Today’s Scripture – June 11, 2018

Luke 22:55-62 (NIV) But when they 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.

Peter had faithfully followed Jesus all the way into the courtyard of the high priest’s house. He had fled the scene of Jesus’ arrest after he had cut off Malchus’ ear, and had hidden in the shadows, trailing the mob that had come to arrest Jesus. When they had come to the high priest’s house, the leaders went in with Jesus in tow, and many of the others had simply waited in the courtyard. It was very early spring, and the night air was increasingly cool. So someone lit a charcoal fire in the middle of the courtyard.

Peter joined the group around the fire. He figured that, at that point, his personal danger was over. They had Jesus, and it looked like that was all that they cared about. Besides, no one would know who he was in the flickering firelight.

But as Peter sat there, lost in thought, and listening to the proceedings going on just through the open windows, he felt eyes gazing at him. When he lifted his head, he saw one of the servant girls staring intently at him. Suddenly she nodded her head slightly, and pointing an accusing finger squarely at Peter, declared, “This man was with him.”

All eyes snapped over to Peter, who looked around, his heart suddenly filled with indescribable panic. His mind was racing. What if they told the high priest, “Hey, one of His followers was just grabbed in the courtyard.” There is no way that he could see that scenario ending well. Before He could think, he heard himself say, “Woman, I don’t know Him.”

The conversation around the fire turned to the man inside the house. They could all hear the shouted questions and the silences between, whether it was Jesus giving an answer in His typical calm, quiet voice, or Him freezing them out with silence; no one in the courtyard could tell for sure. The people were wondering aloud what kind of man this Jesus was, and suddenly one of the men nearby pointed a finger at Peter, and said, “Well, he’s one of His followers!” Again, all eyes flashed over to Peter. The second denial flowed easier from his lips than the first had: “Man, I am not.”

The early morning wore on, and the crowd huddled closer to the fire. Peter engaged in some idle talk with some of the people nearby, his eyes, and his heart, occasionally drifting over to the window, where he could catch glimpses of Jesus standing before the high priest, His gaze fixed firmly on the floor.

Suddenly there came the sound of slaps and grunts, as the guards nearby began beating Jesus. It was then that a man nearby looked at Peter and said, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” His Galilean accent, with the clipped vowels had given him away! More sounds of abuse came from the window, as Peter yelled out, a little louder and more vehemently than he had intended, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Just as the words left his lips, he heard, they all heard, the sound of a rooster crowing nearby, signaling the first, nearly indiscernable, shades of light peeking over the Mount of Olives to the east. Peter froze. Jesus’ words flashed back into his mind: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” Peter didn’t even have to count. He knew that, despite his earlier protestations that he would be willing to die alongside Jesus, he had indeed denied knowing Jesus exactly three times.

Guiltily, Peter’s eyes flicked over to the window. To his horror and dismay, Jesus, clearly framed in the opening, turned and stared straight at Peter, His eyes gazing with pity out of a bruised and bleeding face. Peter felt something crash in his chest, and his sight dimmed as his eyes flooded with tears of regret and self-loathing. And he stood and ran out of the gate, into the fading night.

Father, we are all so cock-sure of our faithfulness to You, no matter what. But if we try to rely on our own strength to even stand firm for You, we are doomed to disappointment and failure, just like Peter. We need a new heart, a new Spirit moving us from within, so that we can stand firm for You when the time of testing comes – and it will come sooner or later. That was what all of the disciples learned that night, and what they finally received just a few weeks later, on the day of Pentecost. From that moment on, they were as bold as lions, and didn’t back down, even at the cost of their own lives. Lord, fill us with Your Spirit, so that we can be bold as well, bold in our witness, bold in our testimony, and bold in our actions for Your kingdom. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 10, 2018

Luke 22:52-54 (NIV) Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour–when darkness reigns.”
Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance.

