Pride Comes Before the Fall (Luke 22:31-33, 54-62)

The Denial of Peter by Carl Bloch (1834-1890)

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death….”

Then seizing Jesus, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”

But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.

A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”

“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.

About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”And he went outside and wept bitterly. (New International Version)

A Lesson In Trust

One day I watched a lifeguard handle a group of kids for their first time in the pool. She went to each one and told them to put their ears in the water and their belly buttons in the air while she was holding them up. “When I count to three, you won’t feel my hands underneath you, but they’re there,” she said. 

Most of the kids frantically jerked their knees toward their chins and flailed their arms.

Even though nearly all people float when they assume a posture of rest, many believe they’ll sink, and don’t keep their posture for long. 

The disciples had a hard time trusting Jesus. They couldn’t seem to rest and relax because Jesus said and did things that they were not expecting him to say and do. 

Jesus preached the necessity of humility and loving one’s enemies; and he focused on ministry to the least persons around them. The disciples had not yet really bought into Christ’s kingdom agenda because they kept pulling their knees up by thinking Jesus was going to lead a rebellion against the Romans and put Israel back on the map – believing it would be just like the old days of Jewish domination of the land.

But Jesus is all about a different agenda: transformation of the inner person that leads to greater submission to God’s will so that the least persons among us will be reached.

Bad News Before Good News

Many already believe they know what God wants and how to follow Jesus, and so, aren’t much open to the Spirit. They acknowledge they’re sinners, yet don’t believe their sin is as bad as others. “O, sure, we sin, but not like murderers and child molesters. Our sins are ‘respectable’– a little resentment, a little prejudice, and a little gossip is even necessary to make sure people submit to the unwritten rules.”

We must first hear the bad news before we can hear the good news. Once we hear the bad news and accept it, we must receive God’s remedy for it. In order to do this, let’s compare and contrast two disciples: Peter and Judas.

Peter’s Denial, 17th Century Ethiopian

Peter and Judas

Peter and Judas shared a similar vision about seeing Israel restored to its previous glorious prominence. Judas was a Zealot, ready to take military action, if necessary; and Peter had no problem taking up the sword when it seemed the time was ripe for a political rebellion and takeover.

Even though Peter insisted he would never turn on Jesus, Jesus knew better. And, sure enough, Peter did a full-fledged moral belly flop in the pool of denial by disowning Jesus three times.

Judas actually caught on, quicker than Peter, that Jesus wasn’t going to lead a military coup. Judas had enough of wasting time on poor marginalized people; they weren’t going to make good soldiers. After Judas clearly saw that Jesus had no intention of forcing an earthly political kingdom, he actively sought an opportunity to betray him.

Neither Judas or Peter, nor any of the disciples wanted to take a step into the world of suffering as the means of reaching others and embracing the kingdom of God. They wanted glory not suffering. But Jesus chose the cup of suffering.

Both Judas and Peter realized after denying Jesus that they had made a terrible mistake. But that is where the similarities end. 

Judas realized what he had done, and so, went out and died by suicide. Rather than throw himself upon the mercy of God, Judas tried to atone for his own sin. He tried to fix something that could not be undone. It was a refusal of grace.

Peter responded by weeping bitterly, consistent with someone experiencing repentance. He realized he was poor in spirit and mourned over his sin. Peter later becomes a genuinely meek person with God’s righteousness taking root within him as he, in the book of Acts, demonstrated mercy and became a preacher of truth and grace.

The Need for Transformation

There cannot be systemic and structural renewal without personal transformation. And there cannot be personal transformation without a brutally honest assessment of myself. “I will never fall,” comes from a heart of pride that believes “I’m not so bad.”

Our sins and failures stem ultimately from a lack of trust. We keep pulling our knees up because we are too anxious to let the agenda of Jesus control our lives. 

Proud people don’t pray much because they are self-sufficient. But humble people pray a lot because they don’t want to fall into temptation. They pray because they discern they’re prone to being like a cockeye little dog who thinks he is a big dog. 

Even Jesus felt the need to watch and pray so that he could face his hour of pain and suffering on behalf of all mankind.

Following Either Close or From a Distance

Jesus was arrested and Peter followed him at a distance. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, this too, describes much of our own following of Jesus. We want to see how everything will shake-out before we commit. 

Christ is asking us to trust him, to make and keep promises before we even know what it all means. We need to acknowledge and admit that we have commitment-it is; we have made a mess of our lives by our stubbornness and holding on to our own ideas for how we think things ought to go.

If you find yourself in a mess, whether it is of your own making or of somebody else, the only thing that can handle it is a close following of grace. We are to approach God with brutal honesty, humility, and a willingness to rest and relax when he is telling you to. 

The Lord will give you his righteousness; you need not try to obtain it on your own. So, let the knees go down and stick the belly button out – rest in Jesus.

2 Peter 2:1-10a – Beware of Spiritual Predators

But there were also lying prophets among the people then, just as there will be lying religious teachers among you. They’ll smuggle in destructive divisions, pitting you against each other—biting the hand of the One who gave them a chance to have their lives back! They’ve put themselves on a fast downhill slide to destruction, but not before they recruit a crowd of mixed-up followers who can’t tell right from wrong.

They give the way of truth a bad name. They’re only out for themselves. They’ll say anything, anything, that sounds good to exploit you. They won’t, of course, get by with it. They’ll come to a bad end, for God has never just stood by and let that kind of thing go on.

God didn’t let the rebel angels off the hook but jailed them in hell till Judgment Day. Neither did he let the ancient ungodly world off. He wiped it out with a flood, rescuing only eight people—Noah, the sole voice of righteousness, was one of them.

God decreed destruction for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. A mound of ashes was all that was left—grim warning to anyone bent on an ungodly life. But that good man Lot, driven nearly out of his mind by the sexual filth and perversity, was rescued. Surrounded by moral rot day after day after day, that righteous man was in constant torment.

So, God knows how to rescue the godly from evil trials. And he knows how to hold the feet of the wicked to the fire until Judgment Day.

God is especially incensed against these “teachers” who live by lust, addicted to a filthy existence. They despise interference from true authority, preferring to indulge in self-rule. (The Message)

I wish everyone who claims the name of Christ was safe to talk to, interact with, and share life together. However, not everyone is. *Sigh*

Unfortunately, there exists spiritual predators who create chaos, keep others off-balance, and speak and act in ways that benefit their own consolidation of authority. They are like Sith Lords who come-off as well-meaning but always have a secret agenda for more power and control. *Sigh*

So-called teachers and leaders are not all trustworthy. Like mosquitoes drawn to warm blood, they seek to feast on the godly, taking advantage of their good nature – slowly, carefully, and insidiously draining the life out of them. All the while, the true believer doesn’t know what’s going on until it is too late. *Sigh*

Some are even more sinister. Like tarantulas, they immobilize their victims and slowly suck out their insides with the prey’s full awareness. Unable to scream or seek help, they lie in silent pain wishing for a miracle. *Sigh*

Yet, at the same time, none of those false teachers, emotional manipulators, and spiritual charlatans are putting anything over God. The Lord sees it all – and is incensed about it. The ungodly, masking as benevolent authorities, will not be able to carry-on with their hidden agenda of evil forever. Their time will run out. Judgment Day is coming.

The Lord knows how to deliver victims from their victimization. It rarely comes fast enough for us. Nevertheless, the destruction of all injustice is just around the corner. But how do we deal with all the unethical and immoral behavior now!?

We stay the course. Do not give-in to the temptation to play another’s Machiavellian game. The Christian life begins with humility, is sustained by a gentle spirit, embraces right ways of being with others, and typically results in trouble, even persecution. (Matthew 5:1-12)

We strive to always live into personal peace and be peacemakers. We understand that he who is within us is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

We choose to love and pray for our enemies, all the while being wise as serpents and gentle as doves. (Matthew 5:44, 10:16)

We embrace patience and persevere through each frustratingly mad situation, knowing that the Lord has promised to be with us, even until the very end of the age. (James 5:7-12; Matthew 28:20)

We give no one a reason to speak ill of us, blessing others and not cursing them. (Titus 3:2; James 4:11; Romans 12:14)

We trust God in all things, while being careful not to put a pearl necklace around a pig. (Proverbs 3:5-6; Matthew 7:6)

We keep encouraging and affirming others, even when we don’t get encouragement and affirmation ourselves. (Ephesians 4:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13)

We stick to a community of people with like-minded values and refuse to withdraw into isolation. (Galatians 6:2; Philippians 1:27-30)

We follow Christ, our true Teacher and Lord, one day at a time, one step at a time – focusing continually on his words and ways as our polestar through the morass of confusion and iniquity. (Matthew 16:24; John 8:12, 10:27, 12:26; 1 Peter 2:21)

Jesus knew the sobering truth of spiritual predators acting as godly when he said:

Not everyone who calls me their Lord will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only the ones who obey my Father in heaven will get in. On the day of judgment many will call me their Lord. They will say, “We preached in your name, and in your name we forced out demons and worked many miracles.” But I will tell them, “I will have nothing to do with you! Get out of my sight, you evil people!” (Matthew 7:21-23, CEV)

May you remain encouraged in faith, steadfast in hope, and forever in love with the Savior who has loved you and given himself to you.

