Monday, July 6, 2009

What Were the Disciple's Darkest Hours?

In the "One Prayer" series sponsored by some of the largest churches in the nation, Andy Stanly talks about our darkest hours and God's presence during these times. One of the most dramatic moments in all of human history took place in an environment... we've come to know as "Upper room" The disciples and Jesus were coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. This was a time when the Jewish people would come and celebrate the memory of the time when their people were finally delivered from Egypt after 400 years of slavery. Their ancestors were told by Moses to paint the blood of a lamb over their doorways which would mark their homes to be "passed over" by the angel of death when all the first born children of Egypt were to die because the Egyptian Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go despite warnings from Moses.

The disciples and Jesus had been through so much and they had had Passover several times together. But at this moment in the Upper Room, things seemed to have spiraled downward. People were trying to get Jesus alone so they could arrest Him. More and more, they were experiencing rejection and persecution. Jesus was, even now, talking about His own death. "Things are going to be bad in Jerusalem." He would say, which left the disciples wondering why He wanted to go to Jerusalem in the first place. Not only was it dangerous, but they had to sneak into the city under the cover of darkness to avoid being seen. It was a time when there were no shouts of joy or shouts saying, "Hosanna!" No one could even know they were in the Upper Room.

Mark 14:17 talks about this event; "When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me." So, here they are in one of the most intimate settings of their culture, at a dinner table, and even as the disciples were in their darkest hours, Jesus now is telling them that one of them will betray Him! What's worse, they knew who this person would betray Jesus to because things had gotten so bad and they now knew His enemies.

"They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?" "It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."

As we look at our Bible, it is not a book about great times and wonderful living. It is a book about the troubled times from the lives of people who discovered that in the midst of uncertainty, God was still trustworthy. This is a book where we read about Joseph, who was hated by and sold into slavery by his brothers. But we go on to know that God was with Joseph all along. We read about King David, who found out his son had raised up an army to kill him, but we later find out that God was with David throughout his ordeal. We read about the first-born children, in Egypt, who were ordered to be killed, but we found the God was there! We read about the how the all the babies in Bethlehem were killed, an entire generation, but we know know that God had the world in His hands through the birth of Jesus. We read about the times when it seemed like evil had won and the bad guys were successful, but then we see that God was there.

Now, in the Upper Room, Jesus begins breaking bread and pouring the wine, saying that the bread is His Body and the wine is His Blood. It was more death talk to an already somber group. What's worse, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus tells the disciples that all of them would fall away. He tells Peter that he would deny Jesus.

"Here's my question for we continue to experience extraordinary uncertainty in our families, in our jobs, with our children, with our culture, with our leadership, with our Congress, with our Senate...with our economy...with our scholarships. Can you trust God...when there's absolutely no evidence of His activity in your life, in your culture, in our country and seemingly at times, in our world? Our answer to that question will determine our response to the uncertainty in our lives right now." The dilemma right now is that we sometimes equate God and God's presence with physical blessings.

But, if you had gone to the disciples back in time and asked them, "When were the darkest moments in your ministry?" They would probably say it all began in the Upper Room. These were likely the darkest because it probably seemed like they had wasted all this time with Jesus. But then, if you asked the disciples, when did God do His greatest work in each of them, they would likely say that it was during those darkest hours!

"That's a difficult message for American Christians...But this is not only our story because it is reflected in the Gospel...but this is our own experience....The greatest things begin in the biggest messes...This is what God does...Will we maintain faith when we cannot see His hand? As our faith begins to waiver as we look to the left and the right, now more than ever, (the Bible) is the place we need to go." We might hear this message and say this is all fine, but this won't change our circumstances. It won't get us a job or put our kids back in school or heal our land. But although this doesn't promise a cure for the storms, it allows us to embrace our circumstances with the knowledge that God is still in charge.

"When Sandra and I were in the Washington for the Inauguration...they took us to this giant hall to wait for President Obama...we weren't standing in line, we were just spread out...the President was going to be coming out...I was standing behind...Reverend Otis Moss. He was born in middle Georgia in 1835...he was an a 16 year old, he saw the worst that this country had to 19, he decided to be a preacher...he became a part of the core group of friends with Martin Luther King...He experienced racism and hatred that many of us never will...but he kept his faith...As he shared with Coretta Scott King right in front of me, he drifted off and said, "And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him...Now, (Rev Otis Moss's) "all things" were so different from the "all things" that many of us have experienced..."But Pastor Stanley, sometimes it takes him a while"...I was about to meet the President, but I realized I had just met a saint...God will not stop working. He still has your world and your family in His hands. I just met a man who maintained faith through horrible circumstances.." The end of the verse, Pastor Moss did not quote is "and for all who are called according to His purposes."

Our faith often rests in our knowing that God still has our whole world in His hands.

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