My daily Bible reading took me to a passage this morning that I needed so much to read. I needed the reminder. There were two major polarizing events that occurred in the short passage I was reading in Matthew 26: The Last Supper, with Jesus demonstrating that His body and blood were about to save the world, but before that, the fact that someone was going to betray him.
What stands out to me is that every disciple sitting at the table seemed to realize the same thing: In some sense they all knew that though they would never want to, it was possible that they could betray Jesus. That’s why when Jesus told them at the Last Supper that one of them would betray him, they all asked the same question: “Is it I, Lord?”
I’m sitting here on a Monday morning feeling heart-heavy about many things. I’m a pastor. Anyone reading this who is a pastor knows that I need not say much more. Being a pastor and Monday mornings is something all pastors know well and sometimes dread. Today I’m especially heart-heavy because of social media. I know, that’s stupid. Though I only use social media to say good things and with the hope to encourage others, unfortunately, every now and then I see something that just gives a metaphorical kick to the teeth. Today was one of those days. The details don’t matter. I image you can guess, though, that it has something to do with feeling betrayed.
I once read, “Sometimes, the person you’d take a bullet for ends up being the one behind the gun.” In those cases the pain of betrayal seems worse but the good news is you and I can extend grace.
My knee-jerk reaction when someone either intentionally or unintentionally hurts me is to decide that their motives are purely evil. Have you ever felt that way? Though Peter and the rest of the Twelve didn’t betray Jesus the way Judas did, they all abandoned Him. In some sense they all knew what they were made of—that’s why they all questioned Jesus when He stated someone would betray him.They believed in some sense it could be them.
What helps me extend grace when I feel betrayed? When I remember that I am just as capable of hurting someone else as I’ve been hurt. I remember I need to follow the advice I’ve given so many others—some followed it, some didn’t—you and I need to make sure we do. Here it is:
“…if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13, ESV)
I can forgive as I have been forgiven, I can extend grace as it has been extended to me.
In short, we’re all made out of the same stuff. Sometimes, that which I’m ready to condemn others for doing I realize I can do just as easily, even unknowingly. This helps me have grace toward those who have betrayed me.
This is why Jesus said what he said to Peter. If you know the story, once Peter heard that it was Judas, and not him, who would betray Jesus—Peter got a little heady. This is when Peter found out that he wasn’t the betrayer, he was the denier. Peter learned that he really didn’t need to be doing the comparison game with Judas—he had his own issues. I do too.
It helps me to extend grace, sometimes in my heart, sometimes through my actions, because I know I am made out of same thing as the ones who’ve betrayed me.
On a side note, Jesus said something profound to Peter when he told him that he would deny Jesus. He said, “when you have returned strengthen your bothers.” This means that if I have been betrayed, or even have done the betraying, there’s hope because God can still do something with it.
Betrayed? It’s not over. Your life or ministry is not about to come crashing down even if it feels like it. I know what it’s like when it feels that way—but it’s not. God has been doing incredible things through betrayal as longs has humanity has been on earth.
This is probably the most important part. God is in the business of taking brokenness, ugliness, and evil and using it for His and our good. As bad as it was for Judas, God saved the world through his betrayal. Granted, I’m sure the rest of the disciples were grateful that it wasn’t them, but we must pause and say, “look what God has done through something someone meant to be so destructive.” It reminds me of Joseph’s words to his brothers at the end of the book of Genesis:
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20, ESV)
Jesus said some powerful words when he was on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” That’s something. Jesus was both forgiving and understanding. He understood that those who betrayed Him and crucified Him had no ability, no framework to their thinking, to ever understand what it was they were actually doing.
Those who have hurt you, they have no idea how you, or it, feels. They have no way of knowing. Most of them, not all of them, but most of them, if they knew would choose to not do it.
How do you keep your eyes on the forgiver? The Apostle Paul give us one clue here:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1, ESV)
Look to what Jesus has done—He has forgiven and extended grace. It’s difficult, especially on rainy Mondays, but, because of Christ’s example and God’s work you can extend grace in times of betrayal. In doing so, you will never be more like Christ.
The above photo is a somewhat typical rendering of what some hold to be the image of Jesus. Honestly, it’s the typical none realistic “white Jesus” that has, in my opinion, given many an inaccurate view of what Jesus was really like. I’m convinced Jesus looked nothing like this, as many others are too. (By the way, I’m not picking on the source of this picture by using it–but simply want to use it to get you thinking with me).