Christ, light of light, brightness indescribable, the wisdom, power and glory of God, the Word made flesh: you overcame the forces of Satan, redeemed the world, then ascended again to the Father. Grant me, I pray, in this tarnished world, the shining of your splendor. Send your holy angels to defend me, to guard my going out and coming in, and to bring me safely to your presence, where you reign in the one holy and undivided Trinity, now and forever. Amen.

Luke 18:18-30 – A Rich Man’s Question

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (New International Version)

The sorts of questions we ask say a lot about us. We might classify all questions into genuine curiosity and self-justification. This includes the tone of voice and affect in which the question is asked.

The wealthy man in today’s Gospel lesson asked a question. Rather than his tone being one of truly seeking to know, and his affect reflecting an authentic desire to know, instead he had his nose held high with a sanctimonious sounding expression. The man was mostly after a divine sanction of his lifestyle and his spirituality.

It doesn’t take the Son of God to know that this guy was pompously trying to angle for some kudos from Jesus about his superior life. But Christ, rather than blowing off the rich man or just blasting him for being a peacock, answered his question and led the man to what is most important.

One way of looking at the interaction between the rich man and Jesus is that it was an intervention. The rich man was addicted to wealth and money, but he didn’t see it. And he wanted validation that his way of life was sanctioned by the Almighty. 

The rich man believed himself to be quite godly and spiritual – an upstanding citizen, a religious man, attentive to God’s law. It’s a sad story because he walked away un-transformed by his encounter with Jesus and refused to follow him. He didn’t see himself as hopeless and desperately needing to change. He held to his denial.

We are all addicted to sin.  If you want to push back on that statement and are thinking, “Well, I don’t have as much money as _____” or, “So-and-so really has a problem with this…” then you are practicing what we call, in terms of addiction, denial. 

Truth be told, all of us are in some sort of denial about how much we really trust in paychecks, bank accounts, investments, and a wealth of stuff. Even people who are truly in poverty can also be addicted to wealth by always thinking about money and wishing for it as the answer to their problems, as if wealth is the highest good to attain in life.

Jesus put the problem out there for us all to see by communicating to us that sin cannot be managed – rather, sin needs to die. 

The good news is that by honestly facing up to our own addiction to things we can find grace. Grace always has the last word. Grace trumps addiction to money, stuff, and anything else. 

God’s love and acceptance is not conditional. Both the wretched sinner and the pompous peacock will find Christ’s forgiveness through the cross. Jesus put sin to death. We are simply invited to bring it out in the open, confess it, and follow Jesus.

One question that delights the heart of God, and reflects a humble and penitent spirit from us is this: “Will you forgive me, Lord?”

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Luke 14:25-33 – The Cost of Being a Disciple

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. And turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (New International Version)

The goal of the Christian life is to be a disciple, and to do the work of discipleship. “Disciple” is another word for “follower.” We are to be faithful followers of Jesus; and the Church is to engage in the task of inviting others to join us along the way of following Jesus.

Jesus made it clear to the large crowds of people following him that the disciple’s life and work of discipleship (following Jesus) is to be of highest importance to us – it is why we exist as the Church. We are to discover what this kind of life entails, and we are to decide volitionally and intentionally to follow Jesus in every area of our lives with everything we have. 

Therefore, it is necessary to carefully consider the implications of Christ’s words to us and weigh the cost of following Jesus. 

Discipleship (following Jesus) requires obedience. Love of family must not stand in the way. Jesus said we are to “hate” family and even self. In our culture, we typically use the words “hate” and “love” as descriptions of our emotions or feelings. However, in Scripture, love and hate are primarily terms of allegiance or priority. 

In other words, Jesus is saying that our primary loyalty must clearly lie with following him over every earthly relationship. To follow Jesus means that we will not use family responsibilities to avoid obeying Christ, nor use other commitments to work or school as a reason to put our cross down.

The bottom line is this: In this life, with all its competing loyalties, the call of Jesus to discipleship not only takes precedence, but it also redefines all the other loyalties we have. 

