THE MAN WHO DID NOT CARE
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 28, 2013
1 And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. 2 And Pilate asked him, Are you the King of the Jews? And he answered him, You have said so. 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you. 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed. 6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews? 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews? 13 And they cried out again, Crucify him. 14 And Pilate said to them, Why, what evil has he done? But they shouted all the more, Crucify him. 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
-- Mark 15:1-15, ESV
Who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ? Could anyone have stopped it? Did anyone really care?
The Old Testament prophets, particularly Isaiah, tell us that God Himself was responsible for the death of the Messiah (ref. Isaiah 53:10). Though God can do anything that pleases Him, it pleased Him to cause the crucifixion of His Son. He would never have stopped it, for His holiness demanded a sacrifice for sin and sinners. All of this is because of His supreme care.
The New Testament gives us a list of suspects. Annas, Caiaphas, and other members of the priestly and religious ruling class all conspired to have Jesus arrested and executed. They cared deeply about their own personal and political power and they were afraid that Jesus was raining on their parade. So, because they did not care enough about faith and following the Lord Jesus Christ, they gave a green light that never turned red to the killing of Jesus.
In the Gospels we learn that Jesus’ own followers played a hand in turning Him over by betraying and denying Him on His way to the death sentence. Judas’ suicide and Peter’s tearful remorse showed obvious emotions, but neither one turned back to try to stop Christ from going to the cross.
Our earliest Christian creeds, The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, seem to point the finger at one man -- Pontius Pilate. Pilate, along with everybody else, certainly bears responsibility. But Pilate, and nobody else, was the one man who could have stopped the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He did not. Because of all people, Pilate was the man who did not care.
Pilate did not care about God’s people.
Except for a few fleeting references by Luke and one mention by the Apostle Paul, Pilate does not appear on the stage of Holy Scripture until the very day of Jesus’ death. We know from the Bible and history that Pilate was the Roman Governor of Palestine, the region encompassing the southern half of Israel and the surrounding region. The Romans ruled their empire by giving limited autonomy to “subject territories” while placing an iron fist over them in the form of family nobility (like the Herod clan who governed Galilee) or political appointees (like Pontius Pilate who governed Judea).
Even though Pilate governed them for a decade, neither the Old Covenant people of Israel nor the fledgling New Covenant church meant anything to him. He did not care about them, to the point of disliking them. By the time he met Jesus, Pilate had a proven track record of this disdain and dislike, even to the point of previous executions (ref. Luke 13:1). Pilate just did not care about God’s people.
People historically and in modern times do not seem to care about God’s people. The Jews have suffered from antisemitism and persecution from their inception as God’s people until long after the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. The church of Jesus Christ has suffered mild to severe persecution for the entirety of our two-thousand year run. Most people in our society today look upon the church, God’s people, as entirely irrelevant, which may be the greatest insult of all. Most people, like Pilate, just do not care about God’s people.
If you are one of God’s people, however, God’s care more than makes up for the lack of care among the people. And, if you are one of the people that doesn’t care about God’s people, God cares and takes notice of that, too, so beware.
Pilate did not care about God’s Son.
On the morning of the crucifixion, people whom Pilate did not care about brought to him a man he would not care about, either. His name was Jesus of Nazareth. He had been convicted in a religious kangaroo court of blasphemy, which called for capital punishment in their law. But Rome reserved the right of capital punishment for itself, overruling local jurisdiction in this matter of life and death. The charge formulated by the Sanhedrin and brought before the Roman governor was sedition, rebellion, high treason, against one who claimed to be the ultimate king of the Jews. The Jews knew this would get Jesus killed. Pilate just did not care, at least not much.
At first Pilate mocked Jesus, asking sarcastically if He was indeed the king of the Jews. Jesus answered yes, knowing full well the consequences. Pilate gave Jesus an opportunity to speak and defend Himself. Jesus declined, knowing full well the consequences. Then Pilate, disliking the accusers more than the accused, tried mildly to set Jesus free. He tried the “Passover Pardon,” but the people chose a murderer named Barabbas instead of Jesus. He tried the “scourge,” a method of beating up someone until they were barely alive, as a sadistic but sympathetic means of providing enough punishment to satisfy the people and let Jesus go. But the people smelled blood and called for more. After three feeble swings, Pilate struck out and sold out Jesus to the will of the people calling for His death. Pilate “delivered Him to be crucified” because at the end of the day, he really did not care about God’s Son.
