By the Sword

jesus-in-gethsemaneIt can be difficult to read the headlines on any given day (or scroll through a facebook feed, for that matter) without becoming seriously discouraged. There is so much injustice in this world that it can become nearly unbearable.  And it often makes us angry.

But how do we respond to it?

As we approach resurrection Sunday, we find a great example from the words of Jesus on the night He was betrayed.  The night of the ultimate injustice, when a guiltless man was found guilty.

Often times, it is easy for us to assume that we know the best plan of action, when God has a bigger picture and a different agenda.  Even when a response seems right to us, God’s plan may be completely different than what we have in mind.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not into your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5

There are several Biblical examples of people doing what seemed to be right, even Godly, only to find that what they were doing was just plain wrong.  It made sense in their own understanding, but it did not involve faith and trust in God.

On that night as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He seemed to be the only one there who knew what was going to happen next. Which brings us to Simon Peter.

Peter had been with Jesus for three years, had listened to His teachings, seen His miracles, and saw the lives He changed. He was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, he was the first in the group to openly proclaim Him as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, he had walked on water with Him.  Just hours before, on this very night, Peter had sworn he would never fall away from Him, even if all others did. He even proclaimed his willingness to die for Jesus if it came down to that (Matthew 26:35).

Now, after sleeping instead of praying, Peter watches as Jesus is being arrested.

Arrested unfairly and without cause.

And it makes him angry.

It must have hurt even more that Jesus was betrayed by Judas.  Judas knew better. Peter knew Judas well by this time, and surely Peter felt betrayed personally as he watched a fellow disciple and friend act against Jesus, and seemingly destroy all they had worked for.  After all, they had both left everything to follow Him, and now it seemed to be unraveling.  Peter, staring at this injustice, filled with passion, and leaning into His own understanding, did what many of us would have done.

He drew his sword and fought (John 18:10-11).

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As we read this account, we almost expect Jesus to commend Peter for his bravery. To applaud him for his willingness to defend His Master and friend. For following through on His promise to defend Jesus no matter what.  But instead Jesus rebukes him, and He gives three reasons why.

1. “All who draw the sword will die by the sword”.

The kingdom of God is not an earthly kingdom, and therefore Jesus does not conquer by earthly means.  The battle is spiritual, and our greatest weapon is not a sword but a prayer.  Jesus gives us a directive of how we should handle the enemies of Christ: not by striking out in anger, but through Godly wisdom, faith, trust, and fervent prayer.  Many Old Testament battles were won not by Israel’s military might, but by the obvious guiding hand of God. God will ultimately have the victory in His time.

2. “Do you not think I can call upon My Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

Jesus states the obvious with a rhetorical question.  He says to Peter, ‘you know who I am, and you know what I can do’.  Jesus didn’t need Peter’s sword, and if He indeed wanted to fight He had the armies of Heaven at His disposal.  How often do we feel that God ‘needs’ us to fight His battles? 

As believers, God has chosen us to do His work on earth, so that by serving Him we might glorify Him, learn more of Him, lead others to Him and grow closer to Him, becoming more like Him.  We serve an Almighty Creator who constructed the Universe with a word. Vengeance and Justice belong to Him.

3. “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?”

The prophets had written clearly about the fact that Jesus must be handed over, and then crucified. Jesus called Peter’s attention to it, and even in this tense moment was teaching Him the truth of who He was.  Had Peter known and truly understood what the Scripture said about this, he may have responded differently.

The same applies to us.

We have no chance of responding in a Godly manner to the injustices that surround us unless we are grounded in the Word of God.  When it seems right for us to attack, the Godly thing may be to hold our fire and fight the battle in prayer. We can’t be effective in spiritual battles unless we spiritually prepared.

This is where we find out strength and our victory, and this is where we find Justice.

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