The call of discipleship involves some detachment from other things in order to pursue following Jesus. All of life is to be infused with being a disciple and doing the work of discipleship. If we insist on making other commitments and loyalties as high a priority as following Jesus, we will find ourselves in a pickle. 

Several years ago, I took a trip with some other church leaders into the Canadian wilderness. We were so far out in the boonies that we needed special first aid training because if someone got hurt it would be hours before help could come. We canoed the lakes, carrying our backpacks and canoes between the lakes for an entire week.

Whatever we took with us, we had to carry. Some people thought they needed all kinds of clothes and other accessories. Not far into the week, they quickly began to leave things along the trail and learned, over time, to see that what they thought was important in their life wasn’t really important to what they were doing.

We must get back to basics and do what is essential; and what is of most importance is following Jesus. An un-salty disciple is worthless. Making a commitment to Christ without counting the cost is foolish.  Discipleship was never designed to be easy; it was intended to be a public display that Jesus is Savior and Lord in every area of my life. 

That means we will struggle with questions such as: 

  • How do I be a faithful follower of Jesus in my family? 
  • How do I be a disciple, and do the work of discipleship at work? 
  • How do I practice following Jesus in my neighborhood, and everywhere I go?

If we do not plan to follow Jesus at home and in the world, we won’t, because all kinds of competing loyalties will take over if we are not intentional about being disciples and making disciples. 

Everything and everyone is to take a back seat to Jesus, who is to be our primary loyalty.  Jesus used two examples to illustrate that we need to count the cost of discipleship. In the first, a builder plans and should ensure that he has enough money and materials to complete the entire structure. 

We must take stock to finish what we have started; if we started well with Christ, we need to do whatever it takes to finish well as a disciple of Jesus. What will we do when the going is difficult?

“Jesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven, but few who bear his cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share his feast, but few his fasting. All desire to rejoice with him, but few are willing to suffer for his sake. Many follow Jesus to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of his passion. Many admire his miracles, but few follow him in the humiliation of the cross.”

Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

We only know real joy whenever we give up pursuing happiness. In God’s upside-down kingdom, to live is to die, and to die is to live. Until we grasp this, we will be endlessly frustrated with our circumstances and other people.  

The second illustration from Jesus is of a king and war. The king makes a battle plan, and if he thinks he cannot defeat the opposing army, he wisely seeks a peace treaty. My friends, no one is going to oppose God and win, so it is best to make peace. 

Rather than trying to fit Jesus into our calendar, we are to let our calendar fill out around the center of following Jesus. If we insist we are too busy for prayer; do not have time for daily reading of the Scriptures; for loving one another; for making disciples (which requires much time and effort) then we have lost our way and must listen to this call of Jesus to be his disciple.

What then, shall we do?  

Imagine that in our heart is a big conference room: a big table, leather chairs, coffee, bottled water, and a whiteboard. A committee sits around the table in your heart. There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, and others.

The committee is arguing and debating and voting, constantly agitated and upset. Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision. We may tell ourselves we are this way because of so many responsibilities or too little abilities. Yet, the truth is that we’re just divided, unfocused, hesitant, and not free. 

One way to deal with the situation is to invite Jesus onto the committee. Give him a vote, too. But then he becomes just one more complication. A better way is to say to Jesus, “My life isn’t working. Please come in and fire my committee, every last one of them. I hand myself over to you. I am your responsibility now. Please run my whole life for me.” 

Being a disciple of Jesus is not just adding Jesus. It is also subtracting the idols that are in our hearts. Saying that we belong to Jesus means that he will come in with a whip, overturn tables, and throw out a bunch of people.

If you are ready for that, pray with me…

Almighty and everlasting God, from our recliners and comfortable chairs, we solve all the world’s problems. We take people to task for what they say and do, without lifting a finger to be a part of the solution. We are too often de-sensitized to your mercy and compassion because we are not involved in your dream for all people to be your disciples. 

Remove the scales from our eyes and lift the indifference from our hearts, so that we may see your vision – a vision of people following Jesus in the mission of being disciples and of making disciples. 

Transform our lives, so that we may accomplish your purpose. 

Anoint us with your Spirit that we might bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim release to the captive. 

Give us a new urgency to reach out to those whom no one else will touch, to accept the unacceptable, to embrace the enemy, to do justice and love mercy. 

Surround us with your love, fill us with your grace, and strengthen us for your service. Empower us to respond to the call of Jesus – to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.