Today’s selected reading continues in the second epistle of the apostle Paul in the New Testament which was written unto the saints which were at Corinth. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses eleventh through twenty-one of the twelfth chapter. The words we find in this particular portion of scripture are a continuation of that which we find in the preceding ten verses. If you take the time to read the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints of Corinth in this second epistle you will notice that it begins and opens up with the apostle speaking of visions and revelations of the Lord. As this chapter begins and opens up it does so with the apostle referencing a man he knew in Christ—whether in the body or out of the body he did not know—a man who was caught in into the third heaven. Paul goes on to describe how this mean was caught up into paradise and heard words which were too high, too lofty, too holy to speak and utter in the earth. This chapter opens up with a rather peculiar example of visions and revelations, for the apostle Paul spoke of a man who was not only caught up into the third heaven, but also a man who was caught up into paradise and heard unspeakable words—at least words which could not be uttered on the face of the earth. The apostle Paul would go on to write and declare that he would not boast concerning himself, but on such a man he would boast. As this particular set of verses continues we find the apostle speaking of his own experience and encounter with visions and revelations and how in order to keep the apostle from being exalted beyond necessary measure the Lord sent unto him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him. What’s interesting about this thorn in the flesh is that the apostle Paul besought the Lord three times for this thorn to be removed and taken away, and yet there appears to be no indication the Lord responded on either of the first two petitions.
Within the first ten verses of this particular chapter we find the apostle Paul being given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan with which he was to be buffeted. It’s worth noting that the apostle knew this thorn was to keep and prevent him from being exalted beyond measure, and yet still he besought the Lord three times for the Lord to remove the thorn. They say that hindsight is always twenty twenty, and I can’t help but wonder if after he endured the presence e of the thorn in the flesh the apostle recognized and understood the nature and purpose it was to play within his life. There is a t Biden you we have within our hearts and minds to want to know the cause, the nature and even the purpose of the thorn when it enters into our lives, and yet that is not always the case. As I’m sitting here right now I can’t help but hear the Spirit speaking unto the churches and asking us if we are willing to endure the thorn—even if we don’t immediately recognize or understand the nature, the purpose, the cause of the thorn. I can’t help but get the strong sense that there are men and women who presently have this thorn in their flesh, and not only are they seeking to understand the purpose for the thorn, but they are also seeking the removal of the thorn. SEEKING THE KNOWLEDGE AND REMOVAL OF THE THORN! There is not a doubt in my mind the Lord causes the thorn to enter into the life of the apostle, and yet die not announce or proclaim in advance the presence of the thorn. I do not believe for one minute the Lord Warner and even prepared the apostle for the presence of the thorn within his life. When we read the text we seem to get the impression that the Lord revealed I advance the coming of the thorn, and yet I would dare say this is not the case. Now, there were times within the life of the apostle Paul when he was warned in advance of the trials and perils and struggles he must endure, but that wasn’t always the case. I firmly believe this was one of those times when the apostle was not given advanced knowledge and warning regarding the presence of the thorn that would enter into his life.
What we read and what we find in this particular passage of Scripture is actually quite astounding when you take the time to think about and consider it. Thea pestle Paul declared that lest he should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given unto him a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest he should be exalted above measure. I find the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this passage of Scripture to be absolutely and incredibly challenging, for when we read the words which the apostle Paul writes we tend to think that the text reveals the apostle was given advanced knowledge of the presence of the thorn. When we read the text we seem to think that the apostle Paul was given advanced notice concerning the thorn and that quite possibly he was even given time to plan and prepare for it. The more I read this particular text the more I am convinced that the apostle was given no such advanced warning and knowledge concerning this thorn which would come upon his flesh. I do not believe for one minute the Lord declared unto the apostle that he was going to send a thorn into his life in order that he might be prevented from being elevated above measure through the abundance of revelations. In our natural minds we would like to think that this is what happened within the life of the apostle Paul, and yet I do not for one minute believe that this is the case. We would like there to be advanced notice of the thorns that are to enter into our lives, and yet I have never known the Lord to move or operate like that. I have never known the Lord to provide us with advanced notice concerning and regarding the thorns that are to enter into our lives. What’s more, is that the Lord has never and will never owe us any advanced knowledge concerning the thorns which are to enter into our lives. The apostle Paul spoke about the thorn that was given him in the flesh, and how the thorn was a messenger of Satan to buffet him in order that he might not be exalted above measure through the abundance of revelations. What the apostle, however, did not write or suggest is that he knew in advance—either that the thorn was in fact coming, or what the nature and purpose of the thorn would have been within his life.
