Luke 22:35-38 “Then Jesus asked them, ‘When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’ ‘Nothing,’ they answered. He said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: “And he was numbered with the transgressors”; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment.’ The disciples said, ‘See, Lord, here are two swords.’ ‘That is enough,’ he replied.”
This is a relevant passage of Scripture to millions of Christians in the world today, in northern Nigeria, in Kenya on the Somalia border, in Syria, in Egypt, in Pakistan and in parts of India, but for us in the United Kingdom too. It has vital instruction for Christians whose lives are being threatened. This month there have been churches like our own, but in the north of Nigeria, and they have been worshipping God on the Lord’s Day, praying, breaking bread and hearing Scripture preached. Then there’s the sound of approaching cars; they are braking; there’s the squeal of tyres, the shouts of men, and then the sound of rifles and hand grenades, Christians are being shot down as they try to escape from the building. What do the followers of Jesus Christ do when they are being threatened and killed like that?
It is not a theoretic question for them. It is not a student debate. There are young white missionaries who have gone out to teach pastors in various Bible schools how they should lead their congregations. What should they do when Christians are being shot and bombed by evil men? Do they defend themselves? Do they defend the children and the women? Do they employ armed guards? Do the deacons on duty carry weapons? This is not a matter of academic debate to them today in July 2012.
Our Lord Jesus has established the Lord’s Supper and then he had gone on to talk of many things to his disciples, both as a group and to an individual like Peter. He is still in the Upper Room and now he turns again to them all and he refers back to a time when they first went out evangelizing. “I told you clearly that you were not to take with you a purse or a bag or a spare pair of sandals, didn’t I?” (v.35). Yes, they remembered that well. By that means he was teaching them the first lessons of God providing all their needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. “Well, how did it go?” he asked them. “Did you starve? Did your shoes wear out? Did you have to beg?” “We lacked nothing,” they said. “All our needs were met. Provision was made us. The Lord is our shepherd and so we were not in want.” He had sent them only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. There was an earlier grace in this land because these disciples were going out to the children of Abraham who had the Scriptures, and the covenants, and the means of grace of forgiveness through sacrifice. They had the ten commandments, and they knew they should love their neighbours as themselves, and do good – as much as it lay in them – to all men, to feed the hungry and care for the orphan and the widow, and clothe the naked. Jesus sent them to the people whose background had been formed and molded by this morality. The disciples cast themselves on God to provide for them through his Old Testament people and they told Jesus that their experience was this, “We lacked nothing.”
Now there is going to be a change. He is going to send them far from the Old Testament people of God. Amongst his last words to them will be these, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Those lands had been in the kingdom of darkness for centuries. There they were to witness and plant congregations of believers. How were they to live there? Were they to give up carrying purses and bags there? Were they to reject all private property there, not even own another pair of shoes? Were they to take vows of poverty and stand at the side of the street with begging bowls and wait for people to give them food each day? Is that how the real first-class super-Christians are to behave, according to the command Jesus gave them right at the beginning of following him, when they were baby Christians? Was Lydia in Greece to stop trading in purple dyes and materials and beg? Was the Philippian jailor to hand in his notice and beg? Were the Christian centurions and fishermen and doctors like Luke all become beggars? Is that what Jesus is referring to when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit?”
He was not telling them that. He is showing them that there was progress and adaptability from the old covenant to the new. “But now . . .” he says. There is not only progress in the history of redemption from Old Testament to New, but within the New Testament itself, from Jesus being on earth in humility to the time he is exalted, from the time of the apostles laying a foundation and the provision of preachers, elders and deacons as explained in the pastoral epistles. These men would be teaching what they had received from the apostles. So these apostles would leave the Promised Land and they would be going to work in a dark alien world. God would be still providing their needs, “but now . . .” it would be through their hard work and investment that their needs would be met. They were not to bury their talents but go to work with them and double them. And each week, as the Lord had blessed them, they were to put money in the offering boxes in churches to support those few men whose full time vocation was to preach the gospel, and for those poor people in the church who for Christ’s sake had been thrown out of their homes, or who were desperately ill.
