“When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”” (John 18:6-11 ESV)
While I’ve never actually seen the movie, Diary of a Whimpy Kid, the title and idea behind the story is my story. I grew up in the early 60’s in an area of West Tulsa (Oklahoma) that was known for being the “tough” side of town. I was certainly not tough, but I knew someone who was, my older brother. The reason I know my brother was tough was because we had a family of boys who lived nearby who loved to pick on me and my brother was always my protector and defender. In today’s passage, we find a story of aggression and protection, but not in the way we might expect. Let’s take a look…
When Judas arrives with Roman soldiers and guards from the High Priests, Jesus steps forward and asks whom they seek. As we discussed two weeks ago, when they announced they seek Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus replies that he is the great “I AM” and they step back and fall down. So, he asks them again, “whom do you seek?” When they respond a second time, Jesus of Nazareth, he steps forward and states, “I told you that I AM (he). So, if you seek me then let these men go.” Jesus steps between the soldiers and his followers and directs their actions onto himself and away from the disciples.
It appears that John brings attention to Jesus’ actions intentionally. Why? Because this is the very essence of the gospel story. Just like my brother who stepped between me and the bullies of my childhood to protect me and divert their aggression, so Jesus steps between the Roman and Jewish authorities and diverts their aggression away from the disciples and onto himself. But don’t miss this, Jesus’ actions ultimately divert God’s wrath and judgment of sin away from His followers (including me and you too, if you’re a believer and disciple of Christ) and onto himself.
Those actions are the very essence of the gospel message. Jesus took our punishment upon himself. As John the Baptizer said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV) He is the Passover lamb that is slain and whose blood is then smeared on the doorposts of our lives so that the final plague of death passes over our homes and doesn’t kill us. He is the seed of Eve whose heal is bruised in the struggle but who ultimately crushes the head of the serpent and destroys the power of sin and death over us. He is the creator who recreates, restores, renews or “re-births” us creatures who have been irreparably marred by our rebellion against Him. Everything in the scriptures points towards this truth. Go back and read the Old Testament again and see it with fresh eyes, eyes full of wonder at God’s provision, plan, restoration and grace.
But notice what Peter does next. He steps in and tries to insert himself into the fight. We can assume that Peter must have had pure and noble motives when he tries to prevent these soldiers from arresting Jesus. Nothing else makes sense. But Jesus quickly stops Peter and has him put his sword away because Peter’s noble actions are interfering with God’s plan. Now, if Peter had known and understood where this was going would he have been more likely to keep his sword put away? We can hope, but knowing Peter (and myself, unfortunately) I have my doubts. We often try and assist God in work only He can do. Let me restate that, we often try and do God’s work in our own way.
Peter didn’t see the events that were unfolding as a part of God’s plan of redemption. He saw these events as roadblocks to God’s plan and was going to do everything in his power to prevent the arrest of Jesus. Most of us would likely view Peter’s attempts as just and noble. He was defending his friend and protecting his Lord. But, if Peter truly believed that Jesus was who He claimed to be why would Jesus need Peter’s protection? Now, I really am not trying to slam Peter and his actions because I suspect many of us would have done the same. But THAT’S really my point… how often do we try and interfere with God’s plan today? We see events unfolding around us and we miss the very work of God because we see them as hindrances to God’s purpose and plan and not a part of His plan.
We still have this mistaken notion that anything that is painful or difficult cannot be good for us or cannot be what God intended. Yet, when we look back at our lives we often see the hand of God most at work in and through those very times. Just as Peter struggles to see the purpose and plan of God in the arrest (and impending death) of Jesus, we struggle to see the purpose and plan of God when things don’t work out in our lives in nice, neat, pretty, little pink-bow tied packages. The assumption is that God would never want me to suffer.
In a sense, that’s why Peter steps in and brandished his sword and cut off Malchus’ ear. He couldn’t imagine God’s plan taking this path. But listen to Jesus’ response to Peter: “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” Peter, stop! I know you mean well, but this is the cup the Father has given me and I must drink it. We often assume those closest to God will suffer the least. Why? Why do we assume this?
“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19 ESV)
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)
Jesus has assured us of tribulation in this world, but also assured of His peace in the midst of it. Peter (much later – after many other life lessons) reminds us that we too will suffer according to God’s will, but we should entrust our souls to our faithful creator and to continue doing good. We often see struggles as a sign of God’s disfavor, but most of the biblical stories reflect a different view. The struggles are an opportunity for God’s purpose and strength to be displayed through us (see 2 Cor. 12:1-10).
Finally, I want to close with one final insight to consider. I’ve referenced Peter’s actions as noble on several occasions in this post. We know he meant well, but are his actions truly noble? Are pure motives sufficient to justify actions that are opposed to God’s purposes? Are there times in our own lives when our motives are good but our actions are opposed to God’s plan? You might question whether that’s even possible, but I simply submit Peter’s dilemma as evidence of such.
Perhaps an illustration might help in this instance. Several years ago our church had a “puppet ministry” and performed a number of skits and songs that blessed our members. One such skit/song was a song in which the main character was offering to serve God in any way God desired, as long as he wasn’t required to go to Africa. God, I’ll do whatever you ask unless you ask me to go to Africa. If that’s the request, I’m sorry but I can’t go. But, conditional obedience is absolute disobedience. To say to a sovereign God that you’ll do anything but… is to say He’s not sovereign, you are.
Let me pose one more illustration that may be hard to hear. Are we Christians guilty of holding our “personal rights” higher than God’s purpose or will? Be careful. Don’t be too quick to reject this idea as irrelevant to your circumstances and move on. We tend to hold our individuality and personal human rights as inviolable. To do so is to reject God’s sovereignty. I don’t mean God will violate your free will, but He often asks us to lay aside our rights and subject our will to His will to be obedient.
For example, in the United States we hold that the right to life is an inviolable right. However, God asked all of the Apostles to lay aside this right as each of them gave their lives for the sake of and advancement of the Gospel of Christ. However, doesn’t He ask each of us to lay aside that same right? On several occasions Christ says that those who cling to this life will ultimately lose it but those who are willing to give up their right to this life will find new life, eternal life.
We face a crisis of faith in the American church. We somehow believe that we can grow and be the church of Christ by ignoring the very characteristics Christ said would be the mark of His people. We read the Beatitudes and then try to spiritualize them. We know He said we should turn the other cheek or go a second mile, but we make up excuses as to why those things no longer apply to 21st century believers. Stop being fearful of what THEY can do to you and trust the one who gives life, eternal life. Put away your sword and pick up your cross…
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:32-34 ESV)