The Hour of Darkness

While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Luke 22:47-53.

The story of Jesus would be relegated to obscure history if He died in a violent clash between His disciples and the local authorities. Instead, He died as the most innocent man in history, fulfilling the scriptures by the numbers. He died as the Savior of the world. To stay on that course, He had to restrain His disciples, who were willing to blow the whole operation out of anger and fear.

Yesterday we celebrated the memory of a man who died a martyr for the civil rights movement. He insisted that his followers not take up arms, that they turn the other cheek, and that they insist on being treated with the same dignity that they demonstrated as peaceful citizens. This is the power that the wicked fear most. People who are willing to die for their cause possess an aura of righteousness that armed insurrections lack. Today, Martin Luther King is the undisputed patron saint of the civil rights movement because he kept his eye on the real prize: justice, not revenge.

Not everyone in MLK’s camp agreed with him. There were some who separated themselves from him and used violence, committed crimes and acts of terror in the name of justice. Their names are mostly forgotten, although that spirit still persists today. And it is a spirit that infects everyone who feels wronged, and who wants to be avenged.

Jesus told His disciples to stand down and let the power of darkness overplay its hand. Injustice will always be temporary because there is a God who gives the final adjudication. Let us act like we believe that.

Feeling Our Pain

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46.

Before the betrayal, the torture, and the agonizing, slow execution on the cross came the dread of it all. This was part of the suffering Christ experienced on our behalf. We also fear death, and this is part of the way He had to be tempted, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).

It is worth noting that this agony of prayer is bracketed by Jesus giving His disciples the same admonition, before and after this struggle: “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Temptation is inevitable in this fallen, sin-cursed world. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t avoid it. Jesus came to take our punishment for all our sin. He has broken its power, but we can still yield to it, giving it back. “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14). This requires that we should avoid temptation, not entertain it.

Prayers, Swords, and Money

And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.”  He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” Luke 22:35-38.

This has been an interesting passage to ponder. On the one hand, we know we should trust in the Lord for our provisions, our daily bread. But the scriptures also counsel us to use wisdom and prepare for the future, as the lowly ant is commended in Proverbs 6:6-8. Then Jesus tells his disciples to buy a sword. This doesn’t set right with the admonition to turn the other cheek when struck, and not to resist an evil person, as in Matthew 5:39. Are we understanding what Jesus is saying here?

It might be important to remember that when Jesus sent his disciples out with nothing but the clothes on their backs, it was for a specific mission. And He was also speaking prophetically, that they would not need anything else. He did a similar thing when He told the disciples to take someone’s donkey and tell them it was for the Lord: Luke 19:29-31. He was not establishing the ministry of donkey theft.

A sword is also a tool, and not just a weapon. In primitive times, a sword had many purposes: clearing brush, butchering animals, and protection from wild beasts. Today it is not uncommon for a farmer to own a shotgun with no intention of having to point it at another person.

I don’t own a firearm at all. It’s not because I am against guns in particular, and I would not tell anyone that they could not own one for self-defense. But I am squeamish about going on offense. There is more than a little talk of opposing the US government. Some of this involves armed resistance. When I hear this I am reminded that Jeremiah warned the people of Jerusalem not to fight the Babylonian invaders but to submit top them, for they were the arm of God’s judgment against a backslid nation. Ours seems like a similar scenario. We have attended to our own material care without reaching out to convert our nation. We stopped evangelizing the lost a long time ago. Our discipleship is weak and non-existent. We must change our ways (2 Chronicles 7:14), and then God will have our backs so that we don’t need to take up weapons.

Sifted and Restored

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:31-34.

No one wants to be told that he has feet of clay, that he’ll cut and run when times get hard. But most of us fail in much less trying circumstances than being arrested and executed. No, we often choke when all we face is a bit of mocking.

The good news is that this failure of nerve, like all our sin, is forgivable. Not only that, but it can make you stronger the next time around. Paul wrote this to the Corinthian church after having ripped them in a previous letter over a sex scandal: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).

Not only were the Corinthians more zealous for the Lord after grieving for their sin; Paul calls them innocent! When we confess our sins, God forgives us, and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9). It is as if it never happened. Let us be the same way toward our brothers and sisters when they fail. We need them to become what God has prepared them to be.

Who’s the Best?

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Luke 22:24-30.

Without skipping a beat, the disciples go from speculating on who is Jesus’s betrayer to which of them is actually the greatest among them. Meanwhile, Jesus, who is actually greatest among them, reminds them that he came to serve, not be served.

There will come a time when those who have served will be elevated. But it will not come by ambition. It will be the Lord who will raise them up.