So this was now to be their futures: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (v.36). So three things; they were to take a purse to carry their money. It was their money they had earned to dispense wisely; it was not the church’s. They were not to take vows of poverty and expect others to give to them to keep them alive. Then secondly, they were to take a bag to hold their possessions. Jesus gave them the right of private possessions, property, land for farming, fishing nets and boats, a career in a secular vocation. And thirdly, they were to take something that would defend them from attack: “if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Carry a knife.” He is talking of a military weapon of attack and defence, a sword. Everyone had a sword somewhere in the house. You or your servants carried it with you. It fended off rabid dogs or jackals or felons. And he impressed on them the importance of bearing one, that if they didn’t have one then they ought to get one – “sell your shirt and buy a sword,” Jesus says. The disciples quickly checked whether they had any such weapons among them in the Upper Room and they discovered that between the twelve of them they carried two. Jesus does not frown and “tut tut” the bearing of arms. “Fine. That’s enough,” he said. He gave his approval. Two swords ought to be enough to defend the twelve of them from attack from dogs and thieves. There was no need for all of them to carry weapons. Two swords were sufficient. If there had been one man carrying a defensive weapon in that cinema in the USA last week or on that Scandinavian island a year ago then far fewer people would have been killed and wounded.
So what is our equivalent to a sword? It would be far more modest, a neighbourhood watch sign, lights left on when we go to the evening service in the winter, locks on the doors, maybe a bar on a downstairs window, a burglar alarm box, guard dogs, buying a mobile phone for your daughters and sons. Jesus does not say to them, “Forget about defending yourselves. God will defend you. God will give you your food. Just trust in God.” He does not say that. Trust in God, yes, but also take wise precautions. There are parts of a city that are not safe after dark. Have a friend with you on the way home. Get a taxi home. Call your father to pick you up. That is how I would take this reference to Jesus commending swords of defence and apply them to us today.
WHEN MAY CHRISTIANS BEAR ARMS AND FIGHT?
When may Christians enlist in the army, or agree to the powers that be conscripting them to fight? I oppose conscription. I think it is a fearful power for Caesar to take on himself, making young men fight and kill, punishing them with prison if they refuse. But when may Christians choose to become soldiers and fight for their country? Christians have debated this for years and they have come to certain conclusions. They have said something like this, that Christians may bear the sword when a war has been formally declared by the state (in other words they do not go off by themselves to kill and create mayhem in another country); they may enlist and fight when war is the very last resort (everything has been done to work for a peaceful settlement); they may fight when the cause you are fighting for is transparently just, (when the fighting is planned with the right intention of achieving the ending of genocide and bringing liberty to an enslaved land); you may fight when there are proportionate means (you don’t carpet bomb a little Caribbean island or a city state and annihilate the whole nation; you may fight when non-combatants like the elderly, and women and children are spared, and finally you may enlist and fight when there is reasonable expectation of victory. Those are the sorts of arguments that Christians have used to measure whether they believe they can fight or not. Let me summarize this under three headings. We are asking the question when may Christians bear the sword?
i] When the cause is righteous. In other words when it is defensive, not aggressive. Its objectives are to secure justice and liberty and remedy injustice and protect the innocent. For example if millions of people of one nation, say the Jews, are being loaded onto cattle trucks and sent off to the gas chambers to be killed and burned to death then nations may intervene and fight to protect them. Such a declaration of war must be taken as the last resort only, after all attempts at negotiation and appeasement have been exhausted. There is a debate in parliament, and the country officially decides on a declaration of war. Then the intervention itself is to be as righteous as the cause for which you are fighting. A just cause is not served by unjust motives. There must be no howls for bloodthirsty revenge; no racist hatred and no animosity. So the cause must be a righteous if the Christian is to bear the sword.
ii] The means of fighting this war must be controlled. I am referring to the wickedness of wanton violence, blowing up passenger planes, of enlisting boy soldiers to kill, suicide bombing, flying planes into skyscrapers, amputating the hands of prisoners, bombing churches and congregations, and residential areas, rape as a weapon of war, and so on. The violence of the war must be less than the violence it is remedying. It is directed at enemy military not civilians. Of course it is impossible to preserve the lives of all civilians during a war, but that’s your aim as followers of Christ. The wife and children of a man in prison also suffer because he is there – though they are wholly innocent of the crime. We are in solidarity with our nations in times of war. We are in solidarity with your families in times of disgrace.
iii] The outcome is predictable. It is victory. Jesus talks of a king counting the cost before he declares war. It would be the suicide of an army of 500 young men for their king and leader to declare war on the Roman Empire. You do not do it. You accept the bondage and slavery and taxes of being under the power of Rome. There must be a calculated prospect of victory.
