This past Sunday was the conclusion to our Chase the Lion series. And with everything that continues to go on in our lives, I believe this was a timely reminder. Lion Chasers remember that God is in control. Lion Chasers live their lives with confidence that they are following the One who is in control…even when things seem out of control.
You can download the sermon here.
Feel like reading? Here’s the manuscript:
Every time my dad’s family would get together, I would ambush my aunt and my uncle with the board game. Sometimes, they wouldn’t even make it to my Grandma’s porch without my asking the question, “Wanna play Candy Land?” And like all good aunts and uncles, they would play with me.
I know the experience wasn’t always pleasant for them. I was a sore loser and a much poorer winner. Whenever I would win the game, I’d stand up and walk around, beating an imaginary snare drum. Then I’d bang on their heads saying, “I beat you like a drum! Look Mom & Dad – I beat them like a drum.” And they lovingly took the taunting. When I asked to play again, they were always willing to say “Yes.” Conveniently, I would almost always win. And I’d walk around again, beating them like a drum.
It was many years before I found out their dirty little secret about Candy Land. They were cheating! They had stacked the cards in such a way that early in the game I would conveniently draw one of the special cards that would send me to Lollipop Woods or the Ice Cream Float. That would give me an insurmountable lead. And, more important to my aunt and uncle, the game would be over much quicker. I was totally oblivious. So I continued to beat my drum as I celebrated my well-honed skills of Candy Land playing.
Ever had an experience like that? Ever thought you were completely control of a situation, only to find out that things weren’t as they seemed? Ever act like you knew what was going on, when in reality you were completely oblivious? I know I have. And there are many others who have, too. As we close the series called Chase the Lion, we need to remember Who is ultimately in control. As we live our lives, we are going to encounter lions in our path, similar to the man named Benaiah found in the Old Testament. I’m sure you’re familiar with the story by now. One snowy day, Benaiah encountered a lion in a pit. Instead of reacting the way most of us would and getting as far away from that pit as possible, Benaiah saw that the odds were stacked against him and took a risk anyway. And he jumped into that pit and killed the lion with his bare hands. And that experience helped him later in life when he was placed in command of King David’s body guard. Much like Benaiah, we encounter lions along our path. There are obstacles in our lives and potential risks we could take that seem like foolishness to the casual believer. When you take the measurements and calculate the odds, no one in their right mind would attempt overcoming those obstacles or taking that risk. But a Lion Chaser sees risk as an opportunity, not as an obstacle. Because a Lion Chaser remembers Who is in control.
If you have your Bibles, turn with me to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 26, beginning in verse 47. Matthew is at the beginning of the New Testament. It’s the first of four accounts of the life of Jesus. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Matthew 26:47 is found on page 862 in that Bible.
As we look at today’s passage, we find Jesus and a few of his followers in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had just celebrated the Last Supper with his friends where he revealed to them that he was about to be betrayed by one of them and that the others would completely abandon him.
What we call Palm Sunday, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem a few days earlier now seemed like a distant memory. When he rode into town, these followers looked at each other and said, “Now is the time. A new Kingdom is about to be ushered in. (shout this) Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! (pause) Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mat. 21:9) They were ready for revolution. They were ready for Jesus to usher in the new Kingdom.
The new Kingdom. It’s not what everyone was looking for – what they were hoping for. Popular understanding was that the Messiah would come as a military hero, throwing off the yoke of the oppressive reign of their foreign occupiers. He was going to re-install the Davidic political kingdom and return Israel to its glory days. A revolution was coming soon and they were ready. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, his followers figured the insurrection would soon begin.
Of course, when Jesus said, “The Kingdom of heaven has come near,” he wasn’t talking about a geographical or political reign. He was proclaiming a new order in which humanity could have a restored relationship with God. It was available to all people, not just the Jews. His closest followers, however, didn’t seem to get that just yet.
That triumphal entry seemed like such a long time ago now. All of those hopes and dreams appear to be shattered. Jesus looks tired. His eyes are sunk in. With each step he takes, it looks like his shoulders drop a little more, like he’s carrying a weight that gets heavier and heavier. His friends are determined not to give up on their dream. “I’ll die with you, Jesus!” they insisted. “I’ll never deny you!” They want to be part of whatever the big thing was that Jesus had planned. They were the revolutionaries. And now, at the Garden, they’re all knocked out – asleep. Some revolution!
You’ll remember that Jesus invited his friends to pray with him as the time of his arrest drew near. While Jesus poured is heart out to the Father, the Disciples fell asleep. The world was about to come crashing down around Jesus and his followers – and his closest friends can’t even stay awake. Jesus wakes them up one last time and tells them that his time has come.
