Missing Jesus: Cleopas

A few Sunday’s ago after church, our family went to a restaurant that we enjoy. All weekend I was salivating as I thought about having a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie at this restaurant. After church I hurried my kiddos—a little too quickly out the door. As we drove, I got giddier and giddier. When I could see the restaurant, I could almost taste that pie in my mouth. We pulled into the parking lot, but I got a sinking feeling when I noticed there were no cars. I shuffled my feet to the door and read a handwritten sign that said, “Sorry. Due for unforeseen circumstances the restaurant will be closed today.” Argh! Stupid expectations!

My story may seem trivial. I started with something small because starting big may be overwhelming for some. I could tell you of my expectations and the disappointments that made me wonder whether I am cut out for the ministry or mission field. I could tell you of some unmet expectations I’ve had for my marriage that made me wonder if we’d make it another year or another day. Some of you have had great expectations for a relationship, a spouse, a child, a job interview, a career, a vacation, a retirement, a 401k, a dream house or a situation to turn around only to have it unmet. Have you ever had an unmet expectation?

When we dive into the Gospels we get to see and discover the story of Jesus. Like a Where’s Waldo book we find Jesus, ourselves, and others in the story or we can miss Jesus.

When you think of a character that missed Jesus in the story who do you think of? We have looked at Judas and Caiaphas. Today we will look at Cleopas. If we’re honest, there is a little bit of Cleopas in all of us. Like Cleopas we feel the tension of expecting one thing from Jesus and experiencing another thing. When our expectations are unmet doubts creep in, discouragement, disappointments, disillusionment and frustrations can occur. Expectation is the mother of all frustration—the root of all heartache (Shakespeare).

How many times has life, even God disappointed you? It’s tough when you have unmet expectations in connection to a spouse, a child or a friend, but it’s really tough when it’s God. We don’t like to think about God disappointing us. Maybe you thought God was going to do things one way, but he had different plans. God can act or behave in ways that you might not expect. What happens when the character of God doesn’t come through the way you thought? What happens when God’s provision is later than you thought? What happens when you trust God, yet it seems like God fails you or abandons you? What happens to your view of God when life gets chaotic and God seems silent?

Today we are going to take a walk on the Emmaus Road. A road that began with unmet expectations, but led to a marvelous meeting with Jesus. We will step into the shoes of two men who had an expectation of Jesus, but that expectation wasn’t met like they had thought,

“That very day (the day Jesus resurrected) two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” (Luke 24:13-14) Italics include my thoughts.

emmaus mapLet’s do a short Bible Study and ask who, what, where and why of the text. Who were these men? We will learn one has a name and the other remains nameless. We aren’t sure if they’re related, worked together or were neighbors. Let’s just call them friends. Where were they going? They’re walking to a village named Emmaus. Archeologists don’t know the exact location of the town or the road. Likely, it was west of Jerusalem—in the opposite direction from where the two men were headed. Why were they leaving Jerusalem? The Passover was over. The big feast in the big city had finished and the roads around Jerusalem would have a steady flow of people leaving to go to their homes and villages.

What are they talking about? News! The text tells us what they talked about,

“While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. (Yes, Jesus teleported!) But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Seriously, where you been? Haven’t you check you FB or CNN feed?) And he said to them, “What things?” (like he didn’t know?) And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.” (Luke 24:15-20)

The two friends (now plus one) unpacked the events of the past few days. This years Passover was unlike any other that they’d ever been to. It looked like it was going to be the best party ever, but it ended up being a dud. It looked like the stars had aligned and the Prophet’s words were being unveiled before their very eyes, but the hopeful Messiah goes and dies. This didn’t make sense to them. Many like these men sold everything they had to follow Jesus (some for 3-years). It’s as if they bought into a pyramid scheme and thought they got scammed. They saw Jesus die with their own eyes. They saw his body removed from the cross and carried to the tomb. The chaos of the weekend caused them to question God. Their hopes and expectations were drowned in sadness. They were deeply disappointed, if not devastated.

