Allen Jackson - Equity Is Not The Objective - Part 2
I'll tell you, you can stand next to Jesus in response to his invitation and be frightened. We are limited in our understanding, in our unawareness of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. And when you see it more fully in either aspect, it can be very intimidating. Amen. But that doesn't mean you want to live a vanilla faith. That doesn't mean you want to stay in the slow group. Look at Mark 14: "They went to a place called Gethsemane," means an olive press, "and Jesus said to his disciples, 'Sit here while I pray.' And he took Peter, James, and John along with him," here we go again: He always takes them with him. We never get to go. Somebody tell him he's playing favorites. Doesn't he know? Doesn't he care how we feel?
"And he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,' he said to them". Peter, James, or John had to report that. The rest didn't hear it. "'Stay here and keep watch.' And Jesus went a little further, and he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him". If we're gonna talk about stepping away from the crowd, number one, Peter, James, and John had to be willing to endure whatever it was that came with the invitation Jesus gave to them. And Jesus in this point, in responding to the invitation that the Lord had given him, he had to be willing to even walk away from those who were closest to him. He didn't abandon them.
But he understood there was an assignment that he was given that was different than the assignment they were given. They all weren't going to endure the same things. They all weren't going to face the exact... you see, we've kind of rolled ourselves into this Christianity that, "Well I don't wanna face that. I don't wanna do, I don't wanna use my voice. I don't wanna raise my hand! I don't wanna draw any attention to myself! I just wanna stand over here in the crowd. I've made a profession of faith. I've been baptized. I'm gonna go to heaven. Why would I draw any attention to my faith"?
Well, I don't know. Maybe because the Lord asked you to. Maybe because you were such an enthusiast for the kingdom of God that you were willing to. Jesus went even a little further away from them. And he fell to the ground and he prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. "'Father,' he said, 'everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but you will.'" You know, it intrigues me. Jesus is headed towards that narrow gate too. Whatever you ask me to do, I'll go. Like, he doesn't ask us to be martyrs. But he asks us to be obedient in a very similar way. Are you willing to do that with the Lord? Are we willing to step away from the crowd a little bit, raise our hand and go, "Yeah, I want in on that. I'll go stand with that group of people. I'll be one of them".
Again, I would submit to you it's a very unique opportunity for Peter, James, and John. I mean, Jesus even steps away from them for a time of prayer, but they watched the struggle that he faced for obedience in his life. I promise you, it left an imprint on them. They knew the agony he was in, that he sweat like great drops of blood. Somebody had to report the news. They were the closest to him. You see, they're getting an education in the courage required for obedience. Even Jesus struggled with it. Again, we get all this nonsense. "Well, you know, it's never a struggle to be obedient to the Lord". Oh, hush! It is frequently a struggle to be obedient to the Lord. For me. You may be completely different. Just pray for me. 'Cause there are all parts God's and voices in me that go, "Oh, don't do that. You've done enough. Don't go do that. No, just be quiet. Dial it back".
They watched the struggle Jesus had to face obedience in his own life. They got to feel the courage that was required of him. Are you demonstrating that? Are you showing that to children and grandchildren and neighbors and brothers and sisters? Are you showing them that so that they gain strength from that? Have you stepped away from the crowd enough that other people go, "Oh, that might be worthwhile for me"? See, I believe Jesus gave them this lesson because he understands that before this night is over, they're not gonna have the courage to stand with their friend. They're gonna run. They're gonna hide. Self-preservation is gonna trump any sense of allegiance, and Jesus knows that. And he has given the three most trusted amongst the group a front row seat to see the courage that's going to be needed to stand for the purposes of the kingdom of God.
Is it safe to say that obedience is not always fun? That obedience is not always easy, but that it's always worthwhile? Peter, James, and John, they stepped away from even a good group of people to respond to Jesus's invitations. If you wait for everybody to do something before you decide to serve the Lord, you will miss out on the best invitations God has for you. And it gets very personal in Acts chapter 12. With that little bit of background that you have about Peter, James, and John, in Acts chapter 12 it says: "It was about t his time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church," so persecution of Christians is not a new thing. It's not a 21st century thing. It was happening in the first century. It was happening very early in the narrative.
"Herod is arresting those who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them". And if he left it at that, it could be, you know, maybe he was going to cancel their social media posts or they might lose a job, but in the next verse it says: "He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword". Well, now, wait a minute. Peter, James, and John were the three closest to Jesus. They saw him on the Mount of Transfiguration. He took them with him into his inner circle in Gethsemane before he got arrested. I mean, they were there over in Jairus's house when that little girl got raised to life again, and Peter, before we get to Acts chapter 12, he's already seen that duplicated in his own life in his ministry. And Herod has arrested James and murdered him? This is no longer theoretical.