Though Mark does not care to mention it, Pilate tried to wash his hands, literally, of the condemnation and crucifixion of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. But as our great creeds teach us, Pilate was the trigger man and will forever bear the guilt of the killing and crucifixion of the Jewish Messiah, the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ. And you know who else will be held forever guilty? Not just unrepentant murders and adulterers and liars and thieves, but anyone and everyone who like Pontius Pilate is too mild or moderate or simply does not care about the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pilate did not care about God’s plan of salvation.
Pilate had no idea he was fulfilling prophecy. Pilate had no idea that Jesus was a voluntary prisoner, a lamb who willingly laid down His life for His sheep. Pilate had no idea that the greatest story in the world was unfolding right before his shifty eyes and guilty hands. Pilate had no idea that the greatest double imputation in human history, Christ’s righteousness for us and our sins upon Him, was about to take place. Pilate looked truth and love and grace and mercy and salvation right in the face. But, he did not care.
Pilate knew that the people handing Jesus over to him were envious and evil. Pilate knew that Jesus Christ Himself had done no wrong. But Pilate ultimately refused to do anything about it, to call the guilty out on the carpet, to exonerate the innocent, to apply justice or mercy. By not doing anything about it he hoped to escape culpability from it.
But let this be know about Pilate and all people. God will not only condemn to death those unrepentant and unbelieving people who persecuted His people, preached false gospels, and patently attacked the word of God. God will condemn just as justly those who ignore Him as well. Saying you didn’t know, or you didn’t care one way or the other, will not cut it with God on the day of judgment. And Pilate serves in time and eternity as a supreme example of the danger in just not caring about God.
Pilate did not care.
So, why should we care about him? Pilate was a little man with a little place in history. He enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame midway through his ten year tenure as Governor of Palestine. And where is he now? Pilate is in the only place you can go where even God will not care about you any more.
Do not be the man, the woman, the boy, the girl who does not care about Jesus. Do not let your family, friends, and loved ones live in apathy about the gospel of Jesus Christ, not without your prayers, your witness, and your invitation to meet with God and God’s people. Let us not let our world of eight billion people, most of whom do not care about Jesus, go on without our prayers and missionary support. Do not be among the ones who do not care about the Lord Jesus Christ.
EVEN THE MIGHTY CAN FALL
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 21, 2013
66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus. 68 But he denied it, saying, I neither know nor understand what you mean. And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, This man is one of them. 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean. 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, I do not know this man of whom you speak. 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times. And he broke down and wept.
-- Mark 14:66-72, ESV
One of the reasons I have such confidence in the Bible as a holy book is that it is such an honest book. It does not sugarcoat nor sweep under the rug the sins of even its greatest heroes. The very people God chose and used to propagate the faith sometimes turned their backs on Him in crucial and sinful situations.
Sarah and Abraham played pimp and john when trying to help God out with Hagar. Moses played God when drawing water out of the rock. David committed adultery and murder in one fell swoop. Solomon on several occasions let his passion for the sexual overshadow his penchant for the spiritual. Elijah tried to hide his pride in self-pity and learned he was not the only one, but one of thousands who were truly committed to God. The names don’t get any bigger in the Old Testament. Neither do the sins.
The same can be said of New Testament saints. Paul was a terrorist and a murderer, though it should be pointed out that it was before he was a believer. The beloved John and his brother, James, while walking with Jesus, once wanted to use miraculous powers to destroy the entire city of Samaria. And Simon Peter, well, he may have taken the cake when it comes to dishonoring the Lord. Just as Jesus forewarned on the night of His betrayal, arrest, and trial, somewhere between midnight and the morning, Simon Peter disowned and denied the Lord Jesus Christ, not once, not twice, but three times.
All four Gospels record Peter’s fall. Mark’s account, no doubt drawn from Peter’s own personal recollection, begins with a prelude in 14:54 then tells the tale in 14:66-72. Saint Peter, esteemed by many as the greatest New Testament saint, fell like Humpty Dumpty. Could God put him back together again?
A Classic Case of Backsliding
What we have here is a classic case of backsliding. In order to backslide, you have to slide back from standing for someone or something. Simon Peter had clearly taken his stand with and for Jesus. Peter was the first to confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Peter was the first and only one out of the boat when Jesus walked on the water. Peter was a member of Christ’s “inner circle” (Peter, James, and John) and along with John was one of only two willing to follow Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard during His trial. The latter proved to be an impetuous leap that led to his lapse, but give Peter credit for a curious courage nonetheless. Give Peter credit for having genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And realize that only those who have been credited with faith can draw a debit of backsliding.