The brief skirmish at the campsite in the Garden of Gethsemane had ended abruptly with Jesus’ shout of, “No more of this!” In the silence that followed, Jesus calmly walked the short distance to Malchus and healed his ear that Simon Peter had maimed with his sword. Now, into the astonished silence that followed that miracle, Jesus spoke directly to those who had come to arrest Him.

Jesus accurately called out the leaders of the people, the chief priests and elders, as well as the members of the temple guard who had come to capture Him in the middle of the night, far out of the public eye. This was not the act of a good, upright and noble group of people. This sneaking about and plotting to take someone down was not an honorable way of doing things. Every day for the last five days Jesus had been teaching in the temple courts. Every day they had sent representatives to question Him, accuse Him, and try to trap Him in His words. But they had not lay a hand on Him to arrest Him where everyone could see.

Jesus accurately pointed out that those who connive in the dark are serving the dominion of darkness, the devil, the kingdom of this world rather than the kingdom of light. Those who are willing to lie to accomplish their work are serving the father of lies, not the one who is Truth. Those who act dishonestly under a mask of righteousness are hypocrites, who are acting in opposition to God Himself.

When Jesus had finished speaking and fell silent, those who had come to arrest Him regained their composure and surged forward to arrest Him, and He allowed them to do it. He allowed them to tie Him up (John 18:12), and to lead Him back into Jerusalem, to the house of the high priest where the members of the Sanhedrin were already gathered. This disicples, seeing that Jesus was not going to put up a fight, ran a short distance away into the dark recesses of the garden, from which they watched as Jesus was led off into the darkness. Only Peter and John (John 18:15-16) followed the group, staying far enough back that the light from the torches couldn’t reach them.

Father, it is clear that it is not only what we do, but how we do it that reveals our motives and our hearts. If these men had legitimate legal issues with Jesus, they should have had the courage of their convictions, and arrested Him in the temple. They had authority that would have quickly and effectively quashed any uprising or rebellion. But they knew that their charges would not hold up in any legitimate venue, which drove them to being shy instead of merely acting with appropriate authority. Help me, Lord, to keep an eye on my own motives when I see the need to act with authority, and if I feel like I need to use any kind of subterfuge to accomplish my ends, help me to realize that that is a danger signal, and hold off until I check out my own heart. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 7, 2018

Luke 22:47-51 (NIV) While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

When Judas arrived with a sizeable crowd of men with torches and armed with swords and clubs (Mark 14:43), the scene in the garden quickly became chaotic. The first thing that happened was that Judas quickly moved to Jesus, greeted Him, and kissed Him on the cheek, the agreed-upon signal that identified Him in the dim light to those who had come to arrest Him (Mark 14:44).

But Jesus wasn’t going to let the moment pass without clearly naming what was happening: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of man with a kiss?” With those words, spoken loud and clear, the other apostles suddenly realized that it was Judas that Jesus had been talking about during the supper. It was Judas who had agreed to betray Jesus to the authorities.

Immediately the armed posse drew their weapons and moved toward Jesus. Almost as quickly, someone among the disciples cried out, “Should we strike with our swords?” referring to the two swords that they had brought with them from the upper room (Luke 22:38a). Not waiting for permission, Peter impulsively lashed out with the sword he was carrying, and ended up delivering a glancing blow that severed the right ear of a servant of the high priest named Malchus (John 18:10b).

The scene had grown very loud and tumultuous, with the disciples pushing the crowd back, and everyone starting to yell. But Jesus’ voice cut through the din: “No more of this!” causing everyone to suddenly stop, and to grow quiet. In the eerie silence that suddenly fell over the campsite, Jesus moved swiftly to Malchus, and wordlessly lay a hand on his damaged ear, restoring it instantly.

