Today, on Pentecost Sunday, we are beginning a new series where we will be focusing on the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that he would send us his Holy Spirit. In John 7:37-39, we find one of those promises from Jesus recorded for us. On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39) So Jesus uses this word picture of living water to describe the Holy Spirit. But what does it mean to say that the Holy Spirit is living water? That’s what we will be reflecting about over the next four weeks.
Have you ever thought of what your life would be like if you were able to achieve the pinnacle of success in your field? Andre Agassi became a professional tennis player at the age of 16 and within 9 years became the No. 1 ranked male tennis player in the world in 1995. But in the final of the US Open that year, despite winning 26 matches in a row at that point, Agassi was defeated by Pete Sampras. Up to that point, Agassi had been fueling his drive to succeed with hatred toward another competitor, Boris Becker, and it worked, but his life began to unravel with the loss to Sampras. In an interview conducted in 2009, Agassi said, “That summer, I tried to use all this energy and emotion, channel it into anger and tried to use that. I actually resented that feeling even though it was successful. It just wasn’t me; it wasn’t my spirit.
“When I get to the final of the U.S. Open, 1’m 26-0, I lose to Peter. I kind of conclude that you can win 26 matches, lose one and still feel like a loser. It just heightens the point of pointlessness. It made me think: ‘I’ve never liked this, now I like it less. Why am I doing this? I’m miserable for it.’” That started a downward spiral into depression and drug use for Andre. He reached the top of his profession and he still didn’t have peace in his inner being. Becoming the No. 1 ranked male tennis player in the world didn’t make things better for Andre Aggassi. It made things worse.
This is how we tend to live our life. We aim for some particular goal–maybe it’s getting married or having children, maybe it is completing our post-secondary education, maybe it is becoming the top person in our workplace and winning employee of the year–and we think that when we accomplish that goal, then everything is going to be okay. While it is not wrong to have goals, two things can go hair wire in our life when our goals are what we live for. First, we can become so focused on the future that we miss out on what God is doing in our life right now. Second, we can experience what happened to Andre Agassi and accomplish our big life goals only to find that our success has left us empty. Clearly, we need something more. But what is that something more? What is that “something more” for which our soul thirsts? To answer that question, we are going to look at John chapters 13 & 14. If you have a Bible or a Bible app, I invite you to turn there now.
Jesus’ Actions Reveal the Soul Thirsts of His Followers
This passage describes events that happened when Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover Meal for the last time. And what we will see as we dig into this passage is that Jesus’ actions reveal the soul thirsts of his followers. Here’s what Jesus did. First, before the meal, Jesus, who was the teacher and leader of the entire group, did the job of a lowly servant and washed his followers’ feet. Normally, this was something that the person who arranged the meal should have looked after. In this case, that was Peter and John, but they didn’t do that. Then, after washing his followers’ stinky, dirty feet, Jesus called on his followers to humbly serve others like he did.
Second, Jesus said that one of his followers would betray him. No one knew who Jesus was referring to. Judas left shortly after, but most of those present thought that, as treasurer for the group, he had some financial business to do.
Third, Jesus told his followers that he would be leaving them soon and that they could not go with him.
Now let’s pause for a moment here, because there is something really important that is happening and we don’t want to miss it. First, it is important for us to remember that the Jesus described for us in the Bible is a real person who really lived centuries ago and still is alive today.
Second, we human beings tend to forget this truth and we tend to imagine Jesus, not as he really is, but as we would like him to be. In his book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, Scot McKnight said, in reference to a study about what people think of Jesus,
“The test results also suggest that, even though we like to think we are becoming more like Jesus, the reverse is probably more the case: we try to make Jesus like ourselves. Which means, to one degree or another, we are all Rorschachers; we all project onto Jesus our own image.”
I think that we human beings tend to re-make Jesus in our own image, and I am including myself in this, for two reasons: We all want to be god of our own lives, and we want to use Jesus to help us accomplish our life goals.
