Forgive Our Fearful Lack of Trust!
They were all such boastful claims! Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you (Matt 26:35). Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will (Matt 26:33). Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death (Luke 22:33). But if there were ever words that would come back to bite someone, whose haunting echoes would stay with a person, it would be these words. It wasn’t all that long ago when, in the security of that Upper Room, the disciples had spoken these words. And yet, here they were, now running in every direction, fleeing from the very man they promised to stand by. Here they were, doing the exact opposite of what they had so proudly promised to do!
Courage is a funny thing. We feel it most when we hardly need it; we hardly feel it when we need courage the most. The disciples knew what they were supposed to do and boastfully promised to do it. Stand up for Christ! Stand up, stand up for Jesus! But in the darkness of the night, in front of that mini-army carrying clubs and torches, the courage they had expressed mere hours earlier left them almost immediately.
Their trust had left them, and with it went their courage. These men who had walked with Jesus for three years no longer trusted in him as they should. They had seen him walk on water, calm wind and waves with only his voice, but now they feared he could no longer keep them safe.
You and I don’t often speak of doom as if we know about it from first-hand experience. It’s not something we’re all that familiar with. But we still have times when our Lord wants us to stand. Unfortunately, it’s at those times that we do the opposite – we flee. We, too, run away because we don’t always trust Jesus as we should. And so, at those times, we pray
Forgive Our Fearful Lack of Trust!
1. We abandon you when our faith is weakest.
2. Father, increase our faith.
1. The last word the disciples might have used to describe themselves would have been “cowards.” And yet, they probably wouldn’t have stuck themselves with the label of boaster or bragger. Truth be told, their love for Jesus was real. They desired nothing more than to be his followers. They really meant it when they promised to stand by him in thick and thin, during the good times and the bad.
But how quickly that boasting turned to fear and flight! They were supposed to be filled with joy during the big festival of the year – the Passover! But this night was steadily becoming a nightmare for those disciples. They witnessed Jesus’ sorrow during the supper; they heard him speak of betrayal and death. They solemnly walked with Jesus through the darkness of night and darkness of sorrow and fear. As they waited for him to finish praying, that sorrow and worry they had experienced all night took its toll as they fell asleep. They stood at their Lord’s side, surprised, as one who had claimed to be their friend betrayed their Master to his enemies. Confusion and fear took over as they fled to hiding while Jesus was tied up and led away to his night trial.
Should they have been so surprised? Over and over they had heard the warnings of Christ. They heard him rebuke them for their weak faith. They had listened silently when he asked them where their trust had gone during storms at sea. They had heard Jesus even wonder out loud, When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)
Should they have been so surprised, since it was just a few hours earlier that Christ quoted the prophecy: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered (Mark 14:27). They had heard him say a friend would betray him, another deny him, and all the rest would fall away on account of me (Matthew 26:31). And yet, they still didn’t believe they would happen. They all cried out, “Surely, not I, Lord!” But here, now, in the Garden they all were coming true.
Their confusion caused them to abandon the faith and trust they had put in Jesus. It wasn’t that Jesus hadn’t told them what was going to happen – he had been telling them exactly what was going to happen for months! He had even told them why it had to happen and what his purpose on earth was – to give his life as a ransom for many; that all people might be forgiven for their sins. And that day when many of them first met Jesus, it was John the Baptist that cried out, Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
But for some reason, in some corner of their mind, there was still this idea that the Messiah would be an earthly king who would restore glory and honor to the Jews. The theories and speculations that floated around the people of Israel floated around in the heads of the disciples, too. Even as they witnessed Jesus’ arrest, as they saw all the things he had foretold come true, those thoughts were still there.
And when Jesus didn’t even try to defend himself, when he told Peter to put away his sword, their bubble was burst. What was Jesus doing?! He just said he had 12 legions of angels at his disposal, so why isn’t he calling to them for help? Doesn’t he know what these men want to do? All the disciples could feel was a bone-chilling fear. They lost all hope they had that things would turn out alright. With seemingly no other option, the disciples turned around and high-tailed it out of there in fear.
Before you start wagging your finger at Christ’s followers – before you start giving them a disapproving stare – examine your own lives. How many times haven’t you and I repeated those same proud full boasts, “I’ll never leave you Jesus!” “Lord, I’ll never deny you!” The devil can try all he wants but we’ll never leave Christ! We’re Christian soldiers – we’ll fight the good fight of faith!
