The Cosmic Conspiracy, Part 8
The stage was set for the most heinous betrayal in human history. The Son of God was sold out for 30 pieces of silver by a man who had grown disillusioned with Jesus and wanted to move on with his life, and make a little money in the process. With the backdoor of Jesus’ ministry wide open, the satanically inspired religious leaders who had been plotting for a way to get to Jesus, now had their access point. The next obstacle that must be removed would be the remaining 11 disciples who still stood stalwart in their allegiance to Jesus. Satan had the powers of religion firmly in his grasp. He had the betrayal plot firmly established. Now he needed to exploit the weaknesses of Jesus’ band of mighty men in order to isolate Jesus and dispose of Him.
As Judas was an obvious target to spot for Satan in his bid to entice a betrayer, Simon Peter had a target tattooed right over his mouth, and Satan could not ignore this low hanging fruit. Whether Peter was appointed by Jesus to be the group leader, or Peter assumed the position, Peter held sway with the disciples as their team captain. Time and again, Peter is portrayed as the bold, impetus one, who would not shy away from a moment in the limelight. Peter’s highly impassioned love for Jesus was often tempered with his highly impassioned love for himself.
If apathy and indifference could tempt a follower of Jesus into betrayal, could passion for Jesus be used as a weapon to divide and conquer those who deeply desire to remain faithful to Jesus? These men, the twelve, had left their personal lives behind to follow Jesus. Surely, they were committed. Jesus gave them opportunities to leave the mission and go back to their old religious ways only to be surrounded by a chorus of, “Let it never be! Where else could we go? You have the words of life.” Satan needed to find a chink in this armor of loyalty, and Peter would lead Satan right to the front door.
The deep spiritual passion of Peter and the disciples soon revealed a glaring fault. Spiritual passion had an evil flip-side called spiritual pride. As the ministry of Jesus and His disciples moved into its third year, the gospels give glimpses of what was lurking beneath the surface. Jesus caught His mighty men of faith arguing (more than once) about who was going to be the greatest in the coming Kingdom that they were invited to usher in with Jesus. The brothers, James and John, actually got their mother (or their mother stepped forward on her own, as good moms often do) to try to manipulate Jesus into assigning her boys the top seats in His administration! The disciples became very parochial and wanted Jesus to stop any ministry being done in His name that was not under their watchful eye. Their spiritual pride reached a fever pitch when these same two brothers asked Jesus if they could call fire down from Heaven, just like one of their heroes of old did (Elijah), and burn up the dirty rotten sinners that had just rejected their ministry. This was a serious problem and Jesus must get to the bottom of it, as these men were going to be carrying the torch after Jesus left the planet.
This undercurrent of this pride carried the smell of blood to Satan and his demons. They were following the trail like a shiver of hungry sharks who were circling, waiting to attack. The timing and setting were crucial, and Satan found it during the last meal that Jesus would have with His band of men that He was grooming to take over His ministry and eventually take over the world with the Gospel. The Last Supper is the scene that depicts the great passion and love of Jesus for His disciples, and all humanity. It also depicts the scene of the great weakness in the Church of Jesus that has stymied and stalled the advancement of the Gospel for millennia. A closer investigation is in order.
The last Passover of Jesus’ earthly life was about to begin as the sun was setting. Jesus and his disciples had a rented room all set for the celebration, except for one detail. As was customary, a wash basin and water pitcher were placed at the front door. All who were entering the house for the meal would pause there to have their feet washed off before they reclined at the table (thus, the reason for washing feet - the customary eating position was reclining on benches/couches where one person’s feet could be quite close to another person’s face). The water pitcher and basin were in place, but the foot washing servant was not. Perhaps Jesus did not mention this detail to the disciples when He sent them to make all the necessary arrangements for the meal for a reason?
As they filed in, each one passed by the basin and took his place around the table. I can imagine Jesus watching and waiting for one of His faithful to notice the situation and take it upon himself to assume the position of the foot washing servant. None stopped. All failed. The spiritual pride that had plagued the team was now manifesting in a subtle, but sinister way. Jesus had tried to model that a truly spiritual person is one that was willing to lay down his life for his friends. That a truly spiritual person was one who understood that the highway to Heaven was in reality the low way of serving the needs of others. Three years of ministry together had produced twelve attitudes of, “That’s not my job.” Spiritual pride was a real threat to the purity of the gospel, and Jesus would again, have to model pure ministry.
After seeing that no one was willing to take up the towel, Jesus becomes the foot-washer. I am sure that each disciple was flush with embarrassment, and bowed their heads low when it was their turn to be ministered to. Spiritual pride was being crushed as Jesus wiped away the crud from these feet that had walked many miles with Him. Humility was manifest as pure spirituality, as the disciples were watching God wash their feet. The message was unmistakable. The model for ministry was now set in stone. To be like Jesus in all His glory, these disciples must be like Jesus in all His humility. Spiritual pride was the ever present poison, and humility was the antidote. Satan had found an infectious disease that could potentially wipe out true Christianity. This was a watershed moment for the fledgling church.
If spiritual pride is the general malaise of the Church, there is an acute manifestation that is more subtle and toxic, and in my estimation, has become one of the the most debilitating diseases in the Body of Christ. Spiritual pride parades itself as being better than all the rotten sinners that are “out there.” All the holy, righteous people are in the church. To the outside world, the “more holy than thou” message is a stench that repels instead of a fragrance that invites. It has created an “us and them” dichotomy that has marginalized Christianity into just another religion where the rules of righteousness within the group are more important than the relationship to the righteous one, Himself.
