April 3, 2007

Jesus Looks at Swords—from Both Ends
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Each of the four Gospels in our New Testament gives a somewhat different perspective on the events in Jesus’ life, since they were written by unique individuals and for a variety of audiences. Some people are bothered by the variations, but to me they are an indication that we are hearing about Jesus from four independent witnesses, and this makes their combined witness more trustworthy.

One Holy Week event that is depicted in all four Gospels is the betrayal and arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. If you have the time, you may find it interesting to read the four accounts: Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-52, Luke 22:47-53 and John 18:1-11. You’ll see that, as usual, John has more unique elements than the other three, but Matthew, Mark and Luke remembered the details a bit differently as well. They all talk about Judas’ role as the betrayer, and they all emphasize that the band sent to arrest him were representing the chief priests and elders, rather than the Romans.

Besides Judas, all four Gospels mention another figure, the slave of the high priest, whose name is recorded in John’s Gospel as Malchus. One of the disciples, identified by John as Peter, heroically drew his sword and hacked at this symbolic enemy. Instead of killing him, he cut of his ear. Only Luke mentions the fact that Jesus subsequently healed the man’s ear, so this can’t be the main point of the story.

The key lesson Jesus was teaching appears to be this: That in the spiritual battle between light and darkness, life and death, conventional weapons are of no use. To his followers he said, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.â€? To those who came to arrest him he said, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as if I were a bandit?â€? (Matthew 26:55)

In Matthew’s account Jesus also points out that his father would send “twelve legions of angelsâ€? to defend him, if he asked. But he doesn’t ask. Instead, he willingly gives himself to his destiny: “All this has taken place, so that the prophets may be fulfilled.â€? (vs. 56) John makes it clear that Jesus was making his own decision to follow God’s plan: “Am I not to drink the cup that the father has given me?â€? (John 18:11) The swords of his followers and the swords of his enemies had no power over this decision at all.

In an age of “holy wars,â€? let us be reminded by Jesus that such passionate conflicts have nothing to do with his agenda. No holy war has ever advanced his Kingdom and no (un) holy war has the power to slow his Kingdom’s advance.