Put the sword down: The countercultural way of grace

By The Rev. Jeremy Myers

Right up until the moment Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples believed they were going to participate in a revolution.

They, like most of their peers, believed the promised Messiah/Christ would initiate the coming of God’s kingdom through force and overwhelming power. They believed they were going to help overthrow the evil forces of this world, which at the time was personified by the Roman government, and that after their resounding victory, they would rule with Jesus. Consider the following three examples with me.

In Mark 10:35-45, we find Jesus and his disciples on their way to Jerusalem. As they walk, James and John make a bold request of Jesus. They ask, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in glory.”

To put it in modern-day political terms, they are asking to be the vice president and speaker of the House when Jesus takes over. Jesus asks, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” Their response, “We can.”

Again to clarify, they believe Jesus is asking if they are willing to go to war with him, to put their lives on the line and potentially die for what they want. Jesus informs them they will put their lives on the line for the kingdom, but it won’t be what they think. His kingdom is countercultural.

Jesus says, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” His kingdom will not come through force but through sacrifice and service.

In John 18, we find Jesus and the disciples in Jerusalem, having days earlier participated in Jesus’ victory parade into the city as people lined the streets with coats and palm branches and shouted their support. Jesus has warned that one of them would betray him, so Peter prepared accordingly. Peter promised that even if everyone else bailed, he would stay and die with Jesus, if necessary. Peter is a man of his word and when the time comes pulls a sword and swings away.

John 18:10 reads, “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.” Make no mistake, Peter intended to take the man’s whole head. Peter, though, is no trained fighter and misses the mark, but he does draw first blood. What is Jesus’ response? “Put your sword away. Shall I not drink the cup my father has given me?”

Just a few verses earlier, Jesus sent everyone to the ground with a word. If Jesus had wanted to fight his way out, he didn’t need Peter’s help. As Jesus had already said, the plan was for him to “drink the cup.” Victory would come through sacrifice, not the sword.

Finally, in Acts 1, we find Jesus addressing his disciples one last time before he leaves them. Jesus had already gone to the cross. He turned the other cheek. He prayed for those who were persecuting them. He loved his enemy. He practiced what he had preached and demonstrated sacrificial love in clear and dramatic ways. His kingdom would come and his will would be done differently than previously expected.

And yet, in these last moments, the disciples are still battle ready. They ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” If I might paraphrase, “So, Jesus, we’re going to do the thing now, right?” Jesus responds by telling them it’s none of their business but to instead be about his business, serving as his witnesses, which consequently is what they do, most of them by giving their lives as martyrs.

Appropriately enough, the word “martyr” means witness. It would appear they eventually got the message and lived out Jesus’ purpose and plan.

Here we are, 2000-plus years after Christ, and I believe we continue to make the same mistake as the disciples. We continue to fall into the trap of believing Jesus is going to save the world by force, that he is going to use us as foot soldiers to enforce his plan and purposes in the here and now through physical and political might.

But that isn’t what he intended. Christ has called us to be witnesses of his grace, to share the glorious good news of his Gospel.

Christianity has always meant to conquer through compassion and countercultural, other-worldly love. Brothers and sisters, we need to put our swords down and pick up the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God. We need to hide it in our hearts that we might share it with our words and demonstrate it with our lives.

If you read the book, you’ll realize we’re not waiting for Christ to win. The battle is already over, and victory is his. It is for us to live in and witness to it.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected]