Picture of Pastor Carlson

Sermon delivered September 6, 2008 by Pastor Paul Carlson

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV, unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

The Peter Principle and Jesus

Zechariah 4:5,6

(RealAudio available)

Charles Swindoll tells a funny story about a nine-year-old named Danny who came bursting out of Sunday school like a wild stallion. His eyes were darting in every direction as he tried to locate either mom or dad.  Finally, after a quick search, he grabbed his Dad by the leg and yelled, “Man, that story of Moses and all those people crossing the Red Sea, that was great!”  His father looked down and smiled, and then asked the boy to tell him about it.

“Well, the Israelites got out of Egypt, but Pharaoh and his army chased after them.  So the Jews ran as fast as they could until they got to the Red Sea.  The Egyptian army was gettin’ closer and closer.  So Moses got on his walkie-talkie and told the Israeli Air Force to bomb the Egyptians, and while that was happening, the Israeli Navy built a pontoon bridge so the people could cross over, and they made it!”

By now, of course, dad was shocked. “Is THAT the way they taught you the story?”  “Well, not exactly,” Danny admitted, “but if I told you the way they told it to us, you’d never believe it, Dad.” [Dynamic Preaching Sermon Illustration E-newsletter, August 3, 2008 (www.esermons.com)]

There’s something about that story that I think is very relevant to the story about Jesus we’re considering today.  That little boy’s fascination with power and control and force to solve issues is merely reflective of the world’s fascination with power and force.  And that fascination would lead many people to never believe or accept the true Jesus who was so diametrically opposed to the way of this world.  I have a feeling if we told them the real truth about Jesus, they might not believe it.  But the question is, would we believe it?

I invite you to take a trip with me back in time to imagine a very strange story straight out of the twilight of Jesus’ last moments before His death.

At first, we see Jesus and His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane.  The hour is late and it’s very dark.  Peter, James and John are so fatigued.  And even though they can’t manage to stay awake, they are eerily afraid of the waves of sorrow coming over Jesus that night. It wasn’t like Jesus. He was in a strange mood and He was strangely silent.  They hadn’t ever seen Him so utterly sad and withdrawn. But man, they are so tired. Every now and then, they opened their eyes to see Jesus standing right above them, asking them to pray with Him. And then He would go off to pray by Himself. Jesus and His disciples had been there for several hours, when the disciples were woken up by a very bright light. Opening their eyes, they see something bending over their sprawling Master.

Luke 22:43 tells us that “an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.”  So Peter, James and John must have seen this happen and it must have reminded them, perhaps, of earlier times.  Perhaps they thought of the mount of transfiguration when there was brightness and glory all around, and there were also the times when Jesus’ divinity flashed from Him and also that moment, you remember, when the glory of God shone and the voice of God spoke from the cloud.

So this must have been very comforting to them. A mighty angel has been sent to protect their Master from whatever dark or unseen forces He’s struggling against. So everything would be alright. But again, as if they are tranquilized, their weariness overpowers them and their eyes close again. The next time they wake up, Jesus is again standing over them. The light is gone and everything is dark again.

In another scene, actually a few minutes earlier, and not far from there, a mob, a motley collection of men is making their way outside the city walls toward the foot of the Mount of Olives. Their steps are hurried. They mean business. They are nervous, edgy, anxious, and very determined. The proud one over there leading the way, that’s Judas, and he’s probably thinking to himself, “Hah! It’s time now to force Jesus’ hand, and all the while making a profit for myself.” And over and over he congratulates himself for being so clever.

Just hours before this, Jesus had washed His feet and the memory of it, oh, it repulsed him. How could the Messiah, the king of Israel, be so humble? Well never mind about that, because now is the time to change all of that.

Not far behind Judas is the high priest, Caiaphas, a man hardened by the many ethical compromises that it took to become high priest. A man so tired of having this Jesus of Nazareth bounding around wherever He pleased, making a mockery of all the leaders of Israel. Oh yes, he was so ready to finally end this embarrassment to the Jewish nation and end it with force. In fact, not long before this, he had predicted that it was expedient that Jesus die for the whole nation, to save it from having the Romans take away what little autonomy they had left.

