August 23, 2015

Luke 9:18-27

We are headed to the pivotal chapter eleven in Luke’s Gospel in our study of the prayer life of Jesus.  It’s not until the eleventh chapter that Jesus’ disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray.  Up until that time, there is a lot of praying taking place but Jesus is the one doing the praying.

He prays at the beginning of his ministry when he is baptized.  After he had success and large crowds began to follow him, he withdrew to the desert and prayed.

When he needed to make important decisions, like choosing men to be his disciples, he spent an entire night on a mountain in prayer.

When more than 5,000 people were waiting for Jesus and the disciples when their boat landed at the village of Bethsaida, Jesus took a few loaves of bread and a few fish and he prayed, before miraculously creating enough to feed everyone.

Eventually, the disciples see prayer as a vital part of Jesus’ life and they want the power of prayer available to them.  So before Jesus teaches them to say, “Lead us not into temptation,” Jesus teaches them about being led where none of us want to go, where he did not want to go, and where it feels against all of our instincts to go, into the teeth of pain, suffering, and misery on behalf of others.

When the disciples said, “Teach us to pray,” they wanted all of the power and the success they were seeing Jesus experience.   But when his prayers shifted to suffering, these were prayers they didn’t want any part of and tried to persuade him were not part of God’s will.

I have no doubt that we are no different from the disciples.   Our prayers are consumed with verbs and a pronoun like give me, deliver me, help me, direct me, show me, lead me, forgive me.

Our prayers are often self-centered.  As God listens to our prayers, he must wonder if we think the world revolves around us.

But if you notice when Jesus prayed, his prayers were not always about his personal agenda.  His prayers were about finding God’s agenda for his life.

When we shift our prayers in that direction, it means that we might have to make radical shifts in our point of reference.  That requires admitting we are living with attitudes that need changing, with theology that needs reshaping, with a lifestyle that needs adjustments, and most of us don’t want to change or even entertain the idea that we might be wrong about the direction or position we have taken.

In chapter nine, Luke tells us that the disciples were with Jesus, but Jesus was praying in private.  Luke doesn’t tell us what Jesus was praying about, but the conversation that follows is an indication that Jesus was praying about the cross.

At this point in Jesus’ ministry, it is apparent to him that his life is headed for a terrible death, an execution. It is apparent to him, but no one else.  It seems that this has been revealed to him through prayer and through the study of the scriptures.

Jesus realizes that he is light years ahead of his disciples on this matter and so the time has come for them to understand how things are going to play out.  So for their first lesson in “Messiahship 101,” he asks them, “Who do people say that I am?”

The disciples say that people are referring to Jesus as John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets of long ago that had come back to life.

In other words, the people didn’t think Jesus was the Messiah.  Instead, they looked at Jesus like we look at John the Baptist.  They saw him as an important religious leader that was getting them ready for the Messiah who would come later.

So then he asked the disciples, “Well, what about you?  Who do you say that I am?”

Peter said, “Well, you ARE the Messiah.”

Was Peter right?  Well, yes he was.  But Peter didn’t have a clue about what he had just said.

Here is why.  Listen to this list of words:

1  arm

2  bat

3 box

4  cave

5 change

6  check

7  chicken

8  chip

9  clear

10 grave

11 pitcher

12 tie

13 yard

Now choose any word from the list and tell me what the meaning is of the word by using it in a sentence.

Are you 100% sure that your sentence is the correct definition of the word?

The answer is no, you cannot be because these words are homonyms

Homonyms are words that are spelled and pronounced the same, but have different meanings.

Is a yard three feet or is it a measure of concrete that is poured in my driveway or a measure frontend loader’s worth of wood chips for the yard that surrounds my house?  It could be any one of those.

The word “Messiah” functions like that here.   Jesus’ definition of Messiah and Peter’s definition of Messiah were totally different.

Peter looked for a Messiah to come and set up an earthly kingdom like King David and free the Jews from the oppression of the Romans.   Jesus was coming to be the Messiah prophesied by the Old Testament prophets who was to be a suffering servant.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place”  (John 18:16).

The Messiah Jesus came to be was a suffering servant. That’s the reason Jesus warned the disciples not to tell this to anyone. People would not understand Peter’s announcement. Apparently, no one was looking for a suffering servant.  The people would completely misinterpret who Jesus was.