A young man who confesses faith in Jesus as a lad in vacation Bible school, who then abandons the Lord and the church as a youth to live a life of selfish and sinful pleasure is not backslidden. He is lost. A young girl who comes to Jesus as a teenager and attends church through high school, only to drop out in college to live an unbelieving life and marry an unbeliever, then another, then another, is not backslidden. She is lost. The tragedy of the American church today is that we claim we have millions of backslidden members, when in fact we have millions of lost church members. You cannot slide back from where you never really stood.
However, those who have a genuine covenant relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ can cave to pressure and fall temporarily into a state of sin that denies their gospel profession, either in word or in deed. That’s what Abraham, Moses, David, John, and Peter have in common. They did not live lives of terrible sin, they temporarily abandoned their faith to commit terrible sin. And this, sadly and soberly, can happen to any of us who genuinely name the name of Christ.
Peter did not live a lifestyle of denying the Lord. Before and after this unfortunate incident, Peter was loud and proud in his proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He backslid, a sin for which there is grace for those with faith. Lest we cheapen grace, however, let us note the sinful causes and serious consequences of slip-sliding and backsliding away.
Heat from the Pressure Cooker of Life
We know that the explosives that terrorists used to kill innocent people in the bombing at the Boston Marathon were made out of pressure cookers. Pressure cookers are supposed to be good things, used to make good food. But the essence of sin is abusing an object God made for good and using it for evil purposes. God created the world for His glory and our good. But today our world has turned into a pressure cooker. It is meant for good, it still yields so much good, but when pressure is exerted or interpreted in the wrong way, evil breaks out and even Christians can be caught up in it.
In the Upper Room, Simon Peter boldly confessed Christ and bragged he would never deny Him, even unto death. However, when Peter stepped out of the Upper Room out into the “real” world, he was permeated by pressure. And, the pressure got to him. Jesus was not so popular in the courtyard of the religious rulers, nor in the marketplace of Roman ideology, nor in so many places then, and now. By association, His followers were and are not popular, either. So, in the pressure cooker of popular mores and opinion, Peter peeled and squealed that he didn’t even know Jesus.
It is not difficult to come to Christian worship and confess Christ, sing songs about Him, hear sermons, and take communion. There is no pressure in here. But out there, the pressure will come. The temptations will come. The opportunities will come to take your stand for the Lord Jesus Christ, or slide away from Him. What will we do? What did Simon Peter do, or not?
Peter’s case of backsliding came when Peter did not listen carefully enough to God’s word. Jesus had told them all plainly what He was going to to (get arrested, crucified, and resurrected), why He was doing it (to accomplish God’s plan of salvation), and where they should go until it was accomplished (get out of here and go to Galilee). And, although the precise theology and practicality of the Holy Spirit is complex at this part of the biblical narrative, I do not think Simon Peter was led by the Spirit to stay in Jerusalem, go into the courtyard, blow an opportunity to witness, and deny the Lord. Listening intently and regularly to God’s word and seeking to be led by God’s Spirit is the surest way to keep from backsliding away from the Lord.
But Simon Peter was dull of hearing and headstrong. So, he denied the Lord three times. So, he slid back in the worst possible way. Will God forgive him? Will God restore Him and use him again in gospel ministry? Will God love him and live with him forever? You know the answers to those questions. But do you also know the dire consequences and deadly results of a Christian’s backsliding into sin?
Terminal Consequences of Temporary Unbelief
By the time Mark’s Gospel was written, Simon Peter was well established as a great hero of the faith. And rightly so! We look at this part of his story as a warning concerning pressure and persecution, a humble confession of a great man, a sin washed away by the very blood Christ shed for Simon Peter and all who deny, yet believe, in Him. Backsliding is temporary and forgiveness is eternal. But are there any real time and space consequences for the sins of temporary unbelief?
Shame can remain with one through life. In many ways, the shame is worse than the sin. Jesus took care of the sin, but Peter still had to bear the shame. Imagine what it was like, as Luke’s account informs us, when Jesus turned around and stared right at Peter. We know “he broke down and wept.” I did some stupid and sinful things in my youth. Much worse than the sins and ensuing punishments was the look in my father’s eyes, a father who loved me and expected better things of me. Yes, faith forgives sins, but no sin of a faithful Christian is worth the shame of having to look into the Father’s eyes.
And, while true believers recover from backsliding, most unbelievers truly do not. I dare say there were dozens of people in that courtyard, maybe hundreds, who witnessed Peter’s bad witness. I dare say that most of them, if not all of them, went to Hell without salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. God is sovereign over all things, especially spiritual things, most notably the salvation of the elect. But we are responsible for the way we wield our God-given freedom of choice. And Christians are especially responsible for their witness for Christ, or lack thereof. What if Peter had spoken up for Jesus instead of against Him? What if Peter had been willing to be attacked or beaten because of His witness? If Peter, knowing where he is now, had it to do all over again, what would he do?
