Luke 19:28-40
Mark 14:26-72

Derek Lam is a courageous young Christian leader living in Hong Kong, who has entered The Crucible. In August, 2017 he wrote in The New York Times about the suppression of human rights for Christians in China:

Since I was 16 years old, I have wanted to be a pastor. I was raised in a Christian family in Hong Kong that urged me to live by biblical principles and it is for that reason that I am likely to be jailed next month and that I will be barred from ever becoming a pastor. There is an unprecedented erosion of Christian religious freedom in Hong Kong, believers forced to worship in underground churches, the government tearing down church buildings. The only way to avoid trouble, Lam says, is for Christians to bow down to the current leader of China—Xi Jinping. I won’t make Jesus bow down to Xi Jinping. Although there is nothing I would love more than to become a pastor and preach the gospel in Hong Kong, I will never do so if it means making Jesus subservient to Xi Jinping. Instead, I will continue to fight for religious freedom in Hong Kong, even if I have to do it from behind bars.” 1

hot crucible for melting metal

According to Cambridge Dictionary a ‘crucible’ is “a container in which metals and other substances can be heated to a very high temperature” 2 In that regard, crucibles come in various shapes and sizes and are used for the processing of metals and/or crystals.

Thankfully, Derek Lam didn’t enter a literal crucible. The word ‘crucible’ can also be used figuratively to describe being in a life situation that presents an opportunity for, according to Mr. Webster, “severe testing.” 3

History is replete with stories of people who have suddenly and often without warning found themselves in a crucible of severe testing.

Today’s history places our beloved Saint Peter in the crucible. The pressure must have been intense as Peter fears his reaction to the query about his relationship to Jesus could very well carry life or death consequences.

When re-live Peter’s story or hear stories of people who have suddenly found themselves in the crucible, we often wonder what we would do in similar circumstances.

I’m reminded of a story that I have heard Chuck Swindoll tell about a group of Christians who were meeting behind locked doors in the country of Hungary back in the days that when to do so was against the law. As they worshipped, they were suddenly interrupted by a loud knocking at the door. When they opened the door, four soldiers armed with rifles drawn quickly entered the room and shouted that anyone who was a Christian was going to be shot and invited anyone who was not a Christian to leave. The people began to look at one another as they realized the gravity of the situation, but it didn’t take too long for several people to make their way out, heads hanging. After the door was closed, the soldiers put down their weapons and one of them said, “We come to worship the Lord Jesus and we wanted to be sure who the real Christians were.”

And I wonder if I had been in that crucible, would I have stayed the course, or would I have fled? It sure would have taken a lot of courage to have remained, wouldn’t it? That kind of courage is hard to muster when given the choice of life or death; hard to muster under less threatening circumstances.

During his years as premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the policies and atrocities of Joseph Stalin. Once, as he censured Stalin in a public meeting, Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. “You were one of Stalin’s colleagues; why didn’t you stop him?”

“Who said that?” Khrushchev roared like a lion.
An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle.
Then Khrushchev replied quietly, “Now you know why.” 4

And somewhere from within heaven, Saint Peter, “Amen to that.”

Sometimes the crucibles are tests of character; sometimes they are tests of character and of faith.

Perhaps, you like Peter, had an opportunity to stand up for your faith in a public arena and as you look back on that moment of crucible testing, you inwardly smile because you stood your ground. And that’s why one of your favorite songs is Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down:

Well I won’t back down, no I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of Hell, but I won’t back down
No I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down, gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down.” 5

Is there any way to know now how we will respond then? You bet your bippy there is! We need to examine the way we respond to the Lord’s lesser challenges today, for that will give us a clue of how we’ll respond to greater ones tomorrow. We need to think of our daily opportunities to follow Jesus now as training ground for the day we are called upon to enter the crucible.

That’s the way it worked for the disciples of Jesus. Jesus trained them to be faithful in little things with the promise that he who is faithful in little things will be given responsibility for being faithful in even greater things (Luke 16:10). He was preparing them for the day in which they would enter into their own crucibles of severe testing.

