Badges of Betrayal
There is a time coming soon when many things we now view as signs of honor will suddenly be seen, in new perspective caused by the light of heaven, as actually badges of betrayal. Peter and the other disciples experienced this at the end of Jesus' life. They were all confident that their intense sense of loyalty to Jesus was something to be honored, and even though Jesus tried to awaken them to their real problem it was in vain. So Peter ended up experiencing a great public embarrassment by denying that he even knew Jesus, the very opposite of what he intended to do.
I suspect that most of us may well be in a similar situation to that of Peter and the others today. We may feel confident that we are on the right side, that we have the truth and there is little more for us to learn other than maybe more discipline for stricter obedience or more fervor to face a coming crisis. Yet like Peter we are poised to have a great fall. But it need not be that way for there is still opportunity to wake up to our true condition and be undeceived as to what true loyalty is all about.
The problem of course is that deception is never obvious to one who is deceived by it, and self-deception even more so. When we are confident that we are right and cling to strong opinions and view passion in support of our agenda as a badge of honor, we can be in more danger of ignoring warnings Jesus sends to us, viewing them as offensive rather than humbling ourselves to reconsider how we perceive reality. This is extremely difficult to do given that our perceptions and priorities are all rooted in our underlying presumptions about what we think is important and how we define godliness.
As soon as I attempt to list possible illustrations of my point here, I am rather sure that they can likely elicit reactions of offense on the part of someone. But at the risk of offending, I will venture to offer a few anyway in hopes that possibly the Spirit might bring conviction into areas of our lives we have kept off limits from Him for too long. Of course I have blind spots too that will be triggered when others might try to point them out for me.
So, what are some things that we view as badges of loyalty, that are commonly thought of as honorable? Here's one that fits the word quite well. What about medals of honor worn proudly by a soldier or veteran? These are badges that everyone is expected to respect and honor unquestioningly as a patriotic duty of citizenship. Yet let me ask in response, on what basis were these honors awarded? For committing heroic acts of bravery most would say. But how might heaven view this? Is it really honorable in the eyes of Jesus for some of His children to participate in harming and killing others of His children in the name of nationalism? Might it be that a person coming into the presence of Jesus decked out with medals of military honor on their chest suddenly start to feel exposed and ashamed as the pure loving eyes of Jesus shines the light of truth into the heart behind those worldly honors?
In the face of the One who explicitly instructed us to love our enemies and not to resist an evil person, can we boldly assert that we are His followers and are loyal to His kingdom? Might the very things that we have long viewed as badges of honor turn to burn our hearts with shame as we suddenly realize that in fact from heaven's perspective they may be seen as badges of betrayal?
Peter certainly thought that committing violence in the name of God and country was not only acceptable but should be viewed by Jesus as proof of his loyalty; he was hoping to be rewarded instead of rebuked. In fact all of the disciples had a similar attitude as they competed in the upper room over who was the greatest, the most loyal, in order to impress Jesus in hopes of earning higher positions in the kingdom they were confident He was about to install on earth. This was because their background story, their perspective of religion and reality, simply could not allow for any other scenarios relating to a Messiah. Yet as a result they squandered a great deal of time fighting over who would get the most honors and privileges (in an expected kingdom based on hierarchy) while losing precious moments and even years that could have been filled with humble learning about the true nature of what Jesus actually had in mind for them. Yet because they resisted allowing Him to define reality and refused to open their minds to imagine that things just might not be like they believed so firmly, Jesus was unable to share much at all with them because their own agenda blinded them to His priorities.
Peter, even though plainly warned of his impending denial by Jesus just hours before it occurred, found that humiliating experience impossible to avoid, not because he was somehow predestined to deny Jesus, but because he was unwilling to deny himself as Jesus had explicitly taught them.
Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it." (Luke 9:23-24)
Peter had heard Jesus say these words, but because he and the other disciples had their hearts set on the 'glory' of earthly kingdoms that are all based on hierarchy, military power and worldly riches, it made it impossible for them to grasp how far off their thinking was from what Jesus has planned for this world. Instead of taking the path of real loyalty to Jesus, Peter found himself on the fast track to dishonoring the very one he admired the most, not because he didn't care about Jesus but because he still cared more about himself.
But why stop here? There are other ways in which we proudly display badges of presumed honor that well may not appear as attractive in the light of heaven's kind of glory, for the glory that Jesus came to reveal is based on self-sacrificing love, humility and putting others ahead of ourselves in importance.
Here is another illustration that is sure to arouse objections. How many spend years of effort and obscene amounts of monetary resources to do many spend in order to earn the right to attach a few labels after their name? Years are spent immersing our minds and hearts in philosophies of the world that claim to be full of wisdom and knowledge, carefully being brainwashed in strict curriculums designed to mold us into the world's view of reality leading us to reflect the world's expectations and fulfill the world's agendas in the matrix of educational systems.
Am I suggesting it is wrong to get an education? Not by any means. God has given us minds to use and educate and develop to the highest potential. But it is all too easy to excuse much of what we call education ignoring the truth that a great deal is in fact carefully masked deception (and some of it not so carefully masked). We believe that to be healthy and educated one must expose themselves to all sides of a subject and become familiar with not only what we think is truth but also with various facets of what is false so we can know how to argue against it. Then we call this balance, a very dangerous concept in itself because it contains enormous potential for so much deception as it reflects the core principle found in the same tree that brought about the downfall of the first king and queen of our world, that Tree of Knowledge of both Good and Evil.
Could it be that in our proud attachment of letters after our names proving that we have been brainwashed in the systems of worldly approved thinking training us in how this world views reality, that in the light of heaven when it suddenly breaks into our artificial bubble of reality, that such titles of honor may suddenly appear transformed into badges of betrayal? I am not trying to condemn anyone for striving to develop their mind to their highest potential. But I have it on good counsel that the Holy Spirit can teach a person in a moment more than they could achieve in a lifetime of strenuous effort, things most important and needful for real life. This does not imply that God wants us to be lazy and neglect the learning of many facts, yet knowledge is a very dangerous thing when outside the context of humility and total dependence on God for right perspective of how to apply all that knowledge.
It was quite likely that Judas was a highly educated man, the most intelligent and educated of all the disciples. Yet his superior education did little to give him the necessary character needed to be a true follower of Jesus, for Judas believed so firmly in what the educational system taught about the coming Messiah that it was nearly impossible for him to lay aside his dreams and goals, all based on a foundation of religious knowledge shared by the educated elite of his day. What he had filled his mind with make it even more difficult to reconcile with the conflicting ideas presented by Jesus. Because he refused to humbly accept that the wisdom of God in Jesus was superior to 'wisdom' acquired from the accredited educational system of God's people on earth, he ended up losing his soul in the end.
The fact is, there nearly an unlimited number of things that we may value in place of a true knowledge of God as found in Christ Jesus. All of the disciples were clinging to false ideas about a Messiah even up to the time when Jesus ascended back into heaven weeks after His resurrection.
So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6)
The underlying problem that trips so many up most of the time is our penchant for looking elsewhere to find sources of identity and value for ourselves. Ever since sin contaminated humanity we each are born with a sense of emptiness deep inside demanding to be filled with something satisfying. Yet the only One who can effectively fill our emptiness is discredited in one way or another by most everyone around us. So we look for cheap imitations of the kind of love that was meant to fuel our soul. Yet in going after counterfeits in our ever-increasing desperation to find satisfaction, we only intensify our frustration and then we blame God as the reason everything is going wrong in our lives.
Jesus came to this earth to correct our thinking and to reestablish a permanent connecting link between our frustrated, confused hearts and the our heavenly Father who is ready and eager to fill us with a sense of worth and joy and peace. Only He can provide us with our true identity that will make us feel whole and fully alive. Yet in the process of reconnecting us to our true Father (into whose image we need to be restored) we must come to see our need of letting go every other priority blocking our hearts from connecting with Him. And part of that process of connecting is the radical reorienting of everything we view as important and even how we perceive reality itself.
The perception of reality in which Jesus operated was so radically different than how everyone around Him viewed it that few even caught a glimpse of what He was about or why He did and said things the way He did. Even this much later, we often read things Jesus said that seem almost irrelevant to the situation He was addressing that leave us puzzled not unlike many who were listening to Him live. But we start to take into account the much large context of which He was constantly aware, and the fact that at every moment there were far more beings throughout the universe who were directly involved and hanging on His every word and action than simply the people around Him, His words and actions can begin to make more sense as we realize He was often speaking more to those outside observers or protagonists than He was to the humans in front of Him. That was the kind of reality in which He lived and functioned, yet to a large degree it was obscured from the awareness of those around Him, not because God wanted to hide reality from them but simply because they resisted all attempts by God to educate them in realities that eclipse everything we on this planet view as important.
Of course there are many other things we esteem as very favorable and upon which we bestow great honors that will pale and haunt us in the light of heaven's perspective. Movie stars and models, entertainment and music heroes that shape our thinking far more than we care to admit, authors whose works we devour eagerly while finding Scripture to be boring, all of these are distractions keeping us focused on imitation realities while time slips away that we could be developing character that would fit us to live and thrive in the fire of God's presence.
What I want to take away from this is our desperate need to allow God to challenge everything we consider as important using the light of His glory and what is important in that context. Too long we view religion as a separate part of our life neatly confined to activities on a certain day or limited times when we try to stock up on a little more righteousness for a few minutes each day. But God wants all of us, not a few minutes or hours here and there. He longs to radically alter the way we perceive all of reality, not just make fine adjustments to correct our perceptions around the edges.
One of the most sobering passages that gives me pause for rethinking everything I do and enjoy is also the passage that most explicitly challenges the very core of how we think about God and the way He relates to sinners. Jesus came to show us the humility of God, the gentleness and compassion and unconditional love and forgiveness. If we do not embrace the message of truth about what God is really like from Jesus directly, there is coming a time when our very rejection will become the cause for our own punishment, not a punishment imposed on us from God but a severe torture created by our own hearts as we come face to face with the fact that Jesus was right all along.
In that day when everyone finds themselves fully exposed to the true glory of God, the full truth about His character of unmitigated love that so many refuse to believe, the reality of this truth will be like an intense flame reacting with our own internal resistance that produces an internal burning unlike anything we could imagine. But again, this torment is not at all something inflicted by an offended deity imposing it on those who reject His love; rather it is the unavoidable consequence of natural law, like principles already seen in things like friction and resistance and power conductance. In the presence of a God of pure love, mercy and kindness overflowing with intense passion, we either find ourselves reacting with unbounded joy or with torment – determined by the values we have chosen and the character our choices have formed in our lives. This passage contrasts the two classes of people who will be found on that day when the full glory of God is finally revealed to all.
"Now I will arise," says the LORD, "now I will lift myself up; now I will be exalted. You conceive chaff, you bring forth stubble; your breath is a fire that will consume you. And the peoples will be as if burned to lime, like thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire."
Hear, you who are far away, what I have done; and you who are near, acknowledge my might. The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: "Who among us can live with the devouring fire? Who among us can live with everlasting flames?"
Those who walk righteously and speak uprightly, who despise the gain of oppression, who wave away a bribe instead of accepting it, who stop their ears from hearing of bloodshed and shut their eyes from looking on evil, they will live on the heights; their refuge will be the fortresses of rocks; their food will be supplied, their water assured. Your eyes will see the king in his beauty; they will behold a land that stretches far away. (Isaiah 33:10-17)