There’s an old joke about a church hosting a visiting pastor who was very passionate about his message and roved about the stage limited only by the reach of the long cord running from his lapel microphone back to the sound system. While waving his arms and shouting loudly, he came very near to the edge of the stage more than once as the microphone wire pulled taut. A little girl on the front row leaned over and asked her mother in a panicked whisper…
“What happens if he gets loose?”
There is something about the idea of not being able to control everything that makes us nervous.
We like control, don’t we?
Let’s go back to the time shortly before the crucifixion, in the Garden of Gethsemane and look at a control issue in the life of a biblical character that I relate to most easily: Peter.
Jesus had been praying, there in the darkness of the night, accompanied by his disciples. His distress had been so great that the capillaries under his skin likely ruptured and blood mingled with the sweat trickling down his face. He faced death on the Cross, but that was not the worst part of what lay ahead. He would endure something that he had never before experienced: temporary separation from his eternal fellowship within the Trinity as he bore the sins for all the world — past, present and future. This is why he cried out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?!” That was not a metaphoric statement.
It is against this backdrop that we arrive at John 18. The Temple guards and some soldiers arrived, torches blazing. And then Peter took action…
Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him (John 18:10-12).
(Luke tells us that Jesus healed the ear of Malchus. Another act of grace on his way to the Cross.)
Can I just insert a personal word here to give some insight? For a number of years, I was a part of a mixed martial arts/self-defense class that included weapons training.
I can tell you one thing for certain. In all the classes and seminars that I have taught and attended on knife fighting, never once has anyone said that you should aim for an ear. I have heard people claim, “Peter cut off his ear because he really did not want to hurt him badly, but to scare them off.” It is nighttime, the guy was a fisherman (not a ninja or a swordsman), and he was his usual rash and control-minded self.
In short, Peter was trying to kill him.
He was trying his version of a small-scale deliverance of the Deliver Himself. We try to handle things by our own power. He is in good company. Moses tried his own hand at deliverance as well.
One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian (Exodus 2:11-15).
Stephen spoke of this incident in a sermon in the book of Acts and gave us the motivation of Moses.
He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand (Acts 7:25).
Peter and Moses were trying to control the situation by force. That approach never ends well. Perhaps for a time you will meet with compliance, but eventually you outlive your control, or worse, the negative influence of your control outlives you.
A few years ago, on a cold fall afternoon, I went to a funeral. The woman who had passed away was a control addict. She wanted to control every aspect of her life and every facet of the lives of those around her. When the pastor asked if anyone wanted to share any good memories of her, there was nothing but the rustling of the dry leaves over the brown grass. Finally, one woman spoke up, “She always had dinner ready for her husband at a specific time.” Others nodded. Then silence again. I stood there and thought about how this person tried to control everything, and someone else had boxed up her remains.
After the funeral, the church provided a meal from a local restaurant for the family. As I walked into the reception area, I asked the eldest daughter if she needed anything. She quickly snapped at me and told me that they “had everything under control” then proceeded to tell the workers from the restaurant who had laid out the serving line and the tables how they had “done it all wrong” and then showed them how she wanted things to be arranged. Like mother, like daughter.
If you don’t break the cycle, it will break you and continue to break those around you as well.
We try to control things by force and usually someone loses an ear.
This was not the first time Peter “got in the way” with a plan of his own. If we back up in the narrative in the life of Jesus, we find another incident with Peter…
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:21-23).
When we are out of control with our need to be in control, we will demand that even God must line up with our expectations.
Jesus lays out the plan, but Peter has other ideas. “This shall never happen…” Notice that Jesus let Peter know that to stand in the way of God’s perfect plan was rooted in sin.
I shudder to think of the areas in my own life where Jesus might say, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”?
Again and again, Peter’s need for control surfaces. And like Peter, our desire for control leads us to meddle in God’s plans for others as well.
Jesus, after the Resurrection, talked with Peter about how he would die…
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:18-22).
Peter is meddling.
He has been told how he would die for the glory of God, and his very first response to to ask about God’s plans for John.
Now understand, there is a difference in meddling and accountability. There is a difference in being a shepherd and being a busybody. As a pastor, over the years, I have had to have hard conversations at times with people who have said, “This is none of your business.” But if it hurts the overall condition of the flock of God, yes, it is a concern to be addressed. I have had close friends whom I trust fully take me aside at times to talk about something they saw in me that needed to be seen clearly by me as well, and I am thankful for their frankness and love.
But, honestly, much of what we tend to get involved in is actually none of our business.
And have you ever noticed how often meddling in other people’s business is mentioned in the Bible?
For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies (2 Thess. 3:11).
Paul reminds the church that everybody is either busy at work or busy being a busybody, but you can’t do both. I say often: “If you are busy rowing the boat, you won’t have time to rock the boat.”
But that verse is not the only warning…
Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not (1 Tim. 5:13).
…Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you (1 Thess 4:11).
But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler (1 Pet. 4:15).
Do you see the company that Peter puts the meddler with? Murderers, thieves and evildoers. If you are to suffer, suffer for Christ, not for being a meddler.
Look back to the response of Christ to Peter on the seashore. Do you see what Jesus is saying? “Peter, it is none of your business how I want to work in someone else’s life. You do what I am telling you to do.”
You don’t get to determine the work of the Messiah in your own life or in anyone else’s.
We are afraid of what he might do.
I read a story recently about a little girl named Amanda who, upon beginning first grade, had received a Bible as a gift from her church. One member asked to look at it, and she replied, “Okay, but don’t open it.”
When asked the reason why, Amanda said, “You’ll let God out.”
Too many of us worry about what God might do if He “gets loose.” We try our best to keep Him “under control” so He isn’t “let out.” But we are mistaken. He’s still in control…always has been.
“He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Daniel 4:35b).
He does as He desires to accomplish His purpose, and never once has He asked for advice from anyone.
Where are you trying to handle things by your own power?
What expectations do you need to surrender to God’s perfect plan?
Where are you meddling in the business of God in someone else’s life?
Quit trying to rein in the work of Christ; open yourself to Him with a spirit of surrender and “let Him loose” in your life.