Everyone in this story thinks they have the right answer. They have it all figured out. The chief priests think they’re doing their people a favor by eliminating this ‘rabble-rouser.’ In the process, they’re protecting their own security as people of influence. Besides, they’re doing it in the name of God. He must be blessing it, right? They’re celebrating, just like I did in Candy Land. “We’ve finally got you, Jesus! We win! We beat you like a drum!”
Whatever his intentions, be it insurrection or his own greed, Judas appears to think he has everything figured out. He seems to have everything under control. After all, he’s the one in front of the crowd. He’s the one who can walk right up to Jesus and betray him with a kiss. No one can stop him. You can see the smirk on his face as he steps back after kissing the one he had called Master. “You clueless fool, Jesus. I win. I beat you like a drum.”
John’s Gospel tells us it’s Peter who draws his sword in response. Here’s Peter, who has been asleep for some time, fumbling around to get his sword, remembering his promise to die for Jesus’ sake. The fisherman becomes a fighter – and a lousy one at that. You can see him wipe the remaining sleep from his eyes as he pulls his sword from its sheath. Waving it around, trying to find a target, Peter finally slices off the ear of a servant. Peter probably looked at his handiwork and thought, ‘Not bad for a fisherman. Who’s next? I’m standing up for Jesus. Bring it on! I just beat you like a drum.’
In a stunning contrast to these characters who think they have things under control stands Jesus. The one who appears the most impotent is in complete control of the situation. Earlier in this chapter, we see that the elders and chief priests did not want to kill Jesus during the festival for fear of a riot. Yet, here we are in the middle of the festival and Jesus is arrested – just as he said he would be. Jesus could have snuck away through the crowds. He had done it before. But Jesus knew this was the time.
Jesus could have encouraged Peter and the other Disciples to keep up the fight to protect him. He could have called down countless angels to rescue him. He didn’t, though. Instead, he rebukes them and tells them to put away their swords. To quit fighting against what God had planned.
Yes, it is Jesus who is in complete control of this situation. He knows that it is time for him to do what God called him to do: to willingly lay down his life for you and for me and for all of humanity. After three days in the grave, Jesus also conquered death for you and me an all of humanity. That is why he chose not to fight. That is why they captured and killed him. It wasn’t because he was weak and powerless. It was because of his mission.
So, was God in control when the World Trade Center came down? Was God in control when the student opened fire on that classroom in Northern Illinois? Was God in control when the doctor came in and said the news wasn’t very good? Was God in control when a child was born with a hole in his heart, or another was born addicted to crack cocaine, or when your nephew dies just a few hours after he’s born?
The short answer is ‘Yes.’ God is in control. Why do things like this happen? I have no idea. I just…I really don’t know. I can’t claim to know because I’m not God. But here’s what I do know. God is right there, picking up the pieces alongside of us when things spiral out of control and the world feels completely dark. The Gospel of Luke gives a few more details from this story. In it, he mentions that after telling Peter to stop, Jesus touched the man’s ear and healed it. In the midst of creation’s darkest hours, Jesus was there. He was there picking up the pieces and healing someone who was part of a group that was about to kill him. God was in control then and He’s in control of things now. And He’s the One working towards brining healing towards our broken world and our broken hearts.
I can’t help but think of parts of my life when I encounter this story. There are many times in my life where I have tried to take control of the situation. Instead of allowing God to work on me and through me, I have tried to rely too much upon my own abilities to make something happen. I’m a lot like Peter, swinging my sword around, trying frantically to hit anything so I can dance around and say, “Look at me, God! Look what I did. I beat them like a drum!” When in reality, God is asking me to put down my sword – my plans, abilities, strengths & weaknesses – and allow God to accomplish God’s plan.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. God is not some puppet master pulling all of the strings, forcing us to do what God wants. God is in control and has also allowed us to make choices. When we decide to do things on our own because we know what’s best, it’s just like Peter when he picked up his sword and tried to accomplish what he thought was God’s will. It just doesn’t work.
What about you? Are there areas of your life that God is asking you to hand over? Are you holding on to them, trying to accomplish what you think is best – regardless of what God is saying? If so, you’re just like the characters in this story. You’re banging your drum saying, “Look what I can do!” When in reality, God is asking you to put down your sword.
Maybe things feel like they’re crashing down around you. It could be health problems, family issues, career choices, emotional concerns, threat of financial ruin, struggles with school, worrying about how to pay the bills…any number of things. Are you going to step up, pull yourself up by the bootstraps and try to take control like Peter did? If so, you’re just swinging around your sword, trying to do something…anything…without really accomplishing much at all. Or are you going to hand things over to the One who is in control of the situation? Being a Lion Chaser means you put down your sword and quit trying to do things on your own. Being a Lion Chaser means you approach obstacles with confidence that the One who was in control in the Garden of Gethsemane is the same God who is in control right here, right now. Because it’s God who is in control, it’s time to quit holding out, quit holding back, and quit running away. It’s your choice. It’s time to put down your sword. It’s time to chase the lion.