There is an old saying: “We tend to compare our insides with other people’s outsides.” … I see other ducks floating serenely on their ponds, but the only furiously churning legs I’m aware of are my own.
We don’t go through life alone. All the temptations and trials…
Lord, I thank You that You are present and come tour aid. You stand with us – comfort and strengthen us – we have Your presence inside of us. Thank You, Jesus, that we don’t live this life alone but with Your constant attention. Thank You that we have Your full attention this morning – and You want to give to us today. Thank You that we have that assurance – this is love that God loved us and sent His son for us. We know love by this that You lay down Your life for us. Open our hearts to hear from You and Your word.
Let me read a story here:
Perhaps it’s helpful to know how common soul struggles are. Consider the story of Agnes.
From the time she was a young girl, Agnes believed. Not just believed: she was on fire. She wanted to do great things for God. She said things such as she wanted to “love Jesus as he has never been loved before.”
Agnes had an undeniable calling. She wrote in her journal that “my soul at present is in perfect peace and joy.” She experienced a union with God that was so deep and so continual that it was to her a rapture. She left her home. She became a missionary. She gave him everything.
And then he left her.
At least that’s how it felt to her. “Where is my faith?” She asked. “Deep down there is nothing but emptiness and darkness …. My God, how painful is this unknown pain … I have no faith.”
She struggled to pray: “I utter words of community prayers—and try my utmost to get out of every word the sweetness it has to give. But my prayer of union is not there any longer. I no longer pray.”
She still worked, still served, still smiled. But she spoke of that smile as her mask, “a cloak that covers everything.”
This inner darkness continued on, year after year, with one brief respite, for nearly 50 years. God was just absent. Such was the secret pain of Agnes, who is better known as Mother Teresa.
What we are going to look at today – what it is like to follow Jesus when our circumstances do not match our expectation of what we believe God had promised His followers.
How to Follow Jesus in the Dark
3 examples from the gospels – happen to be, not counting Jesus, the three greatest figures of the gospels. John the Baptist, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Peter.
We will start with John the Baptist. This is like Part 2 of last week’s message – the spiritual battle.
This often manifests itself in the pain in our souls.
Matt. 11: 2 Now when John in prison heard of the works of Christ, he sent [word] by his disciples, 3 and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”
These are curious words – why would John be asking this? He lived an incredible life – a phenomenal start to his ministry – went to the wilderness, and thousands were coming to be baptized by him – even the Pharisees and Rulers – then one day _Jesus comes out and says – you should baptize Me!
And he told his disciples – there goes the Lamb of God! And does he not know anymore?
Jesus replies: 4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 [the] blind receive sight and [the] lame walk, [the] lepers are cleansed and [the] deaf hear, and [the] dead are raised up, and [the] poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 “And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.”
This last phrase is really powerful. John expected the time for Israel to have come – the King has come who will bring justice to the world and to restore the fortunes to God’s people. John lived a sacrificial life – giving up everything for this. And now it is all taken away and Jesus is not doing the things John expected him to do – the Romans were still in control – nothing is changing – the nation of Israel has not turned and repented – so few were following. What John teaches us – we sometimes have to follow with great doubt and unfulfilled expectations in life. John may feel like he has failed his calling. When Jesus says – 6 “And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.” He is telling John – don’t let your unfulfilled expectations turn you away from following me fully, but follow right through them.
When God’s plans don’t match our expectations, our convictions, will we still follow? When all you hold true and dear seems to fall apart – will you follow? That is where John is in this story. Don’t be surprised by it.
Sometimes that is where we are. You lose a career. You are a Christian person and married and in a good family – and you find yourself divorced. We can go through story after story of expectations being disappointed, and Jesus says – even in this, will you follow me?
When we go through dark times, our tendency is to believe that wound or darkness will define us. What these stories tell us – it is actually what we do from that point on that defines our lives! It is what we do from that moment on that defines us – that gives us the opportunity to define ourselves.
The second person is Mary – she is really amazing. With John, it was following Jesus when the expectations are unfulfilled – for Mary, it is when dreams are shattered and destroyed.
The first thing Mary does as an adult Christian – an angel comes to her. She is unique – anyone here? She had an amazing beginning.
Luke 1: 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 “He will be great
I’ll be honest – once you get past 10 fingers and toes – you want your kids to be great – great at something – athlete, scholar, person of character – greatness! What if – when your firstborn was born – came to you and said, this one will be great! That would freak you out wouldn’t it?!
and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end
What expectations – not only will he be president – but they will do away with two terms for your son!
And Shepherds come into the hospital room! Bowing down and worshiping.
