Sunday, March 8, 2009

Passing the Test

Here is the scene. It is His last evening with His apostles before His crucifixion. And they are all together in the upper room. The evening began with Jesus washing their feet, teaching them humility. Then they began to eat, and while they were eating, Jesus says that one of them will betray Him. In the midst of the resulting questions and turmoil, Judas quietly leaves.
Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.
Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards.
Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake.
Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.

John 13:31-38
So when we begin verse 31 of John 13, Judas is gone leaving only Jesus and the other 11 apostles. (It was discovered that he had a sickness that he didn’t want to face up to.) It is almost as if there is a breath of fresh air in that upper room.

The servant of evil has left!

Now Jesus begins to talk about what it means to be His disciple.

I wonder how we would score if there were a test available that could clearly reveal just how faithful and devout a Christian we are - that really measured the level of our spirituality?

You see, on the surface it appears that most of the time we feel that things are going well and we’re doing a pretty good job of being a Christian. In fact, I’m convinced that most people, if asked, "How are you doing?" would answer, "I’m doing fine."

I’m afraid that we tend to be like the fellow in the old story who showed up for a court hearing concerning an accident in which he had been involved. His arm was in a cast, there were bandages all over him, and the exposed parts of his body were clearly bruised, scratched and cut. He was a real mess.

Looking rather surprised, the judge asked about his injuries. He replied, "Judge, I’m in a terrible condition. I have cuts and stitches all over me, and I’m feeling awful."

The judge said, "I don’t understand this. The accident report filed by the Officer says that at the time of the accident you told him you were just fine."

"Well Judge," the man replied, "let me explain. I was driving my pickup and pulling a trailer. In the back of the pickup was my old dog Shep, and my mule was in the trailer. All of a sudden an 18-wheeler sideswiped me, knocking me off the road. My pickup and trailer rolled over and over, and we ended up at the bottom of a big embankment. The next thing I remember, a police officer was picking his way through the wreckage. I saw him stop and examine my mule, then he pulled out his pistol and shot the mule between the eyes. Next, he got to where Shep was lying, and after examining him, he shot old Shep, too. Then he walked over to me and asked, 'How are you?' And I said, 'I’m just fine.'"

Even though we generally say, "I’m doing fine," in reality, when it comes to our spiritual lives, things may not be going very well. We may not be growing spiritually. We may be sick and not even know it.

How many people have ever heard the words from a doctor, “If you would have come to me sooner we could have caught this cancer."

We consider ourselves "just fine" spiritually. But what if we had a test that could really measure the level of our commitment to Christ, and of our discipleship? Well, maybe we do.

It seems that in John 13:31-38 Jesus provides us with the marks of true discipleship, and measuring stick to show us how well we are doing spiritually. And he shares three marks of what it takes to follow Him.

1. When we have a desire to glorify God.
“Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.” John 13:31-32
From the Greek: To glorify : To give honour or to magnify.

Jesus said, "I’m going to be glorified," and it is evident that He was talking about His own crucifixion. But how can any glory come out of that? How can glory come out of the Son of God hanging on an old rugged, bloody cross? How can glory come out of suffering and pain and death?

There is just one way. On the cross Jesus defeated Satan. On the cross He became the sacrifice to redeem us from all the sins that separate us from God. On the cross He built a bridge between man and God so that we could be together again.

It was the revelation of His heart. All his life He had been trying to tell the world how much He loved it. He had shown them by His deeds and His words. But now His love would be demonstrated through His death.

How did Jesus glorify God ? Well again, the answer is found in the cross.
  • On the cross Jesus revealed what God is like.
  • On the cross we see the love and mercy of God, the grace and justice of God.
  • On the cross we see the righteousness, the holiness, and the power of God.
It is all displayed there on the cross. His action spoke loader than His words.

So how can we glorify God in our lives? Whenever we show the world the love and mercy and grace of God in our lives, then God is being glorified through us.

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake. Psalms 115:1
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: I Corinthians 1:31-32

Some years ago a men’s retreat was held in Texas. As the men arrived at camp the first man they met was a small, frail-looking man. The first impression of this man was not anything special, because he was an old man and didn’t seem very important. But many times the first impressions are not always accurate.

There were about 30 men who were together all Friday night and Saturday. They talked and prayed together, and shared their testimonies.

If we had been there an amazing thing would have became very apparent as the men shared their stories. As each one told about coming to know and accept Christ as Savior, almost without exception, every one, some place in his story, his testimony, mentioned this small, frail-looking man. Some time along the way this little man had influenced each one of them, and they had come to Christ at least partially because of him. And God was glorified as a result. This man's actions spoke louder than His words.

So how are we doing? Are we busy trying to glorify ourselves, or are we trying to glorify God? That is the first test.

2. When we have unfailing love for one another we glorify God.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34
God’s Word says that the world will know we are Christians by our love, not by our Scripture memorization, or the amount of money we have given. Christ wants His followers to be known for their love by how they minister to one another.
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him.
And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. I John 3:14-24
3. We glorify God when we have an unswerving loyalty to Jesus.
Simon Peter asked Him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus replied, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later." Peter asked, "Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Then Jesus answered, "Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!" John 13:36-38
How loyal are we? Do we have an unswerving loyalty that will always be there?
Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Matthew 16:21-22
It seems as if Simon Peter was always being tempted by Satan, and Jesus was always praying for Peter to be able to resist the temptations.

Why? What was the matter with Simon Peter?

