Wednesday, April 5, 2023

            When we read John 13:21-32, two words stand out for us in this gospel reading…betrayal and denial.  They are siblings.  They are two roads that take you to the same place.  Jesus was on the receiving end of betrayal and denial…by two men He had personally called, known and loved for three years.  Today is the midpoint of Holy Week.  It is the time where we think about our personal acts of betraying or denying Jesus.  Most of us have accumulated a lifetime of such deeds and debts.
            We often betray Jesus by choosing our ways above His.  We betray Jesus when we live bitter, angry, petty and even selfish lives.  We betray Jesus when we put a price or even limits on how much we will do, give or serve.  We often deny Jesus when it is convenient or when faith becomes inconvenient.  We deny Jesus when we refuse to let Him be the Lord over certain things or even certain sins we would prefer to keep.
            Peter and Judas were ordinary men.  They were a complicated combination of good/bad, strengths/weaknesses, highs/lows.  We tend to be aghast when Peter denied Jesus…wondering how this lovable fisherman could have ever stooped so low.  We tend to be less surprised when we read about Judas’ conspiracy to betray Jesus and hand him over to an overeager lynch mob.  We think there was a mean streak, an ugly character flaw in Judas that anybody should be able to see a mile away.  But the reality is both men are flawed…deeply so.  And so are we.  We dare not cast too many stones against these men for we may find the stones ricocheting back on us. 
            At any moment in time, we could sink so low as to betray or deny Jesus.  We have sold him out for much less than thirty pieces of silver.  We have rejected him when it was easier than standing for Him.  So today, we can and frankly should feel badly…guilty, remorseful and even regretful over the volume and depth of our sins and depravity.  It is only when we recognize, own and name our sins that we can confess them and receive forgiveness from the One we have too often betrayed and too easily denied.  This Wednesday is the time where we take our place with Paul and declare we are the chief of all sinners.  It is where we stand with David and say “create in me a clean heart O, God” (Psalm 51:10).
            We begin to gain a glimpse of the cross that will dominate the landscape and sightlines in just two days.  The cross of Christ reveals our sin at its worst and God’s love at its best.  The cross is where Jesus was crushed and crucified for every betrayal and denial we have ever uttered or committed. 
            Researchers at the University of Virginia conducted a fascinating study to answer the question whether having a friend nearby makes pain more bearable. They wanted to see how the brain reacted to the prospect of pain, and whether it behaved differently if a person faced the threat of pain alone, holding a stranger’s hand, or holding the hand of a close friend.
            Researchers ran the test on dozens of people, and found consistent results. When a person was alone or holding a stranger's hand while anticipating pain, the regions of the brain that process danger lit up. But when holding the hand of a trusted friend, the brain relaxed. The comfort of a friend’s presence made the pain seem more bearable.
            Too often we have pushed aside and pushed away the hands of Christ—the only One who can save us.  We have tried to go it alone.  We have turned to idols.  We lived isolated and selfish lives.  We have filled our hands with other things—lesser things.  Today, we come face to face with the reality that at differing times we have all been Judas and Peter.  We have all pushed away, in hate and anger, the One who died for us.  We have turned from the only One who can save us.  Have a good Wednesday.  Reflect on where you are as we arrive near the midway point in Holy Week.  And worship any time at 

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