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"Power Versus Power"

August 23, 2020

Passage: Mark 14:43–52

And so it began; Jesus’ Passion. Here began his descent into betrayal, abandonment, isolation, injustice, torture and death. It started with a kiss. Jesus’ arrest in the garden was quick. It is like a snapshot in the larger picture of things. We may have heard about this moment enough from the different gospels that we begin to conflate them into one; however, let me encourage you to slow down today as we look at Mark’s narrative in context.

The reason we are focusing on these verses today– in addition to being the next thing that happened – the reason we are focusing here is because it is a clear depiction of how God’s power manifests differently than we understand, perceive, or exercise power. These verses show how God’s power is so much different than we expect. It shows us how we need to step back – we need to re-think our relationship with God and our relationship with others.

I. God Does Not Need Us To Defend Him

Our text today is not complex.

Jesus knew that Judas was coming to betray him. Just hours before, he told the disciples that one of the twelve was a betrayer. Then, as he came back to them after praying, he told the disciples – in in the verse immediately preceding our text today – “See, my betrayer is at hand.” Only then does Judas appear. It is subtle, but it is clear: Jesus knew Judas was coming before he arrived; that is, it was not like Jesus needed or did hear Judas making his way to him. Rather, Jesus knew it was happening all along. How? Jesus knew because the scriptures would be fulfilled.

As we read through these verses, there are all sorts of points where we feel – like the disciples – angry. First, they were angry when they realized the scope of the betrayal of that scoundrel, Judas. Mark again identified Judas as “one of the twelve” and then simply called him “the betrayer.” Judas was vicious; he used his intimacy with Jesus as the identifying sign for the mob. Judas taunted Jesus by saying, “Rabbi,” and kissed him. Oh, how that makes us angry. I have often thought, “If I had been there, oh, what I would have done to Judas!”

Second, we are angry with the procession that came out to arrest Jesus. They were basically thugs – that was what Mark was saying without saying it. “With him there was a crowd with swords and clubs.” Mark does not say that they were the Temple police, nor does he grant them any legitimate authority. He depicts them as a mob. They were muscle from the chief priests, scribes, and elders sent to arrest Jesus. We have all seen too many videos of riots recently, and it is fair to think that riots today are not all that different than they were in Jesus’ day. You can see this group – intimidating by their numbers and their being prepared for a fight – looking like the violent protestors in so many of our cities. What we have seen recently is what likely happened in our text: the mob pushed forward into the area where Jesus and the disciples were, Judas approached and kissed Jesus, Jesus was grabbed, and there was a quick clash between two sides.  Here, however, it stopped as quickly as it started. In Matthew, Jesus rebuked the disciples who had begun to fight. Here, he only addressed his captors. “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I was a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.” Jesus was basically calling them (and their superiors) cowards, but he did not resist their arrest. Instead, he said, “Let the scriptures be fulfilled.”

II. Let the scriptures be fulfilled.

Jesus did not resist, but submitted to the crowd arresting him. But…but…but…But if I had been there, I would have…

Jesus’ submission totally disconcerted the disciples. All their passionate declarations of loyalty – made just a few hours prior – disintegrated. When Jesus did not engage in any kind of struggle to protect himself, they were thoroughly befuddled and all of them deserted him and fled. Jesus’ reaction threw them for a loop. 

It throws us for a loop, too. When we think about people attacking us for our faith – and maybe I should just speak for myself here – I want to be prepared with a witty, scathing, and compelling argument about why they are wrong. I want them to feel the wrath of God for their error – and, perhaps if I am being truly honest, most of all – I pray that God would use me as the instrument of his wrath so that I could stand proudly before him having proved my worthiness.

But here’s the thing: God does not need us to fight to defend him. God does not ask us to fight to defend him. God does not want us to fight to defend him. It is astounding, but true. That totally threw the disciples for a loop. As Ron Kernaghan succinctly summed it up, “Jesus’ followers were prepared to die for him, but they were not prepared to die with him. On this night salvation would come to God’s people not through the defeat of their enemies but through the death and resurrection of the Savior.”[1]

Is that right? It sounds right but does not feel right.

On the one hand, we know it is true that God does not need us to fight to defend him. On the other hand, we often treat God and our faith as if God were a little child whom we do need to protect and nurture lest he not be able to survive without us. We know that is not right, but we still act that way. We are in good company, though, because the disciples often treated Jesus that way, too.

God does not need us to fight to defend him. Jesus was fully capable, had it been God’s plan and purpose, to appeal to his Father and have twelve legions of angels come for him. Jesus did not need the disciples. He did not need a security detail. He did not need his lawyer. (That’s the one that hurts me the most; because, if I had been there…) Jesus was – in God’s way – fine. This was how the scriptures would be fulfilled.

This rankles us; at least, it rankles me. It always rankles me when people are obviously mocking or attacking God. There is the temptation to make things right by defending Jesus against the world. Whether by legislation, shouting, protest, boycott or taking up arms, the human condition is such that we are tempted to try to make things right by imposing our will to protect God.

Does that seem overstated? Consider where we are today. There is great consternation and quite a bit of righteous indignation over the restrictions on worship. “If we can protest in crowds, we can worship in crowds.” “This hardly seems like America when the government is telling us what we can and cannot do.” Now, there is room for legitimate argument in a civic context; there is NO room within the body of Christ. The United States is not the kingdom of God. The President is not Lord and Savior. If we look at the example of Christ here, we do not see someone demanding their rights and due process.

This makes us uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable. I would be so much more comfortable dying valiantly for Jesus than dying in weakness with Jesus.

Though I want to do something to defend Jesus, the answer is no. Bear witness? Yes. Defend as if God is depending on us? No. That is not our job. That is not our charge. That is not our role. The old hymn says it well, “Though with a scornful wonder, this world sees her oppressed; by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed; yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, ‘how long?’ And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.” (The Church’s One Foundation).

Crying out in weakness to God is our job. Turning to God our Father in difficult, adversarial circumstances is our charge. Trusting in God through the midst of oppression, schisms, and heresies is our role. That is our witness.

We do not have to take up pickets to protect or defend God. We do not have to mount crusades to protect the Holy Land from marauders or infidels. Being a disciple of Jesus – even as one of the Christian soldiers going onward – looks very different than military soldiers. Bear witness? Yes. Defend as if God is depending on us? No. In many ways, we are so alike the disciples as Ron Kernaghan described them: more than ready to die for Jesus; not as willing to die with Jesus.

The story of Jesus’ arrest and betrayal, on the other hand, reminds us that none of his followers felt the need for a Savior who would die for them. The foundation of the church is the death and resurrection of the Son of God, and we cannot forget that the salvation Jesus brought is much more comprehensive than the relief of the needs we feel. It is no small matter for the church; it is a question whether our congregational life will be built around our assessment of ourselves or around the mission of God.[2]

Friends, as frustrating and exasperating is our world right now, we need to check our hearts to make sure we are not feeling better than, more righteous, more holy, more pure, more of “God’s people”; rather, we need to humble ourselves as sinners in need of a savior. Our “struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12). We do not have to defend Jesus, we have to bear witness to what we have seen and what we have learned.

I want to be careful here: there are two important distinctions to be made:

  • First, there is a distinction between responding to God’s call to a prophetic ministry in God’s strength – versus – defending God in our own strength. When we put on the whole armor of God, it is not so we can lead the battle on our own terms. We are not designed and ill equipped to do that. We are to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his ” (Ephesians 6:10) His power.
  • Second, there is a distinction between our civic rights and responsibilities and our standing as Christians. Our faith as sinners saved by grace through the loving sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ informs how we act in our role as citizens of this nation – and not the other way around. Our rights and responsibilities as citizens of the United States are not the same as our standing as children in the kingdom of God.

The problem we have – as illustrated by the disciples – is we do not understand or fail to discern the distinction between our power and God’s power. The disciples wanted to fight for Jesus on their own terms. When Jesus submitted and said, “Let the scriptures be fulfilled,” it looks to us like the disciples just gave up and scattered to save their own skin. They end up looking like failures and cowards because they scattered like sheep – just like Jesus had said they would. We are no different.

If we go back to Paul’s illustration in Ephesians 6, look how Jesus displayed power: Jesus had the belt of truth around his waist. He spoke truth and lived truth and was unwilling to yield on truth. He had the breastplate of righteousness – obedience to the will of his Father. He knew by prayer and his knowledge of Scripture what was the will of his Father and, in his power, he obeyed. He had shoes on his feet ready to proclaim the gospel of peace – that is the good news of the kingdom of heaven. He had the shield of faith, withstanding the temptations of the devil to deviate from the complete conformity to the will of God. And, he had the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, because he was the Word of God.

Just thinking in those terms made me start picturing Jesus as some sort of theological cartoon Viking. Not so.

Look at how he manifest and expressed that full armor of God: He allowed himself to be arrested. He allowed himself to be led away. He allowed himself to be tried in front of a group that had been conspiring to kill him. He allowed himself to be declared a blasphemer. He allowed himself to be spat upon and beaten and ridiculed. That is how he expressed his power because the battle was not with enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. He took the worst the enemy could muster – death – and proved victorious over it.

We cannot defend God because we are not equipped or called to defend God. Only one was equipped and called to be the Messiah, and he has done it. So what do we do? Trust God and obey.

It sounds simple, but it is a life-long pursuit. Trust God’s power when it looks like human weakness. “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God.” (2 Corinthians 13:4.

So what does it mean to choose to trust God’s power versus the world’s understanding of power? Let me give you a specific illustration for the days ahead: the election.

The Democratic Party’s national convention just concluded. The Republican Party’s national convention will take place this week. The rhetoric is already heightened and the animosity runs deep. There is an underlying anger evident across the political spectrum. There is a deeply held mutual distrust. The social discord right now is manifestation and a symptom of the brokenness in America.

I meet professing Christians every day on both sides of the aisle who cannot fathom that someone could believe in Jesus and …that party. I seeing on television and on social media professing Christians teeing off on others with righteous indignation, mocking those with whom they disagree, judging them to be anathema. In short, I see professing Christians adopting the pattern of cultural brokenness as the way to behave.

Friends, the only people Jesus truly excoriated were the church people who were treating others with disdain out of their own self-righteousness.

Look at what Jesus did at the time he was betrayed. That is our example. That is real power.

Engage in civic discourse; participate in the election and political process; vote – but do so with your eyes squarely on Jesus. Remember what Paul wrote to the Colossians:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3)

Clothe yourself with Christ. Do so because, when we take our eyes off Jesus, we are like the young man who was following Jesus. When the mob caught hold of him, he lost the only linen cloth covering him and he ran away naked. When we take our eyes off Jesus, we lose the only real clothing and protection we have – and we are left to run away naked to stand on our own.

The story of Jesus’ arrest and betrayal reminds us that none of his followers felt the need for a Savior who would die for them. The foundation of the church is the death and resurrection of the Son of God, and we cannot forget that the salvation Jesus brought is much more comprehensive than the relief of the needs we feel.

God’s power versus our understanding of power: choose to trust God’s power.

Amen.

 

[1] Ron Kernaghan, IVP NT Commentary, Mark, p. 306.

[2] Ron Kernaghan, IVP New Testament Commentary, Mark, p. 309