The Power of Submission: ACTS 23

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ACTS 23

My dear Aunt Doris passed away and entered Glory on Easter morning 2015. I am sure she was thrilled to go on such a magnificent day.  She was 94 years old and lived the vast majority of those years with her every waking and sleeping moment fixed on Jesus. She was all about the work of the Lord with nary a hesitation in her mind’s eye. If she ever doubted, questioned, or wondered about her purpose, we would have never known it. That was kept between her and her Creator.

So there I was with my family at church for the Easter service on Sunday, reminiscing on my Aunt Doris and her sisters, Sue and Jane (my grandmother). I began thinking about death and resurrection in a very personal way. Easter is the single most significant holiday we celebrate. It’s the crux of our faith. Without the power of the resurrection, we are simply wasting our time as Christians, and we’re merely defined by the good works we set about and fail to keep. Without the resurrection we are reduced to bunch who keep our fingers crossed.

I don’t know about you, but as a child raised in a Christian home, I’ve heard the Easter service message at least 40 times in mostly the same way, with the exception of a few remarkable messages. I have often left the service thinking, “so where exactly is this power in the resurrection? I don’t really see it.” It’s not that I didn’t believe it was true or that there wasn’t power in raising Jesus from the dead, I just never really saw it applied. There are many families who choose not to attend church services on a regular basis, and if they do maybe only for Christmas and Easter. Are they asking the same question? Those of you who fall into this category, what did you think of your Easter service this year? Did it move you to change? Did you feel called to alter the constructs of the life you’ve been living? If you did, did you have any idea what to do next? Or does the power of the resurrection seem like some nebulous churchy word we use?

I am compelled to discuss the resurrection today. There are too many reasons not too, one of them jumping out at us from our passage in Acts 23.

Paul realized that some members of the high council were Sadducees and some were Pharisees, so he shouted, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors! And I am on trial because my hope is in the resurrection of the dead!” (Acts 23:6 NLT emphasis mine)

POWER OF THE RESURRECTION

On the Monday after Easter, I anxiously awaited the funeral plans for my Aunt Doris, since I knew I’d have to work around a busy schedule to attend. I missed my Aunt Sue’s funeral three years earlier and it’s been nearly ten years since my grandmother passed away. I was determined to make this funeral. So when I began to feel God nudging me to stay home instead, I maneuvered into negotiation mode. “Lord,” I said. “Maybe I wasn’t clear in my first prayer.  Let’s try this again. Please let me know your will, but work out my circumstances so that I can go.” After three attempts and an outside confirmation of his word, I resorted to tears for the rest of the day.  BUT my eyes were opened to what needed to be seen.

My tears and my loss go back to my grandmother whom I loved with my whole heart. When I was with her as a very young girl, I felt like the most important person in the world. Considering the five other grandchildren in competition with me, I can honestly say, we ALL felt like the most important person to her. Even my bitter battles with my brother seemed to cease at her home, and I felt a kind of freedom. It was like heaven.   So if I’m honest, my desire to be at these funerals and to be with the people who loved and knew her, was to grasp a final thread of connection to my grandmother and that feeling of heaven.

Jesus spoke to my heart that afternoon when he reassured me that my final thread to heaven was through HIM, not a funeral, not an aunt, not my grandmother, nor anything else I could hope to find. This, my friends, is the true essence of the power of the resurrection. Because of the resurrection, we have access to all of Jesus and all his glory right now. When Jesus prays for us before his arrest he says,

Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. (John17:24 NLT emphasis mine)

Christ is my thread to heaven and he wants me to be with him where he is. While I would adore the comfort of my extended family and to provide comfort for them, I’m pretty sure my Aunt Doris would encourage me to stay put and write this weekly Bible study.

THE POWER OF SUBMISSION

The real power of the resurrection comes from and through submission to his will. Ugh, submission is for sure a loaded word for this girl here, an admitted product of the feminist movement and proponent of its many accomplishments.  And without digressing into another subject, I’ve resisted the idea of submission over the years because of the historical, gross misuse and abuse of its power.  And let’s admit it, there is power in submission.  We usually think of in the context of giving away our power, but it doesn’t always work like that.

If you want the power of the resurrection in your life you must submit to the cross. That’s exactly why we have the picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine. (Luke 22:42 NLT)

Luke goes on to say that an angel came down to strengthen Jesus. Because of his submission to his Father’s will, he is not only greeted and filled with strength and power in that moment to move forward, he is catapulted to release power for the whole world. While we might think we are free from submission in this life if we choose, we are not. The truth is that we all submit to something and glean what comes from it.

Now let’s look at Peter.  I like Peter.  He’s only one of the few greats whose humanity is completely splayed for everyone to see. He’s one of those people who has a good heart who can’t help but jump ahead of God with his great plans only to be reigned in, that is…when he’s not lagging at a distance denying he even knows God.  He makes me feel normal.  Today we’ll look at three things Peter submitted to before he finally submitted to the cross.

PETER SUBMITS TO FEAR

During the Last Supper Jesus foretells of Peter’s denial.

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31-32 NLT)

Jesus tells Peter he will deny him three times, signaled by the crow of a rooster.  When Peter denies Christ for the third time, hears the cock crow, and meets eyes with Jesus, he knows he’s failed. He submitted to fear of the cost to following Jesus.  So he flees and weeps bitterly. I’m going to go out on a limb and postulate that this is when Satan began the serious sifting. Tormenting him with thoughts like, “You’ll never be good enough. How could God love you? You don’t even want to admit you know him. You said you wouldn’t deny him, but you did. And three times at that. You’re such a failure. You’re not good enough to be his disciple. You can’t walk this path. You just need to go back to fishing, it’s easier.”

PETER SUBMITS TO DEFEAT AND FAILURE

In John 21 we see Jesus appearing to seven of the disciples by the Sea of Galilee. John records this as the third time he’s made an appearance and Peter is back out fishing. Three years earlier, when they met, Jesus asked Peter to leave behind fishing and follow him. But now we see him fishing again.

When he realizes the man on the shore is Jesus he jumps in and swims to shore. Jesus cooks them all breakfast and then pulls aside to ask Peter,

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15 NLT)

Notice he uses the name Simon this time. Peter means rock, but his original name means shifty, like sand. Jesus is addressing the Old Man still lurking in Peter. He asks him this same question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” three times. By the third time, Peter’s feelings are hurt.  He’s face to face with his deep-seated thoughts. Superficial answers won’t cut it.

Is it possible he’s still tormenting himself over his thrice denial of Jesus and that’s really the source of the pain? Could it be that he’s only hearing roosters in his ears by this point? Could it be that he is so focused on the first part of Jesus’ prediction in Luke 22 that he is not at all considering the second half to be true, “So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers?”

After the third query, Jesus says to Peter,

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hand, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19 NLT)

The very next verse we see Peter’s response.

PETER SUBMITS TO COMPARISON AND COMPETITION

Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved – the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?”

Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” (John 21:20-23 NLT)

Peter, quite frankly, is in a struggle that we all go through. Are we going to let our fear of what the cross looks like overrule our lives? Are we going to remain stuck in our past and allow Satan to sift us with tormenting thoughts of our failures and inadequacies, keeping us frozen in place? Are we going to focus on building a life based on everyone around us and allow comparison and competition to dominate our decisions? Or are we going to look at the cross, see the power and grace it beholds, embrace it, submit to it, carry it, and follow him?

There is a power that comes through submission, and that power will wield according to the object of our submission. When we die to self, we are then buried in His will for our lives, and we are then raised to new life with all of his power and glory.

FOLLOW ME

We know the outcome for Peter. He chose to follow Jesus and to submit to the “cross,” and was used by God for great glory, with thousands coming to Christ as a result. We see Paul in Acts 23 submitting to the “cross.” He’s imprisoned for God’s great glory and some of his best writings come from prison.

I was sharing Paul’s story with my son this week, and he asked me if we are all going to have to endure that kind of persecution. How did he know what I, myself, was asking? My Aunt Doris and her entire generation was spared largely from the kind of persecution the early church endured and that of Christians in other parts of the world. I, too, have been spared from this. That’s not to say I haven’t suffered in life, nor have I escaped ridicule as a witness for Christ, but it certainly isn’t martyrdom.

I responded by simply saying that I didn’t know. However, what I do know is that I can trust his will and my submission transforms into His glory and people in turn know Him. It’s none of my business how others play into the plan.  Jesus simply says, “Follow me.”

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