John 13:31-38, 18:1-27 NIV
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
31 When he was gone,
Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in
him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself,
and will glorify him at once.
1 When he had finished
praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.
On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples
went into it.
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
Just over 10 years ago, I discovered that I sometimes recoil from good intentions.
It was a warm Friday afternoon when I got the call. Jake was in the hospital. He fell from a scaphold. "OK, I'll be there in a few minutes." Jake, a brick layer, had gone through a board on a scaffold and the bricks had come after him. Obviously, he was hurt! I didn't know how bad but I would do what every young pastor should do - be there. And so I went. I entered the hospital room, and there he was. Fresh out of surgery, awake, ropes and weights pulling one leg, another leg in a frame with pins going right through flesh to hold the bones in the right position, ribs in bandages, head in a large bandage, one arm in a cast. Only one arm free! It seemed every inch of exposed skin was black and blue.
I sat beside his bed on a chair, and started a light conversation to see how able he was in responding, and he actually did very well. As I was looking at him, I couldn't believe a person could be so bruised and broken and survive. He was just starting to tell me what happened, when I noticed everything go king of grey, then white! At that point my body slumped over onto the bed beside him - unconscious. When I awoke, there were nurses staring down at me with smelling salts in their hands looking extremely worried asking if I was OK. I had good intentions of being there for Jake, but I am certain that he did not need me in the bed beside him. My mind recoiled the only way it could when I saw his pain - it shut down. (By the way, if someone gets hurt, they feel free to call, I've learned some ways to cope with this excessive capacity to identify)
Peter, in the passage we read also recoiled from suffering.. His reactions were gut reactions, not planned or anticipated. He reacted like most of us have reacted or continue to react to suffering.
To many of us, Peter's story sounds rather distant, it almost seems Peter displays a major flaw in his character here. One minute he claims that he will be with Jesus his Lord and Master to the very end, even if it takes his life. A little later, as Jesus was being arrested, he takes out his sword, takes his life into his own hands as he chooses to fight the Roman Guard and takes an ear off of one of the high Priest's servants Malchus. A more dedicated follower could not be found among political leaders, one who in action displays every intention to lay his life on the line for the cause.
But Jesus response to Peter's violence with the sword stunned Peter. "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given to me?" In that moment, Jesus let his disciples know that the had chosen a pathway of suffering that shocked Peter to the very core of his being. Scriptures make it clear that even at this point, Peter, as well as the other disciples had difficulty understanding what Jesus was up to.
But Peter, with every good intention to identify with his master and friend to the very end choose to pursue the proceedings, with the help of another disciple who knew the high priest. Peter worked his way into the High Priest's courtyard. There the girl on guard asked him, with a bit of a baiting question "You are not one of his disciples are you?" Her question anticipated a negative answer - and she got the answer she had looked for. "I am not."
Why would Peter respond with that denial?
Answers could be given on many different levels.
Maybe Peter at some level did lack character and this was one of the ways he demonstrated it.
Scriptures point to the fact that Satan was sifting him. Satan was separating the wheat from the chaff and Peter survived because of Christ's prayer on his behalf. That was definitely part of the dynamic.
But it appears that Peter to had a problem with recoil - recoiling from suffering. Up to that point in the garden where Jesus said "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given to me?", Peter had conceived his future with Christ as one of glory, a new kingdom for Israel. And now he saw that the future held suffering for Jesus, his first response when asked whether he identified with that suffering was that he would have nothing to do with it..
You see, to identify with suffering, to come close to it, is on a certain level to bear it. To identify with suffering is to empathize with it, to be defiled by it. To identify with suffering is risky. To come close to suffering is to expose yourself to pain. The experience of life teaches you that pain has a way of rubbing off on you.
Peter, when he realized that Christ was going to suffer was not so sure he wanted to suffer with him, his gut reaction was to preserve himself and not to identify with the one who was up front suffering.
As John writes it, Peter was asked a second time. Again the suspicious questioner expected a negative answer "You are not one of his disciples, are you?" Again Peter answered "I am not." Then a third time, this time a relative of the man who almost lost his ear in the garden from Peter's sword, accused "Didn't I see you with him in the olive grove?" And a third time Peter denied that he was with him, the rooster crowed, and the other gospels tell us that Peter went out and wept bitterly. Three times, in the heat of the moment, to save his own skin, he denied his friend and master a partner in suffering. Jesus on that day would suffer alone.
This morning, if you are a person who has suffered, you may know this dynamic of recoil quite well.
Maybe you suffered the loss of a loved one and you found that there were some who just did not know how to talk to you, some others denied the reality of your pain by their words and actions. You know how people recoil from pain.
Maybe you are a person who has suffered from an emotional illness and others shunned you because they were not about to carry your pain with you.
Maybe you are a person who has experience the incredible turmoil of divorce and you have found that those who used to be friends are hardly friends any more.
Those in our culture who have aids know all to well what recoil is . They loose friends, even loved ones, because the disease they are going through is not only contagious, it also involves a lot of suffering. In our culture, we call it "homophobia," the truth is simply that it is but one demonstration of a very common human condition that even Peter had, recoil, a repulsion from pain and fear of its defilement.