How’d they do? Tradition says that all the disciples except for John were publicly executed for not rescinding their faith. I’m sure it wasn’t easy; but you know, they’d been making sacrifices on a daily basis for years. And so when the time finally came, they were ready as they could be.

Yes, Peter denied the Lord. But that failure did not make him a flop. He learned from his mistake and became a greater person. At the end of his life, he was once again in a crucible as he was faced with denying his faith or being martyred. He chose the latter. And tradition says that when his death sentence was crucifixion, he asked to be crucified upside down because he was not worthy of dying in the same way His master had.

In a recent blog, Randy Alcorn discusses why God allows testing in our lives.

Mountain climbers could save time and energy if they reached the summit in a helicopter, but their ultimate purpose is conquest, not efficiency. Sure, they want to reach a goal, but they desire to do it by testing and deepening their character, discipline, and resolve. God doesn’t make us fully Christ-like the moment we’re born again. He conforms us to the image of Christ gradually. In our spiritual lives, we improve and excel by handling failure and learning from it. Only in cultivating discipline, endurance, and patience do we find satisfaction and reward. And those qualities are most developed through some form of testing.” 6

In other words, in the crucible.

Some of you may well be in a crucible of the testing of your faith right now.

Perhaps some of you entered the crucible last Sunday when I challenged you to consider the biblical principle that God owns it all. If you’ve never grappled with that issue, you might have to struggle and fight your way out of that crucible of testing by either accepting what the Bible says or rejecting it. Until you do one or the other, you will remain in the crucible.

Perhaps your crucible involves struggling with accepting the free gift of the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life through the merits of Jesus’ death on the cross. Perhaps you are having a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that Jesus did something for you that you could never in a million lifetimes repay. Until you either accept or reject His offer, you will remain in the crucible.

For those of you who have in the past made a decision of faith in Christ, perhaps you feel the heat in the crucible each time you hear Jesus say, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me. For if you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Matthew 16:24-25).

Many of us were thrown into the crucible of severe testing when either we, or someone close to us, became ill. Our friend and brother, Ron Thomas, has recently been re-diagnosed with cancer. He will find out next week what kind of chemotherapy he will have to endure. He knows that there will be side effects. But Ron told me Thursday, “It doesn’t matter to me. God has got me through this in the past, He’ll get me through it again. Maybe I’ll get to stay here a while longer, but if not, I know where I’m going.”

You see, crucibles of every kind will find us. But we should not view these crucibles as unwanted intrusions into our lives in which our only goal is to escape as quickly as possible, but as invitations to stretch our hearts and minds and most importantly, our faith. For every crucible into which we enter includes an invitation for us to move from being good people to becoming great people. Just ask Ron Thomas.

A Christian by the name of Eric Fellman speaks of meeting a Chinese couple in Hong Kong, while traveling to China. “A friend took me down a narrow alley to a second-floor flat to meet a Christian man recently released from prison in China. I was feeling pressed to carry Bibles and literature on my trip into China. But I was hesitant and tried to mask my fear with rationalizations about legalities and other concerns. A Chinese man in his 60’s opened the door. His smile was radiant, but his back was bent almost double. He led us to a sparsely furnished room. A Chinese woman of about the same age came in to serve tea. As she lingered, I couldn’t help but notice how they touched and lovingly looked at each other. My staring apparently didn’t go unnoticed, for soon they were both giggling. “What is it?” I asked my friend.
“Oh nothing,” he said with a smile.
“They just wanted you to know it was OK–they’re newlyweds.”

I learned they had been engaged in 1949, when he was a student at Nanking Seminary. On the day of their wedding rehearsal, Chinese communists seized the seminary and took the students to a hard-labor prison. For the next 30 years, the bride-to-be was allowed only one visit per year. Each time, following their brief minutes together, the man would be called to the warden’s office. “You may go home with your bride” he said, “if you will renounce Christianity.” Year after year, this man replied with just one word; “No.”

