I’m almost afraid to ask this question – and you don’t have to raise your hand — but how many of you had some water leaks in your house during this past weekend’s winter thaw? I hope none of you did, but I assume some of you may remember that kind of agony from a previous time. That is not a fun thing to have to deal with, to say the least. But how you deal with things like that might depend on how you feel about taking things into your own hands. Sometimes we don’t know how we can possibly take things into our own hands, because we don’t know how these hands can possibly solve the problem. Some of us might say, “I don’t have the foggiest idea of how to take care of a leaky roof,” so we can either become paralyzed and do nothing, or we can become energized and call someone else who does that kind of thing for a living. Others of us, however, might say, “I don’t need any help from anybody else. I can take this into my own hands and do it myself and save a lot of money,” which will either result in actually saving a lot of money, or in having to spend even more money to fix what we were trying to fix, because we had a misguided zeal in regard to what we thought our hands could do. It’s just one of those things in life that can tend to repeat itself time after time, right?
Tonight we will see from the account of Jesus in the olive grove how the apostle Peter used his hands in a misguided way, even if he had a noble desire and an honest zeal to serve his Lord — and we will also see how our Lord Jesus instead guided Peter’s hands – and, through him, all of our hands — in a wonderful way, as we think about how true it is that “It’s Best to Be in Our Savior’s Hands.”
Our Lesson is from John 18:4-11:
4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” 5“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
7Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8“I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” 10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” The Word of the Lord.
In the simplest way, what was so misguided about Peter taking things into his own hands, when it came to drawing that sword? … Jesus does not need our help. And when we think our Lord Jesus does need our help, we do things that he most often needs to un-do, just like Jesus did a little later when he took things into his own hands and healed that high priest’s servant named Malchus, who shouldn’t have been attacked like this in the first place.
When you think about it, it really doesn’t make any sense to think Jesus needs our help, does it? After all, the opening verse reminds us that he knows everything, when it tells us that Jesus “knew all that was going to happen to him,” and then verse 6 shows his power and glory to do anything, when, after asking these soldiers whom they were seeking, they said, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and he said, “I am he,” those very words caused those soldiers to fall on their backs, so misguided were their thoughts that their puny little hands could take into custody the all-knowing, almighty Son of God.
And that first of all is an honest warning for you and me, too. In fact, the warning goes right back to the most basic spiritual thought of all. Why did Jesus even have to be in that olive grove in the first place? The point is he didn’t have to be there. We needed to be there. We needed to be the ones searched for not by an armed detachment of soldiers, but by the holy Lord of the heavenly hosts. There can be such a danger on our part to minimize our part or to excuse our part in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, but all we can say is “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Christ’s cross I cling,” when it comes to thinking there couldn’t possibly be the threat of eternal hell for a person like me. After all, these hands, we might think, have never done anything that bad. But they have done things bad like that, we must all say, just by being attached to a person like me, who has a heart that cannot possibly be clean enough to say my hands are clean enough to open the door that leads to heaven with God. One of the Psalms of the Bible says, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord, and who may stand in his holy place” — and then it goes on to say, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” That’s not something we can claim at all to have. It is misguided to think that Jesus being in the olive grove was more because of other people’s hands and other people’s hearts than it was because of mine.
But when we look into that olive grove, it also fills our hearts with a great comfort in addition to that warning, because the most important person there that night did take things into his own hands. The prophet Isaiah of old once said of the coming Savior, “He saw that there was no one… (who could) intervene, so his own arm worked salvation for him.” Jesus rolled up his sleeves in that olive grove, and even though he knew what was going to happen – and because he knew what was going to happen – he said, “I am the one you are looking for,” because he knew he was the one believers of every generation since the time sin came into the world had been looking for to remove the guilt of all they had done wrong by doing the only thing that could un-do what you and I had messed up by taking things in our own hands by the sinful things we so often do.
And more. Not only in that olive grove do we see his determination to do the work of saving us, but we also see his love in how he went about doing it. “If you are looking for me,” Jesus said to those soldiers, whose hands were filled with torches and lanterns and weapons, “then let these men go.” He did not want any of those disciples with him that night to fall into those enemy hands to suffer or die before it was their time to suffer or die, because he had work for them to do, after they would soon see the fulfillment of the work he had come to do.
And the fulfillment of that work did not need any misguided hands to help it come to a soul-saving solution. “Put your sword away, Peter! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” Holding in his own hand the cup of his heavenly Father’s holy anger over your sin and mine, Jesus in his love was willing to drink so deeply from that cup, that he ended up in the depths of death, with that death allowing the Lord God above to be perfectly satisfied not only with his Son, but perfectly satisfied with you and me, whose place his Son took, as you and I empty our hands of anything we might think is good or awesome about us and hold them out as beggars, pleading for mercy that for Jesus’ sake we know we most certainly have received.
And that’s why it’s good to be in our Savior’s hands. Misguided are any thoughts on our part, no matter how much we might truly pray that it be so, that, for example, we be spared from suffering or heartache or even death. We use our hands to pray for each other and to help each other in every circumstance of life, but when we are in our Savior’s hands, we are in the place where none of that suffering or heartache or even death will happen until – and unless — God wants it to, and none of it can take away from us the result of what happened when Jesus allowed the hands of those soldiers to take him out of that olive grove and into a governor’s court and onto a wooden cross and into an earthly tomb. Those same disciples just a few days later saw those same hands, with nail marks of death, yes, but, praise God, totally alive and well, holding bread and fish – and six weeks later raised in blessing as they led him back to his heavenly home, where Jesus now has the whole world in his hands, including you and me, people, in his hands, people like you and me who need those hands – and who have those hands – to lift us up every single day of our lives. Amen.