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,
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
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
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
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 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
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
about the author
SILENCE THAT SLAYS