It was Simon Peter who wanted to walk on water. "Need somebody to walk on water, Lord? I’ll do it."

It was Simon Peter who wanted to build tabernacles on the Mount of Transfiguration.

It was Simon Peter who was always speaking, always charging ahead, always demonstrating his loyalty, at least with words.

But there is a great difference between proclaiming your loyalty and practicing it.

Peter was always proclaiming his loyalty, but not always willing to practice it. "You’re going to die, Lord?" he asks. "Well, if you die, I’ll die with you."

It is easy to say, "I would die for the Lord." But when they are getting out the nails to drive through your hands and feet, it’s a whole different situation.

"Are you really willing to die for Me, Peter? Let me show you how loyal you really are.
Before the morning comes, you will deny Me not once, but 3 different times."

"Going to be loyal to Me?" the Lord asks. "Okay, Peter, watch and pray with Me. I’m going to go a little further into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray."

But Peter went to sleep.

"Going to be loyal to Me, Peter? Then how close will you follow Me?"

Luke tells us that when the soldiers took Jesus out of the Garden of Gethsemane that Peter followed at a distance.

When you follow Jesus at a distance you usually end up in the wrong crowd.

That is exactly what happened to Peter. He ended up in the High Priest’s courtyard with those who started asking him, "You’re one of the Nazarene’s followers, aren’t you?"

"Not me," Peter said.

Three times he was asked. And three times he denied even knowing Jesus. Peter found out that it was a lot easier to proclaim his loyalty than to practice it!

The difference between Peter and Judas was that Peter found a place of repentance and when he did he found out what it really meant to follow Jesus.

A mother wrote, "My 3-year-old was on my heels everywhere I went. And whenever I stopped to do something and then turned back around, I’d trip over him. Time and again I patiently suggested fun activities to keep him occupied. But he simply smiled an innocent smile and said, 'Oh that’s all right, Mommy. I’d rather be in here with you.' Then he continued to bounce happily along behind me. After stepping on his toes for the fifth time, I began to lose patience. When I asked him why he was acting this way, he looked up with sweet green eyes and said, 'Well, Mommy, my teacher told me to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. But I can’t see Him, so I’m walking in yours.'"

This morning, are you walking in the footsteps of Jesus?

The test questions would be:
  • Is your life a life that brings glory to God?
  • Is your life one that is filled with love for God and His family?
  • Is your life one of unswerving loyalty to Jesus?
It doesn’t make any difference how many crosses we wear, how many bumper stickers we have on our car. What really matters is our commitment to follow Jesus. Yet, all too often we have fallen short in this.

But God says, "I really do want you as My disciple. So I’m giving you another chance like I did Peter! Just because you fell short doesn’t mean that I have stopped loving you. That’s the whole idea behind the cross. You can start all over and begin anew.

Maybe you can follow closer this time.
Maybe you can be more humble.
Maybe you can love just a little more.
Maybe you can be more unselfish and really allow My glory to shine through your life.
Are you willing to start again? I’m willing if you are."

That is what Jesus is saying. "I’m willing if you are."

So He invites and He waits.

"Do you want to be My disciple?

These are a few marks for following Jesus.

I want to close with this story:

Teddy Stallard was an unattractive and unmotivated fifth grade boy. His teacher, Mrs. Thompson found him difficult to like due to his expressionless, unfocused stare. She had to admit that down deep inside she took pleasure in marking his papers with red ink and making an F with a special flair.

One day she began to wonder about this boy. As a teacher she had access to his records and as she read she saw that she had demonstrated her Christian life before him.

1st Grade: Teddy shows promise with his work and attitude but has a poor home situation.

2cnd Grade: Teddy could do better. Mother is seriously ill and he receives little help at home.

3rd Grade: Teddy is a good boy but too serious. Slow learner. His mother died this year.

4th Grade: Teddy is very slow but well behaved. Father shows no interest.

She began to show more love to the children and she went out her way to show Teddy that God loved Him.

At Christmas the children in Mrs. Thompson’s class brought her presents in pretty wrappings. When she got to Teddy’s it was crudely wrapped in brown paper and loosely held together with tape. She opened it to find a bracelet with stones missing and a bottle of cheap perfume. Some of the children snickered but trying to be nice she slipped on the bracelet and even some perfume saying, "Doesn’t it smell lovely?"

When school was over Teddy lingered behind and came to her desk, "Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother, and her bracelet looks real pretty on you too. I’m glad you liked my presents."

She went home and ask God to show His love through her!

Next day, her class welcomed a new teacher. Miss Thompson was no longer just a teacher but an agent of God. She committed herself to loving her children and especially Teddy Stallard.
Teddy began to show dramatic improvement and by the end of the year had caught up with most of the other students.

She did not hear from Teddy for a long time until one day she received a note: "Dear Miss Thompson. I wanted you to know that I will be graduating second in my high school class. Love Teddy Stallard."

Four years later: "Dear Miss Thompson: They just told me I would be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be the first to know. The university has not been easy but I liked it. Love, Teddy Stallard."

Finally: "Dear Miss Thompson: As of today I am Theodore Stallard, MD. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month. I want you to come and sit where my mother would have sat if she were alive. You are my only family. Dad died last year. Love, Teddy Stallard."

She went to the wedding and in Teddy’s eyes she had earned the right to sit in a special place because as an agent of God’s love she had done something for Teddy that he could never forget. She had exercised the power of God’s love.

No comments: