We are preaching through the last days of Jesus this week in a couple of different locations in Haiti. One place is a church in the town of Jacmel with mature believers. The church building is forty years old and it is made of concrete with old wooden benches painted various colors. The electricity works sometimes, but not in the day. We do the training for the leaders here in the morning and out back, in the courtyard, the women cook our lunch over an open fire under a shed. Beans and rice with chicken legs are what is served each day. It is very good. All through the teaching in the morning and the services at night with the church, we hear the trucks and motorcycles passing by on the street just outside the front door. It gets hot. Very hot. And, the air does not move inside of that church. Thirty Haitian believers meet with us each morning and around a hundred each night to hear from the Scriptures about who God is and what it means to follow Jesus. Their questions are penetrating and they process all that we say. They are brilliant people.
The other place that we go to is on top of a mountain outside of town in a place with no electricity and rock and dirt roads. It is called Bossier or Bosye in Creole. There are goats and cattle grazing in the hills and children who come running down the dirt path when we arrive either via motorcycle or with a 4 wheel drive truck. The housing is here and there with huts and small dwellings. A church has been built there on top of the hill and it overlooks the road below like the Tabernacle of Moses keeping watch over the people of Israel, made of poles and tent fabric flapping in the wind. At the bottom of the hill resides a Voodoo lady who has served the community in the ancient witchcraft. But, her children have come to Christ and she is considering things anew. At a distance, we can see the Caribbean Sea, all blue green and endless and everywhere are palm trees and poor people without shoes but with big smiles and warm greetings.
We came to both places to preach the Gospel and we are doing it through talking about the events of Jesus’s last week. Today is Thursday. So, we go to the Last Supper and we see Peter telling Jesus that he will never betray him. Matthew 26:30-35,
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.
Peter was ready to die with Jesus. They all were. They would never turn away from him. Jesus told them differently. He said that they would all betray him. They could not understand. They were ready to die for Jesus. How could they possibly betray him?
They were looking for the great conflict. They would die with Jesus if they could see the purpose in it. They would die defending him or die proclaiming him. They would die if he bid them too. They were ready to die. But, their readiness was based on their own understanding of his mission and life. They were ready to die for Jesus based on their own expectations. They were not ready to die for Jesus based on what he was going to do. They would die for him but they would not follow him. There is a difference.
Matthew 26:36-46. Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
The disciples were ready to die for Jesus in the Upper Room, but in the Garden, they could not stay awake to pray. They were ready for the fight, but they were not ready to wait and keep watch. The fight is based on adrenaline and daring and courage. The wait in the night is based on faith and perseverance and longsuffering and patience. The fight requires strength. The wait requires patience. The Disciples were ready to exert strength, but they were not able to keep watch. Even with all of their bold claims, they were failing. Jesus knew their hearts just as he knows ours. He knew their weakness.
Matthew 26:47-56. While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.
John 18:10 says that it was Peter who pulled out his sword and struck Malchus, the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Peter was ready for the fight. He had the sword. He awoke from his slumber of waiting and being patient and now the adrenaline was flowing. Now, the fight would begin and Peter was ready to fight, to die even, for the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But, something strange happens. Peter’s fighting and swordplay is not accepted by Jesus. He says that all who live by the sword will die by the sword. He says that God can save him if He wants. He can send twelve legions of angels. But, no angels appear. There is to be no battle, heavenly or otherwise. There are only soldiers and the betraying kiss of a friend and Peter holding a bloody sword. So, they took Jesus away and there was no fight. Not knowing how to watch and wait and persevere, the disciples left Jesus and fled. Jesus was right. They would all abandon him that night because nothing happened the way they thought it would. They were ge
ared up for a fight, but the fight never came. So, instead of following Jesus, they went their own way.
ared up for a fight, but the fight never came. So, instead of following Jesus, they went their own way.
I am not condemning the disciples. This is how it had to be. This is how it was. I would have done the same. But, the difference between their proclamation in the Upper Room and their following asleep in the Garden and their fleeing Jesus upon his arrest is striking. There are many martyrs for causes. People die for their country or their family all of the time. History is littered with the bones of soldiers and brothers and husbands and citizens who died for their clan, their community, or their country. It is a common thing.
But, what strikes me is why the disciples ran away. They went from being ready to fight to fleeing. The change happened when Jesus gave himself up. If he would have rallied them, they all likely would have fought and died for him together. The fight that they envisioned was something that they could grasp and give themselves to. It was a great cause that made sense to them. It was something that they could be motivated with and motivate others with. It would have been a glorious death.
But, Jesus was not going the Way of Glory. He was going the Way of the Cross. He was not going to be glorified according to man’s perspective. He was going to be glorified by being whipped and beaten and by being nailed to a tree between two thieves, dying a criminal’s death, naked and exposed for all the world to see. Jesus was going a Way that was incomprehensible to even his closest followers.
Peter would deny him three more times. Everyone would flee. Jesus would die and when he died, none of his disciples understood it. He committed his spirit to the Father and forgave the people who killed him because they did not know what they were doing. The Way of the Cross is not the Way of Glory. We do not want the Cross. We want Glory. Many people who follow Jesus today do so for the glory. They do it for fight. That is how I used to be. I wanted the fight. I wanted to feel the adrenaline of sacrifice and danger and of doing “something great for God.” I wanted to be a world-changer and I wanted to be a part of some great cause. I wanted to mobilize and army and be on the front lines. And, I got to experience some of that.
But, what I did not want was the Cross. I did not want to wait. I did not want to watch and pray. Prayer was about seeing something happen. I wanted something great to happen. Something that I could tell others about, saying, “Look at what God did!” Others wanted the same thing. They got excited when great things happened and movements started all over attended to by celebrity leaders and music and stages and money and power and change. We could all feel the adrenaline flow through us. I did not have to be the leader, but I wanted to be a part of the army doing something great for God. I was a younger man then.
I am older now. I realize that the bulk of the Christian life is spent in the Garden, the space in between the great pronouncements of fidelity and the test where Jesus goes a way that we do not expect. What do I do in the Garden? Do I sleep because I do not understand why I am there? Do I sleep because nothing is happening? Three times The Lord came to his disciples and told them to “wake up!” What happens in the Garden points to what will happen when the time of conflict comes. They came for Jesus but the expected fight did not happen. He went the Way of the Cross and his disciples did not follow. They could not follow because they expected the Way of Glory. They were only going to go the Way of Glory and they would have gladly given up their lives for it. The issue was not dying. The issue was HOW they died and what for. They would lay down their lives in a great battle, but they would not go to the Cross. They would give their lives for a Great Cause but not to simply follow Jesus wherever He would go.
In the end, it was not their Cross to bear. That Cross belonged to Jesus. So, I do not blame them too much. They did what they did and it probably could not have happened any other way. After the Resurrection, they were all restored and then they gave their lives in service to Christ and, guided by the Holy Spirit, I have to think that they carried their own Cross. But, that night must have lingered in their minds. They must have remembered what it was like to see their Savior taken away in chains, betrayed by the kiss of a friend, while then turning and running and stumbling away to save their own lives. They would have followed him to the Fight, because that was the Way of Glory. But, they would not follow him to the Cross.
Not yet, anyway.
So, that is what I am thinking about sitting by the rocky sea shore in Southern Haiti. How often do I use Jesus, even in my devotion to Him, as a Way of Glory? And, how often do I reject actually following Him on the Way of the Cross because it is too painful. I am often ready for the fight, but I am often unready for the wait and the pain and the rejection that comes from taking up my cross and following Jesus, even when I do not understand.