Laying Down Our Swords

verrière de la Passion du Christ. Saint-Pierre tranchant l'oreille de Malchus. Illustrates Peter drawing his sword in the garden.

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.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

John 18:10 – 11

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.

Luke 22:49 – 51

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

Two Swords and the Apostles

Every gospel gives account that one of the apostles, identified as Peter in the gospel of John, attacks with a sword one of those who comes to seize Jesus. Each account save one also records Jesus rebuking Peter for his actions, and two record Jesus healing Peter’s victim. Here, Peter is fulfilling his promise from Matthew 26:35, expressing his willingness to die beside Jesus; but the problem is that Peter isn’t really willing to die for Christ here. He’s willing to kill, which is something far different.

In Luke 22:35 – 38, Jesus tells his apostles that a time will come where they will want to gather supplies, collect their savings, and arm themselves. He says this in contrast to how they had previously gone to evangelize Jesus with no defenses or supplies. At that time, they trusted in Jesus. Here, He foretells that they will lose their trust in Him and again trust in the things of this world. This would come true that very night.

After Jesus says these things to them, the apostles point out two swords, to which Jesus replies, “It is enough,” or, “That’s enough!” depending on translation. There are a lot of takes on what Jesus means here; whether He approves of them taking the swords, or He says it sarcastically since two swords would clearly not be enough for all of them, or it is an expression that the matter is closed. I lean toward the latter, for it seems that this is yet another occasion where Jesus is trying to show them something deeper about events to come, and they just don’t get it.

The Sword in the Garden

However Jesus meant this final phrase before departing for the garden, at least one of those swords come along, carried by Peter. Peter carries the sword; unsheathes the sword; uses the sword; and Jesus rebukes him for it. John and Luke record very short reprimands, basically telling Peter to stand down and let Jesus fulfill prophecy. Matthew contains a longer rebuke, with Jesus telling Peter that those who live by the sword shall also die by it, and that He is more than capable of calling down legions of angels to defend Him if He really needed it.

The second century theologian Tertullian had this to say about the account:

For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier. No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action.

Tertullian asserts (rightly, I believe) that Jesus’s words to Peter affect us all; that, like Peter, we are also to lay down violence as a tool and choose a different way. Peter brought a sword into the garden so that Jesus could teach him, and us through him, what it is to reject violence as a method of defending Christ or His kingdom.

But the Conquest of Canaan…

How do we reconcile this with the bloodshed of the Old Testament? God established Israel by force; He defended Israel by force; and, when necessary, He punished Israel by force. David, a man after God’s own heart, slew numerous enemies (yet, according to I Chronicles 28:3, David would not build the temple because of the blood on his hands). So how does God defending His kingdom by physical violence in the Old Testament translate to the new kingdom of the church being nonviolent in nature?

Several months ago, I wrote about the different laws contained in the Bible, how each is separate and distinct, and how keeping a statement or command in the context of the covenant in which it was given is important to harmonizing and understanding God’s word. Without rehashing that whole post here, I believe the differences between the Old Testament and New are intentional, and they show us a better way.

Hebrews 8:3 – 7 says this about the transition from old to new:

Every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant He mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

The Hebrew writer calls the Old Covenant a “shadow of the heavenly things.” It’s not the reality; it’s a representation of reality. Christ is the reality, and He brings us a better way. He oversees a kingdom, not defined by geopolitical borders, ethnicity, or economics; rather His kingdom is a boundless spiritual kingdom. That means our warfare is not physical but instead spiritual.

Take Up a Spiritual Sword

Paul explains our conflict this way in Ephesians 6:12:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

He goes from here to describe the armor and defenses of God, and one of these defenses is indeed a sword. He calls it the Sword of the Spirit, which he defines as God’s word. That is our defense in our spiritual battles; that is where we place our trust rather than in physical weapons and strength. This is the lesson the apostles had a hard time comprehending, and this is where Peter failed in the garden. He trusted more in his sword than he did in God’s plan.