So he said to the disciples:  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Jesus explains to the disciples that those who wished to come after him must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him.  “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

With this in mind, how does such a passage inform our praying?  We don’t have to wait for chapter eleven for the disciples to ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray,” before allow the praying of Jesus to inform our own.

While we don’t have the content of Jesus’ prayer, we can see what issues are on his mind as he prayed:

Let’s look at his identity, his direction, and his suffering.

Finding an identity has become one of the major struggles in life.   The identity struggle becomes acute in adolescence and continues for many into young adults.

Clothes are a big deal.  Having the right look is a symbol of teenage and young adult identity.  Ibid

There is a deep desire to be accepted by friends, which often leads to engaging in practices that are considered as tabooed pleasures.  Because they want to strengthen their own identities, teens and young adults will form cliques, which in turn excludes others from their group.  It’s comforting to be one of the group, painful when you are not.   Ibid

They look for identity through rebellion from parents and authority figures.  They often latch onto personalities they see as models they would like to be like. Sometimes these are positive models and sometimes they are negative. Ibid

This struggle for identity doesn’t stop at the young adult years.  It’s not like we get to age 25 or 30 and suddenly the light comes on and we no longer struggle with this issue.  If that were the case, there would be no struggles in our marriages, with addictions, sexual orientation, in knowing what career we want, or what we want to do in retirement.

In this passage, Jesus wrestles with his identity through prayer.  What we learn from him is that our identity should not come from others, but instead it should come from God.

It is very important that we teach prayer in our homes.  If we learn to pray early it’s more likely that prayer will continue through all phases of our lives.

Daily prayer and Bible reading was encouraged by my mother, and I especially remember prayer becoming important to me as a junior and senior in high school as identity issues became more prevalent in my life.  It was through prayer that God helped me understand my calling and be comfortable sharing it with family and friends.

Through prayer, Jesus was able to get the confirmation he needed for his life’s direction.  Prayer is the way we find peace with decisions we make about our plans.

Haven’t you ever been on a journey and you didn’t know whether you were travelling on the right road?  How do you feel?  Can you enjoy the scenery?  Can you relax?  Are you anxious?

It’s not until you know that you are on the right road that you can settle into the trip and feel a sense of calm and peace.  That’s what prayer does for us.  Prayer is the GPS system that places us on the right road so that we end up in the right place.

Jesus prayed until he knew he was on the right road and he continued to pray as he accepted and adjusted to the road God wanted him on.   The road God now was about to place him on was a road of suffering and he was just now telling his disciples about it.  As you might expect, they were not going to be happy about this road.  In fact, they were going to question whether Jesus had heard God correctly.

Jesus had.  This leads us to our third and final point about what we learn from Jesus’ praying.

The closer we are to God, the less selfish our prayers become.

Instead of simply looking and praying for God to get us out of misery, we should begin to pray for God to use us in the misery we are in to bring glory to His name.

We should begin to pray for God to use us to bless others when misery camps on their steps.

Will you check your life and see if this statement turns out to be true? “Whenever there is misery, look for Jesus to show up.”

We cannot be the church until we are entering into the misery of others and helping deliver them because this is what Jesus did and this is what he does.  We are charged with being Jesus to the world.

We will not do this if we are not praying for God to use us in this way.  If we are only praying, “Lord, remove me from this miserable situation,” we have not learned what it means to take up our cross and follow Him.

It’s natural and normal to ask God to remove us from suffering, but what happens if we pray, “Lord use me in this suffering to do your will and to bring glory to your name”?

The Apostle Paul wrote to his friends at Corinth about his suffering and he said: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.“ 2 Corinthians 12:8-12 (NIV)

Could it be that we come much closer to understanding what it means to be a disciple when we pray, “Lord, I know where there is misery, you are there.   Place me there as well, and give me power through your Holy Spirit to give comfort to the brokenhearted, peace to the weary, friendship to the lonely, encouragement to the discouraged, challenging words to those who are not living up to their potential, inspiration to the uninspired, healing to the wounded, and guidance to those who are unsaved that will lead them to accept Jesus as their Savior“?

A firefighter runs into the fire.  A policeman runs toward the danger.  A soldier runs into the battle.  Jesus ran toward the misery.  He found the power to do so through prayer.  He says to his disciples, “Take up your cross and follow me.