I was stunned. How had he been able to stand the strain for so long, being denied his family, his marriage, and even his health? When I asked, he seemed astonished at my question. He replied, “With all that Jesus has done for me, how could I betray Him?” 7

That reminds us that Peter wasn’t the only one to enter into a crucible in today’s gospel.

Although Palm Sunday appeared to everyone else a day of jubilation as Jesus triumphantly made His way into Jerusalem, He knew. He knew full well that He was entering the crucible. He knew exactly what He was facing as he descended into the abyss of Jerusalem. Jesus knew that it would take only five days until the adoring voices proclaiming “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” would be eclipsed by the angry shouts of “Crucify Him!” But it didn’t deter Him one iota from accomplishing that which the Father had planned for Him from the beginning, to “seek and save those who were lost” by dying on the cross.

Philip Yancey, in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, relates a WWII account of an act of humiliation by Nazi storm troopers who had seized an elderly Jewish rabbi and dragged him to headquarters. In the far end of the same room, two colleagues were beating another Jew to death, but the captors of the rabbi decided to have some fun with him. They stripped him naked and commanded that he preach the sermon he had prepared for the coming Sabbath in the synagogue. The rabbi asked if he could wear his yarmulke, and the Nazis, grinning, agreed. It added to the joke. The trembling rabbi proceeded to deliver in a raspy voice his sermon on what it means to walk humbly before God, all the while being poked and prodded by the hooting Nazis, and all the while hearing the last cries of his neighbor at the end of the room. Yancey then writes,

When I read the gospel accounts of the imprisonment, torture, and execution of Jesus, I think of that naked rabbi standing humiliated in a police station. Even after watching scores of movies on the subject, and reading the Gospels over and over, I still cannot fathom the indignity, the SHAME endured by God’s Son on earth, stripped naked, flogged, spat on, struck in the face, garland with thorns, put to death on a Roman cross. 8

I don’t know what your crucible of testing looks like.

I don’t know how hot it is, I don’t how much pressure you are experiencing, I don’t know how long you have been in there or when you are going to get out.

But I do know this: I can tell you with all confidence that whatever life throws your way, regardless of what you face in your crucible of testing, that God will never leave you or forsake you. Think about His love for us displayed there. In the heat of the battle, in the crucible of the cross as certain people urged Him to save Himself. He could have called 10,000 angels to do just that. And yet His love for us kept Him from calling on them. It wasn’t the nails that kept Jesus fastened to the cross. It was His love for you and me.

We’re talking about the love of God which will not let us go. We’re talking about love for us, His disciples, who sometimes in our weakness, like Peter, deny Him in many ways. We’re talking about the love of God that assures us that should that day come when we are called upon to step into the crucible, that no matter how we respond to that challenge, He is still there for us.

And we’re talking about the love of God that assures us that no matter what befalls us in this life, He will be right beside us in the next.

Os Guinness was a friend of one of the greatest Christian leaders of the last century, John R. W. Stott, rector of All Souls Langham Place in London and a peerless preacher, Bible teacher, evangelist, author, global leader and friend to many. Os knew him over many decades, but will never forget his last visit to Stott’s bedside three weeks before he died. After an unforgettable hour of sharing many memories over, Guinness asked John Stott how he would like to be prayed for. Lying weakly on his back and barely able to speak, he answered in a hoarse whisper, “Pray that I will be faithful to Jesus until my last breath.”9

Would that such a prayer be the passion of our hearts on this Palm Sunday 2019.

1 Matt Woodley, editor,; source: Derek Lam,
I Won’t Make Jesus Bow Down to Xi Jinping,” The New York Times (8-23-17)




5 1989 Full Moon Fever Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne.

6 Alcorn, Randy


8 Yancey, Philip. The Jesus I Never Knew. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995]. Page 199.

9 Os Guinness, Impossible People. (IVP Books, 2016)