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Encouragement: to fight; to die; to live

Now while they were eating (Jerusalem, AD 30), Jesus having taken bread, having expressed thanks, having broken, and having given to the disciples, said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and, when he had given thanks, he gave to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this - being poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins - is my covenant blood. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Having sung hymns, they went out to the Mount of Olives. At that time and to them, Jesus stated, “You will all be stumbled by me this very night because it’s written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But, after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” But responding to him, Peter said, “Though they are all stumbled by you, I myself will never be stumbled by you.” Jesus declared to him, “Truly, I state to you that this very night, before the rooster crows, you will utterly deny me three times.” Peter stated to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not utterly deny you!” All the disciples said the same. Matthew 26: 26-35
 
Events and media contributions around the centenary of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 have rightly focussed on those who were killed and broken – or who were the loved ones they left behind.

Chapter 5 of Ian Ronayne’s excellent book on the First World War years in Jersey has the title, “Your Island Needs You” – a take on LORD Kitchener’s famous First World War posters “Your country needs You”. There was enormous encouragement to volunteer – “this is a war worth fighting.”

What would encourage you to go to war today? What do you think is worth fighting for in your case? When we’re about to lose something which we want to retain, do we turn to others to get their endorsement, their encouragement, even their assistance so as to “win”.

 
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‘To me there is nothing more fatuous about mankind than the statement that to think about death is morbid. The person who refuses to face facts is a fool.’ (D M Lloyd Jones, preacher, 1899-1981)
It’s not surprising then that several of the 10 leading historians who were asked by the BBC in 2014 to identify the causes of the First World War, several pointed to “encouragement” as a cause. How so? Well, Germany encouraged the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Vienna to invade its boisterous neighbour Serbia.  And France encouraged the Russian government to respond to German aggression. 

Looking again at Matthew’s first century biography of Jesus, is there anything about any encouragement given to Jesus to fight? Any promises of standing by him in a fight? Any contracts for mutual support in danger on that night before he would be given away to a criminal’s death? 

Jesus had used broken bread to illustrate that he was going to be broken. He had used a cup to illustrate the awful sufferings which he was about to drink. He had referred to having to drink the fruit of the wild vine of his own ethnic family who had turned away from God and had become religious instead.

After they’d all sung hymns together, it’s Peter who, on the Mount of Olives, wanted to encourage Jesus. He said, “I myself will never be stumbled by you.” “Even if I must die with you, I will not utterly deny you!” All the disciples said the same.  Why stumbled? Because Jesus would die?

Encouragement to fight? Yes, from Peter. But Jesus didn’t want his disciples to fight; he knew they wouldn’t anyway. He told them, “You will all be stumbled by me this very night because it’s written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But, after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Stumbled by his dying?

According to today’s historians, the leaders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire responded to encouragement to fight. Russia too responded to the bellicose encouragements of France. And more than 40 million lives were broken.

 
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‘The tragedy of war is that it uses humanity’s best to do humanity’s worst.’ (Harry Emerson Fosdick, American pastor, 1878-1969) 
In Jesus’ case it was he who gave very different encouragement to those whom he knew would not stand for him. He said, “… after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” He knew.

Unlike the 306 British soldiers who were put to death for cowardice during 1914/18, Jesus’ cowardly followers received new life when he rose again. New life through his death, not through fighting.

 
Sinner Syvret

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