Sunday, December 04, 2005

Hardening: Pharaoh, Judas, and Peter

I had intended to post on today's sermon; God's active hardening of sinners, from Romans 9.17-18... but kerux beat me to it. His new feature is fantastic, and he couldn't have picked a better week to begin open discussions on his sermons. Instead of posting reflections on the sermon here as well as there, I thought I'd just post this article I wrote a couple of years ago for the school newspaper at my old Bible College, right before our graduation. I hope it helps you to love Christ more.

So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas,
the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel,
Satan entered into him.—John 13:26b-27a
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,
that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed
for you that your faith may not fail.—Luke 22:31-32a


So what will you do with your summer? Or even better, what will you do with the rest of your life? You have put in some time at Bible College and now what? I’ve heard variegated responses from the students and graduates with whom I’ve conversed. Some plan to go right into ministry opportunities, internships, or seminary training, while others of us are off to begin married lives, and find secular employment. We are all at different stages of life with different plans, and yet we are all determined to serve God wherever we go. United we form a veritable troop: A formidable front of young people off to minister to people and glorify God. One wonders if Judas was any different.

Many of us have spent two, three, or even four years here at Bible College training for the tests to come. Judas followed our Lord and God for three and half years: He walked with him, conversed with him, slept by his side and sang praises with him at night. There were seasons of Judas’ life when the Christ would set aside time to invest in his twelve closest followers—and Judas was there. He was part of our Lord’s “in crowd.”

When I picture Judas in my mind, too often I picture him as a kind of shady bloke with shifty eyes and an evil laugh. In my mental images, he is always set apart from the group, and segregated. The other eleven always wondered why he was there and how long till he fell.

This projection is patently untrue. Judas was just as much a follower of Christ (at least as far as the eye could see) as any of the other eleven. When Jesus suggested that one of them would be the betrayer (on the very night he was betrayed), each disciple to a man looked around to make sure he was not the suspect, and perhaps apprehensively asked: “Surely, not I?”

Within each of their hearts there was trepidation and a fear of being exposed. Each of them knew his own heart. Each knew good and well that within his own soul there was the possibility that he could be the one to come up short; he could be the one to blow it. After making the announcement that he would be betrayed by one of them, Christ said to Peter that Satan had demanded to have him, that he might sift him. Peter veiled his fear that he might be like the betrayer behind his impressive, if not brash, claim: “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” He was not ready to be exposed to the others as one who would betray his Lord.

That same night every single one of those disciples was exposed. Each one is portrayed in Scripture as the hypocrite that he was. Each one turned his back on Christ. Sure, Peter followed Christ that night, but it was only “at a distance,” and it only led to an even greater betrayal. Of all the betrayals explored in the gospels that night, Peter’s is the most poignant.

One might ask (and perhaps rightly): “What was the difference between Peter and Judas?” They both betrayed our Lord and Saviour when they should have stood strong at his side. Why should one fall away and the other be restored?

There is a good probability that not all of us here at school will hold firm to the faith once for all delivered to the saints; not all of us will persevere. Some of us will fall into grave sin—some of us will deny our Lord outright (though I do pray, even as I write that this might never be so). Though we now profess “Lord, I am ready to follow you to prison and to death,” in our deepest moments of reflection and meditation we realize the weakness of our faith and cry, “Surely Lord, not I?”

So what will be the determining factor? What is essential to keep us safe in the arms of our Saviour? It is the grace of our Saviour and that alone.

Not a single one of us will stand on our own strength. Not a single one of us will stand even by our prayers (for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, and whether by sorrow or exhaustion, we all fall asleep).

Like Peter and Judas, we stand or fall by the grace and the will of our Christ. Of Judas it was written, “He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” Thus, Jesus handed him the morsel. And Satan, having received the divine acquiescence necessary for him to act did all his will with whom he was given.

Satan, however, was not satisfied. He demanded more. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.” But the morsel was not given. Peter’s Saviour makes the difference between Peter and Judas absolutely clear: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” It is only the grace of Jesus that enables a human to persevere. It is only the grace of Jesus that saves us. It does not therefore depend on man, who wills or who runs, but on Christ.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Who will persevere? Who will break down and fall away? Who will give up? Who will “finish the race”? We must all fall into the arms of Christ, our loving God and Saviour. For in his will, and in his will alone, we find life and grace.

Again, “What is man that you are mindful of him / the son of man that you care for him?” We do not deserve this care of provision. No matter how much we have trained for serving Christ, no matter how much of the Bible we know, no matter how great we think we will be for the church of God, we must depend utterly on Christ and on Christ alone for persevering grace. “Pray that you do not fall into temptation.” Pray with all your heart. But remember always, that Christ alone holds your salvation. May he hold us all and preserve us in his love. For inasmuch as there is no hope outside of him, there is now no condemnation to fear for any who are in him.