Have you been in their shoes? Have you felt what they felt? Have you thought that Jesus was one person—you placed your faith in him, you had great expectations of him—but something shattered who you thought he was, how he was to act and behave, what he was to do for you? Surely, you have. Let’s be honest. Following Jesus isn’t glamorous. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t make all your problems or pain go away. Following Jesus takes you down a dusty and rocky road—a risky and dangerous road. A road not well traveled. A lonely road. A road filled with temptation and persecution. A road of suffering and sacrifice.

You lose hope when thing don’t happen as you’d expect. When Jesus doesn’t meet your expectations you can easily become sad, angry, despaired, depressed, and hopeless. You can lose hope in the character of Christ when the journey of following Jesus gets a little chaotic. Isn’t it during times of chaos or difficulty that we tend to question God’s character? When everything is going good there isn’t need to question God. We got it good. Our relationship is good. Our trust is good. Our hope is good. Yet when my marriage is sour or my kids are playing the prodigal or I lose my job or I find out from the doctor bad news, it is then that I question the goodness of God. I question his plans. I question his character (e.g. wisdom, sovereignty, omnipresence, etc.).

Does God work through your frustrations? Doubts? Disappointments? Unmet expectations? You bet! It is often in those chaotic times that you see God work best. Is God there with you, even in the chaos? Certainly! Chaos can cloud your vision. You can miss seeing him walk beside you—with you. You may not recognize God as he does his work. Sometimes you may be kept from recognizing him or what he’s doing (Ex: Job, Abraham, Cleopas, etc.).

Let’s give these two men on the Emmaus Road a little grace. 48-hours earlier Jesus was unrecognizable. He was beaten, bruised and bloody. His beard was plucked. He was naked and scarred. Some of their last images of Jesus were traumatic and grotesque. To think that Jesus survived the ordeal, cleaned himself up and ran to catch up with these men walking to Emmaus just to have a conversation with them would have seemed absurd and unthinkable. Yet Jesus in his resurrected body had a little fun. It’s something you can look forward to when you get yours. He could teleport and walk through walls. That’s so cool!

Seriously, we learn six amazing truths about the character of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. First, Jesus pursues people. He pursued the two men. He initiates provoking question not because he did not know the answers, but that he wanted show how he pursues people.

Like Cleopas and his friend, we can be tempted to grumble and argue about the unmet expectations we experience. To this Jesus asked, “What things?” Jesus knows all those things. He wants you to know he knows those things. He understands those things. In fact, Jesus encountered those things first hand. He experienced those things. What things are you facing (or feeling) that Jesus has too? Likely all those things.

Jesus knows what you feel. He knows pain. He knows hurt. He knows anger. He knows sorrow. He knows despair. He knows because he’s been there. What if you took your complaints to God instead of just your friends? Can God handle it? Jesus could handle these two men and their honesty. He can handle yours too. He isn’t put off by it, in fact, Jesus invited the men to speak and share their sadness. Some of you need to know that today!

The men explained,

“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel (the one Moses, David and Isaiah talked about). Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (Luke 24:21-24)

They heard about Jesus’ resurrection, but sadly they didn’t see him themselves.

Jesus is in control, even if life feels chaotic. Remember when Jesus taught, “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” or “Come to Me heavy laden, I will give you rest.” Listen to Jesus’ response on the road,

“And he said to them, “O foolish ones (stupid, sightless, shallow—What? That was a little harsh stranger! We bear our hearts to you and you call us foolish? Who are you to say that?), and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (You don’t see the whole story!) Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

Jesus models suffering comes before glory. This was important to the story and theology of the Messiah. Cleopas and his friend missed the detail that suffering always precedes glory. It gets harder before it gets better.

During a dark night of the soul hang on! Joy will come in the morning. If you suffer it will pass. Sadness will pass. Despair will pass. Disappointment will pass. Doubt will pass. Frustration will pass. Glory will come. I promise. Jesus promises!

Jesus teaches still. This is the greatest unrecorded sermon in the Bible. What I’d give to get my hands on that Podcast! Jesus unpacked centuries of prophecies from the beginning to the present. He gave these men a tour behind the scenes of the Story of stories. He gave the director’s cut commentary with bonus features. That must have been the best Sunday School lesson ever! The truth is you have this lesson. It’s in the Bible. You can hold it. You can hear it. You can read it. You can know it. You can be taught it by the Spirit of Jesus!