Their closest friend has been murdered, John's brother. This is no longer about which translation do you read, or which worship style do you prefer, or what congregation do you sit with. They're hunting us. Look at the next line. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. "And when he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. And this happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread". His poll numbers went up when he murdered James. So he arrests Peter. The implication is clear. Peter is set for the same fate. Peter's friend, John's brother, together Jesus's closest friends, and now Peter's targeted. This takes very little discernment. And I don't believe that last phrase is accidental.
Luke included in the narrative this happened in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Passover. They're celebrating as a people, the covenant people of God. Their deliverance from Egypt, and the blood being put on the doorpost of the homes, a foreshadowing of the sacrificial redemptive work of Jesus, while they're celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem, Herod is murdering Jesus's closest friends and the inhabitants of the city are going, "Atta boy! More of that"! The religious community is happy about the persecution of Jesus's friends. So what are we to do with that?
Well, I think one assumption that is not a bridge too far is that we have to be prepared for criticism and persecution from people of faith. It's not the Romans that are cheering what Herod's doin'. They could care less. It's the Jewish population. "Those are the troublemakers. They keep insisting that we were responsible for that Jesus guy. More and more people are listening to them. Thank God Herod's willing to shut 'em down". You think cancel culture's new? You think we're the first generation of believers that have to decide if we're gonna stand up and say, "I'm for God"? Hardly. Are we willing to step out of the crowd? It isn't about equity, folks. We've been torqued up about the wrong set of things.
So, I wanna close this with the same response. I wanna give it to you a little differently, but I've been inviting you in every one of these sessions. We, see, we don't want, James said don't just be a hearer of the Word. You gotta do it. And the application portion is, I think, where we have struggled so mightily in American Christendom. We are educated way beyond our level of obedience. We have so many Bibles and Bibles available to us and Bible studies and church services, and I'm grateful for all of that, but it makes it easy to collect information, but not demonstrate a great deal of obedience. I mean, pick a topic. Morality. We struggle with that in the church.
Oh, we wink and nod and act like we're confused, and we behave immorally. Do we think God's kidding? He will send us to Babylon. The exile. He took his covenant people and said, "You cannot stay in a place of my blessing because you behave in an ungodly way, and if you won't honor me with your behavior, you cannot imagine my blessings will persist. Go serve your enemies". Do you think we're different? We struggle with our practice. Giving. "Well, the pastor just wants money". No, not really. I mean, just pick a topic. And I know it's Wednesday night. I'm talkin' to the overachievers. But this whole notion of prayer is so essential to our pathway forward, that we've got to move beyond just knowing that and imagining it would be a good thing to finding something that we can actually unleash in our lives.
So I've been inviting you towards this simple little concept of let's pray. Luke 18:1, Jesus said: "Men ought always to pray and never give up". Jesus said people should always pray, and don't stop. You should always, "How long"? Always. "When should you stop"? You can't. "Well, I feel like stopping". Okay, keep on. "Well I haven't gotten my answer". Okay, don't give up. "But it's been a long time". Yep. Don't give up. "Well, I know somebody else that was a whole lot more wicked than I am and they got the answer to their prayer, and I just think I'll stop". Jesus said don't do that. "Well, I don't think it's fair". Duly noted. It's not about equity. Shut up and keep praying. "Well I don't like that". Okay. They took note in heaven. Pray anyway.
Philippians 4:6, "Don't be anxious about anything," hoo!, "but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds". Give thanks. When you are out of prayers, when you are so void of courage and boldness, you can give thanks. The most broken times in my life when I thought my faith might completely disappear, the baseline for me was I could stand in a field in the dark and say, "God, I may not feel it, but I believe you're just. God, I know you're a faithful God. I know you're a holy God".
I would just take the attributes of God that I knew to be true, whether I felt them or I could see them, and I would not turn loose of them. You can do that. You can do that. But this "let's pray" thing, you can do this, folks. It's just a listening prayer. We talk to one another all the time. The people around you give you so much information. We don't pay much attention. We're busy and most of us hear our own messaging more than we hear other people's, but they'll tell you whether they're sad or happy or frightened or ungodly. If they tell you if they're celebrating something that's wicked, you can drop all this prayin' there. You know the idea when you hear the need expressed, you're not gonna ask for permission anymore 'cause if you ask for permission, you give them the privilege of shutting you down.
And oftentimes when we're asking permission, it's kind of a self-promotion tour. And I'm suggesting you not do that. You know, it's not promoting the fact that you know how to pray and you're willing to pray and you're armed with eleven prayers and a proclamation and six verses of scripture, and three links to the pastor's best sermon in the last whenever. Don't do that. So you don't say to somebody, you know, "I believe that God answers prayer and that Jesus was the Son of God and that he died on a cross and shed his blood that you could be delivered from sin and bondage, and that he's a miracle worker today because in Hebrews 13:8 it says Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever".
