Descending Darkness

Is there any moment when God is in danger of being defeated? Did you experience an almost visceral cry of “NO! Of course not!” here? We believe God is in control, don’t we? We believe that no matter how bad things may look, God is sovereign. The battle between good and evil is not a close call. It may be a close thing in the hearts of individuals, but in the grand stage of history it is already decided. God wins! But here is our dilemma: there are moments when the darkness seems to be bulging over with dark power; billowing with baneful purpose; disrupting the good. And this is on the stage of history. The evil of Naziism raged and many a Christian turned a blind eye. Evil swelled its ranks and tried to snuff out an entire people. And since Hitler. We have seen Apartheid crumble. But it enjoyed years of unquestioned authority. Racism still runs rampant. Darkness swirls. And what if the darkness is sometimes allowed to swell so that we can see clearly the difference?

Luke 22:47-53 is about descending darkness. But it is also about the submission of Jesus to the will of God. No matter how dark that plan appeared. While he was still speaking to the disciples about not being overwhelmed by trials, trials burst on the scene. A crowd led by Judas, one of the twelve approached Jesus to kiss him. Judas drew near to betray; to deliver up. And that with a greeting; a welcome; a symbol of familial belonging. The deepness of betrayal is being emphasized here. You can almost hear Jesus’ sigh of pain when he asked his disciple, “Are you handing over the Son of Man with a kiss?” In Luke 15:1 we are told that all of the tax collectors and sinners drew near to Jesus. They drew near because he welcomed him; because he gave them a sense of familial belonging. Judas drew near to make a mockery of familial belonging; to weaponize it.

The other disciples ask, “Shall we strike with the sword?” One of them (John tells us it was Peter) doesn’t even attempt to wait for an answer. This disciple swung his sword and a servant of the priest (John tells us that his name was Malchus) lost his right ear. Some want to argue about the feasibility of this; can you swing a sword and merely cut of an ear? Wouldn’t it cut into his shoulder as well? Some argue that Peter was extremely skilled. Others argue that he was extremely inept. Does it matter? In the heat of the moment, all manner of things can and do happen; things that seem to defy logic. We may debate about the meaning of Jesus’ words about carrying a sword, but we know that this is not what he had in mind. It was incredibly courageous. It demonstrates that Peter was indeed ready to die for Jesus. If Jesus hadn’t of stepped in, he probably would have. But this is not what Jesus meant. There would be no going to battle against the religious elite; no waring with the Roman Empire. This was not an acknowledgment of the approaching danger; it was a foolhardy embracing of destruction; and for the wrong reason.

Jesus’ words are vague and difficult to understand. He literally said, “You (plural) let him/it be until this.” There are, of course many suggestions. It seems likely that he is telling his disciples to allow this to happen. As bad as it looks, as much as they are failing to understand, this is God’s plan. Let these things take place. Don’t fight against this particular rising up of darkness because it is all part of the will of God. And that’s a hard one. Then Jesus touches the servant and heals his ear. Luke is the only one who tells us this. Out of the sixteen times the word “heal” is used in the Gospels it is used eleven times in Luke. Even in the midst of darkness Jesus is the Great Physician; the healer. Even when that person has shown up as part of the crowd to arrest him.

Then Jesus turns his attention to the religious leaders. Even though this is God’s will, he will not avoid the opportunity to point out their hypocrisy. They have come to arrest him as if he were a robber. This is Jesus being numbered as a transgressor (verse 37). The ironic thing is that he was in the temple daily. Why didn’t they arrest him there when it would have been so easy? They want to arrest him like a common robber, but they are the ones sneaking around in the dark.

On this stage they are playing the part of the villain; the tools of Satan. So, this moment of darkness belongs to them. They may think that it is power, but it is defeat. For a moment the darkness will swell, seemingly engulfing and taking over. Don’t despair. God’s got this. He is in charge. No matter how much the shadows swirl in inky blackness. He is the writer and director of the play. Trust in him. Peace.