Thursday, October 17, 2013

Screwed Up? Try Church!

Sunday's Message (Oct. 13th): Killing the Lone Ranger
Message Audio: Listen HERE

On Sunday I highlighted the value of community by explaining how your connection to God's community improves your effectiveness in his mission. We explored how community participation makes you better by increasing knowledge and providing encouragement. This post continues the encouragement discussion by looking at how staying connected with a faith community after personal failure is vital for restoration and redemption.

Jesus intentionally moved to Jerusalem, his execution imminent. He spent the last three years of his life pouring the deepest part of himself into 12 men. They were not just his apostles. They were his friends, but fear is a funny thing and self-preservation a strong instinct. On the night of his arrest, they all deserted him and two of them betrayed him. You might know them: Peter and Judas!

Matthew, in his story about Jesus, contrasts the failure of Peter and Judas by setting the stories alongside each other. He begins with Peter. The Jewish leaders arrested Jesus. Peter followed at a safe distance and waited outside the courtroom to see what happened. While waiting for a verdict, three different people accused Peter of being a Jesus supporter, one of his posse. Hours early, Peter nearly decapitated the servant of the high priest, but fortunately Jesus called Peter off. Peter appeared ready to go to battle with Jesus, but when the tide began to turn and his "savior" seemed bound for execution, he withdrew his support. He denied ever knowing Jesus. Three times they asked him. Three times he denied, even calling down curses on himself. After the third denial, a rooster crowed and Peter broke.  Jesus had told Peter earlier, " Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." Peter thought Jesus had lost his mind, but at that moment, with the rooster's crow echoing through his heart, Peter came face to face with his failure. He broke! He was filled with sorrow.  Matthew describes it this way:

And he [Peter] went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75)

Immediately following Peter's denial, Judas reenters the story. Jesus was on trial because Judas turned him over to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver. Judas had a greed problem. His wallet trumped his loyalty to his teacher. I'm convinced Judas turned Jesus over because he never thought the Sanhedrin (Jewish high court) would convict him. He knew better than anyone of Jesus' innocence. They would never find enough dirt on Jesus. He figured the Sanhedrin would try Jesus and release him due to lack of evidence and he'd end up 30 pieces of silver richer. No harm, no foul! But...they convicted Jesus and upon hearing the news Judas, like Peter, broke! Judas was filled with sorrow.

Judas, the one who had given Jesus to his enemies, saw that they had decided to kill Jesus. Then he was very sorry for what he had done. So he took the thirty silver coins back to the priests and the leaders,  saying, “I sinned; I handed over to you an innocent man.” (Matthew 27:3-4)

Both men failed Jesus. Both were sorry but that is where the similarities between the stories end. Peter goes on to become one of the most known names in Christianity, the first spokesperson for the Church, a respected leader of the early church, a biblical author whose life still influences us today. On the other hand...Judas threw the money into the Temple. Then he went off and hanged himself (Matthew 27:5).  

Many factors and choices led Peter and Judas to radically different ends, but I want to highlight one major difference between their responses. Judas isolated himself in his failure and remorse. Suicide is suicide because you commit it alone. Peter, on the other hand, returned to the rest of the disciples despite his failure. In John's gospel, we learn that Peter was one of the first disciples to enter the empty tomb. It is clear that Peter returned to be with the rest of the disciples within three days of his denial. Scripture does not say, but I suggest that Peter's refusal to isolate himself because of his failure and his willingness to stay connected to a faith community played a part in his recovery, redemption and restoration. Perhaps things could have turned out differently for Judas if he had returned broken to the disciples.

Sin destroys. Your sin destroys. My sin destroys. It is the nature of sin! Often, when you fail, church is the last place you want to go. You experience shame. You fear judgment. You feel out of place. Isolating yourself from the faith community seems more appropriate. After all, you betrayed Jesus. Why would you return to a place where people are trying to follow him. READ CAREFULLY...such a mode of thought is from the Devil! He wants nothing more than to isolate you in your failure, to trap you in your shame so that you can follow the Judas Road.  He wants your remorse to destroy you. The church should be the first place you go in your sorrow and brokenness. Carry your shame and guilt to the community of faith and give it to them. Let them destroy it in the name of Jesus.

If you realize you've messed it all up, or messed some of it up....Step 1: Go to Church. I'll see you Sunday!

(I have written more about the Judas and Peter story HERE and HERE).

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