So, you may not know this, but the Jesus in the New Testament is the Jesus today. And I'm 'bout to unleash some Jesus on you if that's okay with you. Well, if they have the IQ of a rock, they're backin' up. You're weird. 'Cause that's not really a good conversation for most strangers. But if you'll just say, "Let's pray," and before they say anything, you're gonna say a prayer. You only get one sentence now. You know the rules. You're not gon' quote six verses, you're not gonna give 'em your personal story. You're just, you get one sentence to say a prayer. If it's somebody that just told you they were celebrating somethin' that's wicked, "Let's pray. Lord, help my friend to learn how to honor you. In Jesus's name, amen". Boom.
Now, here's the key. When you say amen, you don't get to wait for them to say, "Oh, thank you"! All right. You want them to 'cause you feel vulnerable and exposed and, you know, what if nothin' happens, and the devil gets in your head. But forego that affirmation. Just release them. Don't give 'em that creepy look. You know what I'm talkin' about. You know, don't wait for them to say to you, "You know, I heard a wind blow as you prayed". It's just tinnitus. We should pray for that. Let's pray. "Lord, heal their tinnitus. In Jesus's name".
Now you've done two things. You've invited God into their life, and you've introduced them to somebody who would pray. And those are very valuable things in their lives. But I wanna give you some ways to imagine that "let's pray" opportunity, because they're around you every day. And if you'll start to prepare your heart, the Holy Spirit will give them to you. You can have "let's pray" moments with your family. You could have "let's pray" moments when you send your kids to school, when they come home from school, when you go to work, when there's problems and when they bring their problems home from school, "Somebody was mean to me" or "Somebody made fun of me" or "I've got a teacher that's not fair". You can make prayer a normal part of that environment with a sentence. Just with a sentence. Stop with the sermons, right? Just a sentence, "Let's pray".
Say, well there's so much more I could, I know there is. But pray the sentence with them, and then if you wanna go spend an hour in prayer interceding over that, you go help yourself. But don't subject somebody that's not ready for that yet. Different kinds of prayer, different times for different kinds of prayer. Jesus raised people from the dead with a sentence. We'd have had to have a three-hour worship service. Right? We'd have rebuked and repelled and... so you could do "let's pray" you can do "let's pray" at school. You teach at a school, if you attend a school, if you send students into school, you can do "let's pray". You'd be amazed at the things people say. "Oh, we got a test comin' up and I don't know what I'm gonna do". "Let's pray. God help us be prepared for this test. In Jesus's name, amen".
Whatever it may be. Take "let's pray" with you to school. Take "let's pray" to your neighborhood. You live with these people. Take a walk around the block, and say, "Lord, if there's somebody you want me to pray for tonight, you create the opportunity, I'm goin' armed with 'let's pray.'" Take a walk. See who you bump into. "How ya doin' today"? And don't be weird with it. Come on, please! I've lived with weird Christians all my life. Don't be one of those people. Do you know, don't chum the water. "I'm out on a prayer walk 'cause my pastor told me to practice 'let's pray' moments and I'm supposed to listen to you talk. And if you say anything that even remotely resembles a need, I'm gonna bust a prayer upside of you. How are you feeling today"?
If you're gonna do that, please tell them you go to First Presbyterian Church. No, don't do that. But take a walk around your neighborhood. And if you meet a neighbor, just ask him, "How ya doin'"? And then listen, if they're great, you're good. Maybe your response is, "You know, you've been such a good neighbor, your dog hasn't made a single mess in my yard. Your kid hasn't thrown a ball through my window. You have been an awesome neighbor. Let's pray. God, thank you for blessing me with a good neighbor. In Jesus's name, amen. Have a great evening"! They'll think I'm nuts. Step outta the crowd. Step outta the crowd. You keep takin' that walk, your reputation will grow. People'll start comin' to look for you. That's how that works.
But if you're not willing to step out of the crowd, you force somebody that needs a prayer to have more discernment than you do to know that you're a person who might pray, 'cause you've been buried in the cave so deeply. You can do "let's pray" in your neighborhood. You can do it at school. You can do it at work. Just listen to the people you work with, the stresses and the strains and the problems. Works are stressful environments most of the time. You can offer, you don't have to intrude. You're not, you can do it in a very understated way. It isn't about drawing attention to yourself. We want the Lord to get the glory. Let's pray, church. Step outta the crowd. Decide you're gonna be in that group that Jesus invites to some very unique opportunities.
Now, understand that with the opportunities you may get thrown in jail. There's not much room for James and John and Peter to get too puffed up, because before they get very far at all away from Jesus's ascension back to heaven, they're being sacrificed. This is not about egos getting inflated. I have discovered if you're willing to step apart from the crowd, you'd better keep your face on the ground, or you will lose your balance. But it's worth it. Step out outta the crowd. I brought you a prayer. Why don't we stand. We'll close with this. It's more than one sentence, but this is church. Can we read it together?
Heavenly Father, help us to learn to be more conscious of you. Holy Spirit open our eyes to see and our hearts to receive. Give us boldness to speak Your word. Extend Your hand to heal and to do miraculous things in the majestic name of Jesus. May Your Kingdom be extended. Amen.