John 18:4-11: Not by Sword but Cross
Perhaps, you faced some inconvenience to be here today. Did you miss a TV show or needed to change a mealtime? The food may still be waiting for you when you step back into your home. Perhaps, you scurried to finish some task to arrive here on time.
So, here you are. To receive what God wants to give you is important. For here, Jesus comes to you, bringing you into His Sabbath, His rest. The Epistle reading from Hebrews told us to make an effort to be here so we can rest. Sounds ironic!
Today, we turn our eyes to our Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the obscured vision of a Judean night, a mob comes to arrest Him, not worship Him, which is what they should be doing.
Panic strikes our Lord’s disciples, and Peter wields a weapon, lashing out to defend his Lord. A rebuke rings out, which is as surprising as our Lord healing of the wound inflicted on Malchus. Peter needed an eternal picture, which meant he needed to consider the cross of Christ. Every Lenten season, we become Peter. Like him, Jesus also needs to reorient us.
The group seeking to arrest Jesus includes a detachment of soldiers and some minor officials of the Pharisees and chief priests. Of course, Judas leads them, for he is their guide. For Jesus often came to the wooded grove with His followers, and Judas expects as much on a Thursday evening, so long ago.
The men Judas lead come armed with weapons, bearing torches and lanterns. Like a band of hooligans, they come, not a proper delegation to carry out a court order to capture Jesus. Not to be caught off guard, they come ready, poised if a fight comes calling. With the strength of numbers on their side, with weapons and soldiers, they advance to subdue whatever they might find.
The plan includes seizing this so-called Messiah, no matter the cost. So, they travel at night, when they expect no crowds to be around to help this Rabbi, who is popular with many people. Still, the Jewish leaders plan for other possibilities. For if they do need to overcome any opposition, they come with plenty of force.
From our Lord’s place of prayer, a moving stream of lights comes closer. From Jerusalem, a mob hunts its prey. The torches and lanterns, which make their way from the city, reveal what comes their way. So, Jesus realizes they are coming, and He understands what they want.
Earlier, He told His disciples, “The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death. For they will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock, whip, and crucify him” (Matthew 20:18-19). Yes, our Redeemer comes to fulfill His mission, His execution now before Him.
At Gethsemane, they arrive, and Jesus does the unexpected, advancing to meet them. Not as a helpless victim but as someone who comes to save, Jesus surrenders Himself for arrest: “Whom do you seek?” In shock, they blurt out, “Jesus of Nazareth,” to which He announces, “I AM.”
Unsure for a moment, these soldiers back away and stumble, falling to the ground. Why? The power to resist them remains within Jesus. Against His power, their torches and weapons are useless. Still, Jesus chooses to go with this gang of thugs to meet death by Roman execution.
Here, in this place, we also come to meet Jesus. Let us understand well the reason we come into God’s house today—to view the cross of Christ. For without the killing wood of His death, we are without hope, forgiveness, and life.
Without the cross, our condition is bleak. The Apostle Paul writes, “Everyone sins and continues to fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). So, no human born in sin is left unscathed. “No one is righteous; no, not one” (Romans 3:10).
The Prophet Isaiah, 700 years before the events in the garden, understood our fallen state. Like sheep, we go astray, each following our way, not God’s (Isaiah 53:6). Can we find a way out of our circumstances or forge a solution to avoid sin, death, and judgment? No! A lifetime of dedication and zeal to do what is right will still fail us.
No, we need someone to come and do what we cannot. So, our Savior steps forth to die, nailed to the wood. Yes, we need what only He can give us. “The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all,” Isaiah went on to write. Here’s the Apostle Paul. “By God’s grace, we become righteous through the redemption in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
So, our Lord realizes the time and what He comes to do. For such a moment, and for the moments to follow, He comes. For you and I cannot appease God. So, the God in human flesh goes to gain peace and forgiveness, His death achieving what we are powerless to do. The task is before Him, which our Redeemer refuses to evade.
Like Jesus did, we also need to understand the cross. For without the cross, forgiveness and hope remain forever from us. So, Jesus tells His followers He needs to die.
Still, no one wants to listen to such talk! So, they are slow on the pickup. Perhaps, the cross depresses them, or they only want to be students of this Rabbi, and be left alone. Whatever the reason, the cross of our Lord remains hidden from Peter’s eyes.
So, Peter stands with the others in our Savior’s place of prayer. A mind filled with confusion confounds this disciple—and such disorder is no outsider to him. Earlier, when Jesus tells His followers about the cross and what awaits Him in Jerusalem, Peter scolds Him. “Never, Lord; this will never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).
Peter is not alone either. All the disciples resolve to come to Jerusalem, to die with Jesus if need be (John 11:16). Without understanding, the importance of the cross remains far from them.
Of course, Peter boasts about his devotion to his Lord, claiming he will perish with Christ before denying Him. In the garden, when staring down armed guards and soldiers, he strikes out to defend Jesus. Spurred to action, he tries to stop the capture and crucifixion of Jesus.
Peter wants to save the Savior of the world. With a secure grip on his sword, he thrashes out and strikes at one of the soldiers sent to detain Jesus. With courage against frightening odds, he draws first blood for his Lord! The ear of Malchus reveals Peter’s unflinching resolve to die with Jesus instead of denying him.
Oh, how wrong he understands his Lord. So, Christ commands Peter. “Put away your sword!” How can this brave disciple save Jesus, for he can’t save himself? So also with us. By our efforts, salvation will never come.
“Put away your sword!” Oh, Jesus is blunt! For only by His death does our redemption become real. Yes, Peter needs to understand salvation from God’s perspective.
All human effort, whether by one cutting blade or a thousand, will fail us. So also with us, whether one deed or an infinite amount. Whatever Peter can do will fail him, which means Jesus doesn’t need anything we can do to save ourselves either. For our Lord’s cross provides salvation, not us.
Sometimes, we lose focus on our Lord’s method of death and become as blind as Peter. The fog of our thinking shrouds the cross when we assume our status with God depends on what we do. Oh, we may not slice off someone’s ear like Peter, but we do puff up with pride over our efforts. A catalog of all we do grows into a list to wave before God at the proper time.
Put away any idea you can somehow contribute to your salvation by what you do. Only by grace and because of our Savior’s death is someone right with God. Put away all thoughts about being able to save yourself. “Put your sword away!” Gape in wonder at our Savior’s cross!
“The Church will wither away without us,” we think! For our society mocks our Savior at every turn. With noble purposes, we want others to smile when they think about the Church. Oh, to wield power and do what only Jesus can. Let us learn our Lord’s lesson for Peter, who calls us to be faithful.
What happens when we take our eyes off our Savior? The cross is no longer front and center, and we begin to proclaim another message, one we think will appeal to others and draw them in. Perhaps, they will come if we change the message. Let’s give people what they want instead of what they need. Ice cream does delight the tongue better than broccoli! The cross of Christ becomes blocked from our focus.
Sometimes, we want to hide the crucified Christ. Let’s proclaim something more friendly and upbeat, dropping Jesus and Him crucified for our salvation. The Church stops being the Church and becomes another social organization, and nothing more.
“Whom do you seek?” Do you come here wanting something other than Jesus? The image of a crucified Savior is not attractive to the world, or our sinful nature. For some, the message of Christ crucified is a fool’s task; for others, offensive. To those whom God is saving, such a Word is salvation. “Put your sword away!” Marvel in wonder at our Savior’s cross. Amen.