Third, (and perhaps if we thought about this it would not surprise us because, after all, Jesus is God), Jesus tends to not cooperate with our efforts to remake him in our image and use him to accomplish our goals. He tends to confound our expectations of him. If we really get to know Jesus, instead of holding him off at a distance so that he doesn’t get too close and have too big of an impact on our lives, we will find that Jesus is not like us, at all. Not only that, he doesn’t seem to be too interested in accomplishing our goals for us. In fact, what we are likely to find out, if we really get to know Jesus, is that he says and does things which work against our life goals. Can you imagine the audacity? Like who does he think he is? God? Yes, yes, that’s exactly who Jesus thinks he is.
And because he is God, Jesus knows that it is good for us to have our life goals frustrated by him because our reaction will reveal what we are really thirsting for deep down in our heart. Jesus already knows about our soul thirst, but it has to be revealed to us so that we can examine that thirst in the light of Jesus’ love. Maybe that thirst is leading us in the wrong direction and it needs to be discarded. Maybe that thirst is a good thing but we are trying to satisfy it in a wrong way. Or maybe our thirst has us yearning for something which will harm us and Jesus wants to redirect our thirst toward the good thing he wants to give us. Whatever it is, Jesus knows that our thirst needs to be brought to the surface.
And please note that Jesus is not frustrating our life goals because he wants to make us miserable. Remember, he is God and so he is doing what is good, beautiful and true. And when what is good, beautiful and true is different from what we want, what do you think Jesus is going to do? He is going to do what is good, beautiful and true. He is following the path that our heavenly Father has set out for him, and that path leads to the redemption and renewal of all things. Whenever our life path is off kilter from Jesus’s path, we are going to be frustrated because our life goals and values are not aligned with Jesus’. When Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing what we want him to, let us remember that we are the ones who are off-track, not him.
And when our life goals are threatened, we tend to react in predictable ways. We feel fear, and we act to try to preserve our life goals. And that is when our soul thirst is revealed. Our fear reaction is what does the revealing. So let’s see what this looks like in the Bible.
The Soul Thirsts of Peter & Judas Are Revealed
When Jesus came to Peter to wash his feet, Peter refused at first.
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (John 14:8-9)
When Jesus asked Peter and John to arrange the Passover Feast for him and his followers, Peter likely felt great pride because Jesus had asked him to do this very important thing. But cracks began to appear in Peter’s sense of self when Jesus’ humble service revealed for all to see that Peter had been too proud to humble himself and wash other people’s feet like Jesus did. Peter likely felt great shame, and his fear reaction was to try to cover up his shame by trying to control the situation.
When Jesus said that he was leaving and his disciples could not go with him, Peter had another fear reaction. Turning to John 13, we read,
Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”
Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”
Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”(John 13:36-37)
Do you hear the fear in Peter’s words? Again, it feels like events are spinning out of control and headed in a direction which is very different from what Peter wants. Jesus is going to leave Peter behind. That isn’t what Peter wants and again he lifts up himself as the solution to what he thinks is a problem. Again, Jesus does not cooperate with Peter’s coping mechanisms or life goals. John tells us, Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! (John 13:36-38)
Can you imagine what it would be like to have Jesus say something like that to you in front of your fellow followers? But, as bad as that was, the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction was far worse. Luke describes for us what happened a few hours later when Jesus was being questioned in the house of the High Priest. Peter had followed behind at a distance and was warming himself by a fire in a courtyard. Three times different people accused Peter of associating with Jesus and three times Peter denied it. Immediately after Peter’s third denial, denied Jesus a third time, a rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:61-62) Peter’s life was shattered because his soul thirst was for the lifting up of himself.
To understand the soul thirst of Judas, we have to go back a little further in time. When Mary of Bethany used an expensive perfume to anoint Jesus’ feet, Judas said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages. (John 12:5) That seems like a reasonable thing for Judas to say. The average annual salary in the Lower Mainland of BC is $50,000. Can you imagine someone buying a perfume worth $50,000 and pouring it on someone’s feet? If that were to happen today, we would likely say the same thing as Judas. But an expensive gift never loses its value when we give it to Jesus. That’s because what Jesus does is take our gifts and multiply them, and Judas should have known that. He had seen Jesus multiply the five loaves and two fish to feed a crowd of several thousand. As he observed Mary’s worshipful adoration of Jesus, Judas’s thoughts were not about Jesus. John tells us what was going on in Judas’s heart: He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6)
Judas’ soul thirst was for money, and that explains why he betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders for thirty pieces of silver. I don’t know what Judas was expecting would happen when he did that. Perhaps he thought that Jesus would perform some kind of miracle and escape, and Judas could keep the money. But once again, Jesus did not cooperate with a sinful soul thirst. Instead, knowing what was best, Jesus willingly headed toward condemnation and crucifixion. Turning to chapter 27 of Matthew’s Gospel, we read, When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)
The lives of Judas and Peter tell us that this is what always happens when we seek to quench the thirst of our soul in the things of this world: our lives will be shattered because the things of this world will always fail us. And as hard as it is to experience a soul-crushing shattering, there is the potential for something good to come from it, if we bring our shattered lives to Jesus.
