Jesus was walking with the disciples between the Lord’s Supper and the Mount of Olives in his final moments when he said this:
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 fulfillment.”
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.
(Luke 22: 35 – 38)
That means the disciples were armed at the Lord’s supper. We could put that down to the fact that they lived in a “sword culture” if not for Jesus’ command. Yes, I said command.
Jesus’ priorities were clear: swords before comfort. They weren’t merely to tolerate the nuts with swords but were to sell something they really needed to go out and buy swords. The problem wasn’t that there were two swords at the Lord’s Supper table; the problem was that there weren’t twelve swords.
But . . .
Jesus did not lay out battle plans and issued no order to attack. So, what were the swords for?
Later that night an armed crowd carrying torches noisily marched up the mountain . . .
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.
But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”
(Luke 22:49 – 53)
As you can see, the disciples were confused. And so are we.
In The Right Hands
Christians see this time as the central moment of history, something God has planned since the beginning of time. It is a sweeping and dramatic story of God’s redemption. So, why would Jesus talk of swords?
It is clear from this story that Jesus was not arming an army and Jesus, himself, did not want to be defended. Because God has no need of defenders.
Given that Jesus said they were to take money and luggage and buy a sword, it seems clear that the point was to defend the disciples against the coming evil. They were to be prepared to defend themselves.
Jesus was not worried about swords.
Because a sword in the hand of a righteous defender is not a problem at all. It is no more dangerous than a kitchen knife in the hands of a chef or a pitchfork in the hands of a farmer. No evil will come of it.
On the other hand, God had determined that the hour for Jesus’ sacrifice had come. The salvation of the world was more important than a small skirmish on Olive Mountain. Jesus didn’t wish for one of his accusers to die, nor one of his disciples. He was offering himself as a sacrifice for all.
Jesus was on the side of life, whether that meant offering himself in the place of others or defending believers with swords.
On May 4th, 1970, my fifteenth birthday, a protest against the Vietnam War went horribly wrong in Kent, Ohio. National Guard soldiers shot into a crowd of unarmed students killing four. The nation was shocked, outraged and on edge. Eleven days later the shock came to my school.
Just after midnight that morning, forty white city policemen and state highway patrolmen had opened fire with pistols and shotguns on a crowd of black protestors in front of Jackson State University, a school I would later attend. Two students were killed and twelve were injured.
For one young black man, it was too much.
Looking for vengeance, he took the interstate south, got off at the first suburban-looking exit and turned into the first school he found – Whitten Jr. High School, where I was in class. He walked up the long sidewalk with a gun and was seen.
Principal James Bennett, a man I knew well, a deacon in my church, told his staff to lock down the school and call the police as he stepped out onto the sidewalk unarmed. Mr. Bennett offered to pray with him and convinced him that he didn’t want to ruin his life like this. The young man finally turned and ran.
This news spread like wildfire through the school. Announcements were made about the lockdown. Parents were called. Police were on the scene. No one knew if we were safe yet because no one knew we were in danger in the first place. The world seemed upside down. At home that night the stories were told and the emotions churned. We expected the worst. It’s burned into my memory. But we survived.
Mr. Bennett was a hero but he was also fortunate. The young man’s anger was only fueled by outrage and a desire for vengeance. Coach Aaron Feis was not so lucky.
At Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Coach Feis faced a determined man with psychological issues and a practiced plan to kill as many people as possible.
Coach Feis was a defender. He ran toward the sound of gunfire and only had time to throw himself in front of some students before he was killed. The details you know. He was a hero but no less valuable than any of the victims.
There were other stories of people who naturally jumped to defend and protect their fellow students, placing themselves in harm’s way. There were more who courageously chose not to freeze but to do exactly the right thing and rescue themselves. All are survivors. All deserve praise.
We Let Them Down
Let’s be clear about this. They are the children and we are the adults. It was our responsibility to protect them. Ours.
Instead, we, as a country chose to feel good. We chose to believe that evil was a relative concept. That no one was really evil, just misunderstood. We chose to believe that we know better than the examples from history. If we had been there, things would have been different.
But mostly we were terrified by an unspeakable truth – that evil walks among us. That it is us. That we have the capacity.
And so we blamed a thing. The thing was the ring of power. Destroy the thing and it’s over. Beat the swords into plowshares.
But the problem is not the sword. Or the gun. The problem is the inventor. The knowledge cannot be unknown. The motives cannot be un-thought. Destroy them all and they will reappear. For they are in our hearts.
Until we find a power beyond our own to change all hearts, the problem remains. We must live in a world with swords and those willing to wield them. We must either fall victim or stand to meet them. And we must meet them well.
Sword Meets Sword
While God loves his children and wants life rather than death, He treats murderers differently than those who defend life with force. The defender takes a life, which is bad, in order to save the defenseless, which is good.
The aggressor is termed a murderer, which is the exact Hebrew word used in the sixth commandment, as opposed to “kill” which is often mistakenly applied. (A mistake of King James’ translators.)
The murderer is not simply taking a life, he is assuming the place of God and ending a life which he didn’t create. The murderer has made the defender necessary. Otherwise, peace and life would continue.
Defenders Are Not Murderers
You cannot disarm the defenders because of a murderer any more than you can jail the farmers because of hunger. You cannot refuse to defend the helpless because you feel disgusted by violence.
The reason the Ten Commandments exist is because we have the ability to break them. No law can stop the one determined to break the law. There must be personal consequences to breaking the law otherwise it is useless. They would simply be The Ten Ideas. All law has consequences for breaking that law built in.
While God wants none of his children to die prematurely, the math is simple here. Shooting the murderer leaves fewer casualties. Blunt but true. Gun must meet gun in order to defend the helpless and protect the innocent. Limiting styles and capacities of guns only means the defenders will die while reloading. I wish it were not so.
But this is the hour when darkness reigns. And swords are necessary.
But far worse than leaving the hands of the defenders empty is the crime of rounding up our most precious possessions by force of law and then advertising their helplessness. We put up signs! We are staking out the lambs and pretending there are no lions.
We do not even need to go to history to clearly demonstrate that lions abound!
Do not get lost in the statistics and the explanations and the political rhetoric and the philosophy and the bureaucratic smoke. You do not need to talk to your pastor or therapist or listen to actors or read more authors or applaud more musicians. You do not need to consult social media or take a poll or sign a petition or get a doctorate or hold a town meeting or listen to experts or tune into the news. One fact is un-alterably, unavoidably, irrefutably clear beyond any question.
Man is the most dangerous creature in the universe!
That is all you need to know to make a decision. May we never leave the children defenseless again.