Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tough Choices

Would you choose someone to join you to carry out an important project if you knew that the person would work to seemingly undo everything the rest of the group was building? Of course not! Well, Jesus did. And that is hard to fathom. Having spent some time at the Garden of Gethsemane earlier this year, I was able to better picture the scene of Jesus’ betrayal at that hands (literally, the kiss) of Judas. Just before the moment of betrayal, Jesus was praying and said the words most have heard mentioned at some time, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22.42). Over the next few hours, the betrayal occurred, the arrest was made, the trials commenced, the punishment inflicted, and the crucifixion ordered. Of course, the crucifixion was not the end of the story, but that piece must wait.

As we read the various accounts of the Gospels, most people already know the outcome. We know Jesus died, and we know the betrayal of Judas is a part of the story. Thus, we read the beginning of the story already knowing the end. And the writers of the gospel accounts wrote knowing the end as well. We see this very clearly in passages like the calling of the Twelve (Matthew 10.1-4; Mark 3.16-19; and Luke 6.13-16), where Judas is always listed last and with an editorial note that he was the one who betrayed Jesus. But if we back up to before Jesus calls His disciples, we find a critical component of the calling.

Before we get to this critical moment, we need to realize that Jesus knew who would betray Him. We know this because Jesus told Judas to go and quickly do what had to be done (John 13.27). What we do not know, specifically, is when Jesus knew this. Was it known before He left heaven? Did He know at the time He called His disciples? We do not know. But we do know how Jesus prepared for calling – He prayed. That is the critical component. Let me explain.

Jesus had challenged the religious leaders and then withdrawn to the sea (Mark 3.7). The crowd followed to the point that Jesus had to get on a boat and talk back toward the shore. From the sea, Jesus went up a mountain (Mark 3.13). In one sense this was to get away from the crowd. But in the fullness of truth, it was to pray – in order to know whom He should call (Luke 6.12). The choice of the twelve was critical because it was these men who would carry on His work after He ascended to the Father. Many others were following Him, and some continued to the end, but when the circumstances and the teachings became more challenging, many would abandon Him (see John 6.66-71).

Looking back on the story today, I wonder if Jesus knew about Judas on the night He prayed before calling the disciples. The Bible does not give us this detail, and I do not want to suggest that the following did happen, but I offer that it could have. If Jesus did know His ultimate outcome at this point (He almost certainly did, though He had not mentioned it yet), and if He knew that Judas would be the one who betrayed Him (as mentioned earlier, Scripture does not reveal this here), then it is quite possible that Jesus may have said here, “Not my will, but yours, be done” just as He did in Gethsemane. Again, this is speculation, but it is possible. Again, if He had any idea of what would come, regardless of what He may have specifically prayed, this decision must have been painful in its own way.

In our world today, many like to think of Jesus as a good teacher, one who promoted love, and sought the goodwill of others. But Jesus also said that He was God, demanded that others leave their sins behind, and commanded people to love those who were different than themselves. The reality is that many people will follow Jesus when it is convenient. But Jesus chose Judas though it wouldn’t be.

Jesus set an example for us by showing that having a better future often requires difficult decisions in the present. The betrayal by Judas led to a horrible set of events for Jesus, but without His death, the resurrection would not be possible. Without the resurrection of Jesus, we could not have life after death. And without life after death, this life is virtually meaningless.

For you and I, we will never face a decision that impacts every person to walk on this earth – past, present, or future. But each of us do face decisions daily. Some are important while others are not. But some have consequences that go beyond the moment and deserve to be considered for any future implications. Whether these decisions relate to our faith, our health, our finances, our interactions with others, or something else, we can take a queue from Jesus, who knows the temptation to take the easy way out (Hebrews 4.15).

I still struggle to think of giving someone a key role in ministry if I knew that their real intentions were to undermine what was being built. My gut reaction is that I hope I am able to discern such an intent long before it occurs. However, my faith tells me that God can use such a situation for His glory if He wants, just as He did with Judas, because we cannot thwart God’s plans. So while I must be diligent, I must also learn to say, “not my will, but yours” even, and especially, when facing the tough choices of life.

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