Luke 2: 28 then he (Simeon) took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart In peace, according to Thy word; 30 For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, 31 Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Thy people Israel.”
They marveled at what was being said – one after another – this kid we have is unreal – a light to the world – and it appears to slowly crumble….
33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this [Child] is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed– 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul– to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed. ”
All this hope and greatness and dreams start to crumble.
When Jesus stays behind in the temple: Son! Why are you doing this to us?! What is going on with this great child of mine? – Who was supposed to be the king of Israel? Then – at the wedding – 30 years later – and she is probably thinking – he is 30, and still at home! And there is no wine at the wedding – and Jesus says – Woman, what do I have to do with you?
Then it hits its climax in Mark 3 – which happened about the same time as John’s doubts. Everyone is asking – what is going on with this person? We often skip over these passages quickly:
Mark 3: 20 And He ^came home, and the multitude ^gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. 21 And when His own people heard [of this,] they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses.”
Mary must be thinking – something has gone horribly wrong – and they go to him – thinking He has gone insane – we need to take charge of him.
Mark 3:31 And His mother and His brothers ^arrived, and standing outside they sent [word] to Him, and called Him. 32 And a multitude was sitting around Him, and they ^said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.” 33 And answering them, He ^said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” 34 And looking about on those who were sitting around Him, He ^said, “Behold, My mother and My brothers! 35 “For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
They go, concerned that He is out of His mind – he is in a house with a crowd – Your Mom and brothers want to talk to You! Who? Those who do the will! What a crushing blow to a mom in distress! The deal with Mary – she is called to follow heartache, disappointment – shattered dreams. For many- it is the shattered dreams of church – how many of us have been really injured by church and ministry?! It comes in all different ways.
What Mary does is interesting – we don’t hear about her for a long time – but she enters into this darkness, taking these expectations and dreams – setting them aside – and gathers new expectations and dreams. Talking to Jemma this week – she said – this is my new normal.
John 19: . But there were standing by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the [wife] of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene
She is not only His mother, but His follower. She follows Him to the cross to watch her dreams shatter completely. The cross was the worst punishment to shame the criminal AND his family.
. 26 When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He ^said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then He ^said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own [household.]
In Acts, we see Mary – she is one of the great disciples of the church, doing the work of God.
We are called to follow Jesus and to take up our cross. There is no good earthly end with the cross. There is only one way – one end – to a person who carries a cross. Just one.
The third person is Peter.
John followed with doubt. Mary followed when dreams are shattered. Peter has to follow Jesus when He fails to fulfill HIS expectations.
Luke 22: 31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded [permission] to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. ” 33 And he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” 34 And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the cock will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”
Peter fails. We see that – we know the story. He denies Jesus, abandoning Him right after he told Him he would not. He made such a big stink of it at the Last Supper – and he failed. Jesus tells him – but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. ” 33 And he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” 34 And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the cock will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”
Failure is not the end of faith. You will fail. But that does not mean faith is gone. He tells Peter to recall his faith – and to return to Jesus. Even after failure, it is time to follow. And that is the life of a disciple. Your failure does not define you, but your response to it!
Strengthen your brothers! You have a job to do. Remember at the lake? Do you love me? Yes – Take care of other people, tend my sheep! Do you love me (a third time) – why? Jesus is restoring Peter – bringing him in to his failure and opening it up. He is taking his brokenness and peeling it back so Peter can see it all and bring it to the cross. The whole thing is forgiven. And in doing that, he can move on.
13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of [it] yet; but one thing [I do]: forgetting what [lies] behind and reaching forward to what [lies] ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus
We are called to forget and forsake. Then we are called to move forward. We can’t move forward without the cross. There is a strength and grace that only come from the cross.
Henri Nouwen – We need to put our failures, wounds, pain, brokenness in service to Christ. That is what Jesus is doing with Peter, Mary, and John.
To put your pain – whatever it is, however it has come – in service to, and for, Christ.
Do you know how hard that is? In order to put it in Christ’s service, we need to bring the full weight of it to the cross. To bring all of it – open, willingly to the cross – that the wound and the pain may be healed, and then that becomes a source of grace and healing for others. And that is how you do ministry, love, – that is how these did it. By His stripes you are healed. He bore our wounds, sicknesses on the cross, and life is lived through the cross.
Lord, teach us how to live through the cross. When there is pain, wounds, and darkness – you will be found – you have a work to do inside of us – we don’t know how much needs to be removed in order for that to happen. Give us the heart to open up to You – help us not to be satisfied with being a nice Christian – may we be able to let You do that work in us.