Do you realize that even after this Bible Study of Bible studies that Cleopas and his friend still didn’t recognize Jesus? Yes, it can happen. You can read the Bible from cover to cover, have the explained by the best teacher, preacher or commentator and still miss Jesus!

“So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When [Jesus] was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them (Reminiscing the Upper Room). And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. (Yes, Jesus just teleported again!) They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven [disciples] and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how [Jesus] was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:28-35)

Cleopas and his friend boogied back towards Jerusalem (7 miles)—in the right direction. They told Jesus’ disciples what had happened to them. Not many would walk that journey at night. It was too dangerous. But they had breaking news! Jesus was alive—he appeared to them! They didn’t have to prove it as Jesus would appear among them again (24:36). Cleopas and his friend were eyewitnesses to the powerful testimony of Jesus’ resurrection. They became founding members of the fellowship of burning hearts.

You gain hope when you see Jesus has been with you all along. You may be so caught up in your disappointment or unmet expectations that you fail to recognize God is with you. Like Cleopas and his friend does your heart burn within you. Jesus knows if it’s ice or fire. Jesus sets the Fahrenheit of your heart, even in the midst of chaos and difficulty. May he give you eyes to see his goodness, his grace, his love, his presence, his tender hand leading you along the road. May he ignite a fire in your heart. You too got a story to tell!

The death and resurrection of Jesus are the most powerful events in history to hinge your faith upon (1 Corinthians 15:14-17). When you are tempted to doubt, despair, or drown in unmet expectations, come back to the cross and empty tomb. What will you do with Easter now that Easter Sunday is over? What will you do with Jesus? What will you allow Jesus to do within you as he walks alongside you? Will you see how God redeems chaos as a part of his story? See how he is with you through it?

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Missing Jesus: Caiaphas

There is a story of an 11th Century king of England with Viking roots named Cnut. His advisors would often say, “King, you are the greatest man that has ever lived. There can never be another man so mighty as you. There is nothing in the world that dares disobey you.” In order to prove his power Cnut ordered that his throne be carried onto the seashore at low tide. He then sat on his throne and ordered the tide to stop rising. The tide, of course, didn’t listen. It literally dampened the mood, his robe, and his kingly honor.

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The resurrection of Christ is the story of a tide rising. More than the tide it was a tsunami that couldn’t be stopped. The resurrection allows us to dive into the Gospels and discover the story of Jesus. Like a Where’s Waldo book we find Jesus and others in the story. This happens on two levels: First, we find our story—our redemptive story—is in Jesus. Second, we find ourselves in the characters surrounding Jesus. Sadly, like many of them we can miss Jesus in the resurrection story.

When you think of a character that missed Jesus in the story who do you think of? Last week we saw Judas. Today we will look at Caiaphas. If we’re honest, there is a little bit of Caiaphas in all of us. Like Caiaphas we feel the tension to resist God and guard what is important to us no matter the cost. We strive for control, even if it be a little control. We are tempted to resist the God we say we trust and guard what we think is important.

Let’s be honest. Have you resisted God? You know you should stop doing this thing, but this is so fascinating and addicting. You know you should start doing that. You know you shouldn’t go there. You know you shouldn’t spend your money on those things, but you just this once. You know you should forgive, but the hurt seems to big. Everything in you tells you it’s wrong yet it feels so right. You find yourself resisting God when you know you are best-off trusting him.

What do those outside the church call this? They call it hypocrisy. We in the church call it hypocrisy too. Meaning we don’t actually do what we say or believe. In all fairness, it is difficult to surrender to a God we cannot see. Except we can see him. When Jesus stepped into the world he was God with skin on—the invisible God made visible. He certainly looked and acted different than many imagined God looking and acting, particularly to the religious people.