So those are the three tests of whether a Christian may take part in international police action. There must be a righteous cause; there must be morally controlled means, and a reasonable expectation of victory.
A CHRISTIAN IS NOT TO TAKE REVENGE INTO HIS OWN HANDS.
I have said that a Christian may join the police or the army, but a Christian is not to retaliate himself. There are two things here. First that God has given the powers that be authority to exercise the exercise the sword. Jesus is preparing us for that. Let’s turn to Romans 13 and read what the apostle says about this: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience” (Roms. 13:1-5).
So the police have the right to arrest and bring to trial people suspected of being criminals. So if we have been robbed and our mobile phone or jewellery or credit cards or car is stolen from us – if we have been mugged and beaten up – then we have the choice to report it to the police and bear witness as to what has happened. Then the police and magistrates take action. We do not phone around our friends and raise a lynch mob to sort the felon out. We utterly oppose vigilante groups. Again, if we come home and a criminal is in our house and the lives of our family are in danger we are totally justified as Christians in using all reasonable force in defending them and we send for the police.
Once they are arrested then you have no right at all to harm them. Once you capture enemy troops in battle you have no right to hurt them. In both cases the relationship has changed. The man in your house is threatening your family and you use what Jesus refers to as a ‘sword’ – some rolling pin – to disarm and overpower him. Then you are in a different position. You have moved from Romans 13 back to Romans 12; “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21). Now the man is your prisoner. Is he injured – then bind up his wounds. Is he hungry and cold? Then feed him and clothe him. You do not take revenge. That is God’s vocation and he does so through the powers that be, through the police. I remember hearing John Murray talking of his time in the First World War and how they were shooting at the enemy, and then the enemy surrendered and how those men were in an utterly different relationship to them and they sought to minister to them.
So Jesus is preparing these disciples for the future when they would be on the road with their families and attacked and they should defend themselves. The wagon trains going west through deserts and Indian territory with outlaws around, took armed men to guard them. Of course we tell our grandchildren in London, two of whom have been waylaid by young criminals and had their phones stolen from them, “Don’t resist. They may be carrying knives. Let them have your phone. We will buy you another phone. Your life is more important than a phone.” But then when they are presented with an album of photos of young criminals and they spot the one who hit them and took their phone they are to answer the police truthfully. “He was the one!” They are to bear witness in court against them. In one such case in London a grandson was spared appearing in court as the young criminal pleaded guilty.
So Jesus tells them to get a sword. Use every legitimate means of defence, and from that word, but more especially from teaching elsewhere in the Bible, I have come to the conclusions that it is acceptable for Christians to be in the police and the armed services, that it is acceptable for a Christian to use a weapon to defend himself, his wife and children from murder and rape, and that it is acceptable to report such criminals to the police. What is not acceptable is undue force, cruelty, lawless revenge and such conduct.
You say that this is a very fine line, and it is not easy when Christians are being provoked by shootings and bombings for them not to retaliate and use the sword unlawfully and sinfully. You are absolutely right. It is not easy. You can understand Christians in northern Nigeria to be outraged at the bombing of churches and congregations and for them to take the law into their own hands and burn down mosques and Islamic owned businesses. We lose our testimony when we act like that. It does not help the kingdom of God. You have to overcome evil with good. You have to encourage the police to respond not you. Jesus said that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword. The apostle reminds us that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal weapons; they are spiritual weapons. The armour in which we clothe ourselves is spiritual armour; the sword the church uses is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. We do not, we dare not, as churches wage a so-called holy war to spread the gospel. Let Islam show its absence of any power from God by using not only preachers but policemen and the knock on the door in the middle of the night, and prison and weapons of war to spread its propaganda. We saw a former Moslem woman and we heard her give her testimony and saw her being baptized a couple of months. I have to sadly tell you that her parents were arrested on Wednesday because the authorities discovered that they were the mother and father of a woman who has become a Christian. Islam uses the power of the sword and it will perish by the same power. We dare not use the sword to spread the message of Jesus Christ. We deplore the churches who centuries ago were engaged in launching crusades and fighting so called ‘holy wars.’ Fortunately our dear friend’s parents have since been released from prison.
