Risky Businessby Ed de la Cour on March 3, 2015
March 1, 2015
Matthew 26: 17 – 35
As I wrote in this week’s newsletter, I would love to be one of those people who get to lie about on a beach on an island somewhere in the Caribbean. Like Todd Rudgren, “I want to bang on the drum all day.” Ah, such a flight of fantasy! The truth is, in the real world we cannot all live a carefree life on a beach. In the real world, there is pain and suffering. There is truth and there is falsehood, good and evil – the serious stuff of life.
In this very real world, just hours before His arrest, Jesus met with His disciples, His closest friends, and ate the Passover with them. In the real world, Jesus took bread and the cup of wine and began the custom we know as Communion. Communion then, is a real world thing, wrapped up in the real world life and death drama in which Jesus faced all the risks associated with following God. Communion is not a mystical event or some warm and fuzzy custom. That evening was fraught with danger and risk for His very life, and yet Jesus stepped into it boldly.
How different all this is for us! We worship a god of safety. The god who receives our allegiance promises comfort. We do not willingly take risks in our Christian life. Maybe it’s because we are Americans, but we fully expect and believe it is our God-given right to be able to sit in the mezzanine of life, overlooking as the great drama as it plays out, personally untouched by any danger, and certainly never having to face Jihadi John. For us, there is hardly ever a good reason to embrace risk. There is only the ever-cautioning Mother in “The Christmas Story” saying, “You’ll put your eye out!” Although we laughed when we saw the movie, our willingness to accept risk has been dwindling since childhood. We have become risk-adverse.
If you fly coast to coast, you’ll see the trackless wastes of the Great Sonoran Desert across the American Southwest. You begin to think: I’m flying and we’ll be in LA in an hour or two, but the pioneers walked across that region! There was no safety for them and precious little by way of comfort. All they had was the hope of one day reaching their destination. Our best thinking today is that God would never want us to do anything risky or to take any action that would be risky for us. Our definition of godliness is living life with our hands folded in prayer. We’ll zoom around on a motorcycle and we’ll drive our cars too fast, but what are we willing to risk for Jesus?
We are not used to thinking about life as a follower of Jesus being fraught with risk. Instead, we are more interested in the intellectual aspects of the Gospel. We speak about Jesus taking up the cross and going willingly to His death, not only to die a hero’s death, but to die specifically for you and me. By His death, Jesus fully satisfied the righteous demands of the Law of God that required blood to be shed to turn aside and take away the wrath of God against sin. All that preaches wonderfully well, but those facts, as true as they are, don’t help Christians very much when they are facing mortal danger because we are so unfamiliar with risk.
We’ve heard countless sermons extolling the virtues of Christ and His substitutionary death. What we have failed to notice is that Jesus did not descend from a heavenly ivory tower. He did not touch down in this life for a few moments and then retreat back into heaven, never again to sully Himself with the distress of earthly men and women. American Christians have embraced such false teaching. We act in church as if the cross and resurrection happened in one magic moment far removed from real life, as if it wasn’t lived out in the midst of pain and great vulnerability.
So let’s think about the Lord’s Table this morning. Let’s think about how we approach the Table and how we think of life itself. In the two thousand years since the crucifixion, Christians have made huge changes to the concept of Communion. Roman Catholics made it a ritualized feast in which the actual body and blood of Jesus materialized miraculously in the elements. To the other extreme, Baptists decided it was simply a memorial meal. Baptists wanted to sit around thinking about and remembering that Jesus died. Wow. In both those extremes, we have obscured the risk embedded in living for Jesus, the crisis of the cross, and the urgency of His resurrected life. In our minds, because we don’t see any serious risk involved, lost people aren’t really lost; they just haven’t come to faith yet. In a state where up to two people a day are overdosing on drugs and dying, we easily fail to sense urgency. If it is possible for us to miss the urgency of people dying of drugs, we can easily miss the urgency of the cross. If we can miss all that, we have missed just about everything.
The passage begins with Jesus telling the disciples to get Passover ready. How do we know that is a situation that poses risk? In verse 18, Jesus says, “My appointed time is near.” He was not talking about an appointment to see His dentist. There is a sense of destiny and there is also a sense of urgency. Jesus knows His time has come, because Jesus was doing what we are scared to do: He was living His life by faith. Jesus was taking steps of faith to obey His Father without regard for His own safety.
At the Lord’s Table, just as it was on the Seder table, we can see the elements of risk. The bread is the body of Jesus, broken for us. How did His body get broken? The cup pictures for us the blood of Jesus, poured out for our forgiveness. How did it all happen? Wasn’t it the result of a personal betrayal? Wasn’t the cross the consequence of a hastily convened court and the outcome of long and painful torture? Once arrested, Jesus lost His friends. They ran away, fell away, and abandoned Him to those who sought to have Him killed. He was the shepherd in verse 31 that was to be struck, but He is also the One to rise from the dead and precede the disciples’ arrival in Galilee.
To say Jesus knew all along that this would happen, that His resurrection was a done deal, that there was really nothing to worry about, is to trivialize both the cross and our redemption. Yes, Jesus had confidence and He trusted in His God and Father – but so should you and me. How is it we can worship the God in whom Jesus trusted and yet not only exempt ourselves from obedience but also from taking risks for the sake of the cross?
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Jesus looked straight at Peter and told him that Peter would disown Jesus three times that night. To disown someone is to deny your relationship with them. It’s horrible to be disowned by your parents, to be formally ignored as though you never existed. That is what Jesus said Peter would do. Isn’t that even more betrayal? Wouldn’t that make a profound dampening of Jesus’ willingness to risk His life?
In Matthew 26: 53, after that time of anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked His men, “Do you think I cannot that call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” Think about this: there would be no cross on Calvary if Jesus had summoned the cavalry! There would be no redemption for you and me if Jesus had failed to risk the infliction of incredible pain. There would be no hope for you and me if Jesus had not willingly allowed His life to be forfeit.
It is the “willingness” that produces the nature of the risk we are called to take as Christians. God has called our church to reveal the saving love of Jesus as a Safe Harbor for the broken, the distressed, and the lost. By virtue of God’s call on us, we are a missionary church. Missionaries take risks. It’s the nature of the missionary life. There are no comfortable pews to be found in a missionary church. Our church pews are not for sitting, but for discovering how to be children of God and how to live lives that demonstrate who Jesus is. The truth is, the comfort we love is a far greater danger to the church than persecution!
It is as if God knew our idolatrous relationship with creature comforts would be our undoing because He is preparing the Church to experience that which will purify us and keep us properly focused on God. This world is increasingly becoming hostile to the Christian Church and to the Gospel. Even so, I learned last week that even in Libya, the scene of much recent bloodshed, the number of those being saved by Jesus is so large, the Christians there are overwhelmed with the great need to disciple so many new believers. They are calling for help to train the new believers. Imagine that! The desire to know a new life in Jesus really is greater than the need for comfort and safety.
What do we have that God did not give us? What do we have that God cannot replace? What do we have that we love more than Jesus? When the Christian sees clearly who Jesus is and trusts God fully, that Christian stops being risk-adverse. Friends, you and I also have an appointed time. In the will of God for our lives, we have our own date with destiny. The apostle Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 16: 13 said, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.” That’s God’s invitation to us today. The Christian life is risky business, but, as Joshua said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Let’s not be afraid to take risks for Jesus. The persecuted church around the world brings a much-needed word to us American Christians when they say, “Don’t pray for a lighter load, but for a stronger back.”
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