The Silence that Slays part two Stephen Bransford
 
 

 

 

      

Peter had seen Jesus raise the dead, had seen him transfigured on the Mountain, speaking there with Moses and Elijah. Peter had seen him walk on water, and had himself felt the tide grow firm beneath his feet. It was not too much for the bold Fisherman now to believe that, at the Lord’s words, “two swords are enough,” the long anticipated day of God’s wrath had finally begun. The heroic deeds of Sampson smiting a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass would again be seen in Israel. The day of Jonathan and his armor bearer scaling the Philistine fortress and slaying them all before breakfast had returned. David might again defeat Goliath with just a sling. Yeah, Peter thought, with God, two swords are always enough. And with that thought burning in his mind, he strapped on his sword and entered the Garden of Gethsemane.

Now, in the gloom of night comes Judas and his torch bearing Temple gang.
“Lord, shall we smite with the sword?”

And all Peter hears is the pounding of his own heart in that terrible, unbearable silence.

John’s Gospel perhaps gives the best description of what happened next. “Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear.” (John 18:10)

Peter, an army of one, sets about to put a thousand men to flight as the Scripture promised he could. He anticipates that at some point the power of God will surge through him as he takes this step of faith.

He strikes to kill the nearest enemy and misses, as Jesus knew he would, cutting off the ear of the High Priest’s servant instead. Peter draws back to finish the job and only then does Jesus end his silence; “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:10,11 KJV)

Peter is numb. His mind no doubt is screaming, “What’s this about a cup? You didn’t tell us now was the time to sell our coat and buy a cup. You said ‘a sword.’ I heard you clearly say, ‘a sword’.” And he can only watch as Jesus cleans up his bloody mess, performing his very last miracle of healing while on earth.

How can we not say that at this moment Jesus committed the second betrayal of the night? He set a good and loyal man up for failure and humiliation.
Because Jesus is so much more than a teacher, then what I must assume is that this unbelieveable agony was part of the process of converting Peter. I must assume that it was part of the Master’s plan. Peter, at this very moment, is not sure who or what Jesus is, and I must assume that that is exactly the way Jesus wanted it. I repeat, this must have been what Jesus was after.
You say, “How can that be? Peter is the one who just a few weeks earlier declared that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus himself said that flesh and blood had not revealed it to him. How could you then say that Peter had any uncertainty about exactly who Jesus was?” But I would remind you that not long after Peter’s triumphant declaration, Jesus whirled on him and said, “Get behind me, Satan.” Ever have Jesus call you “Satan?” This is the same Jesus who later, on the same road says, “Have I not chosen you twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” What do you suppose that did for Peter’s confidence? He had reason to wonder if he was the devil in question.

The words of Jesus provoke and disturb and, if you dare get close enough to touch them in their full power, like the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant, they will kill you. Oh yes--- so that you may live again. It’s part of the “conversion” process, but let’s not be spiritual Monday morning quarterbacks. If you’ve arrived in the zone of crucifixion, rest assured, it’s going to be a long drug out affair in which you’ll hear the Lord himself scream out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Everything you thought you knew about God will prove inadequate. No, no, let’s not rush to the resurrection just yet.

I see a direct connection between this dark betrayal of Peter and Peter’s famous three denials. In fact, I think what he does following the sword incident is the opposite of denial. It’s confession. For the first time, he sees a deeper truth; “I don’t know the man! I thought he was the one. But now, like The Baptist, I think maybe we should look for another. I don’t know him. He let Judas kiss him. He’s laid down for a lie. He’s prostrating himself to injustice. What did he drag us all into? Who is he, really? Is he the Jesus who put the sword in my hand? Or the one who took it away just when it might have counted for something? I don’t (cursing) know the man!”

If you’ve ever said that Jesus was perhaps the greatest teacher the world has ever seen, rest assured, yours are the lips of a coward and a flatterer, trying desperately to keep the Lord of the Universe at a safe distance. He’s so much more than that. You don’t know the man.

If you’ve sung his praises and declared your own great love for him, and you’ve never felt betrayed by him, perhaps set up for humiliation by him, maybe you’re following at too great a distance.

If you’ve rightly divided each word of truth and precisely parsed the exact hermeneutic to every phrase of every propositional verse in the Bible, and you’ve subsequently got your Christology worked out so well that you’ve never been in doubt--- you don’t know the man.

