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Pick up the proper sword

“ ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword’ ” (Matthew 26:52).

It was a natural response for Peter, the most hot-blooded disciple of Jesus.

Wielding a worldly sword

Judas had led a company of soldiers to a quiet corner of Gethsemane’s garden, where Jesus and his disciples had often met. This was true betrayal, giving aid and comfort to the enemy, allowing them to take Jesus into custody without fear of repercussion. The only ones there to defend him—from preventing this terrible miscarriage of justice—were a drowsy Peter and his fellow sleepyhead disciples.

Perhaps Peter later excused his behavior by suggesting he was still groggy. But when Judas kissed his master and the soldiers seized him, the impulsive disciple just reacted, likely without a moment’s thought and certainly without permission. He drew his sword and violently struck out at one of the high priest’s servants, lopping off his ear.

As swiftly as Peter had reacted, Jesus’ response was double-quick. “Put your sword back in its place,” he scolded, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

It’s one of the many blessed reminders that we find in Holy Scripture that Jesus’ kingdom is not a kingdom of this world. Peter’s reaction to this threat was completely in line with a worldly response: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” But his angry revenge wasn’t going to solve anything; it would only escalate the hostilities. He needed to put his worldly sword away.

Jesus has nothing against swords. We just need to pick up the proper sword and wield it wisely.

We use that sword too often ourselves in an effort to seek an advantage over another, to win the argument, to protect our person and property. Nations are divided by political rhetoric and mutual finger-pointing. We witness violence in our streets. Social media is engulfed in fiery words. It’s easy to conclude with Peter that a strong response is in order. Something has to be done.

Using the sword of the Spirit

Indeed, something does need to happen, and Jesus shows us what. We need to put our worldly swords down, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” That’s a divine promise.

But our Savior is not suggesting that we walk around defenseless in this world. Far from it! Paul tells us in Ephesians to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” and directs our attention to an essential weapon: “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (6:10,17).

Jesus has nothing against swords. We just need to pick up the proper sword and wield it wisely.

And what is this sword of the Spirit? It’s the gospel of love and compassion, patience and forgiveness. That was the sword Jesus wielded earlier in the evening when he took bread and distributed it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat, this is my body.” Then he took the cup and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).

These were powerful words, unlike any ever spoken! Though the suffering Savior could have rightfully called down lightning from heaven to destroy us sinners, he spoke powerful words of mercy, self-sacrifice, and forgiveness. He wielded the sword of the Spirit.

This is the sword entrusted to us who live in a world that prefers swords that injure, damage, and kill.

Let’s pick up the proper sword and use it vigorously.

Author: Peter Prange
Volume 108, Number 4
Issue: April 2021

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