“For Want of a Nail”
“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost,
For want of a horse, the rider was lost,
For want of a rider, the message was lost,
For want of a message, the battle was lost,
For want of a battle, the war was lost,
For want of a war, the kingdom was lost,
For want of a nail, the world was lost.“
The poem is a bit whimsical but it illustrates an important truth. Something that seems insignificant at the start, like a blacksmith’s lack of a horseshoe nail, can set in motion a series of events that lead to an egregious outcome, like losing the world. This chain of causality always seems clear in retrospect but far less so in the moment. Historical events are complex and intertwined but in hindsight it seems that if _____ had not happened then _____ would never have happened. And if _____ had never happened this present reality would be much different.
Suppose the British never decrypted the Enigma code during WWII. Would the British have starved as the German U-Boats blockaded the Isles? Would the Allies have won the war? It’s enough to hurt your brain.
Let’s approach this from a spiritual perspective. Why did Jesus die? Peter meets this question on two levels. In his sermon in Jerusalem he points out certain historical events that took place and, as a consequence to those events, Jesus died. Yet at the same time, he does not give the impression that if those things had not taken place Jesus would not have died. Peter saw God’s hand working behind the scenes to bring all these things together to accomplish His eternal purpose.
In Acts 2:23 Peter says, “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” In this statement we see the sovereignty of God at work in concert with the freewill of man to bring about God’s eternal plan. God orchestrated events to bring about His purpose but the Jews who condemned Jesus and the Romans who drove the nails in His hands were still responsible.
Luke also meets the same question on the same two levels. When Jesus took His last Passover meal with His apostles He said, “But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” (Lk. 22:21-22).
We see both the “hand” of man and the ‘hand’ of God at work to bring Jesus to the cross. So why did Jesus die? Because He was “betrayed” but also because God had “determined” it. Judas’ personal responsibility is not mitigated in any way by God’s providence but we notice that it would not have been possible for Jesus to die if Judas had slept in that morning, or had a headache and didn’t show, or got run over by a horse or was in any other way delayed. God’s control over all things is such that He can “determine” something to happen while allowing Judas freewill to make his choice.
So, why did Jesus die? Because it was an evil hour. In the same chapter Luke records that Judas approached Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane with a crowd to betray Him. One of the disciples tried to defend Jesus with a sword but the Lord put a stop to it before He said to the crowd, “While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me; but this hour and the power of darkness are yours” (Lk. 22:53).
One might ask why there was a need for a betrayer at all. Why not just go up to Jesus and His followers and arrest Him? But we must remember these events took place before the age of photography. If a person hadn’t met Jesus personally they would have no idea what He looked like. Even if they were one of the multitude who heard Him speak one would have difficulty identifying Him if he was not close enough. Not to mention Jesus didn’t hover above the ground in a white cloak with a halo above His head all the time! Our Lord looked like an average Jew.
So at nighttime in a garden with no streetlights it took a visible indicator, such as a kiss (Lk. 22:47-48), to set Jesus apart from the group. But Jesus said to the betrayer that this “hour” and the “power of darkness” belonged to him (they were “yours”). The generation Jesus came to was a particularly “wicked” and “evil generation” (Mt. 12:45; Lk. 11:29). So the hour of Jesus’ betrayal was an hour of darkness. Indeed, it was the darkest moment in human history. Never was the evil of mankind so cruelly manifested when men shouted for the Son of God to be crucified.
Paul said that the timing of Jesus coming to the earth in such a time was no mere accident. He called it the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) or the perfect moment in history. The ingredients were all there for God’s Son to be rejected and for Him to accomplish His eternal purpose.
We understand the “eternal purpose of God” which was carried out in Christ (Eph. 3:11) is now “made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). We have a special role to play in God bringing sinners to salvation. God is in control and will accomplish His purpose but we are all personally responsible to carry out His will and share the good news of Jesus in word and deed.
The Kingdom will not be lost for want of a Christian (Dan. 2:44) but for want of a Christian a soul very well may be lost!