The simple truth is that when others recoil they make the pain worse. When we recoil, we deny another what is a human right in the kingdom of God - to have partners in suffering. We are called to take the risk of suffering, to help others, because it is only in taking the risk that we will be able to truly help them. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
You see, it is when we are in pain that we discover who really loves us. There is a good possibility that you have discovered that. When you are suffering a wasting disease that causes intense discomfort, those who love you are willing to be there with you right through it, sometimes through entire days and entire nights, they are there for you. They overcome their recoil just because they love you. That's what true love does. It puts aside feelings of revulsion and digs right in. That's why so often, it is only family that stays at the side of someone who is suffering intensely on the road to death. They, out of love overcome their recoil.
That is what Jesus did. Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus was God. He enjoyed every perfection of the Godhead, holiness, purity, sinlessness, the joy of community in the Divine Trinity. But when humanity suffered, he did not recoil and leave us to suffer alone, rather he, the holy God, took on the form of a human child, came to earth to live with us, identify with us, even become sin for us, so that we might receive healing. As Isaiah 53 says: "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, he was crushed for our iniquities, by his wounds we are healed." Three times Jesus was challenged in the desert by the devil to make stones into bread, to jump from the temple heights, to worship one who was not God Each temptation at its heart was the question: Will you identify with sinful humanity and go the way of the cross? Or will you recoil and choose the easy road to glory? Jesus choose to identify with us. He took on our pain. He, the Holy God, became defiled by our sin. In almost every church, you will find a cross. There could not be a more horrible symbol to take pride in. The Cross was Rome's 'electric chair,' their chief instrument of execution. Often Christians wear a cross on a necklace. No different than wearing an electric chair on a necklace. We do we glory in the cross? Because it is a symbol to us that Jesus did not Recoil, he did not avoid our suffering and pain, rather he came to us, to our side, to help us, to become our Savior. There in the cross, we see the love of God, in the bold strokes of crossed timber and hammered nails and flowing blood. From me, from you, Jesus did not recoil! Pauls points to this basic truth in Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
If this morning, you suffer, maybe with an awareness of guilt, of sin, of failure, then focus your eyes and your heart on this cross. I have heard many Christians say "I'm not sure I'm good enough, I haven't done enough for God!" It you are one of those, then know this morning, from you, Jesus will not recoil. He came to know you, know your pain, to suffer with you so that you can have the unimaginable privilege of knowing the righteousness of God.
Because Jesus did not recoil, we are saved! And Jesus says to us: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is the command to identify without recoil! When we, rather than recoiling, pay attention to the suffering of others, we offer them help that will bear its good fruit in life and eternity.
There is not story that makes this clearer to me than the story of Dr. Paul Brand.
Dr. Paul Brand, was world renown surgeon and leprosy specialist. In the book that he authored with Philip Yancey, he tells the story of when he felt called to work with Lepers. He had been invited to tour a hospital for lepers in India, and touring the facility with a Dr. Cochrane, a dermatologist (skin specialist), Dr. Brand wondered why Lepers' hands and feet just seemed to waste away.
""Cochrane's eyebrows arched upward in a sign I recognized as the final warning before a storm burst. He jabbed a finger in my stomach. "And who is the orthopedist around here, Paul! I'm a dermatologist, and I've studied this disease for 25 years. I know most of what there is to know about how leprosy affects skin. But you go back to that medical library in Vellore and look up the research on leprosy and bones. I can tell you that you'll find nothing. No orthopedist has ever paid attention to this disease, even though it's crippled more people than polio or any other disease."
Could it be true that not one of the thousands of orthopedic surgeons had take interest in a disease that produced such terrible deformities? A look of incredulity must have crossed my face because Cochrane responded as if he had read my mind. "You're thinking of leprosy like other diseases, Paul, but doctors, like most people, put it in a separate category altogether. They view leprosy as a curse of the gods. It still has the aura of supernatural judgment about it. You'll find priests, missionaries and a few crackpots working in leprosy settlements, but rarely a good physician and never a specialist in orthopedics."" For doctors too, the vision of fully developed leprosy, the stubbed fingers and clawed hands, toes missing on mangled feet, the open oozing wounds, the dried out eyes and decayed noses were something from which they recoiled.
A short while after this direct confrontation from Dr. Cochrance, in their tour they came upon one leper who had a problem with his foot. His fingers were still full length, but useless, so useless he could not undo his sandal with them. Noticing the paralysis in the fingers, Dr. Brand fought his own feelings of revulsion, carefully opened the fingers of the Leper, placed his hand in the lepers hand and asked him to squeeze his paralyzed hand as hard as he could To Dr. Brand's painful surprise, the leper almost crushed his hand with a very powerful grip. It was that very moment that Dr. Brand realized that though some muscles were paralyzed by leprosy, others were not. Because of that event, he choose to give his life to serving lepers. Dr. Paul Brand, later discover that Leprosy is not a disease of the flesh, it is a disease of the nerves. It kills nerves, and because dead nerves feel no pain, lepers unknowingly abuse their own bodies, so much so that wounds open, get infected, re infected, re-injured, until finally the body, to protect itself literally lets go of some of its parts. Because he was willing to overcome recoil as one orthopedic surgeon, he has contributed more to the world's lepers than many others. (Taken from pages 90-91 of Pain ).
Are you a person who is willing to take the hand of another who is suffering? Even if taking that hand will inconvenience your life, put you at risk, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
Scripture References for Prayer
"I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.
When we turn away from suffering, we turn away from Christ for he "was a man from which people hide their faces."
We will share in his glory, Provided we share with him in his suffering"
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.