Joseph Caiaphas was the religious poster child. He grew up in a wealthy, political, and aristocratic family who controlled the temple. He was groomed to be a Sadducee (Sad-You-See!). He married the daughter of the high priest Annas. He himself became high priest between 18-36 AD, which was during most of Jesus’ life and all of his ministry. He was the most powerful man in Israel and the most influential man in Jerusalem. He was the go-between Israel and Rome. Other than Roman oppression, things went well for Caiaphas. Until a carpenter turned rabbi from Galilee started gaining notoriety with crowds.

The problem Caiaphas had with Jesus were his crowds. Everywhere Jesus went the crowds went too. Sometimes 1000’s of people came to hear Jesus speak. He spoke with authority. People also came from all over the nation bringing sick to be healed by him. The crowds were a threat to peace for Rome and a threat to the Jewish order. They had reason to worry since Jesus didn’t have a good rapport with the Jewish leaders. He made their questions seem foolish. He called them names,

“You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33)

You wouldn’t let your kids talk like that nor kiss their mama with a mouth like that! But that’s Jesus talking. Jesus echoes Jeremiah,

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:1)

Jesus had big issues with the Jewish leaders as they were responsible for leading the people to God. And Caiaphas had big problems with Jesus, his crowds, and his criticism! Ironically, it was Caiaphas who was oppressing the people by funding the temple and scheming against God.

The final straw that broke Caiaphas’ back was not a conversation or confrontation with Jesus, but it was an act of compassion by Jesus (like Judas, both at Bethany). Have you ever been frustrated or jealous when someone was shown compassion? Like Caiaphas, we can miss what God is doing in front of us because we are nearsighted. We are raging when we should be rejoicing. We are grudge-filled when we should be grateful. Our spiritual eyes are blurry and blind to what God is doing. We lose perspective and only see what we want to see. We don’t see the whole story.

Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. The crowds swelled in Bethany to see the miracle man and the Miracle Maker. The crowds marveled and believed. Jesus had raised a man from the dead! Wow! That would be enough reason to follow Jesus,

“Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what [Jesus] did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council (The Sanhedrin; three groups who couldn’t agree) and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people (really?), not that the whole nation should perish.” (John 11:45-50) Italics are my thoughts.

Caiaphas’ strategy of discrediting Jesus publicly had failed. The priest’s questions towards Jesus backfired too many times. Now it was time for a final plan. Caiaphas’ agenda was clear: kill Jesus and the problem will go away. He was sincere and he believed he was acting on behalf of God (John 11:51-53). It was a plan that the Jewish House, Senate, and Supreme Court all agreed upon. Unknown to them, they were actually facilitating the will of God (John 10:17-18). And all Caiaphas could think about was getting Jesus to lose his crowds,

“The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him (1/3 of world Christian; spreading like a wildfire that couldn’t be contained).” (John 12:17-19)

Interestingly, later in Acts, we discover that many of the priests and Jewish leaders became followers of Christ. This is how John got his insider information on Caiaphas. Certainly, many Jewish leaders knew they were resisting what God was doing through Jesus, yet they held tightly to their plan because it would mean letting go of their power, their prestige, their pride, and their piety—everything that was important to them. Trusting Jesus was too costly.

When you decide to follow Jesus it will cost you something. It may cost you relationships, position, respect, money, standard of living, time, beauty, GPA or entertainment. The cost is too high for too many people. And therein lies the tension. It can be a wrestling match between what Jesus values and what you value. Many tap the mat to get out of the ring. You either consider the cost or you don’t. You are either hot or cold. You are all in or you aren’t.

If you’re a parent you’ve likely heard your kids plot out their future. I hear my daughters say, “When I grow up I am going to work at a Thai restaurant that way you can eat Thai food whenever you want.” “When I am an adult I am only going to eat all the candy I want.” “My house is going to be a barn so I can live with horses.” As parents we smile and laugh. We also know those plans will change as they get older. They may change moment to moment. Do you think God has a similar response to our adult plans and the ways we resist his plans? Do you think he shakes his head when we try to make our own plans? Do you think it breaks his heart when we ignore his wisdom being the Creator and Author of life?