But what of Jesus telling them to buy a sword. What follows is a case of the danger of abusing the words of Jesus in the New Testament. You take a word, a sentence, and you use it to defy the spirit of Christ and other clear teachings of Christ. The disciples tell him that they have two swords and he says, “That’s enough.” As it were, “Don’t gather together an army ” – as he could have on many occasions. Within an hour or so Jesus is arrested. A mob comes to him, and then see what happens, “When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord should we strike with our swords?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear” (Lk. 22:49&50). Jesus had told them to get a sword, not for ornamental purposes but as a weapon of defence, and so now shouldn’t they defend themselves? Hadn’t Christ given them authority to do so? So Peter takes out his sword and swings it at Malcus to cut his head open and kill him. He thought he was doing just what Jesus had taught him. Aren’t we just like that? We are zealous and baby Christians and we find a verse to justify our temper and anger and violent spirits. We act in an utterly immature way so that others are hurt and we say ‘But Jesus said . . .” We hide behind Jesus, and we use Jesus to defend our own retaliation. Is Jesus taking out a sword? No. Could the One who spoke to the winds and waves and they obeyed him not cast all these men to the ground? The One who walked through the men from the Nazareth synagogue who wanted to thrown him off a cliff could have walked through their midst. He is allowing himself to be arrested. Let Peter keep looking at Jesus not looking at the enemy or at his sword. One you do that you are a defeated man. Jesus has to rebuke Peter, “No more of this!” and he touches Malcus’ ear and he heals him. A Christian is not to take revenge into his own hands. What did Peter fail to hear from Jesus?
OUR LORD HAD TO BE NUMBERED WITH THE TRANSGRESSORS.
Immediately after telling them to buy a sword Jesus, without a pause, says this to them, “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment” (vv.36&37). The Messiah is now preaching to them from the famous 53rd chapter of Isaiah which you know is the fullest prophecy in all the Old Testament about the Messiah. He is making the closest identity with the servant of Isaiah 53. He makes the connection transparently clear, saying “I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me” (v.37). “It must,” he says! It “is written about me” he claims, and so it cannot be avoided. Jesus has to go to Jerusalem and must suffer and die. A crossless Christ would mean no more than a Christless cross. Isaiah was speaking only of Jesus’ suffering, he says, and that event – soon to take place – was the most important event in the lives of these apostles. Whatever was to happen in their futures the single most important occurrence was not to be any attacks on them, their dealings with muggers and burglars and persecutors and so on. Those things would not be in the same league as this fact that Jesus would be taken from them soon and treated as a criminal. The death of Christ is in fact the centre of the world’s history. His coming from heaven to earth and then his death and resurrection are the pivots around which all the events of the ages revolve. That little hill in that little land is the centre of all history, not only of this world’s history but that of the whole cosmos, and every Sunday my calling is to take you back to the green hill far away outside the city wall where Jesus died. The cross is the key. If I lose this key I fumble. The universe will not open to me, heaven will not open to me, and suffering will have little meaning unless I understand God the Son must suffer the cross and despise its shame for the glory that lay before him. Jesus is telling his disciples that that event prophesied by Isaiah was now reaching its fulfillment as the disciples and their Master left the Upper Room.