I am convinced that it is both misguided and misleading to think and believe that the Lord owes it to us to provide us with advanced notice and advanced warning concerning the thorns which are to enter into our lives. In fact, I would dare say there are some among us who actually feel entitled to an explanation concerning and regarding the thorns which are to enter into their lives. Almost like a board in an airport that announces arriving flights there are men and women who desire such advanced notice—not only of what is coming, but also what time it is to arrive. That board in the airport is actually quite interesting when you think about it, for not only does it reveal the origination of the plane that is entering into the airport, but it also reveals the flight number, the estimated arrival time of the flight, and any indication whether or not the flight is going to arrive on time. I am convinced there are men and women among us today who not only desire they know and understand where the thorns originate from, but they also desire to know at what time the thorn would arrive within their lives. It’s almost as if there are some among us who desire time to ready and prepare themselves for the arrival of the thorn, and yet the truth of the matter is that isn’t always the case. There are times within our lives when we aren’t given advanced notice concerning and regarding the thorns that are to enter into our lives. There are times in our lives when are going to have to be surprised by the thorns which enter into our lives, and we are going to have to take it like a champ. SURPRISED BY THORNS! In all reality, I would dare say there are very few among us who have the capacity to be surprised by thorns within their lives. Such men and women do not have the strength, the fortitude, the awareness, the resolve to allow themselves to be surprised by the thorns that are to enter into their lives. Please understand that I am by no means speaking of or suggesting that such men and women should eagerly expect and desire such thorns to be manifested within their lives. I am in no way that we are to enter into our secret closet of prayer and ask the Lord for thorns to enter into our lives. I don’t know of anyone who earnestly and eagerly desires the presence of thorns within their lives, and actually seek the Lord for such a manifestation.
SURPRISED BY THORNS, SURPRISED BY GRACE! With this being said I feel the tremendous need to declare that if we do not have the capacity or the bandwidth to be surprised by thorns, we might very well find ourselves being unable to be surprised by the grace of God in light of the thorn within our lives. I am convinced that as surely and as certainly as we are to be surprised by the thorns which enter into our lives, so too we must allow ourselves to be surprised by the grace of our Lord to be manifested within our hearts and lives. What’s so interesting and powerful about this passage of Scripture is that the grace of our Lord, and the strength of our Lord are directly connected and linked to the presence of the thorn that was given Paul in the flesh. There is not a doubt in my mind the apostle Paul was surprised by the presence of the thorn that entered into his life, yet as certainly as he was surprised by the presence of the thorn that entered into his life, so also was he surprised by the grace of his Lord that was sufficient for him in light of the thorn that was present within his flesh. I have to admit that I am curious what the nature of this thorn was that came upon the life of Paul, for it must have been something incredibly difficult to bear. Scripture reveals how not once, not twice, but three times the apostle Paul besought the Lord to remove the thorn that was given him in the flesh, and yet when the Lore finally did respond, He didn’t declare unto the apostle that He wouldn’t remove the thorn. When you read the words which the Lord spoke unto the apostle Paul, you won’t find anywhere in His response a “No” concerning the apostle’s request. The apostle Paul besought the Lord three times for the thorn to be removed from his life, and yet the first two petitions seemed to go unanswered, and perhaps what would even seem to be unacknowledged. The text seems to suggest that on the third and final petition the Lord responded to the apostle Paul by not only declaring unto him that His grace was sufficient for him, but also that His strength was made perfect in His weakness. It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand this, for the very declaration of the Lord seems to suggest that whatever this thorn was in the life of the apostle, it was of such a nature that he not only needed the strength of Christ to endure it in his weakness, but he also needed the grace of God to sustain him in the midst of it.
When speaking of this thorn that was given unto the apostle Paul in his flesh we must recognize and understand that it was enough to cause the apostle Paul to petition the Lord three times that it might be removed from his life. Have you ever found yourself in this particular place within your life? Have you ever found yourself in the place where you have experienced and have endured something of such a weight and such a magnitude that it caused you to cry out to the Lord on more than one occasion to remove it from your life? Have you ever found yourself experiencing and enduring something so severe and so significant within your life that you couldn’t help but cry out to the Lord to remove it from your life? We may never know the nature of this thorn that was present within the life of the apostle Paul, but we do know that it was of such a nature that the apostle Paul besought the Lord three times to remove it from his life. I can’t help but be reminded of our Lord Himself who while deep in the garden of Gethsemane besought the Lord to remove from His life that which He was to experienced and endure. Beginning to read with the thirty-sixth verse of the twenty-sixth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew we find the account of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, and our Lord’s position before the Lord deep within the heart of the garden. Consider if you will the account of our Lord in the midst of the garden as He instructed eight of His disciples to remain while He would take Peter, James and John into the garden:
“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And He went a little further, and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And He cometh unto the disciples and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that you’re enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. HE went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And He came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And He left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then cometh He to His disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going? Behold, he is at hand that doth betray me” (Matthew 26:36-46).
I feel the need to also include in this writing the account of Mark concerning Jesus’ entrance into the garden of Gethsemane, and His actions before His Father there in the garden. Beginning with the thirty-second verse of this chapter we find the following words written and recorded by Mark concerning Jesus’ final hours of freedom before being betrayed into the hands of sinful men. Consider if you will the account of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane as is told and revealed by Mark: “And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and He saith to His disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. And he taketh with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; and saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. And He went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. And He cometh and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? Couldest thou not watch one hour? Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The Spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. And again He went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wrist they what to answer him. And He cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand” (Mark 14:32-42).
What I find to be absolutely incredible when reading both Matthew and Mark’s account of Jesus’s prayer in the garden is that He Himself didn’t merely pray once that the Father might remove this cup from Him. If you read both the account of Matthew and Mark you will find that Jesus went before the Father three times that the cup might be removed from Him. What marks this as so incredibly unique and intriguing is that Jesus knew that He was sent to the earth to die on the cross for the sins of humanity. Jesus knew that He was sent by the Father in the form of human flesh to carry His cross to the place where He would eventually and ultimately be crucified and hung upon it. If you read the various accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry in the four gospels you will find that there multiple times when Jesus Himself spoke of His mission within and upon the earth—not only to be betrayed by one of His own into the hands of sinful men, but also to die, to be buried in the earth for three days, and to rise again. There is not a doubt in my mind that even though Jesus was one hundred percent man and subject to all the same realities in the flesh we are, He knew and understood that which would befall Him within the earth. Jesus knew that He was going to be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, and He knew that He would die and be buried in the earth for three days. This advanced knowledge Jesus had of the suffering He would endure upon the earth—and ultimately the death He would experience—actually speaks a great deal of His time in the garden of Gethsemane, for even though He knew that it was for this purpose He had come, He still besought the Father three times that the cup might be removed and taken away from Him. What makes this even more intriguing and powerful is that this wasn’t one of the apostles beseeching the Father to take away the cup from their lives, but it was the very Son of God. WHERE HUMANITY AND DIVINITY COLLIDE! WHERE FLESH AND SPIRIT COLLIDE! It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand what took place that night in the garden, for it was more than just Jesus crying out to the Father that the cup which He was to drink be removed. What we witness that night in the garden was the powerful collision between humanity and divinity, as it was the very essence of Jesus’ humanity that was crying out unto the Father that night in the garden. It was Jesus humanity and not His divinity that wrestled with the Father in prayer there in the Garden, for just as surely as He declared unto the disciples the flesh is weak, so also was His own flesh weak.
It is absolutely necessary that we pay close attention to Jesus’ words which He spoke unto Peter in the presence of James and John, for His words help shed a tremendous amount of light onto the words which our Lord spoke unto the apostle Paul in the presence of the thorn within his life. When Jesus came unto the disciples He had brought with Him in the garden and found them sleeping, He not only asked one, but two questions of Simon Peter directly. The first question was centered upon the reality of the needs of the flesh, for when Jesus returned and found the disciples sleeping, He asked Peter, “Simon, sleepest thou?” Essentially Jesus came unto the disciples and found them sleeping, and yet He proceeded to ask Peter whether or not he would sleep during such an hour. I feel the great need right here to pause and emphatically and boldly ask you who would read this whether or not you truly understand the hour in which you are living. When I read the words which Jesus spoke unto the apostle Peter in this particular passage of Scripture I can’t help but find myself being confronted—not only with the reality of whether or not I understand the moment and hour in which I live, but also whether or not I would choose to sleep during such a moment. There is not a doubt in my mind there are a number of men and women who right now are doing exactly as Peter did there in the garden—sleeping in the hour of temptation and sleeping in the hour of trial when we should be awake, alert and praying. How many of us are asleep in the garden when we should be praying? What’s more, is how many of us are sleeping in the garden when we should be watching that we might not enter into temptation? Jesus didn’t merely ask Simon if he was sleeping, but he also asked a powerful and penetrating question whether or not the apostle could watch and pray one hour. Stop right there and think about that, for one hour in prayer doesn’t seem like much on the surface—or does it? Does one hour in prayer seem like too much for you? Do you find it difficult to spend a full hour—sixty minutes—in prayer before your Father who is in heaven? Do you find yourself having great difficult praying unto your Father in heaven, and remaining in that place of prayer for one hour?