Caiaphas couldn’t just get rid of Jesus. He didn’t have the authority to crucify him. He needed the permission of the Roman government. He needed case. He needed a legitimate charge against Jesus to show he was a threat to the empire. He needed to catch Jesus confessing that he was god or king (John 8:37-40; 10:31-39). So Jesus was led to Annas, Caiaphas’ father-in-law (18:12-14). Jesus turned the question back on Annas and he was slapped for it (18:19-24). Then Jesus was sent to Caiaphas where he was interrogated,

“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am (ego emi; John 8:58), and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)

That’s what Caiaphas needed. He had his case. He had witnesses. Without hesitation Caiaphas took Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate thinking it was a petty issue punted Jesus back to the Jews (18:28-32), but the Jews persisted, twisted and tied Pilate’s political arms. Pilate still wasn’t convinced Jesus’ title “King of the Jesus” was a threat, until he heard the rumble of the crowd. By this time Caiaphas owned the crowd (or mob). Pilate opted for peace and willingly traded Jesus for Barabbas the murder (18:40). The case that Jesus was a self-proclaimed King—a threat to the empire worked (19:7). Pilate brought Jesus before the crowd,

“He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (Really?) So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.” (John 19:14b-16)

Pilate wrote a sign that hung above Jesus that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:19b) Can you feel the rejection? Can you hear the mockery? It was irony—a blood bathed resistance.

Jesus would die on a cross in a matter of hours. He would be buried in a borrowed tomb. But 3-days later, on a Sunday morning 2,000 years ago, a squad of the Roman guards would come huffing into Caiaphas’ house, march down the hall to where he was and say, “The tomb where Jesus was buried is empty.” (John 20:1-10) Can you feel the weight of that? Can you see Caiaphas’ face drop and go pale? His worst fear realized. Jesus was raised from the dead as he said. Within days there would be sightings of Jesus all around Israel (1 Corinthians 15). Caiaphas’ plan crumbled with the resurrection of Christ, yet he still resisted. He paid hush money and created a story that the disciples stole Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:11-15).

Following the resurrection we only hear about Caiaphas one-time,

“And as [Peter and John] were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducee’s came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody…But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. On the next day…Annas the high priest and Caiaphas…and all who were of the high-priestly family…inquired,

“By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man (an act of compassion), by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:1-12)

Caiaphas tried to muzzle their mouths, but it was futile. The name, reputation, and resurrection of Jesus was spreading like a tsunami. He couldn’t stop it. From that moment on, we hear no more about Caiaphas, but we hear a lot more about Jesus.

Remember King Cnut? I left out an important detail from his story. Sitting on his throne in the sea he was making a point. He knew he couldn’t stop the tide from rising. He knew he was just a man. He knew he wasn’t more powerful than God. We can be quick to judge the old king in a wet robe, but listen to what he said, “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings. For there is none worthy of the name but God whom heaven and earth and sea obey. There is only one King who is all-powerful and it is he who rules the sea and hold the ocean in the hallow of his hand. It is he whom you ought to praise and serve above all others.”

Caiaphas stood in the presence of the Savior of the world, but refused to abandon his quest for control. As a Sadducee, Caiaphas acted as a Judge, but his judgment of Jesus was wrong. Jesus is the Judge. He said, “The one who rejects Me and does not receive My words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12:48) His judgement is sure and final. If only Caiaphas humbled himself and bowed his knee to the King of kings and the Great High Priest whom he represented. Caiaphas should have said sorry, retired from his job, and joined the world changing movement, yet he resisted to give up his hat.

Can you relate to Caiaphas? Are there hats you’re holding onto? Generally, your greatest regrets are connected to attempts to preserve something that isn’t even a part of your life anymore. Pressure to preserve or prop it up will eventually drive you to extremes that harm you or others. And what you try to preserve will always disappoint and eventually disappear.

Caiaphas’ story of resisting Jesus illustrates the futility of resisting God. Resistance is futile (Borg, Vogon). You know well that resisting Jesus is futile. It’s easy to dismiss Caiaphas, but you and I are also prone to resist God by putting something else in his place. And those things quickly diminish in value.