Jesus Gives Us What We Really Need
Jesus knows what our soul really needs and that is why he said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27) Jesus is promising to give us shalom peace. More than just a cessation of hostilities, shalom peace means wholeness and wellness in all our relationships, in our vertical relationship with God, in our horizontal relationships with the people around us and all the rest of God’s creation, and in our interior relationship with our self.
Jesus gives us shalom peace in our soul by following his Father’s path toward all that is good, beautiful and true, even though that path was not where Peter and Judas wanted him to go. They wanted the path of greatness, glory and wealth. Jesus chose the path of weakness, suffering and shame.
At the end of that path was a cross for Jesus, and on that cross Jesus paid the full cost of our forgiveness so that we could have shalom peace in our soul. No longer do we need to lift ourselves up to have a significant life because Jesus has already lifted us up to be beloved, forgiven children of God. No longer do we need to thirst for wealth to satisfy our needs because we have a heavenly Father who has promised to look after us. No longer do we need to have troubled and anxious hearts because we know that Jesus is continually working toward bringing all things of this world to fulfillment in the new heaven and earth to come. Released from concern for ourselves, we are free to love others with the love that God has first shown toward us. We are on the path with Jesus toward all that is good, beautiful and true, and as his representatives in this world, we invite others to bring their broken and misdirected lives to Jesus and receive the peace that surpasses all understanding.
Why Were Peter & Judas Guilty of the Same Sin But With Very Different Results?
I find it very, very interesting that Peter and Judas were both guilty of essentially the same sin–choosing to worship the things of this world instead of Jesus–but what happened afterwards in their lives was dramatically different. Judas hung himself in despair, and Peter didn’t. Instead, Peter kept on hanging around and hanging around with the ten other disciples.
Can you imagine how hard that must have been for Peter to do that when all the other disciples knew what he had done? This is the blessing that Peter experienced when his pride and self-esteem were shattered. When our pride is shattered, then shame has no place to take root in our soul. Pride says, “I can handle this.” Being shattered says, “I know I can’t.” Faith says, “Jesus did, and with him, I will.”
Eventually, Jesus restored Peter to the leadership of his little band of followers and told him to feed his sheep. That began a Jesus movement which is continuing to transform the world down through the centuries and forward into the future. And it was Peter, I think that it is important to note, that preached that powerful sermon on Pentecost Sunday which moved 3,000 people to come to faith.
Why was Judas’s and Peter’s response to being shattered so different, and what caused the immense transformation in Peter’s life? After Jesus told his followers that one of them would betray him, he said, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:25-26) It is the Holy Spirit who connects us personally with the promises of Jesus. Peter heard Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit, and so he hung around in humility with his broken and shattered self, until he was filled with the Holy Spirit himself. With his soul satisfied with the shalom peace of Jesus, Peter was able to play a major role in the Holy Spirit being poured into the lives of others. Unfortunately, Judas left before Jesus gave his promise of peace through the Holy Spirit, and without that promise, he thought that his life was hopeless, and death seemed like the only way out. Had he stuck around like Peter did, Judas could have also had shalom peace for his soul. The Holy Spirit would have quenched the thirst that Judas perhaps never knew that he had.
Dear friends, as we go through life, God is setting a choice before us. Either we will try to quench the thirsts of our soul with the things of this world, and have our lives shattered. Or we can shatter our worldly desires and bring our broken lives to Jesus. There we will find that, in him, the Holy Spirit gives us shalom peace. The challenge that I am leaving with you today is this: Ask God to help you to choose well. Amen.
(This message, or something like it, was shared on June 5, 2022 at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC. For more info, please go to wglc.org.)