Sermon for April 5, 2020

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 2019 | Put Down Your Sword

Greg Williams

“And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” Matthew 26:51-54 (ESV)

This is a strange aside in the story of Jesus’ arrest. As the gospel writers describe it, there are literally hundreds of soldiers who’ve descended on four guys in a garden in the dark. Then one of them, Peter of course, decides to try to defend himself. What a preposterous picture, a fisherman with a sword against a detachment of professional Roman soldiers.

It’s a painfully vivid picture of our reactionary eye-for-an-eye squabbles as human beings. You have a grudge against me, so I answer in kind; you cut me off, so I tailgate you! On and on we go in the cycle of offense-and-revenge, tit-for-tat. And yet Jesus says, “Stop.” Peter—put down your sword. STOP the cycle, stop the insane merry-go-round.

This small conversation is a microcosm of the big picture. Jesus is in the midst of giving himself, to take the punishment for sin—and all the grudges, squabbles, and eye-for-eye that goes along with it—onto Himself. Total forgiveness to all. We can only imagine.

Have you ever forgiven until it hurts? Our natural reaction when shoved is to shove back. It’s deeply ingrained in our psyche, even in our physical reflexes. It can be uncomfortable, even painful to stop ourselves from retaliating. We have to give up our “rights” in that moment, the revenge we “deserve” in our own minds. We have to put down the sword.

By every right, God could have wiped humanity out and started over. We chose sin and polluted his perfect world. But God’s plan was never to take his revenge on us. He took that hurt into himself in Jesus. Instead of cutting off an ear, he let himself be cut and beaten and finally killed. He forgave us until it hurt him. He took the pain and violence of that sin into himself in Christ, so much so that it killed him.

As John the Baptist proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” May we join Jesus in stopping the cycle of revenge by putting down our swords; choosing to forgive as Christ has forgiven us.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Isaiah 50:4-9 • Psalm 31:9-16 • Philippians 2:5-11 • Matthew 26:14-27:66

The theme for this week is emptying ourselves as Jesus did. In Isaiah 50, we hear the song of the suffering servant who trusted in God’s plan even though he was being mistreated by humanity. In Psalm 31, the poet talks about trusting in God even though he appeared to all his neighbors to be losing and defeated. In Philippians 2, Paul tells us to take the same humble mindset of Jesus, who, even though he was God in the flesh, emptied himself of his rights and power. Our sermon, Jesus, Friend of Losers, is based on Matthew 26. These passages tell the story of the King who embraced life by dying and whose crown was made of thorns.

Jesus, Friend of Losers

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 4:12 ESV)

Is it strange to start our discussion of the Passion narrative, the story of Jesus’ suffering and death, with a verse from Hebrews? Maybe. But this verse sets up for us one of the deepest realities about Jesus, and one that comes to full fruition in this passage.

In the world of drug recovery, they have a word for people who have learned about recovery and those who’ve been through it themselves. Those who’ve been through the torture and deliverance of addiction often become the most effective sponsors for others. They’ve been there. Those who’ve just learned about recovery from school and a certification program are given the less-than-flattering title “textbook junkie.”

Jesus is no textbook junkie. He’s one who was tempted in every way as we are and experienced some of the worst of the human condition. Think about it:

  • Born into a beleaguered minority in an occupied country
  • Son of a teenage mother, rumored to be illegitimate
  • Considered a bad influence by the upstanding taxpayers of the community
  • Born on the rough side of a depressed part of town
  • Led a movement of people who didn’t understand him and eventually fell asleep and left him alone on the worst night of his life

Jesus is no textbook junkie. He understands what it means not only to be tempted like we are, but to live a life that most of us haven’t had to live. Then he died a death that none of us will ever have to endure.

Our passage for this week, from Matthew 26 and 27, tells the complete story of Jesus’ last meal, betrayal, arrest and crucifixion. Throughout the story, until it’s turned to a deafening pitch, we see someone who experiences the most painful and universal feeling of being a human: to lose. To lose—to be betrayed by your closest inner circle, to yell prayers into the empty night, to look like a complete failure.

