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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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!
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 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)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 12
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