If you’ve never sharpened the sword of your own talents to a razor’s edge for Him, and prayed for His signal; if you’ve never heard Him quietly say, “now is the time to sell everything and take up that sword”; if you’ve never subsequently taken aim at one of God’s enemies and with all of your strength and heart and mind struck with the sword He placed in your hand; if you’ve never missed badly and found yourself not only humiliated but rebuked by the same Jesus who set you up for failure, then cleaned up your mess--- it’s probably because you are more of a Thomas than a Peter.

If we haven’t had the guts to get close enough to Jesus to walk in Peter’s humiliated shoes, we must not read his story and judge him. We must not allow ourselves to feel superior just because we’ve got the New Testament and 2000 years of multi-volume commentary on the Passion Week. That’s cheap advantage. Unless we’ve lived the Passion, we don’t know the man.

Peter, the man. No one else dared so much on so grand a stage with so much at stake. We should recognize the true size of the man God chose to be our example of discipleship. If we fail to do this, then we fail to understand the complete intolerance of Heaven for even the best skills and talents and charisma and character that any of us might bring in service to God. In our flesh, our very best flesh, we can do no more than bring Cain’s offering. God has only one hero, and it is not Peter, and it is not you, and it is not me.
The Scripture records that the first time Jesus met Peter, even before they were introduced, Jesus looked at him and told him his name. “You shall be called Peter.” His name until that moment had been Simon, Son of Jonah.
“You talkin’ to me?” Simon says. “You sayin’ I’m ‘Peter’?”

“I say, you shall be called Peter, a rock,” Jesus said.

Ah, hah! From this we can see that it was not Peter who struck with the sword that night in the Garden. Rather, it was a good and noble human being, an honorable leader of men named, Simon.

It is perhaps instructive to note that in their last conversation on earth together Jesus addressed him by his flesh-and-blood name. “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”

The crucifixion is past. The resurrection has come. And Simon is still not Peter. It broke his heart.

Perhaps this is where Peter imparts his strength to the rest of us. From this last heartbreak we should not be surprised to learn that we too, are in a seemingly unending conversion process. When will we ever be that new creature in Christ?

The key, I think, is found in Simon’s humble reply. He’s not telling the Lord anything anymore. No bold declaration of fealty. “Lord,” he says, “you know all things. You know the answer. You know me.” It’s as if the humiliated David were speaking as he did in Psalms 19:12 “Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.” A sentiment distilled further in the words of Jehovah to Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart ...”

“Simon, not Peter, I’m talking to you Mr. Standup Simon, lovest thou me?” In searing pain, Simon is crossing the threshold of a mystery. He’s learning what it means to be what Jesus said he was--- an entirely new, unshakeable creature, a Rock. The process involves the total destruction of Simon, so that a new man, Peter may emerge.

“You know all things, Lord,” Simon replies, “you know I like you”.
His conversion is well under way.

Isn’t it something? Finally, it’s not about knowing God. It’s about being known by Him.

There will be a day of God’s wrath, just as Isaiah and John the Baptist promised. (Thank God it’s not here yet.) A Champion has been found worthy to weild the ultimate sword of justice. On that day, Jesus told his befuddled disciples in Matthew chapter 7, many will come and say, “We know you! We know you! Didn’t we prophesy in your name, and cast out demons and do miracles? Didn’t we swing a mean and mighty sword for you?” And he will reply, “Depart from me ... I never knew you.”

Provoking. Disturbing. The ulitmate question is not, “Do you know Him?” it must be, “Does He know you?”

“Rejoice not that the demons are subject to you,” Jesus warned his twelve men in Matthew 7, “rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

If Jesus knows us, then, he’s given each of us a new name. We’re in the process of learning what that name is, and what it means. And on the day that we are fully converted, and “we know as we are known”, we will have only that new name and the old will be forgot. Pain, grief, shame, failure, unfulfilled dreams and badly swung swords will vanish with it. And I say, by faith, it will be a very good riddance.

Maybe we’ll stand there with the Rock, the man Jesus called Peter. Together we’ll hear the Master’s, “Well done”. We’ll feel a tingling sensation in our knees, perhaps. Then Peter will lead us all in a great, unstoppable dance.
A joy dance.

The pure ecstasy of being known by our new name in heaven.


- STEPHEN E. BRANSFORD c. 2002


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THE SILENCE THAT SLAYS part one


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