Good Intentions

Title: Good Intentions

Text: Mark 14:32-42

Time: April 2nd, 2006

There are two more Sundays until Easter, so we are examining parts of the Easter story found in the Gospel of Mark. Last week I spoke about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. This week I’d like to talk about the good intentions of the Apostle Peter, and how good intentions aren’t always good enough. And that’s a lesson for all of us. Peter had the best of intentions as a follower of Jesus, but as we see from the story, even his best intentions didn’t keep him from denying the Lord. What Peter needed, and what we all need is more than good intentions. We need a little bit of discipline in our lives in order to stay strong when temptations come our way. All the good intentions on our part can’t save us from falling into temptation unless we have good, solid, spiritual disciplines working in our lives. By maintaining just a few, basic, essential spiritual disciplines, we can avoid falling into the problems Peter fell into. What is a spiritual discipline? It’s simply an activity that Jesus teaches us to do that keeps us spiritually strong. What are these spiritual disciplines? There are many, for example, prayer and Bible reading, but today I’ll talk about prayer. If we can just keep a regular prayer time every day, a lot of the temptations we face can be resisted. Last week I talked about how Jesus went with his disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. When Jesus faced his greatest hour of suffering he went to pray. I talked about how that is a pattern for us all when we are faced with hard times, tough situations, and difficult hardships in life. Jesus went into prayer during the times of suffering in his life and so should we. God will either deliver us from the hour of suffering or take us through it. But we need to go to and stay in prayer during the whole time. Only through prayer can we make it in life. But today I want to talk about what happens if we neglect pray, like Peter did. Peter was a good-hearted man, he was a good and loyal friend of Jesus, but because he wasn’t disciplined in praying he let himself fall into sin. Now Peter is not alone in this, because Christians every day do the same thing, all because they are not strong in prayer. Today, I’d like to take a look at what Peter did, how he fell into sin, how Jesus forgave and restored him, and how we as followers of Jesus can avoid what Peter fell for by simply following a simple spiritual discipline: prayer. Jesus teaches a lot about prayer, and it may be the single most important thing a Christian can do, although reading the Bible is a close second. But today I’ll talk about prayer and hopefully we can determine in our hearts to not make the same mistake Peter made. Hopefully we can learn from another person’s mistake this morning. So let me read a few passages, and then look at the truths they teach. Mark 14: 27-47, 66-72, 16:1-7, John 21:15-19. I find some important truths in these verses.

First, We should all start with good intentions. V. 29, “Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’” V. 31, “But Peter insisted emphatically, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the others said the same.” This is the place we all must be when we start the Christian life. Unfortunately, some pastors, evangelists, and churches are so desperate to sign people up for conversion that they let just about anyone with any degree of interest into church membership. Some churches baptize anyone who wants to just because they want to without inquiring whether the person really is committed to Jesus Christ. Billy Graham made it his career as an evangelist preaching the gospel to church members and professing Christians. How could this be? Because churches let into membership people who are not really committed to Jesus Christ. Some people profess faith in Jesus but have no intention of actually following his teachings or example with their life. Peter, the apostle, was a real convert because he decides right up front that he is willing to follow and even die following Jesus. Are you willing to follow Jesus with your life? Are you willing to die following Jesus? There was a Muslim man we heard about in the news last week who converted to Christianity. Now in the Muslim religion, it is against the law to convert to another faith under penalty of death. So this convert to Christianity was being jailed and almost got the death penalty for being a Christian. All throughout his time in jail he kept his Christian faith, never once denied it, or renounced it to save his life. We’ve been praying for this man in our prayer meeting on Thursday and praise God they released him unharmed. But he was willing to die for Jesus. That’s what Peter and the other disciples said, that they would die for Jesus. Is it your intention today to live, and if need be, die for Jesus? That’s where we all have to be, that must be our intention from the start because none of use knows what tomorrow may bring. We don’t know what situation we may find ourselves in tomorrow. We may be called upon to die for Jesus, and we have to be ready to do so. Thousands of Christians, maybe even millions, have died for Christ over the years. It’s part of the faith. Is it your intention to follow Jesus come what may? That is where we should all start, with the intention of following Jesus, period, no conditions, no limitations. Peter started there.

