At some point in life you may have experienced the pain of betrayal. Someone you thought you trusted turned against you. Perhaps it was a spouse, someone you called a friend, an employer, a classmate, a co-worker, or some family member. Betrayals wound deeply but they never wound as much as when a person betrays you to your face.
Think of the common High School experience. You believe someone is your friend and you run into them at the mall. Unfortunately they are with people who are apparently “cooler” than you are. Not only does your so-called friend ignore you (which is hurtful enough) but you hear them make some negative comment about you. Such things wound us. Sometimes deeply.
This morning we look at Jesus as He confronts His betrayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. If you understand the dynamics of the story it is a story that will lead us to shake our head in disbelief at the heartless nature of what takes place.
The setting is the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives just outside of Jerusalem. Jesus had spent a few agonizing hours in prayer and had found strength and peace regarding the events that were to come. We left Him talking to His disciples about the need to pray. This is where we pick up the text.
The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus
47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
We know Judas knew the place because we have been told Jesus came here often. As we compare this text with the other gospels we learn that Judas was accompanied by a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, who came out with lanterns and torches and weapons. In other words there was a posse. The soldiers could have been temple police or they may have included Roman soldiers.
Judas stepped forward and probably reached for Jesus to kiss Him. Undoubtedly it was the sign to identify Jesus in the darkness of the night.
Kissing a teacher on the cheek or cheeks was not uncommon. We know this is a Middle Eastern custom yet today. It is the fact of Judas was there to betray Jesus that makes the kiss so distasteful today.
We wonder: how it is possible for one to grow so hardened? We will never know for sure but we can safely surmise that Judas grew hard a little at a time. Perhaps he didn’t like the direction of the ministry. Maybe he felt he should have a greater role in the group. Maybe the teaching of Jesus was becoming too convicting. Think about it,
- Rather than seek forgiveness, Judas chose to try to eliminate Jesus
- Rather than confess His dependency, He chose to betray the Lord
- Rather than wait for God’s timing, Judas chose to “make things happen”
- Rather than receive Christ’s love; He chose to act as a traitor.
Do you know some people who are doing the same thing? Is this what you are doing? Would you rather hide or justify your sin than confess it? Would you rather continue to live in denial than to live in the freedom of forgiveness?
John tells us that Jesus stepped forward and said,
Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go (John 18: 4-8)
Understand the scene. It’s the huge posse coming to get the one man, Jesus. Yet, when Jesus speaks the crowd “drew back and fell to the ground”. The calm authority of the Son of God was something before which these men could not stand apart from permission from the Son Himself.
A Surprising Miracle
If you remember, in verses 36-37 Jesus had warned the disciples that because of the coming betrayal they needed to “sell their cloak to buy a sword” because things were going to get rough. With those words fresh in their ears Peter responded to those who stepped forward to take Jesus into custody.
49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
Peter thought He was defending the Lord. We don’t know whether he aimed for the ear or just swung and got the ear. John tells us that the man who lost his ear was the servant of the High Priest named Malchus. I believe John gives the servant’s name so his reader could verify his story.
This act of aggression could have started a massacre. Jesus quickly diffused what could have been terrible.
51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
At this act everyone stopped. They had witnessed the miracle of Jesus first hand. A bleeding ear was suddenly back to normal. A man screaming in pain suddenly felt fine. Anger was replaced with confusion. What kind of battle is this? Who brings immediate healing to their enemies?
Matthew amplified the rebuke to the disciples.
52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54)
We’re still confused, aren’t we? I’m sure the disciples wondered: were they supposed to use swords or not use swords? When we looked at this text initially we said the words of Jesus were metaphorical. What He was trying to tell the disciples was they needed to be ready for action. They needed to be on their toes because things were going to be fierce.
Jesus reminded them that He didn’t need men to protect Him. The angels would protect Him. He did not need their “help”. Jesus could have called on an army of angels (much like those who surrounded the house of Elisha). He didn’t do so because this was all part of God’s plan and Jesus embraced that plan without fear or intimidation.
A Stern Rebuke
Next Jesus turned to the leaders. Jesus knew what had to happen but he also needed to reveal the hypocrisy of these leaders,
52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”
Jesus pointed out to these guys that the clash in the Garden was overkill. Jesus never fought them. He wasn’t in hiding. They could have arrested Him at any time. Jesus knew the truth: these men did not arrest Him when He was at the temple because they knew they had no real case against Him. Their only hope against Jesus was to arrest Him and have an illegal trial (at night) before anyone was the wiser.
Second, they did not arrest Him publicly because they knew the crowds would be on His side. They would face a riot and questions that would feed today’s investigative reporters for weeks. They did not need that kind of publicity.
Jesus knew what they were doing and knew He could defeat the whole posse but He willingly went with them because it was the only way to accomplish the work He came to do: pay the price of our sinfulness.
It’s a fascinating account that’s straightforward. We are interested by the details but must also dig into the account and ask the simple question: What is it that God might want us to learn?
First, God loves You. Jesus was in perfect control. These people sensed His authority. The one who healed the ear of Malchus could also strike them all with blindness, deafness or worse! Yet He did not do so. He exposed their sinister plot and yet chose to go along with it. The question we must ask is “Why?”
The answer to the question is: God loves us. Jesus willingly went to cross as a payment for our sin. He was the only one qualified to do so. Jesus chose you and me over His earthly life. He chose to face the just wrath of God so that we wouldn’t have to do so.
Do you get it?