Oh, and he had been so disgusted at Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin no less, for suggesting that they take a more milder course as it related to Jesus. The implication to just wait for God to handle the matter. No, no, no, no. None of that kind of talk. They were going to take the matter into their own hands. But Caiaphas is also a man fearful of what Jesus might do. After all, Jesus had always escaped their traps before and had miraculous powers. He just didn’t know what Jesus would do.

So this high priest came prepared, his trustworthy slave with him, always obedient to his commands, right by his side. Yes, good old Malchus would serve as his bodyguard in case the disciples of Jesus did something stupid. And in case they did do something stupid, many others are marching right in step with them too. There’s a whole detachment of troops and officers of the temple. A number of Pharisees are there with them as well, all of them tired of the humiliation they had experienced at the hands and words of Jesus. And all of them wanting to erase the memories of Jesus making them look stupid in front of the people.

So this is a very somber, determined procession, a miniature army, armed to the teeth with clubs and swords in hand and lanterns and flaming torches. And if we hadn’t read about it in the gospels, we might never believe the amazing glimpses of Jesus’ divinity that we see in this next part, in this third act, as the two groups converge.

As the mob, led by Judas, with all of their torches and gleaming weapons get close to the spot where Jesus would be, Jesus walks right up to them. Gone are the traces of His recent agony.

“Who do you seek?” Jesus calls out.

“Jesus of Nazareth.”

“I am He.”

And as soon as Jesus speaks these words, something different happens. According to John 18, verse 6, when He said to them “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Proud and powerful men cowering backwards like frightened dogs. Strong, forceful, angry men suddenly becoming fearful. Like dominos, they stumble backward and fall to the ground, weak and powerless in front of Jesus.

What happened? What did they see when Jesus said, “I am He”?

The best explanation I’ve seen is that the same angel who had strengthened Jesus earlier, stepped in between the mob and Jesus at that moment and displayed his glory. And as he does that, an eerie, divine light illuminates Jesus’ face, making all of those torches seem like dim candles. In the face of such fearful brightness, priests and elders, soldiers and even Judas fall as dead men to the ground. Imagine that! God, in His mercy, giving these men, even at that moment, hardened as they are, the final evidences of Jesus’ divinity. Evidences of a heavenly power. But just as strangely, it doesn’t change their determination to murder Jesus. And the stage is set for even more unbelievable things.

And now we witness a different kind of power and strength, and our eyes turn to Jesus.

Of course, the disciples have their attention on Jesus. They’re watching all of this and they are amazed because they know that this is Jesus’ chance to escape, but they’re even more amazed when Jesus goes nowhere. Nowhere. He’s just standing there. Unafraid. Calm.

Caiaphas and the other priests cowering in front of Jesus are probably thinking it’s over for them. This is what they had feared, a display of miraculous power and that’s why they had come armed to the teeth, but how can you be prepared for something like this? And just as quickly the light fades away to the darkness and the whole scene changes. Jesus is still there, unafraid and calm. He’s not running away.

Again the question He asks. “Who do you seek?”

And “Jesus of Nazareth,” again comes the reply as Judas and the whole mob get up and surround Jesus.

Jesus replies, “I have told you that I am He. If you seek Me, let My disciples go their way.” Okay, Judas, now it’s time to act your part in the drama.

“Greetings, Rabbi, Rabbi!” his heart beating wildly as he gives Jesus the customary sign of respect for a rabbi.

“Friend, why have you come, and why are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

And suddenly the others with Judas now notice that no harm comes for touching Jesus, and the soldiers immediately grab Jesus and start tying up his hands, and this is what the disciples could not bear to see. Well, it’s not what they expected. They always thought that Jesus wouldn’t allow Himself to be taken. They were thinking that the same power that caused the mob to fall as dead men could keep them helpless until Jesus and His disciples could escape. So, they are simply dumbfounded as Jesus allows Himself to be arrested, and His hands to be tied up. They’re horrified. They’re in a state of shock.

And none of them would believe what would happen next. The high priest especially. He can’t quite believe that things are now going his way, after what had already happened. But just in case something would happen, he made sure that he was right behind his bodyguard.

