

 How enjoyable is it?  In the past month or so, both of my daughters have come up to me separately and said, “You are the best dad in the world.”  It really is a heart-melting moment.  But, do you know what I have done every time?  Folks may question my sanity and parenting style because of what I am going to say next, but I’m going to see how this plays out in the long run.  Each time my girls have said, “You are the best dad in the world,” I have replied, “Thank you sweetie.  I appreciate this and I am going to remember this because in about two or three years, you are probably going to think that I am the dumbest person in the world.”

 Every time I’ve said this, my girls look at me and say, “Daddy!  Why would you say that?”

 I respond, “Because in a few years, you are going to be a teenager, and most teenagers think their parents are dumb and don’t understand anything.”

 My girls have both said, at this point, “Daddy, I don’t ever want to say or think that.”

 I reply, “I hope not either.”  I have hope, but I’m not optimistic.  I remember my own teenage years all to well.  I’ve been around more than a few teenagers since then.  The odds are not in my favor.  Human nature is too powerful.  So I confronted my daughters with this prophecy.  They weren’t happy with it.

 You may wonder why I share this with you.  I share it because I think it is related to the events taking place in our Gospel lesson this morning as we progress through the 14th chapter of the book of Mark. 

 This text follows immediately after the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and as Jesus and his disciples depart the upper room, they do so by singing the hymn.  Now, if this is a Passover meal and they are following the oldest known sequence of this meal, then they were singing what is called the Hallel Psalms.  This would have ended with Psalm 118.  It is an intriguing thought to think that as Jesus left this final meal with his disciples, He would have had these words on his lips:

 The Lord is my strength and song; he has become my salvation.  Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!  The Lord’s right hand has lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”  I will not die but live and will proclaim what the Lord has done. 

 Think about that with the knowledge that Jesus is now entering into the final hours of leading up to his arrest and crucifixion.  “I will not die but live and will proclaim what the Lord has done.”  Ironic.  Tragic?  Definitely hopeful.

 When everyone reaches the Mount of Olives, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “You will all become skandalizein.”  Skandalizein is the Greek word that is translated will fall away, be offended, be made to stumble.  Mark Edwards writes in his commentary, “Skandalizein...does not mean that the disciples will willfully defect but that external factors will act upon them and cause them to do so...We do not plan on sinning, but neither do we hold the fort when we ought.”  This is an important point–one that we will come back to in a little while.  But first, we must consider this text more deeply, for Jesus backs up his words by citing Zechariah chapter 13.  “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”

 Let me read to you this quote in context from the Old Testament so that you might get more of an idea of what is going on.  Zechariah 13:7-9, 7“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is my associate,” says the Lord of hosts. Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. 8In the whole land, says the Lord, two-thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one-third shall be left alive. 9And I will put this third into the fire, refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, “They are my people”; and they will say, “The Lord is our God.”

 Now, let me point out that in this Old Testament passage, it is God Himself who is striking the shepherd.  It is God who is taking this action so that He may purify and refine His people.  It is necessary for the shepherd to be struck down.  Now, the historical situations of Zechariah and Jesus are not the same.  They are not the same at all.  So, Jesus is taking this passage and redefining it to help us, and the disciples understand.  Unfortunately, they will not understand at this point.  Not in the least.  They will not understand until after the cross and resurrection.  For the moment, they are flabbergasted that Jesus would suggest that God would strike Him and that they would scatter.

 Before we get to the disciples’ reaction, let me point out to you a little snippet that even the disciples missed.  They were reeling from what Jesus said, and I am quite convinced they missed hearing Jesus say, “28But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”  The disciples did not hear this and did not understand this because the notion of an individual resurrection had no thought in their minds.  Nowhere in Jewish literature or thought was there the idea of a resurrected Messiah.  They didn’t understand this.  They didn’t grasp this.  It was foreign, so they focused on what they did know: Jesus said they would all desert him; be scandalized by him; abandon him and be scattered.

 Jesus confronted them, and they didn’t like it.  Peter, being Peter is the first to speak up.  Peter, with his bravado and self-confidence and self-assurance stands against this prophecy.  Peter, the fisherman who had spent hours hauling in nets full of fish, steering boats, who probably had well defined biceps and six-pack abs.  Peter who believes he is tough enough to do anything.  “Lord, even if everyone else deserts you, I will not.”  Peter doesn’t exactly have a high view of his friends, does he?  Peter obviously thinks he’s better than the rest of the disciples here, doesn’t he?  Peter doesn’t like what Jesus said, and so he denies that he will abandon Jesus.

 But Jesus has none of it.  Jesus knows human nature too well.  Jesus knows what he will face.  Jesus knows what Peter will face.  Jesus knows the deep down fear and anxiety.  “Truly I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”

 “31But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.”  All of them said the same.  Brash.  Unflinching.  Self-confident and self-assured.  Arrogant.  Remember last week when I said that betraying a friend after eating a meal with them was considered the worst kind of treachery in the Middle East?  Jesus has essentially said that all of the disciples would do this.  Judas would be the betrayer, but all would fall away.  No one wanted to take part in such treachery.  No one wanted to fall away.  All wanted to stand.  All asserted that they would stand.  Confident in their strength, they wrote checks with their words that they would not be able to cover.  They sought to justify themselves before Jesus

 And how we love to do the same thing.  How we love to justify ourselves and revel in our own strength and self-confidence and self-assurance.  How we love to pat ourselves on the backs and tell ourselves that we are strong enough to stick by our choices.  How we vehemently promise to God, to our friends and family, and to ourselves that we will do things differently; be better; do more.

 • I can quit drinking anytime I want.
 • I won’t get angry with you anymore.
 • I won’t go to those websites anymore.
 • I will eat healthier.
 • I will exercise regularly.
 • I will go to church more often.
 • I will give more to charity.
 • I will spend more time with my kids.
 • I am in charge of my life, and I will do better.

 And it all sounds good until you don’t.  Until you fall right back into the same habits; same routines; same behaviors.  And when we are confronted?  When someone points out that our words do not match up with what we are doing?  What do we do?  Let me tell you what I do.  I am the king of excuses.  I am very good at blame displacement.  I can give you a million reasons why the circumstances around me have led me to say what I say and do what I do.  In the famous words of the German theologian, pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I am all too ready to “justify my sin instead of proclaim the justification of the sinner.”

 But Jesus doesn’t let us get away with that.  Jesus knows us too well.  He will confront us in our sin.  He will confront us with how he knows we will act.  Because He knows the end results.  We will see those results in due time.  We will see Peter’s denial.  We will hear the rooster crow.  We will see the disciples flee.  We will even hear about how one of them was caught by his clothes and wiggling free ran away naked and ashamed.

 And if we ever run into the real Jesus, we will find ourselves standing in front of Him naked and ashamed as well.  We will stand before Him and know that we have missed the mark.  We will deeply know our hypocrisy.  We will know how our self-confidence and arrogance led us to say things we should not have said and do things we should not have done.  We will know how we were never better than others despite a desperate want to be so.  We will know shame even though we have spent more than our fair share of time trying to avoid feeling shameful.  We will know how we turned our backs on Jesus and we will know that the right thing for Him to do is turn his back on us. 

 But, at that moment, when we know that He should turn His back upon us, we realize the significance of those words from Zechariah 13.  “I will strike the shepherd...”  The shepherd will be struck down.  The Good Shepherd will be struck down as He lays His life down for the sheep.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd will be struck down as He lays down His life for His disciples–for you.  For when you stand before Jesus, you will know beyond a doubt that you are not worthy to be in His presence.  You will know you are not worthy to be in God’s presence.  You are unholy.  You are broken, battered, torn.  You deserve the wrath of God–to have God turn His back upon you.  But the Good Shepherd intercedes.  He takes upon Himself your sin, your guilt, your shame.  He faces God’s anger and wrath in your place.  He has God turn God’s back against Him. 

 Standing in Jesus’ presence naked and ashamed waiting for Him to turn His back on us, He stretches out His arms and dies for us–in our place, pouring His life out for us in an act of wondrous love.  He clothes us with new garments of dazzling white as He says, “You are forgiven.  I have paid the price for your self-assurance; your self-confidence; your arrogance.  I have covered in action what you could not do yourself.  I lay down my life for you because I love you.”

 This is the Good News.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.”  God did not send Jesus to condemn you, but to save you.  And He will go before us to gather us together once again.  The sheep that are scattered will be drawn back to the Good Shepherd, and they will be vastly different. 

  At the end of the book of Mark, after the resurrection.  The same young man who ran away naked and ashamed is found in the tomb.  He is found fully clothed in a garment of pure white.  He unashamedly pronounces that Jesus has been raised from the dead.  This young man has been transformed by what Jesus has accomplished for him.  And this transformation happened to the rest of the disciples as well.  When they came in contact with the risen Lord, it changed them greatly.  Whereas they once deserted Jesus and ran from persecution, as they proclaimed the good news of His death, they later embraced persecution and even death.  They refused to run any longer.  Death, fear, anxiety no longer had power over them.  How is it that they were able to overcome these things which oftentimes still have power over us?  They didn’t trust in themselves to stand up to these things.  They didn’t trust in their own power and understanding.  They trusted in Jesus.  They trusted in what Jesus had done. They trusted in His love; in His mercy; in His grace.  They knew if they tried to have confidence in themselves, they would fail once again.  And so, they trusted in Jesus.  Their hearts rested in Jesus and His work.  And here is further good news for you and me.

 It happened to the disciples, and it can happen to us.  We too can know that type of transformation.  We too can face the challenges of life with much less fear and anxiety and worry.  But we have to stand being confronted by Jesus.  We have to stand knowing that we are broken.  We have to stand before Him and know that we have fallen short of His expectations.  We must know our weakness and failure, but we must also know Jesus’ deep love.  We must also know how much this God incarnate was willing to go through to show us how much we are loved and cherished.  You see, if you know you have failed but you also know you are deeply loved, your heart and life changes.  Arrogance, self-assuredness, self-confidence, and brashness are replaced by deep humility.  Fear, anxiety, and worry, are replaced by hope and trust that Jesus will see you through.  You brag less; love more; rest your confidence in Jesus instead of yourself; and seek as many opportunities as possible to worship the one who laid down His life for you.  When you realize the Good Shepherd was struck down for you and that He now seeks to gather you in, your life and heart is changed.  Rest in His grace, love, and mercy.  Amen.

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