What is that point? It’s the unfortunate truth that by many who consider themselves to be Christians, Jesus, at times, is merely an idol. I know, that’s a huge accusation but let me take a few lines to break down what an idol is.
A good definition of an idol, especially for those who consider themselves Christians is this: anything that takes the place of God is my life for comfort, provision, security, hope, peace, or any other need that I may have. Christians should, and can, rely on God alone for these things. Anything we look to other than God for any need is simply an idol.
But, there’s a another important definition of idol that, unfortunately, is something that Jesus has become in many Christian’s lives today. I can describe an idol by how an idol is treated by it’s worshippers and thus reach another definition.
In all of the history of the idols of the world, idols are treated in a very distinct way by their worshippers. How are idols treated? The worshippers only come to them when they need something.
You see, there are all kinds of idols. Idols that are worshiped for the hope of raising healthy, plentiful crops. Idols that are worshiped in hopes the god will give rain instead of drought. Idols that are looked to for fertility so babies will come for those who want them. And, when these needs are plentiful worship is ascribed to the tiny, mute, inept gods.
In times when the seeds are sown, the cisterns run low, and the pregnancy hasn’t come the idol is prayed to, appeased, and given sacrifices in the hopes the god will respond and bless. But, when the crops are harvested in plenty, the cisterns are full and babies are born, worship to the corresponding idol ceases. The idol is placed on the shelf for safe keeping until another need arises. Idols are only as good as the need. Of course, idols really have no value at all.
Unfortunately, many people who claim to know Jesus and call themselves followers of Him will set Him on the shelf this Lord’s Day for something far less–practically treating Him as an idol. By the way, anything in comparison to Jesus is just that–far less.
Here’s the truth: Jesus is not an idol. Profound, right?
But, all across American Christianity this Sunday, Jesus the idol will be placed on the shelf. It will happen in most, if not all churches including the church I pastor just as it happened last weekend. All across America people will place Jesus to the side while they pursue something “less” and miss the fact that He’s called them to something more.
Every person who calls themselves a Christian has been called to worship, serve and give Jesus Christ the honor He is due this Sunday–on the Lord’s Day. Every person who calls themselves a Christian is called to this in the context of the local gathering of believers into which that believer has been placed. Every Christian is called to follow Jesus exclusively, not simply because of what He may provide but because of who He is. Every Christian is called to worship Jesus faithfully, in the local context of faith family (church) to which He’s called you; not when it’s convenient, not when you feel like it, and not when you have nothing else to do. Jesus is not an idol. Are you planning to treat Him like one?
Is Jesus an idol sitting on the shelf, or is He everlasting God who loves you and has called you to greater life in Him and only Him? If he’s the latter, He is worthy of the devotion of your worship. Not because or when it’s convenient. Not when you have nothing else to do, but because “in Him [is] life and the life [is] the light of men.” John 1:4
Search you heart. If Jesus is an idol–make Him God in your life. That’s who He is in truth.
I can still remember the day that I got through the fear. I remember it well. I was in the eighth grade and my parents took me and my brother to Disney World. The drive to get there from our home just outside of Washington DC seemed like it took forever, which is one of the things that helped me get over my fear. I told myself, “I’m not traveling all the way down to Disney World and not riding these awesome roller coasters everyone’s talking about, just because I’m afraid!”
So, there I was standing with my brother outside of the coaster I heard about the most: Space Mountain.
After the ride was over I realized a couple of things: one, I was still alive, and second, that was actually exhilarating! Like, I want to ride that again! I think we rode that crazy roller coaster eight times strait!
This opened the world of roller coasters to me. That summer when we went as a family to a theme park close to our home I was riding everything they had. And, I’ve never stopped. When my daughter was six years old, I had her on every adult ride she was tall enough to climb on; and she loved it too.
But, I realized something after years of riding the same rides that used to be so exciting to me. After riding a roller coaster 50 times, it loses much of it’s exhilaration. It’s just not as exciting anymore.
You know, so many people walk into churches and they’re looking for something. And they should be! Everyone who walks into a church is looking for what they’re looking for. What I mean is they know what kind of music they like, and what they don’t, what kind of church “feel” they like, and what they don’t, what kind of preaching they like…You get the point.
When they come into church and it’s what they like, it’s exhilarating. I often have conversations with folks about that. They’ll say, “the worship is fantastic,” “the sermons are just what I need” or “the people are so friendly I feel like I’m at home.” Just so you know, to be a pastor and hear these things is definitely a win!