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Accepting Jesus will cost you something, but resisting him will cost you more. It may cost you a relationship, position, respect, standard of living, time, etc. Jesus died and rose for that! Those things won’t be important 100 years (or 1,000 generations) from now, but Jesus will. Don’t miss seeing and believing in Jesus!

 

Missing Jesus: Judas

A cultural aspect of African life that I didn’t enjoy at first but enjoy now is bargaining. After 8-years I’ve become good at it. So good that some of my local friends are surprised that I can get a deal just about as good as they can. The basics of bargaining is that the seller seeks to make a profit and the buyer seeks to strike a deal with both getting what they want. Both win.

Bargaining in Africa

Have you ever tried to bargain God? That question may offend you, but be honest. Universally, anyone from kids to adults have tried to make deals with God. You may have said or thought, “God, if you do this, then I will (never/always/give)…” Bargaining God tries to get God in on your thing—trying to leverage God for your gain. You may do it with good reason. For example, you or a loved one may have a medical issue, you’re desperate, there’s no hope things will change and you say to God, “I will do anything to see it better or healed.”

We subtly bargain with God. We bargain him with our prayers, our church attendance (I go don’t I?), our giving (I give 10%. See my generosity?), our promises (I’ll stop __ if you…), and our obedience (See what I’ve done?). Everyday we are tempted to use God to get our way. We will do what God wants us to do, so that he will do what we want him to do. In bargaining with God we ask: What do I need to do to get God to do what I want him to do? We think we can maneuver God because we think God owes us, yet none of the deals we make cause God to pay up because that’s not how our relationship with God works. God needs nothing from us, but we need him for everything. Bargaining God isn’t a win-win, rather it’s lose-lose. Bargaining with God only short changes, if not forfeits, your relationship with God.

Dennis Prager, a Jewish talk show host addressed the issue of deal-making with God in his book Think a Second Time:

“I have come to realize that many religious people, of all faiths, believe that they should be able to avoid the calamities that afflict the less pious. They believe, in effect, that they can make a deal with God—‘I’ll do what You want so that You do what I want. The problem is not merely that of reconciling the terrible injustices of this world with a just Creator—a problem that I and many others have. For countless religious people, this issue is compounded by their belief that God has reneged on a deal with them.”

Maybe you’ve tried bargaining with God in the past and it didn’t work out well for you. So you said forget it to God. You became disappointed or frustrated with him. He failed to act or behave like you thought he should. You lost trust in him. (Not the Palm Sunday you expected?)

When we dive into the Gospels and discover Jesus—God in the flesh—we can see how God acts and behaves. Sadly, we can miss Jesus in the story. Like a Where’s Waldo book we find Jesus in the story, we find our story is in Jesus, and we even find ourselves in the characters surrounding Jesus.

When you think of a character that missed Jesus in the story who do you think of? I think of Judas. You might be thinking, how do I to find myself in the character of Judas? That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think? If we’re honest, there is a little bit of Judas in all of us. Like Judas we feel the tension of bargaining with God to get our way.

Judas tried to get Jesus to do what he wanted without any regard for Jesus’ life, ministry, or authority. He was willing to trade his relationship with Jesus for something else. For Judas it was about ‘what’s in it for me’. Jesus was a means to an end. That seems so silly, yet how often do you find yourself thinking the same thing? Let’s not be too critical of Judas. All of Jesus’ disciples struggled with what they wanted Jesus to be for them.

Remember the story of the Rich Young Ruler? He wanted Jesus to be someone different than he was,

“And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “…You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”(Mark 10:17-22)

Jesus then turned to his disciples and taught them that people with a lot have a lot to lose. Yet people with nothing have everything to gain with Jesus (Mt. 5:3; 2 Cor. 8:9).
Peter responded in a way that many of us might respond,

“See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (or “What’s in it for us?”) (Matthew 19:27)

Judas was there. He heard what Jesus said to the rich young ruler. He heard Peter’s question. He’d soon have his turn to ask Jesus, “What’s in it for me?”

Have you ever thought that? Have you ever wondering what’s in it for you?