This lovely personality who went about doing good would soon be arrested as a criminal, and whipped as a criminal, and put in prison as a criminal, and tried as a criminal, and condemned to death as a criminal, and bear the placard above his head announcing that he was a criminal, and crucified as a criminal, and mocked as a criminal, and killed as the very worst of criminals. The accusations and sufferings and dying of this alleged transgressor Jesus of Nazareth were the most momentous events in the future of these disciples. Not having to defend themselves with a sword, or getting the powers that be to defend them, emotional and unforgettable as such events might be. No. Such things would be as nothing whatsoever compared to this, that the Lord Jesus, holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners, the incarnate God, the promised Messiah, had come into the world to deal with the greatest of all problems, that of human sin. He must go to the cross and be numbered amongst criminals. God’s love for us must result in his being there. Christ dealt with it by keeping all the law of God utterly righteously, and he dealt with it by taking to himself the condemnation of the broken law – as if he had trampled on the law of God and was justly suffering its penalty. But he was wholly innocent. Then why did he get numbered with the criminals especially as he had the power to escape, to turn them to pillars of salt, to take away their lives? He was doing this out of love for us transgressors. He was taking responsibility for our crimes against the law of God. He was standing in our place. He was bearing our guilt and blame. He was being punished instead of us. God was making him a criminal for us and God was making his righteousness ours. How far men will go in their sin, to nail God the Son to a cross until he’s dead! How far will God go for man’s salvation not to spare his Son from such a death so that sinners like us can be spared!
God is light and in him is no darkness at all. God bears a sword of judgment. He gives to his servants the civil authorities, the magistrates and the judges and the powers that be – all the law enforcement agencies – the power of the sword, in other words, they have the right to take away our liberty and punish transgressors. But God also tells us that this is a world under scrutiny, and that we are remarkable creatures, made in the image of God, and that we all have to answer to God for what we have done with the million privileges God gives us in our lifetime. God will judge sinners. God will condemn sinners who refuse to bow to him and do his will, those who refuse to turn from their sin and unbelief and will not trust in him.
But the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, tells us that he has willingly taken the sword of judgment to himself for all who ask him for mercy. We all deserve condemnation, but Jesus has taken its stroke of judgment. He takes what we deserve and he gives us what he deserves. What a marvelous transaction. The stroke of judgment fell on Jesus, but never was sin so efficiently condemned as when God’s sword fell on God’s Son. He humbled himself to that accursed death. There were no lower depths possible. The cross declares the whole curse of God on sin. Here is humiliation, that the one before whom the angels hide their eyes and cry “Holy, holy, holy,” is punished as a criminal. Here, I say, is humiliation, inimitable, unrepeated and unrepeatable. The cross is the most revolutionary event ever to appear among men. That cross means nothing apart from the broken law of God. In the cross sin is condemned and dealt with. In the cross mercy is triumphant and available to the worst of transgressors. Take away the cross from our lives and all we have are dark days of guilt and shame.
“Was it from crimes that I had done he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown and love beyond degree.” (Isaac Watts)
We live in a world where we treasure justice where we groan at all the injustice that surrounds us, the horrible crimes that men commit and they get away with them scot free, murder, violence, rape, theft on a huge scale, torture, war-crimes, prison camps. “Will one per cent of these fiendish men be brought to justice?” we sigh. “Yes,” God says. “I do not bear the sword of judgment in vain.” Then who will abide the day of his coming and who will stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire. All must face the sword of judgment of the Ancient of Days.
Then is there hope? Yes in the one who freely bore that judgment. The law gives menaces; the cross gives pardon. Here is the divine plan announced by God in the Old Testament, especially in Isaiah 53, that God sent not his Son in the world with a sword to condemn the world, but that the world through Christ might be saved. The sword was for the condemnation of sinners. The cross work of Jesus was for the saving of sinners as he bore that condemnation in his own body on the tree. Jehovah lifted up his sword, O Christ it fell on Thee! This is what a holy God has done for sinful man.
When I speak of the right of man to bear the sword of justice then I have no need to stammer, or stutter, or apologize, and when I speak of Jesus bearing the stroke of the divine sword of justice in our place there is nothing in those words that I have any cause to be ashamed of. Here is love vast as the ocean that we live under the condemnation of a holy God, but in his love he has provided a substitute and a sacrifice who bore that judgment in my place that I may know full pardon. Do you know this? Have you taken this into your life? Are all your hopes this day of mercy from God through the one work Jesus did when he died as the Lamb of God and took away your sin? Pray that God will help you to believe it, that he will give you a new heart that can say these simple words;
He died that we might be forgiven He died to make us good
That we might go at last to heaven Saved by his precious blood.
29th July 2012 GEOFF THOMAS