Do not assume your preserving grace. Pray for it. Do not presume to be a follower of Christ except you see the fruits evident in your life. Pray for them. Do not presume to be a follower of Christ because you have “followed him” for three years (or 13 years!) at Bible College. Judas followed him too.

Update, 02/18/06: See this article at "the Christian Mind" for some thoughts on the upcoming publication of the Gospel of Judas.

1 comment:

Mike Exum said...

Thanks for promoting Jesus on the web. Many blessings.

I have some thoughts on Judas too. I am blogging on Judas as well.

...Names and causes often go together. In the South, for the last 140 years or so, the name Lee has been very popular. General Robert E. Lee was a great military leader. He led the confederate troops valiantly through the Civil War. His was a name and a cause that southerners have felt compelled to get behind for generations. One of my favorite college professors had the middle name Lee. He explained that he grew up in the South. His parents still honored the long dead hero and his cause by naming their son after him.

With these things in mind, I want to tell you a story about another great and valiant leader. He was a great soldier and freedom fighter. He was nicknamed “The Hammer.” His father had started a revolt against a most oppressive and cruel empire, which had been led by Alexander the Great. Alexander had conquered nearly the whole known world. Some time after he died, his successors, who now ruled over Judea, began enforcing new laws on the Jews. They prohibited all practice of the Jewish religion. They made the Jews use Greek money, speak the Greek language in the market place, and embrace various other invasive cultural changes.

One of the changes the evil empire enforced was to promote sporting events in which the contestants would compete nude. Such a development was utterly offensive to the modest Jewish mindset. However, many Jews began to see that resistance was futile. They saw that to reap any benefits from the situation meant, “If you can’t beat ‘em – join ‘em.” However, due to circumcision, when a Jew chose to compete nude he was very obviously marked as one separated. For a Jew trying to “fit in,” this simply would not do. Some of these Jews actually worked out a crude form of surgery to make themselves appear not to have been circumcised. This was a form of self-mutilation, but fitting in was that highly valued by some.

However, more traditional, or zealous, Jews viewed these eager-to-blend-in Jews as traitors. They wanted nothing to do with them at all. They saw these traitors as the downfall of all they held dear, in fact their entire heritage. They had turned their backs on God and brought judgment on His people. Incidentally, this is what is meant in the New Testament when someone is called a “sinner.” “Sinners” in Israel were practically traitors. These zealous Jews, therefore, set out to undermine all things Greek. The Greeks were invaders, and their culture was detestable.

The Greek’s, in turn, did not appreciate these stubborn Jews. So they attacked everything Jewish with the weight of an empire. They outlawed circumcision all together and killed anyone they caught performing it. They hung the dead bodies of circumcised babies on their mothers’ necks and killed the mothers too. With brutal cruelty, they did everything they could to cause fear of, and shame for, honoring God and His laws.

Think back with me for a moment to the motion picture Red Dawn. (If you have not seen it, I would not recommend it.) What ever might be said about the quality, at least the premise of that movie provides a stirring illustration. Recall how that the students at the small mountain village high school “somewhere in Colorado” witnessed the sudden and strange descent of invading paratroopers. Within minutes and hours tanks, helicopters, and heavy artillery rolled in and took over a substantial portion of the United States. Immediately, with brutal cruelty, the enemy invader began enforcing cultural changes. The first and foremost objective was to eliminate any vestige of freedom that Americans had ever prided themselves on. As resisters were killed, the pressure mounted to conform to the enemy desires. Heroically, though, a small band of the high school students ran to the hills, regrouped, and fought a successful, yet costly resistance. This is what it was like in Judea after Alexander the Great. The Hammer and his friends ran to the hills, regrouped, and threw a successful but costly revolt.

The Hammer headed a cause people could get behind. Oh sure, there were still traitors, but just when everything seemed utterly hopeless and the tanks and heavy artillery had rolled in, The Hammer proved to be a valiant and successful leader despite overwhelming odds. He was a legend in his own time and for generations afterward. And do you know what the Hammer’s real name was? Brace yourself; this is not going to have that hero ring to it….

The Hammer’s real name was Judas. Judas Maccabeus. That’s right Judas was a great hero. Judas saved his people from certain destruction. And, for several generations, in fact even today among Jews, Judas is still a hero and worthy to name one’s son after. And that is what brings us to the Judas we are already familiar with. Judas Iscariot....

Keep up the good work.

Jesus is Lord!