Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
January 10, 2016
If you would serve God, prepare for temptation
This ancient saying embodies an eternal truth: “My son, if you would serve God, prepare your soul for temptation.” So true! All who serve God are tempted to take the easy road instead of the “straight and narrow” way.
Peter took the easy road when he followed Jesus “at a distance” during the Lord’s mock trial. No doubt Peter’s cowardice was born out of fear for his own life.
Peter was well aware of the bitter conflict between Jesus and the religious establishment. He had to know trouble was brewing because Jesus steadfastly refused to compromise the truth with the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus was focused. His one desire was to do the will of the Father. He aimed to please God not men.
What incredible loneliness Jesus must have endured when his disciples abandoned him out of fear that they too might be crucified. He had invested three years teaching the twelve only to have them flee, cowering in the darkness like cowards. What pain must have stabbed his soul; his beloved disciples had deserted him. Now, alone, he must walk on to do the Father’s will. The mournful spiritual recognized the Lord’s painful loneliness:
Jesus walked this lonesome valley.
He had to walk it by Himself;
O, nobody else could walk it for Him,
He had to walk it by Himself.
But Jesus was not the only lonely man that terrible night. Though Peter was “sitting with the guards,” he was alone also, alone with the dreadful guilt of his spineless denial of Jesus. His own words ricochet in his brain like hammers pounding a gong: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” Surely in shameful silence he despised himself.
All of us can identify with Peter. We have sat by the fire in that courtyard more than once. We know what it’s like to give in to fear and take the easy road. We had a chance to stand up for Jesus but we remained glued to our seat. The intimidation of colleagues at work was too great so like Peter we followed Jesus “at a distance.” Then, when guilt settled in, we experienced that agonizing loneliness. Alone, we gaze into a mirror and see a coward staring back.
The spiritual reminds us that like Jesus we must walk the lonesome valley alone:
We must walk this lonesome valley,
We have to walk it by ourselves;
O, nobody else can walk it for us,
We have to walk it by ourselves.
You must go and stand your trial,
You have to stand it by yourself,
O, nobody else can stand it for you,
You have to stand it by yourself.
Peter had an advantage over us – and we have one over him. He had the advantage of looking into the eyes of Jesus in that courtyard and seeing the Master offering him forgiveness and a fresh start. The look that Jesus gave Peter that night saved his life. A few years later Peter was willing to die for his faith in Jesus. He rose from the ashes of cowardice and became a fearless preacher whose courage is envied by every pastor.
Our advantage over Peter is this: we do not have to walk our lonesome valleys “by ourselves.” Followers of Jesus can enjoy the strengthening presence of Jesus every step of the way. Even though no other disciple may walk with us in our trials, we have our Lord’s precious promise: “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” And count on this: Jesus keeps his promises!
When Karol Wojtyla served as a priest in Nowa Huta, the Communists ruled Poland. Wanting to build a church, Wojtyla planted a makeshift cross on the property. The Communist rulers angrily tore it down. At night the young priest planted another cross. It was removed. Undaunted, the young priest planted another cross, and another, and every day his people gathered there to sing and celebrate Holy Communion.
Eventually the people prevailed; the church was built and the power of communism was overthrown in Poland. The priest who would become Pope John Paul II had the courage to risk his life rather than compromise his convictions!
That may be why we admired him so: he found the courage to risk his life rather than yield to the temptation to take the easy road. While we are all tempted to follow Jesus at a distance, we can, like the Pope, refuse to yield. We can find in the strengthening presence of Jesus the courage to stand our ground rather than cut and run. + + +