This one was different.
Instead of following the ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE format inspired by Andy Stanley, yesterday’s message began with the text itself, Luke 22:47-51. Actually, it began with the texts before the text, exploring how Luke 22:36-38 and 39-45 put swords and temptation at the center of the story under consideration.
And that story, the one with a “disciple” (he whom Luke keeps anonymous John reveals to be Peter, supporting my contention that John and Peter were frenemies!) chopping off the ear of the high priest’s servant, lands at this bottom line:
When you take what belongs to God, who cleans up after you?
This is so great. Today we get to look at a story with a swashbuckling, sword swinging, ear chopping Jesus lovin’ sinner right in the middle of it. Now tell me that’s not great. But it’s even greater when you see the story behind the story, what we often call in more formal terms, the context. Because before we look at swashbuckler, sword swinger, and ear chopper, look at Luke 22:36-38. Now before I read that, Jesus is here finishing his business, headed to the cross, and giving his inner circle some instructions about their future, a subject they are notoriously slow to comprehend.
36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’[a]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.
Now this is one of those places where I’d give anything to hear the inflection in Jesus’ voice and see the expression on his face. Really, I wish someone had FB Live’d it. Because does “that’s enough” mean “oh, two is plenty. We need more than one but we don’t need three.” Or does “that’s enough” mean “swords, schmords. Why y’all keep thinking you need to pack some silver?” Don’t know which, but I DO know that swords & weaponry are all over the foreground AND background of what we’re going to read.
And THEN, as clouds gather on this dark night, there’s another snippet in 22:39-45:
39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.[b]
45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
It’s a famous scene, with sweat like blood & the repeating line: hey inner circle, whatever you do, pray that you won’t fall into temptation. To apathy or whatever. With that story behind the story we’re ready for the story. Because the atmosphere is thick with both swords and with temptation.
Look what happens as THE STORY begins in 12:47-48:
47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
One man betrayed with a kiss as the song says. It’s interesting … we don’t know if Judas made it all the way to the kissing zone or not. Luke is silent. Well, after that kiss/no kiss, the inner circle – the one with swords & temptation on its mind – ask this question in 12:49:
49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?”
And that’s so understandable! So justifiable! They’ve just seen one of their own become a traitor, they’re watching their leader get arrested, and it makes perfect sense that they want to come to his defense. This is WRONG & they want to get on the side of RIGHT.
You know what that’s about. There are so many times when you and I, on occasions large & small, in matters epic & mundane, want to rush in and defend what/who is right. And to get some revenge along the way. Like the young mom w a four year old son & two year old daughter. Anyone been there? Mom hears the four year old scream in pain, rushes in and see the 2 year old grabbing on to the lil boy’s hair, yanking it. “Oh, honey, it’s OK,” mom says. “She didn’t mean anything. She doesn’t know that hurts.” Thinking the situation resolved, mom leaves the room. A minute later she hears the daughter shriek in pain. Rushing in: “what happened?” The boy answers: “She knows now.” Ahh! Vindication & vengeance!
But it continues. And for a lot of us our desire to rush in and defend becomes especially acute when God, Jesus, faith, the bible, Xmas is involved. I remember in Middle School being on the OTHER SIDE (I was an atheist) in all this and one day used some language that was disrespectful to Jesus. Par for the course then. And so a classmate who was a Xn said, aggressively, “Shut up. Just shut up.” Now that I’ve changed sides, I kinda want 7th grade me to shut up as well. Yeah, in our eagerness to get back at, an eagerness to defend Jesus, we can act in ways that are . . . swashbuckling.
And maybe, just maybe on that night of Jesus’ arrest, there was a split second delay between the disciples’ question & Jesus’ answer. Because the whole matter of executing punishment, of meting out vengeance, of defending Jesus’ name & character … maybe that’s God’s prerogative. Maybe on that night Jesus had just opened his mouth and was preparing to vocalize his answer of “no, don’t guys. Don’t use those swords tonight. Just don’t. That’s the Father’s business. You remember? ‘Vengeance is mine saith the Lord.’?” Maybe Jesus was getting ready to give that answer to that question because he knew that whenever we take what properly belongs to God, a mess ensues. But before the words could get out one of the disciples jumps in.
Look at 22:50: 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. Now: we know from the way John tells the same story – library, remember! – that it was Peter who did this. But look at that again: READ. Whoooo! Precision! How in the world do you get the ear but not the rest of the head?!?! What an incredible marksman / swordsman! Peter becomes the most accurate pirate ever. And it leaves us with this scene. Peter standing there, sword aloft, dripping in blood, fueled with adrenaline. The high priest’s servant, wailing, stumbling, holding his hand where his ear used to be, hoping to stop the free flow of blood. And then there, on the ground, in the dirt, in the dark, is the ear. At least Van Gogh put his in a box; this is just alying there. A bloody ugly mess. Because ears don’t really look all that great when they are connected to a head; severed from it, bleh. Peter has intervened, impulsively & justifiably, & left Jesus w/ a mess.
And Jesus is just finished with this biz in 22:51a: .51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” Now: is he done with swords? Maybe? Done with violence? Likely? Done with betrayal. Probably – and this matters – because if Judas betrayed him with a kiss, then Peter betrayed him with a chop. Done with his inner circle falling prey to temptation? Absolutely – because the first ones fell prey to apathy and then Peter her falls prey to aggression. Swords and temptation sort of swallowing this whole scene from beginning to end.
