Defining Moments: Jesus And The Church Goers
First Baptist Church Laurens
March 15, 2015
Rich Doebler, who is a pastor in Minnesota, once wrote in a book about an experience he had on a vacation with his children. On that particular trip, they were in the Northern part of Minnesota and happened by a small county fair. It just so happened that they stopped there at a time when the fair was rather empty and few people in line for the rides. Doebler and his children in turn felt like they had come upon a gold mine. They could have the rides all to themselves and this realization quickly led them to head toward a particular one where absolutely no one was waiting. In a flash, they all climbed aboard in order to enjoy the thrill all to themselves. As the ride started and as they began to spin around, Rich Doebler says that his first instinct was to be thankful for the great memory they were creating. Yet, the longer the ride went on the more his gratitude turned to fear and agony. For since there was no one in line, the ride operator simply let them continue to spin and spin and spin and spin. Doebler says it was one of those moments where he had absolutely no control over what was happening in his life — it sacred him to death, made his head hurt and left his stomach queasy and tied in knots. (As told in 1,001 Illustrations that Connect, Zondervan Press)
Losing control makes most of us feel the exact same way doesn’t it? Simply said, we don’t like to be out of control. We want to be in charge. We want to be the captain of our own ship. We want to control our own destiny. We want to be able to chart our own path. None of us like to give this up and most of us will do anything to avoid the loss of control.
As I am in conversation with lots of people on a regular basis, I find that this reality is true in all sorts of areas of our lives. Its true as it relates to our health. It is true as it relates to our occupations. It is true as it relates to our finances. It is true as it relates to our children. It is true as it relates to our getting older and finding ourselves becoming more and more dependent on others. And, believe it or not, it is even true as it relates to our lives of faith.
Yet, in a nutshell, Jesus invites us to hand over control of our lives. But, as human beings, we don’t like that idea very much at all. Really, if you think about it, many of the stories in the gospels where Jesus finds himself at odds with other people have the loss of control as an overarching theme. The same is true for our text today with Jesus before the Jewish High Priest and the Sanhedrin.
The Sanhedrin was a group of 71 figures who were the ruling religious leaders of Jesus’day. While Rome was in charge of Israel from a political perspective at that time, the Romans allowed the Sanhedrin to continue to hold power over the Jewish people from a religious and spiritual perspective. It was a way in which the Romans could give away at least some, ceremonial power and it served as an avenue of seemingly shared power that helped to keep the overall domestic peace. For the members of the Sanhedrin, it was a way during a very tumultuous time in their lives as a people, that they could maintain at least some sliver of control.
Without question, we must be clear that the Sanhedrin were good people. They had risen to their place of power because people respected them, admired them, trusted them and loved them. In modern language, we could say that they were like our fellowship of deacons.
Yet, in Jesus, they saw a threat to their power from within. If Jewish people began to follow him this meant that the same Jewish individuals might stop listening to them. This loss of control scared them. It overwhelmed them and it led them to do terrible things. It led them to falsify charges against Jesus. It led them to bend the law and try Jesus at night which was actually illegal under the Jewish system. And, ultimately it led them to suggest that an innocent man deserved to die.
It really is scary how far their fears took them. But the truth is that it is scary how far our fear of losing control can and will take us.
I think their struggle should remind us of a couple of basic, important truths. They are truths that we should never forget.
First, their struggle should remind us that the fear of loosing control can quickly get the best of very good people. The quest for power and control is a corrupting force in our lives. We need to simply face this reality. In turn, we must be careful every day to not allow our quest for power to lead us to do things, to say things or to take actions that we know are wrong merely for the sake of maintaing our position or our control. Doing the right thing and living ethically as God’s children is far more important than maintaining our power or our control.
Second, their struggle should remind us that one of the hardest aspects of the life of faith, is the daily aspect of handing over control. I say daily very intentionally. I believe with all of my heart that all of us must make a daily prayer concern out of asking God to give us the ability to hand over control of our lives to him.
I also think that this is such a difficult task that we are far better to take it one day at a time and thus to give it our attention as each new morning begins. At least in my experience, it doesn’t matter how old we are or how long we have been a believer, this is one area of our lives that we are never going to quite master. And yet, as believers, we call Jesus, our Lord. We affirm that we believe in God. We speak of Jesus as Master and Savior. All of these are titles that indicate and illustrate ultimate control and authority over our lives and yet each of us, in subtle ways, each day, try to wrestle this control back.
Let me illustrate this with a silly little recent personal experience. We have a new video game system at our house. Its a lot of fun and I enjoy playing it just as much as anyone. When we got it about six weeks ago and took it out of the box, we quickly realized that it only came with one controller. Do you know how long it took us to come to the conclusion to go to Target in Simpsonville and fork out the outrageous sum necessary to buy a second controller? Less than 24 hours. For children and adult (I am leaving Ann Marie out of this story) one controller simply wouldn’t do. This same act is the hard thing that God asks of us – to live life with one controller and to let it rest firmly in his hands and not in our own. We don’t need two. One will work just fine as long as it rests in the hands of God!
I want to end this morning with the image of baptism, which we witnessed today. You know as Baptists, we talk a lot about the symbolism of baptism. The water symbolizes the washing away of our sins. The total immersion of a believer into the water signifies the ending of an old life and the beginning of a new life. The whole event reminds us of Jesus’baptism and for those of us watching in calls to mind our own baptism too. But, there is one symbolic aspect of baptism that we never speak about. What happens when we are leaned back or lowered into the water? We give up control and place our lives in the hands of someone else. Let me let you in on a little secret, the most scary part of baptism for anyone and the question that we get asked over and over again in the moments leading up until baptism is this – you will catch me, right? You are not going to drop me, right? You will get me back up, right? That is the scary part! And, truth be told, it never stops being the scary part.
Nonetheless, from the beginning, it is so important to know, that the daily walk of the baptized life is a renewed willingness each and every day, to once again with trembling and shaking knees hand over our control to someone else. The goal of this life, is allowing God to do with our lives what he wants rather that what we want.
Again, we prefer a life with two controllers. But, unfortunately, the life of faith only comes equipped with one. Amen.