We were not there and we are not in Heaven, yet. We are here, now. Guard your heart. Immerse your mind with God’s word. Keep in step with the Holy Spirit. Keep in close communion with Christ and His church. Watch what you say and do. It does matter, for you, for others, for eternity.
Constant and Amazing Grace
John Newton, the famous saved slave trader, great pastor, author of great hymns including the greatest, “Amazing Grace,” had a familiar way of confessing Christ. He liked to say, “I am a great sinner, but Jesus Christ is a great Savior.” Newton knew what it was like to sin big. He also knew what it was like to experience the grace and forgiveness of the Lord. But even Newton never really got over what he had done to his many African captives, to their bodies, and to their souls.
Simon Peter was a champion, perhaps the champion for Jesus Christ. He denied Him three times, confessed his love for Him an equal three times after the resurrection, and after the ascension preached the gospel and planted churches for three decades. At his own execution by crucifixion, Peter requested an inverted cross, to gruesomely die upside down, because, I think, he was still haunted by what he had done in the courtyard that day.
Don’t backslide away from God, don’t sin in such a way it will scar your testimony and the conscience of watching unbelievers. I promise you on the authority of the word of God, it is just not worth it. Don’t do it, and don’t let the Father see you do it.
But if, and when, you do, remember what is constant and amazing in a true believer’s life. It is the grace of God, grace to keep you from backsliding, grace when you backslide. Remember that we are all great sinners and there is a great Savior. He loves even the backslider, He will forgive us and use us again, and if and when we backslide away, God will always welcome us home again.
A TRIAL ON TRIAL
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 14, 2013
53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. 56 For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. 57 And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 58 We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands. 59 Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you? 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? 62 And Jesus said, I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven. 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision? And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, Prophesy! And the guards received him with blows.
-- Mark 14:53-65, ESV
With the proliferation of cable and satellite television, there is literally a channel for everything. Cameras cover every aspect and every room of our lives, even those that used to be private. There used to be a day when certain places were off limits to the one-eyed monster, like the sanctity of the bedroom and the seriousness of the courtroom. It may have been the soap opera that opened the door to one; and, it must have been the O.J. Simpson trial that opened the door to the other.
In the old days, if you wanted to see the inside of an American courtroom, you had to view sketchy drawings from sketch artists. Or, you could watch fictional dramas such as Perry Mason or Matlock. Now we have dedicated channels to broadcast trials live, then news shows that put the trial on trial. Imagine if this type of technology had been available in Jesus’ day! It would have been a reality show to really care about. And of all the episodes in our Lord’s life that would have been subject to review, none would have revealed more crucial errors and dramatic revelations than the Jewish trial before Jesus’ crucifixion. Well, today we are going to put this trial on trial.
Court Convenes with a Reversal of Roles
Jesus’ Jewish trial was carried out in three parts, just like His Roman trial. After He was betrayed by Judas and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane by a Jerusalem militia, Jesus was first taken to a man named Annas, the pit boss of the priests, the past high priest, and father-in-law of the current high priest, Caiaphas. Secondly, He went before Caiaphas and the council consisting of seventy religious rulers known as the Sanhedrin. The third convening of this kangaroo court met early Friday morning to pass judgment on Jesus and send Him to the Roman governor with the sentence of death.
Mark does not mention the names and summarizes the trial’s various parts into one court brief. Our Lord Jesus Christ, being treated like a common criminal, is dragged into court and forced to sit before the standing high priest. Court convenes with a criminal reversal of rolls.
Jerry Seinfeld has a funny bit about pharmacies and pharmacists where he points out how they always stand above their clients. I don’t think this is true about every pharmacy. But it is true about every courtroom. The judge, the man or woman in charge, sits high above the accused and oversees the proceedings with authority, superiority, integrity, and righteous judgment. And in this makeshift courtroom in Mark, the cunning, corrupt high priest and religious rulers sit high and mighty in judgment over the Creator of heaven and earth, the Sovereign over Israel and the church, and the Lord and Savior of the world. It seems it should have been the other way around.
Mankind shows his sin and pride when it comes to this judgment of Jesus Christ. They judged Jesus as not worthy of being the Jewish Messiah. They judged Him as deceitful and dishonest. They judged Him as a failure and a fraud. So do most people, today. If you have not fallen down on your knees in real repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, if you are not following Him as the undisputed leader of your life, if you do not seek Him and His kingdom first, then you are sitting in judgment over Jesus, denying Him His rightful place as Lord.
