What’s Most Important?

Friday, 01 May 2020

Meditate for a moment on the climactic scene  in John 18:6–11, when Jesus was arrested, betrayed by one of his intimate circle. “When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” Here was a man without so much as a stick in his hand, and the Roman soldiers were terrified merely at being in the presence of the one whose claims about himself were already demonstrated by his miraculous signs and words. “So he asked them again, ‘Whom do you seek?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.’” Is this not in nuce what Jesus was about to do on the cross, giving his life for his friends? “This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: ‘Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.’”

What good news! He had told them this in John 10: not one of his sheep will be lost. And just prior to his arrest, in his prayer to the Father, Jesus had prayed not for himself but for “those you have given me, for they are yours and you gave them to me” (John 17:9). “I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (17:12; italics added).

We have heard a lot of fear-mongering about everything being lost if the next election goes awry. But in John 18, Jesus says that the most important assurance that he—as the one who possesses all authority in heaven and on earth—can give is that not one of those who trust in him will be lost to everlasting punishment; he will save and guard his own. “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)” This is the sort of bravado we have come to admire. Yet in this story Peter is not the hero, nor even a proper villain like Judas; he is the fool who, misunderstanding Jesus’ mission at its heart, follows his own impulses. Isn’t it interesting that Peter’s act is remembered to this day, not because of its virtue but because it is a silly and trivial footnote to Jesus’ epoch-turning act of selfless sacrifice? “So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’”

As Mark reports, each of the three times Jesus foretold this “cup” that he had to drink, Peter rebuked him: “No, Jesus, you won’t be handed over—I’m not going to let that happen. Don’t worry. I’m your bodyguard!” And even at the Last Supper, Peter swore he would never let Jesus go to the gallows. “Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times” (John 13:36–38). This was after Jesus washed his disciples’ feet as a parable of his crucifixion for their sins, even as Peter protested, “You will never wash my feet!”

All the way to Golgotha, Peter was a theologian of glory, not of the cross. Presuming to be Jesus’ bodyguard, he was actually behaving as a bully. The disciples may have thought well of Peter at first for his courage. But from Jesus’ perspective, Peter just got in his way, claiming the spotlight of glory right at the moment when the Father was putting it on his crucified Son.

Christians in the United States today are being bullied on both sides by those who seem to misunderstand Christ’s mission. The most important thing is not who wins the next presidential election, but Christ’s victory over sin and death. This is the victory celebration in which we get to participate every Lord’s Day, sharing it with a world that desperately needs to hear this saving, good news.

 

Michael Horton

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