- You who feel so invisible; God sees you and loves you
- You who have failed so deeply; God opens His arms of forgiveness
- You who fall into the same sin again and again; God wants to set you free
- You who have ruined your marriage by really bad choices; God wants to help you to begin again.
The Lord loves you and amazingly, He also loves me. As we read this account, I hope you also hear the invitation of the Lord calling you to His embrace. Run to Him. Follow Him. Trust Him. He loves you!
Second, We need to examine our motives in what we do for the Lord. Some of the worst acts can be carried out under the guise of love and devotion. Judas came up to Jesus and betrayed him with a kiss; like he was a friend of Jesus. It makes us sick!
We have all read stories about the person charged with murdering a former girlfriend who says, “I loved her so much that I couldn’t bear to see her with another man.” The human mind has a great capacity to justify wrong-doing; even to the point of making it noble.
There are media people who make a living at “spinning” bad information into something that sounds good.
- Abortion is no longer ending a life, it is about the right to choose
- Homosexuality is no longer sin it is a “gift from God” that should be embraced
- Materialism is no longer greed it is a sign of God’s approval;
- People no longer violate the Sabbath they simply putting their family first (known theologically as idolatry)
- It is no longer Gossip , it is sharing our concern with others
Once we stop looking at our motives, we can justify anything. Stop and take a look at your heart and life today. Are you feeling justified in your sinfulness? Have you somehow convinced yourself that what is wrong is actually noble? Confront your justifications before something really bad takes place!
Third, We must recognize that the most dangerous temptations sneak up on us and we should remain vigilant. Bishop J.C. Ryle has written,
To suffer patiently for Christ is far more difficult than to work actively. To sit still and endure calmly is far harder than to fight a battle. Crusaders will always be found more numerous than martyrs. The passive graces of religion are far rarer and precious than the active graces. Work for Christ may be done from many spurious motives—from excitement, from competition, from jealousy, or from love of praise. Suffering for Christ will seldom be endured from any but one motive, and that motive is the grace of God.
We will see this illustrated most clearly in the life of Peter next week. He was ready for battle when the posse entered the Garden. Peter was at that moment, I believe, ready to die for the Lord. He was ready for the direct assault but completely unprepared for the subtle attack that came in the courtyard.
The same is true in our lives. The great attacks on our faith are things that rally us to faithfulness. We would likely rally together if our church building was destroyed, if persecution was threatened, or if a false teacher stood up and denied basic Christian teaching. In a crisis we are awakened to action.
However, the temptations that often fell a believer are those that,
- Take place in front of a computer screen in the privacy of your own home
- Happen after “playful” flirting
- Result because we saw a way to make some money by taking a “shortcut”
- Follow a burst of anger (Like the man who recently shot his partner while she rode on the lawn mower after they had argued).
- Result from bitterness festering in our soul
- Sweep over us when we happen to know information that no one else knows and we have the opportunity to use that information to make ourselves look good.
Satan knows better than to come at us with a direct attack. He operates more like a terrorist who sneaks up on us when our guard is down. Our job is to remain vigilant. We must be aware of his schemes and remain close to the Lord. So how do we do that?
1. We must remain consistent and persistent in prayer and Bible Study.
2. We rigorously eliminate any compromise with sin. Even little lies provide an opening for Satan to gain access to our heart. We must be honest about our motives and work hard to tell ourselves the truth rather than spinning the truth to make us feel better.
3. We should listen to others who are more mature in the faith. Rather than react when someone tries to point out a problem in our lives, we need to be ready and willing to hear and listen. Sometimes our friends and family see problems coming before they happen. Look for people who will be honest with you about what they see happening in your life.
Fourth, We need to take courage from the fact that the time during which evil is permitted to triumph is fixed and limited by God. Jesus told the group that had come out to get him: “this is your hour – when darkness reigns”. The reign of evil is limited. It is temporary and it takes place when light is absent.
It’s a message that we must rehearse to ourselves again and again: The rule of Satan and the power of sin is temporary! Evil is indulged at present but will not be tolerated forever. This is NOT the end of the story!
A good television drama will inevitably find the hero in some kind of danger. Often at the end of the season there is a cliffhanger. A situation is created that is bleak. A main character perhaps dying is lying in the arms of someone. You could turn off the program and despair that your favorite character has faced their end. Instead you eagerly await the new season. Why? Because you know that the show isn’t over. You believe the situation will somehow be resolved.
Life is like this. We can throw up our hands and walk away in the times of difficulty. We can conclude that all is lost. However, the better course is to wait and see how God will use these circumstances for His glory and for our ultimate good.
Finally, we are cautioned that we must proceed by faith and not by force. We see this point made even at the end of the text. The disciples were ready to fight but Jesus told them to put the swords away. It is a reminder that the Kingdom of God is not going to be advanced by our wars and our aggression but by our wrestling in prayer, by our faithful testimonies, and by holy living.
Think about the ugliest black marks on the history of Christendom: the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Salem Witch Trials. In each case the church chose to use the sword as the means for advancing the gospel. The temporary gains were offset by the many losses that came from the method rather than the message.
We need to remember this as we seek to bring about change in our own country. Revival will come about through God’s power and not ours. We should be faithful, we should speak boldly, but we must never be militant. God has ten thousand angels at His disposal! He does not call us to do what we cannot do . . . He calls us to trust Him and serve Him faithfully. He can do more with a word than we can do with a lifetime of battle.
We would see this power of God at work if we would choose to pray instead of complain, to love rather than hate, and to teach rather than condemn. If we would do these things we would be less like Judas and more like Jesus. Deep down I hope that is what all of us want.