Saturday, February 16, 2013

American Christianity's Misguided Zeal

Matthew 26:47-54 - Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane 

     While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.  Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.  Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

     Jesus, in this same chapter of Matthew (26:2), had recently told his disciples clearly that “the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion.”  Why then would Peter lash out and attack with the sword?  It was because he did not understand what was going to happen.  He and the other disciples had a pre-established picture in their mind of what the Messiah was supposed to do.  They knew the Messianic prophecies like the one from Isaiah 9:6-7.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
    will accomplish this.

     The prophecies talked about a kingdom and a government, and the disciples had the mindset that Jesus was here to set up that earthly government at that moment.  The Isaiah passage even says that “The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”  Out of all the disciples who is more zealous for the Lord than Peter?  Remember, right before they went to the garden Jesus had told Peter that “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”  But Peter had responded, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny you” (Matthew 26:34-35).  Peter was zealous and ready to die for Christ.  He was determined that he would NEVER deny Christ!  He thought that Christ was getting ready to set up an earthly kingdom, therefore he pulled out his sword and prepared to fight for Christ and die if needed.  

     Have you ever stopped to think about if Jesus wouldn’t have stopped Peter then he most likely would have been killed?  He would have died thinking he was being martyred for Jesus, but the truth is that he would have died fighting against the will of God.  It was God’s plan that Christ would die on the cross, and Peter, in misguided zeal for the Lord, was fighting to make sure that didn’t happen.

     Taking a step back, let’s look once more at why Peter was so zealous.  He was determined that Jesus was going to be setting up an earthly kingdom of God in Israel at that moment.  Now, can we think of anywhere in the world today where followers of Christ are fighting to try to set up an earthly kingdom of God in their own country?  A place where believers will zealously fight to the death for a political issue?  Peter’s misguided zeal caused him to fight against God’s ordained plan that Christ would die.  Is it not possible that we are doing the same thing?

     When Jesus is questioned by Pilate he says, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18:36).

     Our hope is not in an earthly kingdom; our hope is in the Lord.  We should be zealous for the Lord and His kingdom which is “not of this realm.”  However if our zeal is misguided, we will be running around chopping off the ears of those in the world who we desire to know our Lord.  Do you think that the man who had his ear cut off by Peter would have later listened to Peter’s sermons about Christ and salvation?  Are we zealous for the kingdom of God or are we battling for an earthly, political kingdom despite the fact that our King specifically said, “My kingdom is not of this world”?

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