When Jesus returned from praying before His Father who was in heaven and found the disciples sleeping, He first asked if they would sleep during such an hour and such a time as this. Jesus would then go on ask a second question—one that was more penetrating and pointed than the first question He asked. Whereas the first question dealt exclusively and specifically around the physical needs of the flesh, the second question was directed toward the need of that hour. Jesus’ second question was one where He asked the disciples if they could not watch and pray for one hour. Tell me—when was the last time you sat on your couch and watched a television show that was an hour long? When was the last time you sat in your favorite chair and watched your favorite team play against an opponent in the sport you enjoy? When was the last time you sat in the dark movie theater for an hour and a half to two hours watching a movie that you were interested in? When was the last time you sat down and read a book and found yourself reading for one hour or more? These questions might seem small and insignificant, and yet I am convinced these questions strike at the very core of our being and the needs of our flesh. We have absolutely no problem investing an hour of our time into our favorite television show, or two hours watching our favorite team play, or an hour and a half or more watching a movie in a dark theater, and yet when it comes to watching and praying for one hour in prayer, we balk and shirk at such a notion. I would dare say that there are many of us who spend more time watching television and watching movies than we do watching in prayer? I am convinced that many of us spend more time watching fictional characters and events on the television or movie screen, and yet we have great difficulty watching one hour in prayer. I know that I myself am incredibly guilty of this, for I know that I have absolutely no difficulty watching an hour long television show on the TV, or even an hour long show on Netflix or Amazon or iTunes. I know that I have spent—not only a considerable amount of time, but also a considerable amount of money sitting in a dark movie theater where I watched a movie of my own choosing which interested me. In speaking to and of my own life, I must say that I have been guilty on more than one occasion of being able to watch a movie or television show lasting an hour or more, yet when it comes to spending one hour in prayer, I find great difficulty. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—do you find it to be a great challenge to watch and pray for one hour? Do you find it difficult to watch and pray for a single hour in order that you might not enter into temptation? How you answer this question can and will have a dramatic impact and affect on your life—particularly and especially during this hour in which we are presently living.
Returning now to Jesus’ own time in the garden of Gethsemane we must recognize and understand that the words He spoke unto Peter and the other disciples, for Jesus made a powerful declaration that not only applied to that time and that hour, but also applies to the hour in which we are living right now. When speaking to the disciples that night in the garden Jesus proclaimed unto them that “the spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.” It is this concept of the flesh being weak that helps us understand and recognize what took place that night in the garden, and what caused Jesus to beseech the Lord—not once, not twice, but three times that the cup might be removed from Him. That night in the garden there was a powerful collision between the flesh which Jesus had taken upon Himself and the Spirit that was present within and upon Him. That night in the garden there was a powerful collision that took place between the humanity of Jesus and the divinity of Jesus, for Jesus found Himself earnestly desiring and asking that the cup He was to drink to be taken away from Him. I find it incredibly interesting that Jesus didn’t merely ask the Lord one time for the cup to be taken away from Him, but He asked His Father three times that the cup might be removed from Him. When you look back at the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Corinthian congregation you will find that he took asked the Lord three times that the thorn in his flesh might be removed. When considering and comparing both accounts, it’s worth noting that there seemed to be no answer given unto our Lord when He besought His Father that the cup be removed from Him. Our Lord went deep into the garden and prayed unto His Father in heaven that the cup might be removed from Him, and yet there was no word from heaven speaking any words of comfort and strength unto Him. When we read the account of the apostle Paul, however, we find a completely different story, for when we read of the account of the apostle Paul we find our Lord speaking unto him and declaring that His grace was sufficient for him, and that His strength was made perfect in our weakness. This is absolutely incredible and powerful when you consider it—especially when you consider the words which the author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote in the fourth chapter of the epistle: “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a n high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
I find it also incredibly necessary and imperative to present unto you the words which the same author of the epistle unto the Hebrews wrote in the fifth chapter of that epistle concerning Jesus Christ who is our faithful high priest. “For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that He may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself is compasses with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself to offer for sins. And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. Who in the days of his flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he fears; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:1-1). TOUCHED WITH THE FEELING OF OUR INFIRMITIES! COMPASSED WITH INFIRMITY! It is necessary that we recognize and understand the use of the words “infirmity” and “infirmities,” for we find the same language written in this particular epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints of Corinth. In the thirtieth verse of the eleventh chapter we find the following words written by the apostle Paul—“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities” (2 Corinthians 11:30). Moreover, when we come to the twelfth chapter we find a similar statement made by the apostle in verses nine and ten—“Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). The apostle Paul would find the Lord would not remove the thorn that was found to be within his life, but the apostle Paul did find the grace and strength of Christ in the midst of that infirmity just as our Lord found that same strength and grace. I previously chose not to include Luke’s account of Jesus’ time in the garden, yet I feel that Luke’s account provides us with a fitting and proper close to this writing. Beginning with the thirty-ninth verse of the twenty-second chapter we find the following words written by the beloved physician Luke: “And He came out, and went, as He wont to the mount of Olives; and His disciples also followed Him. And when He was at the place, He said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven strengthening Him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground. And when He rose up from prayer, and was come to His disciples, He found them sleeping for sorrow, and said unto them, Why sleep ye? Rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation” (Luke 22:39-46).