We have a romanticized view, understandably, of these events in the life of Christ. We think of him as the misunderstood hero who kept to his vision despite all odds. But in the moment, at the time, Jesus looked like someone we’ve all been in life: the loser. The loser with his world crashing around his ears. The loser pleading with his friends just to stay awake with him for a little while. The loser whose life’s work is mocked and derided by the crowd. The loser crying out on the cross.

Let’s look through this night, the last night of Jesus’ life, to see how he embraces this loser status. He becomes the high priest who knows not only what temptation feels like, but also what loss, betrayal and perceived failure feel like—no textbook junkie here. This is the climax of Jesus’ ministry—what he’s been talking about through his whole ministry.

Until these very last moments, even after his resurrection, his inner circle is looking for his show of military power as he kicks Rome out of Israel at last. But in his passion, Jesus embraces the ultimate fruit of humanity’s failure: death that came by sin. He experiences our pain, our alienation, and weakness—his throne is an instrument of torture and his crown is made of thorns. His highest moment is his lowest moment.

Let’s walk through the passage and see what God will show us.

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. (Matt. 26:14-16 ESV).

The betrayal of a friend. Think of that part of the movie where we know something the main character doesn’t know—we see their enemy sneaking up or the main character’s spouse leaving to cheat. There’s a reason that device shows up so often in movies and books—we can all identify with it. Jesus knew what has coming, but his disciples did not.

The thirty pieces of silver they counted out for Judas wasn’t as much as people thought. Historians differ about the value of a piece of silver, but most estimates say the silver would be worth between $200 and $3500 today. Not a lot of money to betray someone over to death.

Knowing the amount in today’s terms reframes this a bit and makes it even more pathetic. The established powers want this irritating character Jesus taken care of. Maybe this isn’t the first time they’ve “gotten rid” of a political problem like him. They pay a weakling a so-so sum of money to get the ball rolling.

This isn’t a dramatic moment involving epic battles and famous kings—this is a seedy, back-alley exchange that brings out the worst of the people involved.

And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” (Matt. 26:37-38)

Have you ever been in this scenario? When you’re scared and feeling exposed and you ask a friend just to sit there with you. When you just want someone to hold your hand or put an arm around you—no words needed, just someone else’s presence.

Asking for this kind of presence is pretty humbling. You have to admit that you’re fearful, that you don’t want to be alone. We see Jesus going through this—something we can all identify with at the end of the day. Don’t leave me; just stay here with me, I don’t want to be by myself.

And they fell asleep on him. He didn’t ask for much—not military defense, not money, not some great words of wisdom. He just asked for someone to be there in the night with him. And they failed him.

Jesus knows what this utterly human feeling is like. When a spouse left you in an empty house. When you got laid off and carried the cardboard box to your car in front of everyone. When a trusted friend didn’t answer that late-night call. He understands this, he’s been there.

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matt. 26:51-53)

Peter does his thing here. Peter is known for shooting first and asking questions later (if at all). John says that a “band” of soldiers came for them. Peter, out of sheer emotion, makes his move.

It’s already absurd to have a band of soldiers come down on four guys in a garden. Then one of the guys tries to defend himself.

But then Jesus does what, by the world’s standards, makes him a loser. He says, stop! No more! No more violence—no more eye-for-an-eye! It ends tonight! Peter, put down your sword.

In our world, the winner is the most powerful, the most fearless, the one who demolishes his enemies. Here Jesus stops this cycle, just as he’s about to stop the whole thing with his life. He will not take up revenge—he will lay himself down.

Skip ahead in the story. Skip ahead to see Jesus standing silent before his accusers as they lie about him again and again. Skip ahead to the whips and the purple robe and the mocking. To where Jesus holds back when he could defend himself, when he could demolish those hurting him.

Look back through Jesus’ life for a moment and you’ll find he does most of his best work with losers. His friends are all fringe people who have been left behind by society: prostitutes, smarmy sell-out tax collectors, terrorists and petty thieves.

He touches the lepers and defends adulterers caught in the act. Why is Jesus not only the friend of sinners but the friend of losers? He comes first to those whose only qualification is their need. As he shared earlier, he was willing to leave the 99 to find that one who wandered off. At other times perhaps he is willing to leave the one to find the 99—ignoring the one percent of society to seek the rest.