Testimony is Given by Liars and the Truth
Lies and truth are like darkness and light. One overshadows the other depending upon the context, whether it be dusk or dawn. Jesus’ Jewish trial occurred mostly at night, which was most fitting. Lies and liars encircled and encompassed the Light that had come into the world for the salvation of man.
With seventy members on the council and a peck of priests in the area, many different men had arranged for many different false witnesses to give testimony against Jesus. Lies are hard to organize, though, and each one sounded a little bit different. Such is the nature of falsehood. It never quite comes into focus.
Jesus never made a statement like the one attributed to Him regarding the destruction and rebuilding of the Jewish Temple, although He did make a similar promise regarding His resurrection. This is also the nature of lying. It generally takes a half truth and twists it so many times until a stick of honesty turns into a pretzel of a lie. So it was for those who chose to tell tales about Jesus, and so it is for us when we choose to lie about anyone or anything. Eventually, the truth will show up.
When the high priest could not get a conviction due to the conflicting testimonies, he stood up and demanded the truth from the man who for three years had publicly preached and taught, helped and healed, lived and loved. “Are you the Christ?”
Then the Truth spoke up. “I Am.” You may not believe it, Jesus implied, but one day you will see it. And for those who sit in judgment over Jesus Christ, rather than relenting to His lordship over life, Judgment Day will be a day too late.
All must choose to live a lie or embrace the truth. This is true in school and work, friendship and marriage, politics and religion. You must choose to do whatever it takes to win, which will eventually include cheating and lying; or, you must look for and live within the narrow line of truth that leads to life abundant and eternal. The number of people who exercise bad judgment in this courtroom of life is unbelievable, for it consists of people who just do not believe in Jesus Christ.
The Bad Judgment is Unbelievable
At the end of the testimony of liars and the Truth, Jesus was not to be believed. Blasphemy, to this day a broad charge used by religious bullies, was the charge they stuck to Jesus in order to nail Him to the cross. Our Lord was condemned, rejected, disrespected, mocked, bullied, beaten, and put on the path to Golgotha. This bad judgment is unbelievable, for this bad judgment is unbelief.
We tend to think of unbelief as something relatively harmless. In many circles of modern society it is actually believed that unbelief is a virtue. Unbelief is a choice, a right, a way of life that is progressive, relevant, unfettered by the superstitions of the past, and unwilling to waste time dreaming of the afterlife. It is about me and it is about now, so says unbelief.
We seldom think of unbelief as blasphemy, the false charge that led to Christ’s conviction. Blasphemy means to speak a word against. They said Jesus spoke a word against God when He claimed, rightfully, to be equal with and to be God.
But the real blasphemy, the real sin worthy of death, is the sin of unbelief. It speaks a word, a lifetime of words, against God in Christ. It speaks of sin against God, selfishness against the will of God, sarcasm against the word of God, and serious attacks upon God, like the false trial, the false charges, and the very real crucifixion and resurrection.
And if you don’t believe, truly believe from the heart, really believe unto a life lived under the lordship of Jesus Christ, then you will not sit in judgment upon Jesus one day. He will sit in judgment upon you. And your fate will be the same as His, only worse, and permanent.
Let us put this trial on trial. Moreover, let us put ourselves on trial and see what we have done with the Lord Jesus Christ. Are we high priests of our own lives? Are we idle talkers whose tales don’t match? Are we the accusers and blasphemers? Or, are do we confess the Truth, and have the Life, where Jesus is the judge and Lord of our lives?
FAILING OR FOLLOWING JESUS
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 7, 2013
27 And Jesus said to them, You will all fall away, for it is written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered. 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee. 29 Peter said to him, Even though they all fall away, I will not. 30 And Jesus said to him, Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times. 31 But he said emphatically, If I must die with you, I will not deny you. And they all said the same. 32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, Sit here while I pray. 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch. 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will. 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand. 43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard. 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, Rabbi! And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled. 50 And they all left him and fled. 51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
-- Mark 14:27-52, ESV
God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility play out on every page of Scripture. God is ultimately in control of all things, and works all things together for the good of His chosen ones (ref. Romans 8:28, etc.). Yet men and women are free and responsible moral agents before God, and we must strive to do what is right, just, and faithful. It seems that God always handles His sovereignty with perfection and grace. However, we all too often fail in keeping our responsibilities before Him.