And at first the disciples do nothing. They’re frozen in their own disbelief. But then Peter suddenly wakes up. No longer like a deer caught in the headlights, he has had enough and now it is time for him to take things into his own hands. By the way, have you ever been tempted to take matters into your own hands? Without waiting for God, or without trusting God?

Here we have fearful Peter, angry Peter, brash Peter, fumbling around in the darkness for his sword, because if Jesus doesn’t defend Himself with miraculous power, then it’s time for his own action. Take matters into his own hands.  Yes Peter. That’s right. Brute force. Ah! There it is. He whips out his sword and he takes a swing at someone in front of him. “Ahhhhhhhh!” yells someone in the darkness, grabbing his ear. Or at least, what once was an ear.

And then instantly, Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Stop it. No more of this.”

How amazing that the man who witnessed for himself the gentle and humble ways of Jesus, this man would try to match power with power. That was the mob’s solution. Power. And to his own weakness, it was also Peter’s solution. Trusting in himself. Trusting in his own might. Peter’s principle.

And now, what happens next is simply amazing to me. According to the story, Jesus, whose hands were already bound tightly, miraculously unbound His hands, as if the soldiers are not even there! They can do nothing, it happens so fast. And Jesus reaches for the yelling and wounded man. Removing the man’s hand from his head, Jesus touches the man’s ear and his ear becomes whole.

And He turns again to Peter, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” And then He adds, “Or do you think that I cannot pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?  How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled?”

His hands now being rebound by the soldiers, Jesus faces the mob. “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?” As if Jesus was a robber. He had been with them daily, teaching in the temples, and they never tried to seize Him.

Such a strange, very strange, story. It all happened so quickly. Yet this whole encounter was filled with the evidences of Jesus’ divinity. And also, evidence of a very different kind of power.

How do you respond to a story like that? How does it affect you?

It’s so amazing to me that Jesus had so much power at His fingertips, but He never used it to defend Himself. From a human standpoint, Jesus was weak and the mob was powerful. But there was such self-restraint and self-control on the part of Jesus. He could have wiped them off the face of the earth, He had that much power. Well, that’s what Elijah, not Elisha, but that’s what Elijah did, calling fire down to wipe out enemy soldiers. But not Jesus. He wasn’t really weak, but there was a totally different kind of power.

And I can imagine God remembering the words He spoke to Zechariah. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit.” You see, God who had all the power in the universe decided that power and might is not the way to solve the issues in the controversy. And so Jesus came to solve the issues by God’s Spirit, the spirit of love, humility and unselfishness. And that’s what stood behind Jesus’ decision to go through with His sacrifice. Might or power had nothing to do with it, not even God’s might or power.

Aren’t you thankful that God’s ways are not man’s ways?

In reality, God’s “weakness” is much more powerful than men’s greatest strength. In fact, in a tremendous twist of irony, these enemies of Jesus, they thought they were rich and increased with power, and what they didn’t realize was that they were weak and spiritually poor and blind and naked. But Jesus who had all the might and power in the world exercised incredible self-discipline and self-control and He chose the spirit of love and truth to solve the issues of the great controversy.

To paraphrase Philippians 2, Jesus always had the nature of God, but He did not think that He should use power and control and force to back up His claims to be equal with God. Instead, He willingly gave up His rights as God. He became a human being and lived just like us. A mere human.

But He was no less God for being so humble and gracious and He lived a life of loving obedience to God, and unselfishness toward human beings, and He lived that way all the way to the death on the cross. And for this reason, God has raised Him to the highest place above and has given Him a Name above any other name.

And in honor of the name of Jesus, all other beings, from heaven or from earth will fall on their knees and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, the glorious image of the Father.

So not by power or might, but by His Spirit of love and truth He rules the universe. Blessed are those whose strength is in Him.

Don’t you love God? Don’t you want to worship Him as Lord of all? Don’t you want to crown Him as King in your hearts right now?

Let’s sing our closing song, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.”

 Hymn of Praise: #10, Come, Christians, Join to Sing
Scripture: Zechariah 4:5,6
Hymn of Response: #229, All Hail the Power of Jesus Name

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 9/21/08