Father, how often do we zealously come to Your defense in the course of living our lives, but do so in ways that actually damage the cause of the kingdom, and even get in the way of what You have planned, because we see the situation with worldly eyes instead of kingdom eyes? How often do we damage someone in our zeal to advance what we believe to be the cause of Christ, leaving it to You to clean up the mess we have made? Even though we might be acting with the best of intentions, if we approach things that way, we can really mess things up and complicate Your agenda more than it needs to be. Help me, Lord, to listen to Your guidance before I impulsively act. Help me to keep myself in the center of Your will every day, and to always work in concert with Your designs, and never against You, no matter how well-intentioned I may be. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 6, 2018

Luke 22:45-46 (NIV) When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Jesus has specifically instructed the disciples to pray that they would not fall when temptation came (v40). But after He had finished wrestling in prayer, committing Himself fully to the path that the Father had laid out for Him, He came back to where He had left them, and found them all sound asleep!

It was understandable why they had fallen into an exhausted sleep. The whole evening had been a rollercoaster of emotions and events. What had started as a joy-filled remembrance of God’s deliverance of His people from Egyptian bondage had taken a decidedly solemn turn with Jesus’ pronouncement that one of His closest followers would betray Him. What had started as a spirited discussion of Jesus’ immanent ascension to the throne in Jerusalem, and their own elevation to His closest cabinet members, had been stopped cold by Jesus’ demand that they focus instead on serving each other rather than on being served. And then had come Jesus’ dire prediction that they would all desert Him in His moment of greatest need, and that even Peter would deny knowing Him three times before the sun came up the next morning.

So here they were, snoring in an exhausted sleep, while the fulfillment of Jesus’ direst prophecy was even then entering the gate to the garden where they were camped. Jesus had been praying hard, and so had been strengthened for the task that lay ahead of Him. But these men that He loved most dearly had been sleeping instead of praying, so the test would catch them weak and vulnerable; they would fail for sure.

Jesus was frustrated, but more than that, He was sad. He was sad that all He saw happening with these, His closest followers, really was coming true. And He was sad at the fear and sense of failure that they would soon experience, and that they would carry the scars of the rest of their lives.

But Judas had not yet arrived on the scene, although he was a very short distance away. There was still time for the disicples to pray that they would not fall when the test came, if they would just shake off this sleepiness and seek God’s face at once.

Father, it is easy to be critical of the disciples, and to believe that we would do better if we were in their place. But all too often, we, too, allow ourselves to get caught up in and affected by the events that swirl around us; to get distracted, and not pray; to try to problem solve instead of turning our hearts to You for wisdom and guidance. And so we, too end up falling, failing the test, and feeling like utter failures for our weakness. Remind us, Lord, that You are the source of all the strength that we need to be successful in every test, and of all the wisdom that we need to see each test coming so that we are prepared. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 5, 2018

Luke 22:39-44 (NIV) Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Jesus knew that His time was very short, measured in minutes, not hours. He had done His best to prepare His closest followers for what was coming, but He knew that they were nowhere near ready. He even felt His own heart pulling back from the anguish that lay immediately in front of Him.

What was needed was prayer, both by Him, and by His disciples. Not prayer for safety, but for the ability to stay in the center of God’s will when things got hard. So, Jesus first urged His disciples to pray that they would not fall when the inevitable temptations came. Then he went a short distance away to pray Himself.

Jesus’ prayer was not what many people would expect. His first petition was that if any other way existed to accomplish the work, that the other way be used. Jesus was no coward, but His humanity quailed at the pain, suffering, and humiliation that was racing toward Him, and He wanted to make sure that there was really no other way before He stepped purposefully into the trap. But if there really was no other way, if this way of suffering and death really was God’s will, then he was completely game.

It was not long before He knew with absolute certainty that His suffering and death on the cross, and all the pain and abuse that would precede it, really was the only way for mankind to be saved. Only the complete sacrifice of the Lamb of God could really take away the sins of the whole world (John 1:29). And once he was certain of that, He prayed more passionately and earnestly, the exertion of which caused His perspiration, despite the cool of the early April evening, to roll from His face and body so profusely and in such large drops, as large as drops of blood, that it rolled off of Him and fell to the ground all around Him.

It is important to note that Jesus did not feel abandoned – God was not far from Him in this moment of deep distress. Instead, an angel from God’s presence appeared to Jesus, affirming for Him God’s plan and His role in it, and encouraging and strengthening Him as He prayed.

Father, sometimes we, too, can see pain and suffering approaching as we walk the path of Your will. And sometimes our humanity also quails at that pain and shrinks away from the suffering, just like Jesus. But here we can see that the solution is not retreat, because that would turn us aside from Your will. It is not reason, trying to talk ourselves out of our fear and trepidation, because fear is not an intellectual problem, but an emotional and spiritual one. The only real solution is simple, heartfelt, passionate prayer, surrendering ourselves completely to Your will, and allowing You to encourage and strengthen our hearts before the trial arrives. Help me to always remember this, Lord. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 4, 2018

Luke 22:35-38 (NIV) Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That is enough,” he replied.

While Jesus was alive, He was the protector of His disciples. Even when they were away from his direct presence, His intercession for them ensured that they would be safe from the hands of men, and that they would have everything that they needed.

But here Jesus is underscoring the fact that He would be taken from them almost immediately. He would be absent from them for nearly three days (although they had not been open to hearing this time period any of the numerous times that He had talked about it), and in that space of time they would be on their own. God would, of course, be watching over them even then, but they would feel abandoned, and be so uncertain of the future and of their own safety that they wouldn’t think to turn to God Himself for what they needed.

This lay behind Jesus telling them that, unlike when He had sent them out ahead of Him with no provision except for what God would provide through the people they met on the road (Luke 10:3-8), now they were to see to their own food needs, as well as their need for protection. Jesus used the imagery of swords for this, but was surprised when they took His words very literally and produced two swords, asking if that was enough, or if each one of them needed their own sword. Jesus’ short answer, “That is sufficient,” was delivered with a bit of disappointment. Out of all that He was trying to communicate to them in those last precious hours, the call for swords was what they had keyed in on!

But they were missing the real key to the events that lay ahead of them: it was all happening exactly as God had foretold in the scriptures, down to the last detail. That fact gave the disciples a map of the events that lay ahead of them if they wanted to follow it. But it also told all who had ears to hear that things were not spinning out of control, no matter what it felt like to them. God was still in control and would be holding all things in His hands through the next dark seventy-two hours, even them.

Father, this is a key for us as well. Even though we don’t have to watch our hope be taken away, beaten, and killed, we still end up walking through dark times as we live as ambassadors of light to this sin-darkened world. And knowing that things are still in Your hands, and that events are playing out as You orchestrate them, or at least that You are with us in the midst of all that You allow to happen, is a LOT more comforting than the idea that we have to go through these things alone, with only weapons of the flesh with which to protect ourselves. Thank You, Lord, for your grace and Your power. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 2, 2018

Luke 22:31-34 (NIV)
“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.”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
Most people focus on Peter’s tragic denial of Jesus. And, in precise fulfillment of this prophecy, he did deny even knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crowed the next morning.
Peter was absolutely positive that he would stand strong beside Jesus, no matter what happened. But Jesus knew better, because, even though Peter was steadfast on the outside, Jesus could see his heart that would quickly retreat from threats when Jesus was not there.
But just as important as that fact is the fact that Jesus was already praying powerful prayers that would enable His closest followers to recover, repent, and return to faith in Him on the other side of the upcoming trial. ALL of the disciples would flee, deserting Jesus in His moment of greatest need. But Jesus was praying specifically for Peter, that after he failed, that he would turn back and would then strengthen the faith of his brothers.
And, in the end, that is what happened. As soon as the resurrected Jesus appeared to Peter, he was once again in the center of action, and quickly became one of the pillars of the new community of faith called the Church.
Father, this is just a short passage, but so full of significance for me today, especially in light of the revelation in Hebrews 7:25 that Jesus is even now interceding for all of His people. That means that when I fail, when I fall, when I give in to fear and uncertainty, there is always Jesus’ strong prayer for me that I will not only turn back, but that after I have been restored, I will help others to find that same restoration for themselves. Thank you for this enduring hope! Amen.

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