How many times have you and I failed to keep those prideful promises we have made to our Savior? What happens when push comes to shove? It’s so easy to make promises of everlasting loyalty to Christ as we sit comfortably and securely in our church pews! It’s easy to proclaim an unshakeable devotion to Jesus during our prayers before bed. But the reality remains that when we get out from behind the fortress of these church walls or when we leave our homes each morning to face the world the loyalty and devotion that we claim is as firm as rock ends up being as shifting as quicksand.
The sad part is that our fears are nowhere near the levels the disciples experienced. They ran from Christ to save their lives. When was the last time we could say that? Most of us have only abandoned Christ’s commands to save our self esteem – so we wouldn’t be laughed at or thought of less. Perhaps we ignored his words so we might participate in something that seemed fun at the time.
It’s almost like a broken record: a lack of trust leads to fear and falling. Instead of confidently trusting Christ to continually and safely guide us, we fear that he is leading us to somewhere not safe and hardly good for us. We fear that our Good Shepherd took a left where he should have turned right and we’ll end up in a completely opposite place than where we should be. Our lack of trust causes us to fear, it cause us to doubt whether or not our Savior knows what he’s doing.
There doesn’t seem to be any other alternative, so we run. We run away from fears that usually warrant no more than a shiver. That trust that was at one time unshakeable and firm melts away. As our trust melts away, it washes away that resolve we had to always stand with Jesus. We are no different than the disciples – we flee from Christ as our faith and trust in him waivers.
2. That is why we pray these words, not just tonight but daily!, “Father, increase our faith! Teach us the wisdom of your commandments and leading!” That’s why we study the commandments, isn’t it? As we study them we not only learn what is expected of us but also marvel at the insight of the One who wrote them. Think about how quickly we could put our fears and lack of trust to rest if we would daily study and take to heart the ways our Creator would have us go. He knows the best direction to lead us, so we have no reason to fear.
That’s why we study and read Bible stories. Through those familiar stories that we are reminded again and again of God’s love to sinners. It is in those Bible stories that we see how true it is that God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). In those stories we see Moses and the Israelites, fearfully trapped between the angry Egyptian army and the Red Sea. And then we hear Moses’ calming voice, Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today (Exodus 14:13). There we read about the disciples, already frightened by a terrible storm and now seeing what looked like a ghost walking on the water. And then the Savior’s comforting voice stilled those fears: It is I; don’t be afraid (John 6:20).
And isn’t that why we remain faithful in his Word and Sacraments? It’s through those Means of Grace that the Holy Spirit increases our faith, which in turn decreases our fears. Is it your fear that God will lead you to some frightening place and then leave you hanging? Remember God’s grace given to you in your baptism: I have cleansed him; he is mine. I will never leave him or forsake him. Is your greatest fear that Jesus doesn’t know your greatest needs, or that he doesn’t know the best way to resolve them? There is an opportunity to calm those fears in a few moments at his table. At this table we remember the painful, dark road he traveled so that he could solve our greatest need and give us the forgiveness through his body and blood.
It’s no secret that life here on earth as Christians will not be easy – our Savior promised us that much. So we pray that God will give us the confidence and trust in him so that, even if we experience actual dangers, we will continue to follow his Son. We have the confidence of knowing that our path is not an unfamiliar one to our Savior. The path he walked on the way to our salvation was filled with fear, pain, and suffering. And even if the road he leads us on leads to our own death, it is still not an unfamiliar road for our Savior. His road led to the cross, the place of his death, in order that his road might give us eternal life.
And now we are confident and trust that we have been cleansed by Christ’s blood and that he is leading us wherever we go. We continue to trust him that where he leads us is in our best interest, and the Christ knows where he is leading us.
Our trust may frequently leave us as we follow bad examples. But God grants us his grace to follow the good examples. Let’s not walk out these doors tonight with some boastful and arrogant promise of lifelong faithfulness. We see time and time again that such pride went before the disciples’ downfall. Instead, let us leave this evening with the fervent prayer in our hearts and minds that, for Jesus’ sake, our heavenly Father will give us an even greater measure of the Holy Spirit. We fervently pray that he will increase our faith so that, with our faith, our courage may too be strengthened. “Lord God, when we face the crises in our own Gethsemanes, please help us stand firm.