Again, the master of deception saw this holy humility as a perfect front for his mission of destruction. His old method of, “if you can’t beat em’, join em’” was a perfect fit to fit right into religious circles. His plan would appear so righteous that any spiritual person would want to attain to it. All he needed was a carrier to infect this putrid pseudo spirituality into, and a potentially genocidal germ could alter the DNA of Jesus in His church and produce spiritual mutants. This could become a pandemic of pride that had the potential to bring about Christianity’s downfall just like so many other powerful nations that have risen to greatness only to collapse in a heap of ruin.
For Satan, the target was obvious. Peter, the rock, the strong, bold, and impetuous one, would be his mark. The Last Supper scene would be the opportune moment for spiritual pride on steroids to be injected into Peter. In the gospel accounts of Jesus’ last hours on Earth, so much plays out so quickly. Jesus had just released Judas from the supper to go and seal the conspiracy of betrayal (unbeknownst to the rest of the disciples exactly what he was doing). Jesus had also just released the bombshell announcement that one of His followers, one who reclined around the Passover table, was going to sell Him out to the religious crowd. The disciples, stunned, and incredulous that someone could stoop to that level, quarrel amongst themselves, and queried Jesus to get more information. Jesus, instead, gets up from the table and proclaims that it is time for Him to face His enemies and that when it happens, all of His disciples would run and scatter in fear to save their own lives.
Satan’s fiery dart whizzed through the awkward silence of that moment and hit Peter right between the lips. Peter blurts out to Jesus, right in front of the rest of the team, that even if all these other, less faith-filled men run in terror, he would never do such a thing. Peter further states that he was ready and willing to die for Jesus, and if need be, die with Jesus. With the toxin swirling through Peter’s propensity for spiritual pride, the full effect of this poison is seen when Peter actually forbids Jesus to go to Jerusalem to face His enemies. Spiritual pride had morphed into spiritual superiority. Peter not only believed that he was more spiritual than his fellow disciples, he actually believed that he knew more than Jesus, and could dictate to Him how He should fulfill His plans!
Immediately, Jesus shoots back at Peter and prophesies that Peter will actually deny three times that he even knows Him, right to His face. Judas may have betrayed Jesus with a kiss, but Peter would betray Jesus with a curse! Jesus then declares, “Get behind Me, Satan.” Jesus was looking at Peter but talking directly to the evil one. Jesus addresses the stupefied Peter, and lets him know that the verbal vomit that had just come out of his mouth was not inspired by holiness, but by the hellish one himself. Jesus reacted so vehemently to this discourse because He knew that the arrogance of spiritual superiority could splinter and separate His Body into segments and fragments that believed that their brand, their stream, their interpretations of truth, their expression of how to follow and worship Jesus were the best, and really, the only true way. The mantra of this superiority would be, we are not only better than the sinners that are around us, we are better than the saints that surround us.
Sadly, church history is littered with the pollution of the waste products of this moment. Divisions, church splits, and denominations by the thousands have been spawned by the notion that “our” group is more authentic than the others. And somehow “we” know better than Jesus what His Body should look like and what it should be doing. In our quest for purity, the Church of Jesus has become a bloody family feud. To be sure, there are times when parting ways with those who preach another gospel, or who edit the gospel for personal preference sake and dilute its potency, is demanded by scripture. But, the vast majority of divisions are rooted in spiritual superiority.
Jesus’ response to Peter, and in actuality also to His Church, is sobering. Jesus tells Peter (us) that Satan has demanded permission to sift him like wheat. Jesus doesn’t say that He will step in and rescue Peter from this violent attack of the enemy. Instead, Jesus simply states that He would pray for Peter while he was going through the attack! What, no angelic special forces mission to airlift Peter out of the clutches of the devil? Didn’t Jesus say in His prayer, “deliver us from the evil one?” What is Jesus talking about?
This scene is vitally important for the purity and health of Jesus’ Body. Satan “demanded permission” to shake Peter to his core to see what he was really made of. This term implies gaining permission to test something to see if it is authentic or not. Satan believed that Peter was a wanna-be follower, and when things really heated up, he would deny Jesus and run away just like the others who he boasted that he was better than. The term sift implies shaking something long and hard enough to knock off anything that is not fully attached to the core. Jesus knew that the only way to deal with spiritual superiority would be to have a reality check of spiritual sobriety. Jesus would actually let Satan shake Peter to the core so that what came out of the testing was pure.
Jesus told Peter that He was praying for him that his faith would not fail. The word translated, fail, is illustrated by what happens in an eclipse when the moon tries to block out the light of the sun. In essence, Jesus was saying that He would not let the light of Peter’s misguided passion for serving Him outshine the light of His passion for loving him. Jesus was telling Peter that even though Satan was the one doing the shaking, Jesus was the one who had His finger on the stop button. Satan was being used as an unwitting tool in Jesus’ mighty hands. What Satan was using for harm, Jesus was using for ultimate good. In the powerful words penned by the Apostle Paul, “God causes all things to work out for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes” (Rom. 8:28).
Jesus knew Peter loved Him, and Jesus had called Peter according to His purposes, so the outcome of all the shaking is always good! (See the end of the story in John 21)
On Satan’s side of the battle line, he now had religion on his side, and he had managed to pry open both the back and front doors into Jesus’ inner circle. It was now time to initiate the third phase of his cosmic conspiracy against Jesus. An unlikely alliance is about to form! So, stay tuned, and tune in...
by Pastor Jim Anan