Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Earthly Power, God's Will

John 18:1-11

The scene is about as dark as it could be. In the middle of the night Jesus is with his handful of disciples and followers in a garden praying. Then the betrayer Judas arrives with both Roman and Temple soldiers armed to the teeth to take Jesus into custody. The night is dark, the prospects seem bleak, and there is almost nothing the disciples can do about it. But there is something Peter decides to do about it.

Just a couple of hours earlier at dinner Peter proclaimed that he would follow Jesus wherever he went, even if it meant going to his own death. Peter found his moment. He drew his sword in the face of possibly hundreds of professional soldiers and made his way toward the closest unarmed man he could find. Peter struck, the ear was severed, and Jesus put a stop to the whole thing. When Jesus healed the servant’s ear, he not only healed the physical wound, he healed the damage Peter did with his sword. To put Peter’s action and Jesus’ response in context, we should back up a minute before Peter puts his hand on the hilt.

It is important to see who was in control of the arrest. When Judas and his band arrive, Jesus “came forward” and asked them who they sought. He clearly wasn’t put off by the posturing of power. When Jesus identified himself with, “I am he,” all of them rocked back on their heels and fell over. Not even a group of armed, professional soldiers could stand in the presence of the breath of God. Just the mention of his name blew them down. Jesus was no unfortunate martyr caught in the gears of injustice. Jesus was in control of the cross and he was in control of the arrest.

While the soldiers and Judas recovered their feet Jesus said, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” Earlier Jesus prayed that he had lost none of the disciples except the one who had already betrayed him, so this moment is a fulfillment of his own prayer. Jesus is arrested and his disciples, including the impetuous Peter, go free. Jesus is not only in control of the arrest and the cross, he is in control of his disciples. In the face of overt and aggressive armed persecution, not a single disciple faces a fate outside of God’s will. And that brings us back to Peter.

Peter’s impulse was to draw his sword in the face of swords. He wanted to protect Christ with all the human strength he could muster. His impulse was to fight earthly power with earthly power, and his impulse was exactly wrong. Jesus, on the other hand, was interested in another power and asked Peter, “shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” Earthly power was of no consequence in a garden full of soldiers and swords: the most powerful and important thing that night was the will of God.

The Kingdom of God is not about the assertion of my earthly power or our earthly power – it is a matter of the will of God. In the face of everything this world brings against Christ and his people, the most powerful and important thing to the disciple is the will of God. Christ was in complete control of the cross, and Christ is in complete control of his child.

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