The longest one-on-one conversation we have recorded by Jesus was with the woman at the well—a discarded person with a checkered past trying her best to hide from the world. No one was watching; she had no political connections he could leverage.

And here he is, more than any other time, joining their number. Here he is at his most powerless, giving up control, letting himself be crushed by the merciless gears of society.

The saddest moment is not his death, but just a little before.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:45-46

And that is the final breaking. That’s when Jesus fully expresses the human experience—the feeling of being abandoned by God. There’s nothing worse, and nothing more universal.

When we see another mass shooting on TV, when a young person in perfect health dies in an accident, when a baby is born sick, when the categories of good and evil and cause and effect have exploded and there’s no logic to be found, we ask: Why have you forsaken us?

Jesus has now been to the depths of the human condition. He’s looking at it all from down here with us. Did Jesus fully explain how the trinity works at that moment? How God could seemingly abandon God?

No, he didn’t hold a theological lecture in that moment—he cried out what was on his heart. He was a Jewish man who knew these scriptures up and down. He had grown up reciting, reading and singing them throughout the year. He’d expressed joy and pain through these scriptures.

Now he expresses the deepest pain through those words: abandonment, forsaken. Where are you?! Jesus is no textbook junkie. He knows it, he’s been there. He knows the kind of pain that causes people to think, just as the Psalmist did long before, that God was ignoring them.

The resurrection is coming, don’t worry. The temptation this week is to start talking about that right away. But let’s pause right here.

The last line of our reading for this week says:

So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. Matthew 27:66 ESV

Maybe it’s Good Friday in your life right now. Maybe you feel like they’ve sealed the stone and secured the tomb. Part of the message of Christ’s life is that you’re not alone in that darkness. You’re not the first one to go through it.

Jesus came all the way down into our darkness. He never left the project, he never pulled out and scrapped the whole thing. In Christ, God told us the human experiment is worth it. Jesus, friend of losers, experienced humanity all the way through. From the minor annoyances of friends who don’t get it, to the darkness of feeling like God had abandoned him.

Jesus wept, says the shortest verse in the English Bible. He triumphed for us, he saved us, he wooed us, he ransomed us, but he also paused in the middle of it all and cried with us. This is what Passion week is about. Read the story again as you go through the week. Ask yourself, do I see how much he loves me? Do I see how much he loves others? Do I see Jesus?

 

 


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life: Peter, Put Down Your Sword

Watch video or read Matthew 26:51-54

  • Why do you think Peter did that? He was facing a large number of heavily armed soldiers and he chooses to pull out a blade. What was he thinking? Was he thinking?
  • Has it ever been painful or uncomfortable at first for you to forgive someone (no need to share detailed stories here). Was it ultimately liberating for you?

From the Sermon Jesus, Friend of Losers

  • Have you ever experienced being the “loser”? Been picked last for teams as a kid? Laughed milk out of your nose at the lunch table? {looking for funny stories here of a universal childhood experience}
  • Jesus often hung out with losers, and even embraced the role of loser in the end (before the triumph of the resurrection). What can we learn from a rightful Lord taking on the loser role? If you’ve ever been that loser before, did you learn anything? Did it bring you closer to who God wants you to be?
  • The 30 pieces of silver that Judas took to betray Jesus ended up being about $4,000 in today’s money – a paltry sum that brings a deeper air of sadness and emptiness to this betrayal. Jesus was betrayed in a grimy back-alley deal. What does that tell us about how much he loves us? That he would descend to these depths?
  • Jesus screamed: My God, my God why have you forsaken me? just before he died. He knows what it means to be human, including the feeling of being abandoned by God. Is it comforting to know that he’s been in this kind of darkness?
  • Shortly after the cry of abandonment, Jesus said, Father, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” He had predicted his crucifixion three times, and his resurrection, too. In the Garden of Gethsemane he knew what he was getting into, and he did it anyway, because he chose to do his Father’s will. Before the cry of dereliction, and after it, Jesus expressed confidence in what God would do for him. If he felt abandoned, how long did this feeling last? Did he really feel abandoned, or was he quoting Psalm 22:1 on behalf of all humanity? Was he really tempted in every respect just as we are?

Quote to ponder: “Only after a guilty verdict can there be a pardon.” ~M. Scott Peck

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