We stumble and fall constantly, even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen. —Thomas Merton
PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)
“Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever, AMEN.”
SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)
PRAYER FOCUS: Getting Back Up
“There’s no way God will ever forgive me for THAT…”
Maybe you’ve felt this way before. You’ve sinned and you know it. You can almost hear the Serpent hiss, “Do you really think God will forgive you? Isn’t that sin…unforgivable?”
In our Lectionary Prayer for today we pray to 1) know Jesus to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and 2) follow in His footsteps in the way that leads to eternal life.
Listen up. There are two, and only two, kinds of people in this world: Those who are forgiven and those who are not. Everyone makes mistakes. Every Christian makes mistakes. It’s not a question of whether we will stumble and fall, but when—and how we respond to it.
Consider the differing responses of Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot:
According to the four gospels, as a Disciple, Peter needed a lot of what the military calls “on the spot corrections.” The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus issuing one such stern rebuke to Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me…” (Matt 16:23). After the Last Supper, when Jesus declared that all the Disciples would turn away from Him, Peter brashly insisted, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you!” But later that same night Peter denied three times that he had ever known Jesus—and spoke the third denial with a curse (Matt. 26:74).
As soon as Peter uttered those words, Jesus turned and looked across the courtyard straight at him. Eye to eye with Jesus, Peter faced the inescapable reality of his own cowardice, and he went outside “and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62). All of the remaining Disciples fled, leaving their beloved teacher and friend in the hands of men they all knew wanted to kill him. Every one of them failed. That’s why Jesus had earlier told Peter, “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).
The gospels are not kind to Judas. Luke tells us that Satan himself entered into him, inducing him to betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:3). John records that on the night of the Last Supper, Judas departed the meal early to report that Jesus would soon be in the Garden of Gethsemane, along with His disciples (John 18:2). There, Judas betrayed his Master with a kiss (Matt 26:47-50).
The gospels do not reveal what Judas expected to come of his actions that night. They do record that he did NOT expect Jesus to be condemned. At some point Judas realized what he had done and he tried to undo it.
“When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood!”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That is your responsibility” (Matt 27:3-4).
No doubt the same Evil One who deceived Judas then turned on him and hissed, like the serpent he has ever been, “Do you really think God will forgive you? Isn’t your sin…unforgivable?”
So, what do you do once you realize that you’re responsible for a great sin? How do you feel when the terrible consequences stare you in the face and there’s just no escaping them? Does it make you feel any less horrible to know you were duped, or does that just make it worse?
You see, the grief of Judas Iscariot was not the kind of godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Despite the fact that he had been taught at the feet of the Master these very same lessons of repentance, forgiveness and grace, once Judas stumbled and fell he became stuck in hopelessness and despair. His faith failed. Instead of believing the truth that the Son of God had taught him, Judas believed the lies that Satan was whispering. Instead of getting up, turning back to the Lord in repentance, and seeking the forgiveness that was always his for the asking, Judas took his own life.
Peter and the other disciples also felt remorse. But in their remorse, they came to repentance. In faith and in hope, each turned back to the Lord they had run away from. They asked for and received forgiveness. And they were restored to love and serve their Lord once again.
The Bible assures us and reassures us that nothing in our past, no sin, no consequence of any sin, is so great that the magnificent work of Jesus Christ on the Cross hasn’t already overcome it.
When we stumble, when we fall, there is a dividing line between remorse and repentance that we must cross. If, as we have prayed today, we know Jesus to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we will also know there is no limit to the size and scope of God’s grace towards us. But just feeling bad about our sin isn’t enough.
It’s Monday Morning. Get back up. Be forgiven. Be restored. And once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers and your sisters.
“Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me” (Micah 7:8).