These truths were never more evident than when our Lord Jesus Christ made His way to the cross. Of course, this plan of redemption was ordained by God before the creation of the world (ref. Acts 2:23; Ephesians 1:3-14; Revelation 13:8). But as the hour approached for Jesus’ death, colossal failures on the part of His followers played a key role in Christ’s arrest and crucifixion. See here the four ways to fail Jesus, and the better way for followers of the Lord.
Failure Number One: Boasting (vs. 27-31)
When it came to keeping Jesus from the cross, Simon Peter had already boasted one time too many (ref. Mark 8:31-33). Here, the rock rolled his foot into his mouth once again. Jesus told them, honestly, that they would all abandon Him at His arrest. Peter told Jesus, arrogantly, that they would not. We will follow up on Peter’s particular failure later (ref. vs. 66-72), but for now we want to point out a general failure on Peter’s and the disciples’ part.
What do you call it when you think you know more than God? What do you call it when you think you have a better plan for your life than God does? What do you call it when you are one step away from taking a big step away from God? I suppose you could call it a lot of things. But for now I want to warn you against the failure of boasting, boasting in your self-sufficiency rather than the plan and providence of God.
Never brag about what you’ve done or what you plan to do for God. It is much better and wiser to brag on what God has done for you and will do for you in Christ. Pastors are the world’s worst at bragging on themselves, and we call it preaching. I’ve heard parishioners do it, too, and call it a testimony. The Apostle Paul teaches us to never boast in anything save the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ (ref. Galatians 6:14), and that’s called witnessing. The Apostle James tells us to never boast about what we plan to do, only seek to carry out the Lord’s plans (ref. James 4:13-17), and that’s called following. Boasting is a sure way to fail when you are trying to to be a a good witness and a fully devoted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Failure Number Two: Prayerlessness (vs. 32-42)
Boasting is a negative sign of self-sufficiency. So is failing to pray. Our Lord set forth a vigorous example of the power of prayer in a follower’s life, for in Jesus’ earthly life and ministry He was steadfastly praying and following the Father’s will. The Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane is probably the most powerful example of how prayer keeps us from failing and falling away from the Father’s will in our lives. Prayer promotes reliance on God’s Spirit, instead of trusting in our own strength. And prayer is something Jesus invited Peter, James, and John to do in this text.
And, they failed. Because they failed to pray, the failed to recognize Judas as the betrayer, failed to use non-violence as the way to defend the Lord, and failed to stand firm the the face of the adversity of Jesus’ arrest. Failing to pray is a failure in and of itself, and often leads to further failures down the road.
Going back to Christ’s supreme example, prayer is a lifestyle that leads to specific moments of communication with God -- not at God, nor merely from God, but with God. The Son verbally spoke to the Father, and the Father spiritually communicated to the Son. The Son expressed honest feelings and personal preferences, and the Father showed Him the way to go. The Son, like all children of God, had a will or desire about the way things ought to be, but His will was lost in the Fathers will at the end of the prayer. Prayer does not change our immutable God, but prayer changes our will and conforms our ways to God’s will. So, a failure to pray is a failure to do God’s will, in more ways than one.
Failure Number Three: Hypocrisy (vs. 43-46)
This third failure is dark and different. Of the four I find in this whole passage, it is the only one that only an unbeliever can make. Usually, there is no remedy or repentance for this failure. It is the failure of hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy is literally acting out a part, of pretending to be someone you are not, and being fully aware you are trying to fool others, sometimes even God. Judas pretended to be a follower of Jesus. He feigned affection and respect by calling Him, “Rabbi.” He was thought to be a leader of the fledging band of New Covenant church members. But He was the one chiefly responsible, humanly speaking, for the betrayal, arrest, brutalization, and crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. And wherever or whatever Hell is, Judas is in the worst part, along with all the other hypocrites.
Of all the failures Jesus encountered in His public ministry, the only one He was particularly hard on was hypocrisy. He freely forgave an adulterous woman. He freely forgave a murderer and thief on the cross. He freely forgave almost all manner of sins and sinners, but He was hard and harsh on the religious hypocrites of His day.
Believers can be hypocritical at times, and nothing grieves the Holy Spirit more. Therefore, we should strive not to fall into temporary failures acting rather that being Christian. But believers can’t live constantly as hypocrites. Hypocrisy is the biggest, most unbelieving, most devastating failure of them all.
Failure Number Four: Cowardice (vs. 47-52)
There is one more failure that even followers fall into, and we do it all the time. As a matter of fact, every time we fail to follow the Lordship of Jesus Christ in witnessing, giving, loving, or any other thing the Lord has shown us to do, we commit this failure. It is the cold failure of cowardice.
