September 21, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“The Lord thunders at the head of His army. His forces are beyond number. Mighty is the army that obeys His command. The day of the Lord is great. It is dread-filled. Who can endure it? ” (Joel 2.11)
“‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ Peter responded, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with You even to prison and to death.’ But Jesus replied, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.’” (Luke 22. 31-34)
And we know the bittersweet truth of Jesus’ words over Peter’s life from that moment on. In yesterday’s reflection on Joel’s prophetic utterance about “the day of the Lord,” we were challenged by the question “Who can endure it?” I offered the truth that those who are “in the Lord” shall endure the events of that season of life whether it is a day, a week, a month, a year, seven years, seven times seven years or a generation. Jesus taught the disciples, and thus He has taught us, “In this world there will be trouble, but fear not, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33) That promise from Jesus was spoken in the midst of preparing them for His departure for a season of life and His return at the end of that season. Matthew calls the “end of that season” the “close of the Age.” (Matthew 28.20) I have no doubt in my mind that the time Jesus was alluding to would be the eve of His return on “that day, that terrible and dread-filled day.” The age, in my reckoning, to which Jesus alluded, is the Age of the Church in which we are now living. It would seem that this age is terrible and dread-filled enough that we would not dare desire to imagine one that is worse. But, as bad as it is and as bad as it seems, for us today, there is one coming that will be worse. It will be worse for many and far worse for the many more who are not prepared for that day. We certainly know those kinds of seasons in our own lives where tragedy and death of some sort has overshadowed us. For Peter, it would be the vacuum left by his passionate declaration “I will never fall away. Let us go and die with Him” and then his threefold denial of even knowing Jesus much less be associated with Him. It was a chasm akin to the which Abraham proclaimed existed between where he was and where the rich man who taunted and ignored Lazarus the beggar was. In that story which Jesus told, Abraham declared that it was a chasm that could not be crossed. The rich man suffering in the fruit of the season of life he endured on earth in the midst of the fire which leaves an unquenchable thirst, then asked if Lazarus could go and speak to his family so they would not suffer the same fate. Abraham responded, “They did not believe when there was life, why would they believe one who came back from the dead?” That chasm exists in death and in life. It is uncrossable upon every effort save one. That effort is, of course, the one put forth by Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ of God and the peoples’ Messiah. Only He, because He suffered the anguish of the death of every generation, could reach those who were and are and will be lost with the truth that they can endure and find new hope, new life and authentic love as only comes from the Father. Jesus would offer it to Peter as well. But, Peter would not be able to receive it until he experienced life without it.
To be without Jesus in our very midst for a season is troubling. There are times when we feel that that is how we are living at times and seasons in our lives: the death of a loved one, the breaking up of a vital relationship, the loss of a job and its supporting income, an illness that debilitates and renders one incapable of caring for themself and there are others you may add to the list. Those are the ones I have experienced to be sure. They were desperate times. They were hard times. They were parched seasons of life which led me to consider the impossibility of getting from “here” to “there.” But, they were not unknown times to God. They were not times when God was unknown to us. They may have been times when we thought God was absent, turned a blind eye or had turned His back on us altogether as to forsake us and condemn us to the darkness of life which was wrapping itself tightly around us with every breath. But, it was not an unknown time nor an unrecognized time nor an unexperienced time. How many times did Jesus experience it Himself? He asked on numerous occasions “where is your faith?” He wept over the disciples and over Jerusalem and her people for the season of strife and their failure to comprehend the truth of God’s love. He even cried out from the cross on Golgotha’s hill “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” In the desperation of the moment of dying flesh and brain cells for the lack of blood and oxygen was Jesus daring perhaps to say “I can understand why you would turn Your back on all these unbelievers but why on Me? What have I done to deserve such a fate as this?” But, He had been prepared for a time and a season such as that. He experienced a parched season in the wilderness which was highlighted then by the taunt and test of Satan the Accuser. On a number of occasions He declared “How long must I be, or have I been, with you that you still don’t understand?” In the Garden of Gethsemane before Judas of Kerioth arrived with the hope of “proving” Jesus with a kiss, Jesus prayed in the anguish of the inevitable “Father, let this cup pass from Me” and then in sweet surrender “Not My will but Yours be done, Father.”
Yes, to be without Jesus in our lives for a season is troubling. To consider being without Jesus for eternity is worse. That was the season Simon Peter found himself in as he experienced the consequence of his three-fold denial. He watched from the shadows as Jesus was led into the inner court of the Temple to be taunted, tested and rejected by the respected leadership of Israel. He watched from the shadows of the Upper Room as Jesus was declared guilty of no crime but worthy of crucifixion to please the will of sinful men. He gazed upon the one he had pledged to die with as He carried His cross down the street and up the hill of Golgotha. The echo of the hammered spikes in and through the flesh of His Lord and Master, the jeers of the doubting crowd, the tears of the loving few and the ultimate cry of Jesus from the cross “It is finished, it is done” filled the dark corner where Peter sank in the agony of his despair to “never again.” And we may have experienced something like that in our own lives. We may have lived, or are now living, in a season of such hopeless that the chasm fixed between us is the same as that which existed between Lazarus and the Rich Man. But, that is not our reality by faith in Jesus as the Christ. God allowed Jesus to be “sifted.” That which was of the world was literally and figuratively stripped away. All that was left was the battered, shredded and pierced body of Jesus who held on to His faith in God with His very last breath. It would not be taken from Him. He would surrender it willingly to God. He had another choice of whom it could be surrendered to. He had denied it in the wilderness. He denied it in the failure of the disciples to understand. He denied it in the trial and tribulation of the Sanhedrin. He denied it before Pilate. And in the face of death where all that Satan had promised could have been taken in, He denied that choice and chose God. “Into Your Hands, I commend and surrender My Spirit.” Into no better hands than those of God is our spirit to be offered. Regardless of the “sifting” we experience in this world, and we must be “sifted” in this world, we know by our faith in Jesus as the Christ, the fruit of such a decision. That decision is to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and trust Him to provide what is needed.” It is such a decision, mighty ones of God, that will allow us to endure such times and seasons as this one we are in. And we know there is one far worse yet to come. But, because we accept the “sifting” as a means of God’s strengthening in our heart, mind, body and soul surrendered to God, as bad as it will get, the good that will come of it is immeasurable. Jesus said as much which Peter shared with Mark to write down for all to read, “Peter began to say to Him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed You.’ ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for My sake and for the gospel will fail to receive a hundredfold in the present age—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, along with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.’ ‘ (Mark 10.28-30)
Know this truth and allow this truth to set you free to experience, endure and overcome by faith that which our sight may well deceive us.
Father, the truth has been spoken about us, to us and over us in Jesus’ name. We pray that by Your Spirit alone we shall abide in this age and in the days yet to come. With us, it will seem impossible. With You, all is made possible for those who commend their spirit into Your hands. Receive us now, in Jesus’ name. AMEN.