Second, We should beware of being spiritually careless with our faith. V. 38, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak.” V. 40, “When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.” There is an old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That certainly applies to Peter and to us today too. It isn’t enough to say that we will follow Jesus, it isn’t enough to profess Christianity, it isn’t enough to commit to the faith, we have to keep ourselves strong in the faith in order to follow Jesus. And there are things that we must do in order to keep our faith strong. These are called spiritual disciplines, such as prayer. Jesus told his disciples to watch and pray in order not to fall into temptation. Jesus knew that if they didn’t pray, they’d fall. It’s the same with us today. If we don’t pray, we’ll fall. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are, if you don’t pray, you will fall into temptation and you will fall into sin. Jesus tried to teach his disciples that but they kept ignoring his words. All that he requested was that they watch and pray, but they kept sleeping. Now we can all identify with those disciples can’t we? Isn’t it the case that many times when we start to pray, we fall asleep? Prayer is hard because it isn’t a physical activity like other things we do. Prayer is mostly 100% spiritual activity, not physical. And our bodies are used to physical activity or material activity. If we are not doing something, or watching something, or listening to something, or in some other way being involved in the physical world, our bodies think it must be time to go to sleep. It gets bored. But prayer requires focus and concentration of soul and mind. If we don’t learn how to pray, we will fall asleep every time. And don’t count on praying much while in bed, because you’ll fall asleep more than pray. I’ve found I pray best walking, so I’ll take a walk and pray. Others find kneeling helpful, because it’s hard to kneel and fall asleep, so it keeps you awake. But see these disciples got careless, got sloppy in their spiritual faith and slept when they should have been praying for power. That will hurt them later, especially Peter, as we’ll see next. Are you careless in your faith these days? Do you routinely neglect prayer? Or what about the other great spiritual discipline, Bible reading? Do you neglect one or the other, or both? We all can get sloppy from time to time, but Jesus calls us to discipline. A discipline is something we do whether we feel like it or not because we know it’s important. That’s why we must practice prayer, or else we’ll be weak, which is what happened to Peter.

Third, We should expect to fail if we don’t keep up the basic spiritual disciplines. Peter fell for all three of the main sources of temptation: the flesh, the world, and the devil. The first thing Peter fell for was the temptations of the flesh. Vv. 46-47, “The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near (Peter) drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.” Jesus wasn’t a man of violence, and he taught his disciples to be peaceful and not violent, but here is Peter resorting to violence to save Jesus. That wasn’t the way of Christ, but Peter was doing it because it came natural for him, but it came out of Peter’s old sinful flesh, his old sin nature. We all have an old sin nature inside of us waiting for an invitation to jump out. A pastor down South was just killed last week by his own wife. Why did she do it, since she already confessed to it? We don’t know yet but I bet it was because something he did made her react in her old sinful nature. She reacted out of some deep, dark sinful impulse. It’s in all of us, it’s called the flesh, and it constantly tempts us, and we have to stay strong and resist it. Peter hadn’t prayed, so he couldn’t resist it. Second, compromised to the temptation of the world. Vv. 53-54, “They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.” Now I don’t want to make too much of this, but there was Peter hanging out with the guards, trying to keep close but at the same time keep his distance from Jesus. He was trying to be just “one of the boys.” He had not denied the Lord yet, but he was not openly identifying with him, and was really trying to keep it a secret that he was a follower of Jesus. It’s called peer pressure. The world puts pressure on us to conform to it’s ways, so the temptation is to conform, to become worldly. Are you a worldly person, do you blend in with the world. That is a temptation for us all, to take the easy way of blending in instead of standing out for Jesus. Peter gave in because he wasn’t prayed up. Finally, third, Peter comes right out and denies Jesus. V. 71, “He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about.’” Here Peter actually gives into a temptation of Satan because we know that anyone who denies Jesus is from the antichrist, as 1 John says. Now Peter was being attacked by the devil here just like he was earlier when Jesus said, “Get thee behind my Satan.” Jesus warned him to pray and not fall into temptation, but he slept instead. It’s scary but any of us might act on the Devil’s voice if we aren’t strong. And we won’t be strong unless we keep in prayer. If we don’t keep to the discipline of prayer, there is no telling what we might yield to.

Finally, fortunately, even if we fail, thank God there’s forgiveness. Vv. 6-7, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples, and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” In another account after Jesus appears, he talks with Peter and gives him three chances to affirm his love, one for each denial. Thus Jesus shows love and forgiveness and restores Peter. It’s great to know that Jesus will forgive us even when we fail and sin. But we shouldn’t use that fact as an excuse to get sloppy or careless. Peter was grateful that Jesus forgave him and restored him, but I’m sure Peter wished he had never been so careless in the garden to sleep when he should have been praying. It was easier for Peter to sleep than pray. It’s easier for us to watch tv than to pray. It’s easier for us to talk on the phone, than to pray. It’s easier to read a book or listen to the radio, or read the paper, than to pray. Of course, it’s easier to sleep than to pray, but we must not take the easy way, like Peter and the disciples. Jesus said watch and pray not just to the disciples but to us as well. He knows how easy it is for us to fall into temptation when we are not strong spiritually. And we can’t be strong in spirit if we don’t pray. Do you pray every day? Do you pray about all your problems, all your concerns, all your worries? Do you take everything to God in prayer? There is no other way to stay strong. That doesn’t mean that prayer is the only spiritual activity that’s important. Like I said before, Bible reading is very important. Being a part of a church is important, the community aspect of the Christian faith, accountability to others helps us stay strong. But today Jesus shows us how important prayer is in staying strong and resisting temptation. Jesus prayed to stay strong. What was his temptation in the garden? To back out of the cross, of course. But he didn’t, because he was strong in prayer. Are you ready to face temptation? Have you kept up your praying? Can you say no to the world, the flesh, and the devil? If you pray you can, if you don’t pray, I wouldn’t bet on it. It’s such a simple thing, but so important. Let’s determine to follow Jesus here in prayer. Amen.

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