Most sins we do by commission. Cowardice is the sin of omission. Cowardice is running away from the Lord, the Lord’s will, or the Lord’s task at hand. It is not doing what we are supposed to do as believers and followers of Jesus Christ.
At the arrest of Jesus what did Jesus’ follower do? They just ran. Even a young follower, who many believe was the author of this Gospel, Mark, ran so hard and fast away from Jesus that he left his very clothing behind. Yes, Mark is not only the first to write one of the four Gospels, he is also the father of the infamous fad of streaking. I think Ray Stevens has a song about that, too.
I don’t mean to make light of cowardice. It is too common and too costly. Remember, God is sovereign and all things happen according to His great plan and timing. But we are responsible before Him. If someone perishes because we are too cowardly to witness to them or invite them to Christian worship, we are responsible. If the church cannot complete a task because we are too cowardly to give the resources God has given to us, we are responsible. If someone is hungry and we do not feed them, if someone is naked and we do not cloth them, if someone is in harm’s way in any way and we do not stand to defend them, we are responsible. Let us pledge as one to never run away from the responsibilities God has given to His church! And, let us find the ways to avoid failure in following Jesus Christ.
Forgiveness and Faithfully Following Jesus
What can wash away our sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can keep us from falling into failure? Nothing but being forgiveness and being a fully devoted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Judas did not recover from the failures found in this text. Simon Peter did, as did James and John, and the other disciples, even Mark. What did they believe in that Judas did not?
What did they find that Judas did not? They believed they could find forgiveness from God by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And forgiven people are not failures, for they become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus did not boast. Jesus spent time in prayer. Jesus was the Truth. Jesus was no coward. Other examples abound. Paul, a man pedigreed beyond degree, never boasted in anything except the cross of Jesus Christ. Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John and an early church father, was nicknamed “Old Camel Knees” because of his penchant for prayer. Nathaniel Bartholomew was the anti-Judas Iscariot, with no guile or hypocrisy in his born again bones. And the beloved Apostle John, showed courage by gaining entry for himself and Peter into the courtyard of Jesus’ trial, by positioning himself at the foot of the cross at Jesus’ death, and by carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth all throughout his painful, persecuted life.
This is forgiveness and faith in action. This is fully and faithfully following the Lord Jesus Christ. This is Christianity filled with humility, dependency, sincerity, and courage. This is the remedy for failure. So don’t fail, follow, for it will inspire others to follow the Lord, too.
BELIEVING DOUBTING THOMAS
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 31, 2013
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, We have seen the Lord. But he said to them, Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe. 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you. 27 Then he said to Thomas, Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. 28 Thomas answered him, My Lord and my God! 29 Jesus said to him, Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
-- John 20:24-29, ESV
Many churches celebrate the first Sunday after Easter as “St. Thomas Sunday.” Today we are going to bask in the light that God gave this outstanding disciple named Thomas. We know him best as “Doubting” Thomas. But at the end of the day, he was better known as “Believing” Thomas. I hope at the end of this day you will believe Thomas, too.
Thomas, a silent member of “the twelve” in the synoptic Gospels (ref. Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15), is mentioned a little more thoroughly in the Gospel of John (ref. 11:16, 14:5, 20:24-29, 21:2). On the one week anniversary of Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas takes center stage. Here is how God’s word identifies him. Watch closely, for you just might see a little of yourself in this picture, too.
Thomas the Pessimist
Maybe you’ve heard about the pessimist that went skydiving. His friends were supposed to pick him up at a designated spot. He jumped, thinking his parachute probably wouldn’t open. It didn’t. With negative expectations, he pulled his emergency chute. It failed. Finally he said to himself, “I’ll bet my friends won’t be there to pick me up either!”
Thomas had a natural-born negative attitude. He may have developed it from birth, since his brother got a real name while he apparently did not. His parents and other people just called him “the twin” (Thomas means “twin” in Hebrew; Didymus means “twin” in Aramaic). A feeling of inferiority often develops into deep pessimism. When other people don’t expect much out of you, you tend to not expect much from yourself.
Perhaps this explains why Thomas was absent on the first Resurrection Sunday (ref. 20:1-23). Jesus had told them all, including Thomas, what was going to happen (ref. Matthew 12:40, 16:21, 17:23, 20:19; Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34; Luke 9:22, 18:33; John 2:19). But Thomas was too pessimistic to even show up that first Sunday and give the Lord a chance.
