Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Seven Words

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
            While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
(Luke 22:39-53 ESV)

Luke 22:39-53 is one of four narratives of Jesus and his disciples in the hour or so between the Last Supper and his arrest.  Just as with the crucifixion accounts, no one of the gospels offers the complete narrative.  But if you do a quick “harmony” of the four gospels, the whole of what Jesus said and did is revealed. 

Traditionally, there are seven “words” Jesus spoke as he hung on the cross.  They are phrases, really:
                        1 Father forgive them, for they know not what they do
                        2 Today you will be with me in paradise
                        3 Behold your son: behold your mother
                        4 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me
                        5 I thirst
                        6 It is finished
                        7 Father, into your hands I commit my spirit

Anyone who is into numerology and the meaning of numbers in the Bible will immediately pick up on the fact that 7 is one of God’s “perfect numbers.”  I don’t care much about those things, except that the thought led me to look at the Garden Narratives the same way. 

If you do a “harmony” of the four gospel accounts of the Garden experience, there are again seven phrases or “sayings” that are revealed.  They are really seven categories of things Jesus said in the Garden, and all have to do with temptation:

1 Temptation to prayerlessness
2 Temptation to despair
3 Temptation to control
4 Temptation to slumber
5 Temptation to denial
6 Temptation to violence
7 Temptation to defensiveness

These seven things are temptations every believer faces at times of crisis, testing, or pressure.  Jesus admonished the disciples to watch and pray with him.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have known the right thing to do was to call those with me to prayer even though I myself didn’t feel like praying because of the pressure of the moment. 

At times like this there is also a temptation to throw in the towel.  Jesus said his soul was sorrowful even to death, and yet remarkably he invites the disciples to stick with him and pray.  If the antidote to prayerlessness is obvious (pray!), the antidote to despair is company.  The minute you introduce a friend into your despair, you’ll find yourself freed, at least a little, from the blackness. 

The temptation to control the situation is a big one for me.  I look at tough times and say, “If I were God I could fix this.”  But the antidote for control is surrender.  Nevertheless, Jesus says, not my will, but Thy will be done. 

Wrestling with the Enemy of your Soul is tiring business, and fatigue – real, bone crushing, emotional fatigue – is easy to surrender to.  It is another way of giving up the battle, I suppose.  Just go to sleep.  It is the best way to erase a problem.  The antidote to slumber is watchfulness.  I don’t mean “working on the problem.”  That’s another form of trying to control.  I mean watching like the virgins did who lit their lamps in Jesus’ parable.  At the very point you want to check out and sleep, God may have a blessing waiting if you will watch with him instead of staring at your problem.

When Judas approached the group in the Garden, the easiest thing Jesus could have done to signal that he was “done” was to deny his identity.  Think how differently things would have turned out if Jesus had said, “Whom do you seek?” and when the crowd said, “Jesus of Nazareth,” he had responded, “Haven’t seen him.”  Denial “worked” for Peter a few hours later… for a moment, at least.  But the temptation to get yourself out of a jam by denying your identity in Christ is really foolish.  You are a Christian, after all.   Saying, “I’ll pretend I don’t know him,” just for the moment, doesn’t get you off the hook.  It simply delays the sorrow that will surely follow.   Better to stand boldly and say, “I am he.”  The antidote for denial is truth.

Peter, at least, was ready to start a riot.  Yesterday we looked at the whole question of a violent response to a perceived threat.   That’s just not an option for the people of Jesus.  His way of non-violent response is practical in this world.  It is, in fact, the most practical way to deal with a threat.  Your violent reaction will never bring about the will of God.  The antidote for violence is love.  Notice that when Peter cut off the slave’s ear, Jesus immediately came to the slave’s aid.  This was someone who represented the very person who had come to destroy him (Caiaphas).   The translation of what happens is a little fishy.  Some translators have Jesus saying to Peter, “Enough of this!” and then healing the slave’s ear.  Others translate the greek literally, “Suffer ye thus far,” or in modern English, “At least let me do this.”  Either way, Jesus offers a non-violent response to a violent moment, and it stops the escalation right where it was.

The final temptation is a temptation to defensiveness.  When attacked verbally, most of us will try to justify ourselves.  “I didn’t mean that,” or “Let me explain what I was saying.”  Jesus does none of that.  He simply says some form of “the record stands.  I was with you in broad daylight teaching in the temple.  Why did you wait until now to arrest me?  It was to fulfill the Scriptures.”  There isn’t a hint of defensiveness in his response.  When you present Jesus to people you don’t need to defend who he is.  Let the record speak for itself.  They’re smart enough to figure him out.

Hebrews 2:18 says, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  Apply the ways of Jesus to the situations of your life.  If he was able to respond the way he did at the most critical moment of his life, he is able to give you the ability to respond as he did in the critical moments of yours.


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