The objective of this lesson: the ultimate test of discipleship is the willingness to surrender oneself to God's purposes.
In life the truest tests are formed by real opportunity and actual circumstances. Information received convinces us we should follow Jesus. Our minds convince us we would follow Jesus. Our voices say we will follow Jesus. Yet, when the moment arrives that brings actual consequences to be experienced because we follow Jesus, do we follow? It is easy to be a disciple if following Jesus produces physical rewards and approval. It is difficult to be a disciple if following Jesus produces harsh consequences.
The greatest challenge of discipleship is not to be found in sincere intentions. The greatest challenge is to be found in surrendering oneself to God's purposes when surrender is costly to the disciple.
Consider examples of common challenges confronting the person who chooses discipleship. As you consider three examples, realize a person's actual at-the-moment focus of discipleship may be opportunity, intention, or surrender. Surrender occurs when mind and body submit.
This lesson is based on three examples that occurred on the afternoon/evening of Jesus' arrest. These three examples occurred just prior to or during the Gethsemane events. One example saw that moment of discipleship as opportunity to gratify personal desires. One example viewed that moment of discipleship through the eyes of sincere intentions. One example viewed the challenges and demands of the situation through a willingness to surrender to God's purposes.
When Judas saw the tenseness surrounding Jesus' physical presence in Jerusalem, he saw opportunity. Commonly reactions considering Judas' betrayal are emotional reactions. Commonly those emotional reactions are negative and strong. Everyone who knows anything about the Bible (even if it is very little!) dislikes Judas. Many reasons are behind those strong, negative reactions. Likely one reason is fear. Perhaps we resent Judas because, deep inside, we understand and relate to him all too well. Perhaps he reminds us of our inner self.
Challenge your students to view Judas' actions through understanding perspectives rather than through emotional reactions. The lessons we need to learn will be revealed through understanding, not through emotional reactions.
Rather than having a strong, negative, emotional reaction against Judas, look at the situation pragmatically. In a recent occurrence, Judas (and many in Jerusalem) witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from death four days after his death. All the area, including the people of Jerusalem, talked of this incredible event.
Begin by stressing the circumstances. The visit that all the disciples feared would result in Jesus' death actually resulted in Jesus' popularity and Lazarus' resurrection. Challenge your students to consider their reactions if they accepted as fact they would die, but instead witnessed someone prove he was superior to death.
The results were profound. Many believed in Jesus (John 11:45). The men who were the religious and political power structure in Jerusalem and Israel said, "We must do something about Jesus--NOW!" (John 11:47-53). Favorable and unfavorable reactions were so pronounced Jesus could no longer be in public (John 11:54).
Stress that both positive and negative reactions were profound. Some found powerful reason to believe in Jesus. Some found powerful reason to deepen their hatred for Jesus. The same event caused some to believe and some to hate.
Remember the twelve discouraged Jesus from returning to the Jerusalem area because of their fear that Jewish leaders would kill him (John 11:8). They were so fearful that Jesus would be killed that they accepted as fact with resignation that they all would be killed (John 11:16).
The twelve disciples knew the Jewish leaders wanted to execute Jesus.
That did not happen! Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus' popularity increased. Though the Jewish leaders hated him, the populace loved him. He was so popular that his return to the Jerusalem area close to Passover resulted in the populace welcoming him in the manner ancient Israel welcomed kings. Jesus had power over death! He was untouchable!
Before Lazarus was resurrected, the twelve were afraid the Jewish leaders would succeed in killing Jesus. In fear for his well being, they did not want him to be in the Jerusalem area (the primary place of power and influence for the Jewish leaders). After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the twelve were impressed with Jesus' power and popularity.
Thus, Judas (who loved money--see John 12:6) saw opportunity. The Jewish leadership was desperate to arrest Jesus, but it had to be in private lest the populace cause them problems. Here were people willing to pay money to arrest the man who had power over death and was extremely popular! Judas saw the perfect opportunity for a disciple who loved money and followed Jesus. The Jewish leaders would pay him money to tell them when and where they could arrest Jesus, but no harm could come to Jesus--his power and popularity would prevent it! Judas would have his money, the Jewish leaders' feeble attempt to confine Jesus would be frustrated, and the end result would place Jesus in even better position to become Israel's king (which all the disciples wanted and expected).
Judas looked at the situation as a "win-win" opportunity. He would obtain some money, and Jesus would not be hurt. If his master's enemies wished to pay him money, that was fine with him. Jesus was bigger than death and very popular with the people. If Jesus had the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, what human (or humans) could hurt him?
Judas saw an incredible, "nothing can go wrong," OPPORTUNITY. From Judas' perspective, the result was DISASTER. He never intended or envisioned Jesus' death (consider Matthew 27:3-5). This is a sobering example of how "perfect" opportunities to be greedy and be a disciple failed and resulted in horrible consequences Judas could not live with. Evil and discipleship are never a successful mixture! Was it not Jesus who warned we cannot belong to both God and material things? (See Matthew 6:24)
Judas' ambition was to get money, not to hurt Jesus. That is verified by the fact that Jesus' life was more precious to Judas than the money--he took the money back and in remorse killed himself. We need to remember that good is not produced by a disciple doing ungodly things.
From the formation of the twelve, Peter was one of the inner three. He was extremely close to Jesus. Of the twelve, only he dared trust Jesus enough to get out of the boat in a storm (Matthew 14:24-33). Only to him did God reveal that Jesus was the Christ (Matthew 16:17-19). He was one of the three who witnessed Jesus' transfiguration, and of them only he dared speak (Matthew 17:1-8). It was Peter who assumed the role of spokesman on the Pentecost after Jesus' resurrection (Acts 2:14-42). It was Peter who was the dominant leader among Jerusalem disciples/Christians prior to the events of Acts 10.
Emphasize that Peter was a significant person to Jesus before and after Jesus' death.
Peter was a confident disciple. He was certain about what he would and would not do. He was determined in his intentions. When a fisherman draws a sword against Roman troops and the Jewish temple guard intending to fight several hundred men with no armed assistance, he is ready to die! Peter was ready to die defending Jesus if he could die his way by his choice. To die fighting was acceptable. To be arrested and executed was unacceptable.
Peter was more than willing to be true to his intention. If he could die fighting (with the only sword taken to Gethsemane), he was quite willing to fight to the death in his defense of Jesus. (He obviously was not skilled in the use of a sword since the only damage he did was cutting off a servant's ear!) However, to be arrested and executed was neither an honorable or desirable way to die! Dying for the sake of principal was, to him, not as honorable as dying while you fought defending a person you loved.
Peter was sincere and serious in his intention (Matthew 26:31-34). However, his sincere intention was based on doing it his way in a manner that was acceptable to him.
Sincerity is not surrender. Sincerity often keeps "me" in control. Surrender forfeits control.
Certainly, Jesus was the teacher, not a disciple. The teacher reveals to disciples the way to God (John 14:6). We will not pass the big test by following Judas' example when Jesus was betrayed or Peter's example when Jesus was arrested. We will pass the big test by following Jesus' example in Gethsemane.
The third example is not the example of a disciple. It is the example of the teacher. The disciples failed. The teacher succeeded. Commitment to success means following the teacher's example.
Jesus clearly did not want the responsibility or the death that was immediately before him (Matthew 26:36-39). He fully understood the consequences of his arrest. He fully understood the arrest was imminent. He knew what he wanted: "Let this cup pass." He was willing to do what God wanted: "Yet, not as I will, but as You will." God's purposes would not be fulfilled in his personal preferences. They would be fulfilled in his personal surrender. God's will was more important than Jesus' desires. Jesus passed the big test. He surrendered to God's will.
Jesus understood the consequences of his decision. He understood the enormous responsibility he would assume as God's sacrificial lamb for us. He understood the pain and rejection of the crucifixion ordeal. He understood that he did not wish to endure the experience. Understanding, not ignorance, made the choice. His choice was not centered in his desires, but in God's purposes. In understanding, not desire, he surrendered. Ultimately God's purposes were in his best interest, but that occurred after the resurrection. Before resurrection there had to be crucifixion.
The answers to this question will be varied, but they all should be related to similar factors such as:
physical desires rather than spiritual expectations
being so physically focused we cannot see the spiritual
desires for physical pleasure
desires for physical rewards and indulgence
conflicts of interest
a desire to be in control rather than surrender control
life after death and life with God seeming unreal
feeling no need for salvation, forgiveness, mercy, or grace
The answers to this question will be very personal and will relate to the situation of the person. You may wish to make this question a thought question rather than a discussion question.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 12
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