How NOT to Win People to Jesus

MalchusWhen 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. Luke 22

“One by one, these disciples would infect the nations with grace. It wasn’t a call to take the sword or the throne and force the world to bow. Rather, they were to live the contagious love of God, to woo the nations into a new future.” Shane Claiborne

Most pre-Christians think Jesus is all right, but his Church, not so much. Go figure! Could their antipathy have anything to do with how we (Incoming pun!) cut off communication with the world? You have to admit that after what Peter did, Malchus couldn’t very well “hear” the good news, at least not from him!

Some of the stories in the Bible were included to show us how not to do things. Abraham’s lies, Moses’ temper tantrums, David’s adultery, and Peter’s sword slinging for instance. Everyone makes mistakes, kings and apostles included.

They asked the right question, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” But, as was Peter’s modus operandi, he didn’t wait around for an answer. Something had to be done! Jesus obviously needed his help and he was there to give it! This wasn’t the first, the last, or even the worst of Peter’s impetuous fiascos, but you gotta admit it was one of his most theatrical. I mean, in any court of law he’d be tried for assault with a deadly weapon minimum if not attempted murder! Not good press for an apostle.

You’ll probably agree that it’s a bit too much of a stretch to claim that the irony is intentional – the severing of an ear and cutting off communication! Nevertheless, it was Jesus who said, “He that has an ear, let him hear!” Suffice it say that it’s not a good outreach strategy that leaves people bleeding out of the side of their head where an ear used to be.

Granted, Jesus fixed what Peter broke and later the Spirit came and straightened the apostle out on how not to connect people to friendship with God. Malchus got his ear back and eventually Peter got over himself, but until then he was God’s poster boy for how Christians shouldn’t act out in the world, or any other place for that matter. Along with a glut of other spiritual lessons, this particular debacle of Peter’s illuminates how not to influence people toward Jesus.

What usually takes center stage when this story is told is Jesus’ ear-replacing wonder, and rightly so. It was definitely unique among his healings, his last before his death. But for my money it’s too bad that he had to waste it on fixing one of his general’s debacles.

It’s easy for us who know how it all turned out to say, “All’s well that ends well. Jesus got to show off his stuff, Malchus got his ear back, and Peter most likely never swung a sword at anyone’s head again!” Nevertheless, to my mind, an awful movie with a happy ending is still an awful movie. Peter doesn’t get a pass for assaulting an unarmed man just because it ended well. The end definitely didn’t justify Peter’s means.

Malchus was healed, but I can’t imagine that he ever got over the memory of having his ear lopped off. It had to hurt – and bleed – a lot! As cool as it was to get his ear back, and even if it was installed with its original auditory capability, I don’t see him volunteering for any future open-air amputations! Jesus gave him his ear back but I doubt he gave him amnesia to go along with it. Surely, from that day on he cringed every time he saw sword-slinging Peter in the grocery store!

Of course, we all blow it sometimes and act more like witnesses for the prosecution than for the defense. Nobody’s a perfect witness for Christ. One of my recurring prayers is, “May my mistakes be small and seldom.” And then, whether small or seldom, I pray, “Lord, heal those I’ve hurt and win those I’ve wounded.”

You might say that Jesus’ miracle compensated for Peter’s meltdown but we shouldn’t presume that’s God’s MO in every case. He’s pretty busy as it is without having to mop up our messes. We’re supposed to be signposts that point people toward Jesus not stumbling blocks that trip them up on their way to him.

I can imagine Peter feeling pretty proud of himself while James and John high-fived him for his daring. Their terror momentarily subsided but Jesus wasn’t impressed with his Zorro impression. I suspect that we reserve most of our bluster for when other Christians are listening and that a lot of our “witnessing” is little more than showing off for our friends.

Like Peter, we’ve reversed Jesus’ formula from going out as “lambs among wolves” to “wolves among lambs.” Our testimony sounds more like mudslinging stump speeches than invitations to friendship. It doesn’t win anyone to Jesus but it does give us a commanding appearance.

If we’re wounding more people than we’re winning we’ll have to find a better way!


Next time:  How JESUS Wins People…

7 Replies to “How NOT to Win People to Jesus”

  1. Oh, how true this is. When we’re told we’re not Christians unless we attend church, or we’re not Christians unless …, all we hear are accusations, not love.
    When those who are not Christians are told they are sinners because… all they hear are accusations, not love.
    Accusations are stumbling blocks to the heart of God.


  2. Barney, a very poignant reminder to us all. Sometimes we do things that lop off the ear of those we are speaking to. Before reading this i was reading some comments from people on both sides of the PP videos and the abortion discussion. Unfortunately, those speaking as pro-lifers were showing as little respect as the pro-abortioners. It struck me. The people they are chatting with were once babies in a womb waiting to be born and we are showing them less respect then if they were in the womb.


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