Inevitably, however, after a while the church can become like my experience with roller coasters. What was once so exhilarating is now, because of familiarity, no longer that big of a deal. And, it becomes easy to drift. What happens? The same thing with so many Christians in America. They stay for a while at a church, it loses it’s exhilaration, then off to the next. So many American Christians are bouncing from church to church because the excitement and newness wears off after while.
What’s the answer?
1. Remember what church is really all about.
If you’re looking for a church you should find one that makes you glad you were there. There’s nothing worse than boring church. As a matter of fact, it’s a tragedy when worship of our great God and His Word are made boring—because there’s nothing boring about them!
But, church is not about being excited all the time. It’s actually about Jesus and following Him. If you didn’t know this, following Him is not always easy and He never promised it would be.
2. Remember that Jesus brought you to His church on purpose.
You are a part of the whole and that matters more than you may know. Paul uses the metaphor of a “body” for the local church. And a great metaphor it is. A body only functions correctly when all it’s parts are in place and healthy.
Paul Tripp explains it this way:
Autonomous Christianity never works, because our spiritual life was designed by God to be a community project.
It’s good that you loved what you saw and experienced when you first went to your church but make sure your love for Jesus and understanding why He calls the church together become important to you too. Then, you’ll become a part of the church’s mission:
Reach people with the Gospel—make disciples—change the world.
Let me tell you, there’s nothing more exhilarating than being a part of the church that way!
3. Church doesn’t exist for Christian consumption.
If Christians are always just looking to be exhilarated, the work of the church will actually never be done. And, that work is the only thing going on in this world that’s actually of eternal impact. That’s pretty important.
Thom Rainer states this very well in his book I Am A Church Member.
Rainer states that Jesus,
placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give, and, in some cases, to die for the sake of the Gospel.
In other words, Christ brought us together for so much more than a fleeting feeling of exhilaration.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in church, I’m sure it’s been for you like roller coasters became for me when I was a teenager—exhilarating at first but not so much with more familiarity. Just know, that for you to see the church as more than that, is incredibly important. It won’t always be so exhilarating, the sermon won’t always be exactly what you want to hear, and the song choice won’t always be the one you like the most.
But, the purpose and eternal impact of the church will never be less than Jesus gave His life for it to be. And that’s a huge calling, purpose and impact that needs to include you.
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It’s imperative for the believer to know what Jesus is actually intentionally doing in his or her life. Unfortunately, so many people who believe in Jesus for salvation don’t understand the work He intends to do. And it is much more than simply getting you and I to heaven.
So, what is it that Jesus intends for your life? In in a word: new.
I have met many people, whom after they become believers memorized 2 Corinthians 5:17. You may be able to quote that verse right off the top of your head now. Its a great verse.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
But what did Paul mean by “new.” This, I believe, is where many Christians miss what Jesus desires to do in a life that knows Him as Savior.
What is the opposite of new? Well, old, of course.
Did you know that Jesus didn’t make you new so that you, then, in Him might become old. Now, of course I’m not talking about age. We’re all going to grow old unless God is gracious enough to take us out of this world before we do. But, “old” in Christ is not found anywhere in the New Testament and is definitely not the goal. We’re always “new” in Him.
Jesus did not save us into a religion that becomes old.
He saved us into a life with him that is constantly becoming new. He didn’t call you into life with Him to be new once, in the past. He called you into life that is constantly being made new.
That’s a great goal to live!
Here’s why I say this. As Paul talks about what Christ, through His Word and Spirit, is doing in the Christian’s life, he speaks of it in a progressive manner.
You and I are a work in progress.
Earlier in the epistle of 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of Christ’s work in us as being “from one degree of glory to another” or “from glory into glory.” (2 Cor. 3:18)
This is a process that is to occur in us from the day we meet Christ by faith until the day we meet Him face to face. That being true, there should never be a time in a Christian’s life that he or she seeks to stay the same. Change is good. Change is necessary. Change is Christianity.
How do I know I’m growing and changing in Christ the way He wants me to?
In Christ, the future is always bright!
If you look to the past and see something you’d rather be today, you’re going in the wrong direction.
That includes personal Bible reading and prayer as well as a committed connection to the local church where disciples are made.
This is a goal that has a very large scope in meaning. How do I know I think like Jesus? I’m sure He has a lot on his mind! But, here’s a few goals that are worth while:
Did you know that Jesus has called you into a life of new? And you and I haven’t arrived yet. Not even close. But, you and I are His workmanship and He’s constantly changing us from the inside out, making us new. Or, at least, that is His supreme desire for you.