We need to learn the lesson of Peter. Christ’s church is not here to wage wars against other peoples. It is not here to be a superpower. It is not here to conquer lands. Instead, we are to wage war against sin and the death it brings; we are lifted up when we humble ourselves; and we conquer hearts and minds with the sword of truth. We do not take prisoners. Rather, we convert souls. As God’s people, we need to stop giving in to the allure of physical power and the violence it brings. Instead, we should lay down our swords and completely give our trust over to the Prince of Peace.

Yes, we should be willing to die for Christ, but we should never be willing to kill. The only death a Christian should be responsible for is death to self so that Christ can live in us.

Day One

This is a sermon I recently delivered at the Westfield Church of Christ.

Paul’s Moment

In Acts 9, Paul wasn’t planning on his life changing. In fact, it was quite the opposite, for Paul had been traveling to Damascus with one thing in mind – to capture and imprison as many Christians as he could.

Acts 9:1 – 9:

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

And he said, “Who are you, Lord?”

And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

The road to Damascus became a road to change for Paul, but this was not enough. Sometimes, we refer to these events as the conversion of Saul, but his true conversion did not happen for another three days, and that’s recorded in verses 10 – 19.

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

From this point forward, Paul’s life took an entirely different trajectory. The moment he came out of the waters of baptism, Paul was made new. And he lived like it. He would even write later that his past counted nothing to him compared to his new life in Christ. That day Paul confessed the name of Jesus and submitted to baptism became his Day One moment. It became Day One of a new life.

Introduction

A Day One experience is an event that changes the course of your life forever. It’s a moment when you take control of your own story to take it in new and exciting directions. For Paul, it looked like rejecting all that he had been raised to believe and striking out on a path he had formerly rejected and even persecuted. It was a complete one-eighty.

Esther’s Moment

Another example of a Day One experience happens in Esther.

Ester 4:12 – 16:

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai,  “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

Esther does more than resolve to go to the king. She sees it through. In Esther 7 not only does she reveal the plot against the Jews, but she reveals at last to the king that she herself is a Jew! Then she accuses Haman, the king’s highest officer, of orchestrating the impending genocide. Think of the the risks she took! Think of the consequences that could have befallen her. But she boldly steps into the first day of the rest of her life, and, in so doing, she not only changes her own life forever, but she saves the lives of countless others. Their lives hung on the resolve of one person and her willingness to take the control of her story out of the hands of others.

The salvation Esther brings to God’s people is still memorialized in an observance called Purim, as is written in Esther 9:23 – 29:

So the Jews accepted what they had started to do, and what Mordecai had written to them.  For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur (that is, cast lots), to crush and to destroy them.  But when it came before the king, he gave orders in writing that his evil plan that he had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows.  Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur. Therefore, because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them,  the Jews firmly obligated themselves and their offspring and all who joined them, that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written and at the time appointed every year,  that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every clan, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.

That remembrance comes from the selfless and courageous actions of one woman in a day when women were hardly empowered. Esther stands an as example to all of us that one voice can shape great events.

Peter’s Moment

Not all Day One moments are visibly momentous, however. Some are quiet but every bit as powerful. Take Peter as an example in John 21:15 – 19:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Peter  said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

Jesus  said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  He said to Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”  He said to Peter the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

This comes after Jesus appears to the other apostles. This is after Jesus strengthens Thomas’ faith. Think of the pressure on Peter. Yes, Peter runs to the tomb when he learns it is empty. Yes, Peter jumps from the boat when He sees Jesus, but there is still something big between them – the fact that Peter had forcibly denied Jesus in His hour of need. In these verses, Jesus and Peter mend their relationship, and it becomes a Day One moment for Peter.

From this point, Peter will go forward to preach the first gospel message to the assembly at Pentecost. He will be the first to preach to the Gentiles. He will live a life dedicated to Christ, and he will write, near the end of his days in II Peter 3:8 – 9:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Peter could write so confidently of the Lord’s patience for repentance because He was once a recipient of that same patience. To him, that restoration was his Day One moment.

Elements of Day One

These individuals all had three things in common:

  • Each faced a crisis. For Paul and Peter, it was a crisis of faith. For Esther, it was a crisis of impending disaster.
  • Each took control. Esther takes control from Haman. Paul from his past, and Peter from his regret.
  • Each gave control to God. This is the important part. All of these took control, but they didn’t claim total ownership. Instead, each seized control and handed it over to God. They placed their trust in Him.

Your Day One

What will be your Day One moment? II Corinthians 5:16 -17 says:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Being a Christian is all about being new. The day you put Christ on in baptism becomes Day One of a new life, but the challenge is that we must constantly renew ourselves. We all fall. We all slip into – for lack of a better term – oldness of life from time to time. We all face crises that threaten to take control of our lives. It may be a crisis that threatens disaster to chip away at our faith. It might be a spiritual crisis where we come to question what we believe. Whatever it is, the crisis is not the end of the story. Instead, it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to take control from the crisis, purge the old, and become new again.

See I Corinthians 5:6 – 8:

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Paul is writing this to a congregation at the brink of destruction from within. They are divided. They are facing numerous doctrinal challenges, but no crisis is as great as the fact that they have an example of rampant immorality among their number – and not only do they tolerate that immorality, they are celebrating it.

They seem beyond recovery, yet this is the church Paul would address this way in II Corinthians 1:5 – 7:

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.  Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Did you hear that bit: “Our hope for you is unshaken?” This, to the same congregation that had been previously boasting in tolerance of immorality. They faced crisis. They took control away from that crisis, and they gave that control over to God. They emerged from their crisis a better and a stronger church family than when they began. What might have been the end of their story instead became their Day One moment.

Conclusion

That is the challenge to all of us. What will you do when faced with crisis? What will you do with your Day One moment? I challenge you, when things threaten to tear you down, to follow the example we see in Paul, in Esther, and in Peter. Face the crisis, take control away from it, and hand that control over to God. Let it change you for the better and make you new.

Make it Day One for the rest of your life. Step forward like Esther standing before the king. Put your past in the past and strive for a better future like Paul after the Damascus road. Or humbly repent like Peter with Christ, and trade your regrets for hope. Whatever the challenge before you, know that God wants you to succeed. Know that you have all that you need to make today Day One.

Generalizing

Most people I know would not be happy if they heard something like…

  • Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites.
  • White people think they’re better than everyone else.
  • Women think with their hearts not with their minds.
  • Republicans don’t care about anything but their money.

I can almost feel you getting upset from over here. Or is that just the unseasonably warm weather? It’s hard to tell sometimes. Still, chances are, if you read this blog regularly, you may fall into one or more of the categories above, and chances are that you wouldn’t like any of those things said about you. We don’t like to be generalized. I’m a white, marginally conservative Christian with a background in education, and I consider myself a bit of an environmentalist. You could go to town with generalizations based on those facts, but most would be incorrect, for most generalizations are based on, not the majority of people in a category or demographic, but a very loud and noticeable minority.

You and I aren’t okay with generalizations being applied to us. I don’t like the way Christians are sometimes categorized as ignorant, anti-science, hate-filled, self-righteous hypocrites any more than you do. Why then do we feel its okay to call “Mexicans” (and by “Mexicans” I’m of course referring to our propensity to apply this label to anyone whose native language looks like it may be a dialect of Spanish or Portugese) lazy or immoral? Why is it okay to generalize Muslims as dangerous? Why is it okay to call an atheist immoral? Why is it okay to call an environmentalist an Earth worshipper? Why is it okay to assume a homosexual is also promiscuous? Why is it okay to generalize the unemployed as lazy and unmotivated?

I’ll make this easy for you. It’s not okay. But we justify it to ourselves by saying that labels applied to us are unfair over-generalizations while assumptions made about others are just “hard truths.” Such justifications are worthless. Take a few examples:

  • Paul and Peter both spent time in and out of prisons (Acts 12 and 16, for instance). Paul was once a Pharisee. What generalizations could we make about them if judged by purely superficial standards?
  • David was “just a kid” who wanted to face down an unrealistic challenge, and some around him wanted to generalize him as foolish and vain (I Samuel 17). How well did that work out for them?
  • Moses came from an upper-class Egyptian society upbringing (Exodus 1). How easily could he have been entirely shunned by his people based off of generalizations?
  • Matthew was a tax-collector according to Matthew 9:9. Would Jesus have ever accepted such a one if He only listened to popular propaganda?

Take Jesus Himself as a final example. Here is a man who freely associated with tax collectors, with prostitutes, and with open sinners (Luke 5:30). Here is a supposed Savior who is unemployed. (At least, we have no record of Him holding a steady job outside of his ministry). He is also homeless according to His own words in Luke 9:58. Would you or I have associated with such an obvious deadbeat and drifter as this? Would we have listened to someone with so many unsavory companions? Would we have heard a man from Nazareth? After all, nothing good comes from a place like that (John 1:46).

If we had been around to judge Jesus the way we judge others, think what we may have missed. Think what we might have rejected. Let’s be slow to judge. Let’s be reluctant to justify ourselves, and let’s avoid adhering to broad and uninformed generalizations. People can surprise you. We just have to get over our own prejudices to give them the chance.

Stop Throwing People Away

I want to challenge you to do something today – or, rather, to stop doing something, as the case may be. I want you, me, us to stop throwing people away. Just stop. Don’t do it anymore. Take that proverbial garbage bin we carry around in our psyches, and toss it in the recycling bin. When we look around at those around us – at our friends, our colleagues, our coworker, our peers, our waiters and waitresses, our telemarketers – we need to stop seeing something that’s disposable and worthless and instead see something to be treasured and preserved.

I guess something needs to be cleared up first, though. What do I mean by “throwing people away?” It’s simple. Someone says, or does, or condones, or writes something we don’t like, and that’s it. Suddenly, that person is trash. They are anathema. It may be something they said in a planning meeting; it may be a comment they made in Bible class; it may be a political view they have; it may just be that they had the audacity to disagree and hurt our feelings. Whatever it is, we hold onto that event like a precious treasure, and we then cut that person out of our lives.

We effectively throw people away for the various petty reasons we have, and it has to stop. People see these behaviors among us, and they don’t see a people of peace. They don’t see a nation of priests. No, they see Pharisees. They see fools. They see a people of hate and resentment, and who would want anything to do with that? What do we do to ourselves? When we start throwing people away, we start throwing away the divine. We remove the Prince of Peace and Mercy from our lives and instead enthrone an idol of bitterness and hatred – an idol that is much harder to serve than our Lord of forgiveness.

Disposable Individuals of the New Testament

There are a few people in the New Testament about whom I have to wonder: if they did these things to any of us, would we toss them aside?

John Mark. In Acts 13:13, we see John Mark abandon during the first of Paul’s missionary journeys. We aren’t really given a reason, but we can see Paul is still upset about it in Acts 15:37-39, even to the point of parting ways with Barnabas. That could have been the end of the story. We could look at that and feel justified in our eternal feuds, but that’s not the end. Some time later, in II Timothy 4:11, Paul calls this same deserter “useful to me for ministry.” We might have disposed of John Mark as “weak,” as “spineless,” or as “useless,” but Paul found the time to restore their relationship and gained an encourager in Christ.

Peter. We could look at a few events in Peter’s life where you or I might have given up on him, but my mind returns time and again to Jesus’ conversation with him after those terrible denials. We know the story of Mark 14:66-72, how Peter denies Christ time and again in the temple courtyard, even to the point of cursing and swearing. When Jesus restores Peter, in John 21:15-19, Jesus doesn’t demand an apology. He doesn’t wait for Peter to make the first move. He simply reaches out to one that we might have considered a backstabber and heals their relationship and Peter’s faith.

Onesimus. Onesimus, in the book of Philemon, is one we might not even realize we would dismiss, but consider this: Onesimus was an “illegal.” He was on the run from his master; he was not a true Roman citizen; he was a law-breaker; he deserved imprisonment and perhaps worse. In verses 8-16, Paul reveals to Philemon that Onesimus is now a brother in Christ and encourages him to treat the slave accordingly. Here’s what he didn’t do: he didn’t send Onesimus packing. Paul didn’t write Onesimus off because of his secular citizenship. He was more concerned with the slave’s spiritual citizenship. Where we might have turned Onesimus over to the first Roman guard we saw, Paul, instead, turned him to the love of Christ.

Whether we’re talking about wanting to throw someone aside because of their history, or if we’re wiling to toss them aside because of some way we feel they affronted us, that’s not the conduct we see reflected in the lives of Christ and His apostles. My friend Derek once told me that we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions, but we judge others only by the consequences of their actions. Let’s think about showing others the same amount of mercy we show ourselves.

Setting Down the Weight

The problem is, when we look at people, sometimes we have a great deal of access baggage we are carrying around that we blame on them. We call these grudges. And these grudges needlessly weigh us down. There’s an old Zen proverb that illustrates this burden:

One day two traveling monks reached a town and saw a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. There were deep, muddy puddles and she couldn’t step across without getting mud on her silk robes. She impatiently scolded her attendants, who were burdened with heavy packages.

The younger monk walked by the young woman without speaking. But the older monk stopped and picked her up on his back, carrying her across the mud. Not only did she not thank the monk, she shoved him out of her way when he put her down and scurried by him haughtily.

As the two monks continued on their way, the younger monk was brooding. After a long time, he finally spoke out. “That woman was so rude but you picked her up and carried her! She didn’t even thank you.”

“I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk responded. “Why are you still carrying her?”

That’s what it comes down to, then, doesn’t it? We throw people away because we can’t unburden ourselves of the weight of our own grudges. We choose to bear the weight of our anger rather than the weight of friendship.

We put our strength and our efforts into holding onto our grudges rather than humbly letting them go. In Matthew 18:22, Jesus tells Peter (and later demonstrates) the innumerable times we must be willing to forgive. Colossians 3:12-14 calls on us to put on love, compassion, kindness, patience, and forgiveness. Finally, Hebrews 12:1-2 admonishes us to lay down those weights that slow down our run of faith. Jesus and His followers were able to lay aside the weight of grudges to pursue and share the hope within them. Why are we still carrying them?

Again, Perspective

Again, it comes down to what we see when we look at others. If we look at each other the way God looks at us, we won’t see each other as disposable commodities to be casually thrown away when suddenly inconvenient. Matthew 18:1-4 calls us to become as little children if we are to be of His kingdom. Romans 8:15-17 calls us adopted children of the Father, and I John 3:2 again says we are now God’s children, waiting to see Him in His glory.

If God sees us as His little children, we should see the same in each other. How easily do you stay angry at a small child? Against which children do you harbor long-lasting grudges? Are there any children you seek to cut out of your lives, that you give dirty looks to, that you assume the worst of the moment they enter the room? Of course you don’t because that would make you a pretty terrible person, don’t you agree? Wouldn’t you be a sad case if you couldn’t get over the fact that a five-year-old clumsily broke a vase in your home? What kind of person would you be to hold that over their head for the next several years, even if the break was the result of carelessness or malice? Yet, this is how we treat each other. Just like that younger monk, we can’t seem to lay aside the burden of our indignation, and we let those burdens weaken us. Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Galatians 5:13-15 warns us against biting and devouring one another. We have many euphemisms for this: we say we are “calling it like it is;” we may feel someone needs to be “put in their place” or “taught a lesson;” we may say that we are “saying what needs to be said;” but all we’re doing is consuming each other in fits of temper. We also consume one another when we bear grudges instead of bearing each other’s burdens. We devour relationships. We decide our personal feelings are more important than a person’s soul. This must not be. Once we see each other the way God sees us, we have no choice but to tear down our idols of bitterness, indignation, and self-justification. We have no reason to carry around the weight of grudges and resentment. Once we unburden ourselves of these, we will have the strength to carry one another’s loads and to bear each other up in love and mercy, and we will finally stop throwing people away.

To Be with Jesus

Matthew 14 records the events surrounding Peter walking on the water. Peter and the other apostles are on a boat without Jesus in verse 22. The waters become rough; the weather begins to storm; and Jesus appears upon the water. Peter calls out to Him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Unfortunately, when Peter see the wind kicking up the water, his faith falters and Jesus must save Him.

What possessed Peter to say to himself, “I want to get out of this boat and walk to Jesus,” in the middle of this storm? We speak of Peter’s rashness, of his impulsivity, of his good intentions. How many of us would have simply stayed in the boat? More important than these factors though may have been his desire to be like Jesus and to be with Jesus.

Remember Jesus washing the apostles’ feet in John 13. At first Peter resists, but, when Jesus says Peter could have no part with Him without this washing, Peter then requests his whole body to be washed. Also, in John 21, when Peter realizes Jesus’ identity, he again leaps into the sea to get to Jesus. Whatever the cost, Peter wants to be like Jesus, and he wants to be with Jesus.

Like Peter, we occasionally act and speak before thinking. More than these, we should be like Peter in our desire to be like and with the Lord. Philippians 2:5 calls on us to be like Christ in humility and obedience. I Peter 2:21 instructs us to follow in His steps. In John 14:3, Jesus promises we can be with Him one day, and Matthew 11:28 extends an invitation to come and be close to Christ, laying our burdens at his feet.

Matthew 16:24-26 tells us how we can have a part with Him, how we can be with Him and like Him. We must put self and self-interest to death, and fix our gaze firmly on Him. We have to get out of that boat if we are going to draw closer to Him.  This involves getting outside our comfort zone and make sacrifices. Yes, when Peter took his eyes off the Lord, however, he began to sink beneath the waves. We need to keep Jesus firmly in our sights, but it begins with that first step.

Like Paul in Philippians 3:13-15, we should be continually pressing forward. Colossians 3:1 calls on us to set our minds on things above. We need to determine that, wherever we are spiritually, it’s time to get out of the boat and approach Jesus, striving always to be like Him and with Him.

lesson by Tim Smelser

And the Stones Cried

Among the psalms of worship, lament, intercession, history, and others, are a collection of songs that proclaim God’s greatness as seen in nature. Three of these are Psalms 29, 148, and 19. Psalm 29 describes God as a thunderstorm, His voice and nature seen in the thunder, in the waves, in the winds, in the animals taking shelter – all of these proclaim glory to God. Likewise, all nature is called to praise Jehovah in Psalm 148, from creatures of the deep to the stars of the heavens. Finally, the heavens testify God’s name in Psalm 19.

Nature is called upon time and again to give praise to God. Jesus calls on this imagery during the last week of His ministry. As He rides into Jerusalem in Luke 19:36, multitudes welcome Him in praise. They sing from Psalm 118 as Jesus passes by, calling Him their king, bearing testimony of His name. In verse 39, the Pharisees call on Jesus to rebuke His overenthusiastic followers, understanding the undercurrents of their worship. Jesus responds by claiming that, should His followers fall silent, nature itself, even the stones on the ground, would cry out.

When the Stones Cried Out

By the end of this week, Jesus is arrested, tried unfairly, and crucified. Who testifies on Jesus’ behalf now? In Matthew 26:56, the disciples abandon Him. Later in the same chapter, Peter goes so far as to deny association with the Christ. In verses 59-61, no religious leaders testify in Jesus’ name. In fact, they seek false testimony to condemn Him. In John 19, none in the multitudes – many of whom would have been praising Jesus earlier that week – cry out for Jesus’ release. Instead, they call for His death.

Pilate partially tries to speak on Jesus’ behalf. One of the thieves on the cross expresses belief, but who would listen to the testimony of a criminal? Then, in Matthew 27, after Jesus cries, “It is finished,” darkness descends for three hours – in the middle of the day. The veil of the temple tears top to bottom, and the earth shakes, rocks torn and broken. Up to this point, silence has been the only testimony for Jesus. Now, the rocks cry out in testimony of Jesus’ divinity.

The Testimony of Living Stones

In the last supper of John 17, Jesus prays that the Father will glorify Him with His past glory. Hebrews 1:3 calls Jesus the radiance of God’s glory, and John 1 equates Jesus with God. These rocks testify God’s glory among man as in Psalms 29, 148, and 19. They proclaim the culmination of salvation’s wondrous plan. When all others are silent, nature proclaims God’s glory.

Two thousand years later, stones still cry out His glory. In I Peter 2:5, Peter calls those who follow Jesus living stones. Philippians 1:11 calls on us to be filled with righteousness as testimony to God’s glory. Every word and action of our lives should proclaim God’s glory. When all others are silent, we should bear testimony of our God and Savior. As living stones, we proclaim His greatness with one voice, living for Him and because of Him.

lesson by Tim Smelser