Let’s get into Judas’ thinking. He had Old Covenant thinking. He thought God would send the Jews a Messiah (Savior). Judas like most Jews thought he would be a military leader, a political power player, someone who would bring Israel back to the good old days of King David and Solomon. He like all Jews hated living under Roman oppression. A Messiah could change that!

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he looked a lot like the Messiah (Matthew 21:1-11). Judas was there. He likely put his cloak on Jesus’ donkey. He must have been thrilled. Judas thought this was Jesus’ moment. However, there were just a few things that made Judas question whether Jesus as really the Messiah. First, Jesus didn’t hate the Romans. When the Jewish leaders tried to stir up conflict between Jesus and the Romans, Jesus didn’t take the bait (Matthew 22:21). Second, Jesus wasn’t in good standing with the Jewish leaders. They weren’t ever on Jesus’ side nor was Jesus on theirs. Third, Jesus was too passive and not aggressive enough when it came to a Messiah’s agenda. He gave away too much of their money. It wasn’t enough to create a movement against the Romans. Anytime the money chest got any size, Jesus would shave off a chunk and give it to the poor.

Judas as the team treasurer may have thought that Jesus didn’t have the energy, plan or focus to be a Messiah like he imagined. Judas lost patience and faith in Jesus. The last straw for him was an extraordinary act of generosity on Jesus behalf that he thought was ridiculous.

The Straw that broke Judas’ trust in Jesus happened in Bethany, an eastern suburb of Jerusalem. Jesus was invited to a meal. It is an extravagant moment, a beautiful moment, also a moment of hushed disgust for Jesus’ disciples.

“Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment (a years salary), and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table (Can you see it? smell it? feel the tension?). And when the disciples saw it (John 12:4-6 singles out Judas for the stir), they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” (Jesus’ normal practice) But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? (“It’s her perfume/choice.”) For she has done a beautiful thing to Me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.”(Matthew 26:6-12) Italics are my thoughts.

What Jesus said would have been disturbing and emotionally devastating to the disciples. They would have forgot about the perfume and the woman. All ears turned to Jesus’ reference to his burial. If he was to be buried then he’d have to die! They’d have thought, “No, Jesus you can’t die. You’re the Messiah. Messiah’s don’t die! Do you know how long we’ve waited for you? Since our father, Abraham! Do you see how bad this Rome thing is? Do you realize we’ve followed you? We believed you are the One the prophets spoke about! Do you realize we placed all hope in you? What’s this talk about burial and funeral? If you die what about us?”

What Jesus said next was amazing. He took the attention off himself and put it back on the woman,

“Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:13)

Jesus points to the fact that they are part of something big here. Bigger than this moment. They might be in this small place, at a small table, with a small group of people, but what is happening is big. They are making history. This moment will be shared around the world. It will go global in thousands of languages, nations and generations. It’s big! Have you heard this story before? That’s proof, it’s big!

Judas only thought about the perfume—a stench rather than the fragrance of life. He thought it was a waste. He thought it was a little too much about Jesus. He thought Jesus wasn’t doing what he should do. He thought there wasn’t much in Jesus for him. He thought maybe he had wasted time following Jesus. He wanted to be reimbursement for his time with Jesus. He wanted his part of the deal.

We don’t know if Judas was angry, impatient, discouraged, or disappointed with Jesus, but he did excuse him from the table. He walked away from the deal,

“Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went (1.5 miles away) to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.” (Matthew 26:14-16)

According to Judas and the Jewish leaders it was a win-win deal. Judas got his payment and the priests got Jesus. There was one problem. The crowds, which kept the priests from capturing Jesus. Everywhere Jesus went the crowds went. The crowds loved him. Judas knew where Jesus would be away from the crowd.

Think about this. Judas sailed on a boat with Jesus. He walked Israel’s countryside with Jesus. He ate meals with Jesus. He saw Jesus’ do miracles. He heard Jesus’ speak. He was with God in the flesh, yet he could not get Jesus to do what he wanted him to do. He willingly traded his relationship with Jesus for 30 pieces of silver—the going rate for a slave.