But Jesus is done, most of all, I think, with people taking what belongs to God. Because what has Peter done with his precise chopping? Usurped God’s role. Become judge, jury, AND executioner. That’s what Jesus is OVER. Ppl taking an authority that belongs to God and God alone and using for themselves and their purposes. In a way, Peter’s defense OF Jesus has become an offense TO Jesus. And he’s done with all that. Peter has taken what rightfully belongs to God and in so doing has left Jesus with a mess to clean up. Which he does, tenderly, beautifully, and completely in the last part of 22:51b: And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
So Peter was kind of lucky. In his impatience, he succumbed to temptation, betrayed his Savior, and took what belonged to God. But Jesus was right there – RIGHT THERE – to clean up the mess. And envisioning that scene and its aftermath leads me to ask you: When you take what belongs to God, who cleans up after you?
Because people have been taking what belongs from the beginning. From the VERY BEGINNING. How did the serpent tempt the man and the woman? What was his line that closed the sale? “You’ll be LIKE God.” What happened at Babel? The people built a tower so tall because they wanted to be as high as God. What is the root of all idolatry? Making a God in OUR IMAGE, which is a lot more convenient and less taxing than being made in HIS. We are always borrowing – or grabbing – that which does not belong to us. Like the mom who asked her daughter, “Are you eating your sister’s candy?” “Nope,” came the answer, “I’m helping her share.” We do it as kids, as adults, with one another, & WITH GOD. And when we take what belongs to God there’s always a mess we leave behind. Who is cleaning yours up?
Now this message and Jesus’ DONE could very easily turn into a talk on pacifism or non-violence, but that’s too easy. This is more than that. This is the recognition that at a base level Jesus is talking about our role in revenge, our propensity for vigilante justice. What do they call it? Taking matters into your own hands. And talk about what an endless loop that becomes: READ West Bank, MP, p. 178. Wow. What a mess. Closer to home, think about killing abortionists or bombing abortion clinics IN THE NAME OF JESUS. See, doing the wrong thing for the right reason is still the wrong thing. We probably don’t have any clinic bombers or doctor murderers here, but we do have some temper losers. Some vengeance distributors. Some revenge getters. And in your wake, you leave a mess – broken spirits, broken homes, broken relationships. In a lot of ways, you have taken what belongs to God. When you take what belongs to God, who cleans up after you?
For some of you, it’s even TIME. Remember Peter’s deal? He wouldn’t wait for Jesus to answer the question! In a sense, robbing time from God. Sometimes we have a FAST God but I am convinced that more often we have a slow one. Acting slowly is his right, after all; he is God. The waiting is the point. REF. Others it’s taking resources that properly belong to God. He has favored you. He has blessed you. He has increased you. And in return? Crickets. I guarantee if you opt for greed over generosity, there will be a mess that ensues.
It can be an attitude. I remember back in Monroe the Council made a decision I didn’t like and so I maneuvered and manipulated around it and got it reversed. I didn’t like my authority question so I big time’d them. Actually, I just made a mess. A mess that the whole group had to come back together and clean up. I wasn’t willing to accept that “you know, maybe God’s authority spoke through them” because I knew better. There wasn’t a stray ear on the ground, but it was the most blood I’ve shed in ministry. When you take what belongs to God, who cleans up after you?
And then, there’s even your body. Did you know your body is his? Your body is not your own; you were bought with a price. Whoa! Yet a lot of us erroneously think it is ours. So we unite it with people who are not our spouse. Or with images who aren’t even people. We abuse it. We load it with toxin. We call a baby a choice and justify by saying it’s our body. No it’s not. Your body is not your own; it was bought with a price. And whether it’s sexual or chemical, when we treat our body – WHICH IS NOT OURS!!! – in this way, we leave behind a trail of relational and personal debris. When you take what belongs to God, who cleans up after you?
Who is cleaning up after you? Is it family? Ex family? Kids? Parents? Like me, is it church folk? I just remember the days of the old Ringling Bros Circus and the worst job there belonged to the ppl with shovels trailing behind the elephants. If you grab what is rightfully God’s, you got those ppl in your life today. When you take what belongs to God, who cleans up after you?
And I can’t get away from the realization that Peter’s well-intentioned defense OF Jesus ends up becoming an offense TO Jesus. We do that. With attitudes. With poorly chosen words. When we take up weapons in his name. And so I wonder if we shouldn’t just spend less defending him and more time adoring him. Less time getting worked up about how ppl don’t say “Merry Christmas” anymore (do you think Peter or Paul or John EVER heard Merry Xmas?) and more time working up praise for the Lord of Christmas. I’m all for explaining the faith to skeptics, but sometimes the best ‘splaining is done while we are adoring. Actually, adoring IS defending.
Because Peter … remember? Name protected by Luke and not by John (!) … what happened to him. That sword swinger ear chopper denier becomes church leader. A man of bold, deep faith. That’s what I want to happen to you … just without his detour and without his debris. Wherever you are, when you let God keep what belongs to him, that’s what you’ll become.