One of the things that has always bothered me as a person and a pastor is the fact that on most Sundays in most churches most of the members do not even show up. Now I certainly excuse those who are bound by age and illness to their homes, those whose vocational calling from God require them to work some Sundays, and those who travel and visit another church at their destination. But that’s not why most people neglect public worship on Sunday. They are pessimistic. They don’t think God has anything important to say to them. So they sleep or play or watch television instead of assembling themselves with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day (ref. Hebrews 10:25). You may call it indifference, arrogance, even unbelief. But today we’ll call it pessimism.
Thomas did not show up that first Sunday, but Jesus did. I think He shows up every Sunday when His name is praised, His gospel is preached, and His people pray and worship. I think He shows up in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I think when the Lord’s people gather for worship on the Lord’s Day, the Lord speaks. He can speak a word to you that can change your life for the better forever. But if you are pessimistic, if you are not present, you are going to miss what He has to say. And He may, or He may not, give you another chance. Thankfully for Thomas, another Sunday was just a week away.
Thomas the Doubter
As that second Sunday began, Thomas the pessimist was also Thomas the doubter. He actually had a track record for questioning Jesus.
When Jesus and His disciple arose from Galilee to go to Jerusalem to raise Lazarus from the dead, Thomas doubted. Rather than delivering Lazarus from the dead, Thomas thought they would all join him (ref. John 11:16). When Jesus revealed to them in the upper room where He was going and how they could follow, Thomas spoke up and said He did not know what Jesus was talking about and did not know the way (ref. John 14:5).
Then, when Christ arose from the dead on Easter morning, he heard about it from those who were witnesses. Thomas’ typical response: “Unless I see ... I will not believe.” His comments do display a certain honesty and boldness, but they also reveal a built-in negativity and doubt. He was “Doubting Thomas.” But, he would be transformed.
Most of you know the story of John Wesley, the great leader of the Methodist Church. In his beginnings, he preached a gospel he personally doubted. After returning to England from Georgia, he determined to quit altogether. That’s when his Moravian friend, Peter Boehler, told him, “Preach faith until you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”
Unfortunately, people let the doubts get the best of them every day. Thomas thought, “If Jesus was God, how could he die?” So on that first Sunday, he quit. Other people think, “If God is good, how could he let my loved one die, how could He allow bad things to happen, how come He never gives me what I ask for?” So they quit coming to worship, quit searching the Scriptures, and quit praying to God. Being a doubter can make you a quitter.
So if you are a doubter, like Thomas, let me tell you something and let me ask you to do something. Christianity rarely offers a quick fix (like the televangelists try to tell you). Sometimes coming to genuine, saving faith can take a long time. Sometime you have to wade through a slough of doubt. But please, don’t quit. Come to worship, read the Bible, pray, keep at it. Faith is found in such ways.
For Thomas it took more than a week, I assure you. He had been steeped in Judaism, but did not believe. He had walked and talked with Jesus for over three years, but did not believe. Finally, after many years of pessimism and doubting, Jesus came to him and he became “Believing Thomas.”
Thomas the Believer
What brought Thomas to true faith?
It was not himself, for like all of us he was a born pessimistic, doubting, spiritually dead unbeliever. He was incapable of saving himself.
It was not his friends, although they did play a role. When Thomas missed that first Sunday, I’m sure they got in touch with him and encouraged him not to miss the next Sunday. They witnessed to him by telling him what they had experienced with Christ. At least Thomas came to check it out.
Who brought Thomas to true faith? The same person who brought the other disciples to faith. The same person that can bring you and me to true repentance and faith -- the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus was patient with Thomas, just like He is with all of us. Jesus did not bang Thomas over the head because of his doubts and fears, He never does. Jesus came to Thomas, in flesh and bone, as the Word of God in the Spirit of God. Jesus Christ offered him “peace” (ref. Romans 5:1) and “proof.” When he got one, I don’t think he needed the other.
We have no record that Thomas actually touched Jesus’ hands and side. We only have one of the greatest confessions of true faith ever recorded: “My Lord and My God!” Jesus Christ is Lord because Jesus Christ is God.
Thomas believed, and was transformed from a pessimistic, doubting sinner into a beloved, believing saint. Peter believed, and was transformed from stumbling block into a rock. John believed, and was transformed from son of anger to an Apostle of Love. Paul believed, and was transformed from chief persecutor to champion preacher.
You can I cannot see exactly what they saw, but we can believe what they believed. If we believe, we will be blessed. There’s something great about that name: Jesus, Master, Savior, Lord, God. There’s something great that happens to you when you call Him, “My Lord and my God.”
Repent of pessimism. Retire your doubts. Believe Thomas and be a believer yourself.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org