What have you been tempted to sell your relationship with Jesus for? Doesn’t it seem cheap like 30 pieces of silver? But in the moment, it seems like the best option.

The opportunity Judas looked for had arrived. It was Passover. The disciples found a room above a home (Matthew 26:17-29). They gathered together. Jesus sets the tone. He took off his robe. He took a towel and washed the disciples feet. Again, they are indignant thinking ‘Why would a rabbi serve me?’ They missed who Jesus was. They ate bread and drank wine,

“When it was evening, [Jesus] reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” (Judas knew that Jesus knew. Jesus always knows, right?) He said to him, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:20-25)

John adds,

“Then after [Judas] had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” (Yes, Jesus knew!) Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. (They assumed the best!) So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.” (John 13:27-30)

This is shocking! Jesus gave Judas the out he needed and didn’t stop him. He didn’t resist. It seemed too easy. Or is it planned? It was.

“When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” (John 13:31)

In other words, everything was working out exactly as planned! Jesus wasn’t surprised. God’s hand couldn’t be forced. God’s will cannot be thwarted.

After the meal, Jesus leads the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. It was late and dark. There was no one around. Jesus wanted to spend time praying. The disciples wanted to spend time sleeping. Jesus prayed three times After the third time (hitting the snooze button), he came to the disciples and said,

““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.” 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.” (Matthew 26:45-50)

As Jesus was arrested, all his disciples fled (Matthew 26:56). They ran away. They were like bats in daylight.

Judas likely didn’t think the situation would get out of hand because when he found out that the Jewish leaders went to the Roman government he knew it wasn’t to slap Jesus’ hand but to seek permission for his death sentence,

“Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” (Feeling shame and disgust) They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” (That’s your responsibility!) And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:3-5)

What had great value in a moment didn’t have lasting value. What was worth trading in Jesus brought shame and regret. What was worth sacrificing the relationship, indeed forfeited it.

Perhaps this is where some of you are living today. It could have ended differently for Judas. It can be different for you too. There is no mistake that Judas and Peter’s stories are intertwined in Matthew’s gospel. Both Judas and Peter blew it on the same night, but only Peter returned to Jesus repentant and Jesus restored him. It was a new beginning for Peter. It can be a new beginning for you too if you surrender all to Jesus!

Peter & Judas

Bargaining with God

When you bargain with Jesus rather than surrender, you are responsible for the outcome. God won’t get in the way of you having your way. He won’t undermine your freedom even it it means you undermine him. That should put a little holy fear in you.

Bargaining is easier than surrendering. Resisting and arguing God is easier than trusting God. Judas’ greatest regret was trying to force God’s hand. His great bargain only led to a great betrayal. You may think it’s risky to surrender to Jesus, but it is far riskier to bargain with him. Remember, bargaining with God only short changes, if not forfeits, your relationship with God. Beware of bargaining with God. Like Judas, the moment you trade Jesus for whatever, the value of what you get begins to diminish. Like buying a car and driving it off the lot. It’s never as valuable as it was.

Surrendering to Jesus

When you surrender to Jesus, he takes responsibility for the outcome. If you can’t bargain with Jesus and succeed that means you must accept his terms. When you surrender all to Jesus he has his best and your best in mind—a win win. When you bargain with God, you espouse a God who keeps score, rather than the God who loves you no matter what. God is not a cosmic scorekeeper who makes tallies and gives rewards, but as a Father who withholds no good gift. He gave you the inexpressible gift of Jesus. To have Jesus you need nothing, you may lose some things, but with him you gain everything (Mark 8:36-37)! Look to Jesus, not as a genie who grants wishes, but as a Savior who has paid the debt of your sin. Trust that Jesus never loses value and keeps his end of the deal. Jesus doesn’t negotiate a contract; he keeps a covenant sealed by his blood.

What have you been bargaining with God that you need to surrender instead? Are you willing to say, “Jesus have your way—your will? I am done trying to bargain (my relationships, my future, my decisions, my hopes, my career, my agenda) with you?” What do you need repent, so Jesus can restore?

Don’t miss Jesus in the story. Discover him, again!