Betrayed and Arrested
All four of the gospel writers describe how Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Each of them supplies their own set of details and when we put them all together we have a vivid account of the events that took place. There is considerable agitation with a plethora of actors and participants. Through it all our Lord Jesus remains calm and fully in control not only of himself but of everything that takes place. He is a man to be admired but more than that he is a Saviour to be trusted.
Have you come to him in repentance and faith and are you living your life trusting the Saviour?
As we think through this passage today may all of us either:
come to know what it is to put our trust in Jesus for the first time or
come to understand more clearly than ever before how worthy he is of our trust.
Judas Comes to Jesus
Events are now moving very quickly. Jesus has hardly finished speaking to his disciples about how much they need to pray in order to avoid falling into temptation when there is movement nearby.
Judas has arrived. Judas was one of the original 12 apostles that Jesus had chosen to accompany him through three years of itinerant ministry. Judas was so well-trusted amongst the 12 that he had been given the responsibility of looking after their finances, he held the common purse. But Judas could no longer be trusted. He was a turncoat, a traitor. He had just sold his Master for thirty paltry pieces of silver and had come to the garden to carry out his side of the bargain. He had come to betray his old friend.
Judas has arrived and he hasn’t come alone. He is at the head of a large and disparate crowd. This crowd included various Jewish leaders, members of the priestly caste, officers of the temple guard, a contingent of regular soldiers and many more. They have come to arrest Jesus. Apparently they were expecting resistance and so have come carrying swords and clubs. They expect him to try to escape so they’ve brought with them lanterns and torches to light up the place and prevent him hiding in the shadows.
There is a certain irony here: it was a full moon and so wouldn’t be all that dark and who were they seeking with their torches and lamps but the One who is the Light of the World! But men and women are not necessarily logical when it comes to trying to do away with Jesus and his claims! Are you?
Having arrived in the garden Judas doesn’t hesitate. He walks straight up to Jesus. He is going to kiss him.
To kiss someone is normally a friendly gesture or a sign of respect but not this time. Judas had told the crowd that he had brought with him that they would know which man to arrest when he identified Jesus by means of a kiss.
Judas was on a mission to betray his former Master and his former Master knew exactly what he was doing.
How would you react, I wonder, if you were betrayed like that by a former friend? Some of you don’t need to imagine for you know as it has happened to you.
Jesus spoke to Judas not in anger or in hatred but tenderly with a question. Even at this late stage Jesus invites Judas to reflect on what he is doing, to reconsider his actions:
v.48 "Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?"
Judas, you have known me for three years, you have walked with me, you have heard me speak and you have seen me do good to so many. You have heard and seen so much - don’t you know that in betraying me you are betraying the Messiah, the hope of the nations, the Saviour of the World? And will you, Judas, do so by means of a kiss of all things?
There was yet time for Judas to repent but he won’t do so. It will prove to be the last opportunity that Judas has to change tack and he won’t take it. For him the day of salvation passes as he presses on to betray the Lord of Glory. But if Judas must lose his never-dying soul he will have no-one to blame but his own stubborn self. He insists on rejecting Jesus’ overtures of love and is lost, lost forever.
Different Ways of Rejecting Jesus
It is possible to reject Jesus is a variety of different ways and people do!
Some are downright hostile and actively oppose Jesus and all he stands for. If they had their way they would eradicate any and every thought of him and they would do the same with his teaching too.
Others reject him by their indifference. They claim not to see any reason why they should consider him seriously and in reality they simply can’t be bothered. Perhaps their lives are already so completely full of their own favourite idols that they don’t have any room for Jesus.
Yet others oppose him under the guise of friendship as was the case with Judas. Such folk may well have all the outward trappings yet lack any sort of genuine heart commitment to him. Such folk may follow for a time, they may even be zealous for his honour for a while, they may even appear to rejoice in his grace. They may be well-respected by other true followers of Jesus, trusted by those who really do love God. These people may keep good company, they may know all the vocabulary that Christians use and with their ability to talk the talk they may succeed in pulling the wool over the eyes of others. They may also have advanced a long way in acts of Christian devotion and Christian service. But they can still then reject and betray Jesus as Judas did with a kiss. Surely the most hurtful and damaging of all betrayals is the betrayal of a supposed friend.
It is possible that some of you here this morning are still rejecting Jesus. Your presence here probably suggests that you’re no longer actively hostile towards Jesus Christ but you could still be holding him off by indifference. You enjoy the company of those who attend regularly and you’re glad that "religion" works for them but that’s as far as it goes for you. You need to realise that how you respond to Jesus now does matter and does make an enormous difference – nothing could be more important.
Some of you might be trying to act as Jesus’ friends without having come to him on his terms. For three years Judas had passed as a close friend of Jesus but he proved to be false. The kiss he bestowed on Jesus did not signify love but betrayal. Just because someone feigns friendship does not mean they are true – and Jesus knows those who are his.
The Disciples Come to Jesus
While Jesus spoke to Judas his other disciples were thinking quickly. They now understood what was going on and they knew what was going to happen. Judas had identified Jesus to the crowd he had brought along with him and so they would be able to lay hands on him and arrest him.
What should they do?
Do you remember that the disciples had neglected to follow Jesus’ recent instructions about prayer? They hadn’t seen the need of prayer with anything like the urgency that Jesus had and so they hadn’t prayed. As a result they were completely unprepared for the trial that now confronted them.
Some of the disciples turned to Jesus:
"Should we use force to protect ourselves and to prevent them from arresting you?"
they asked him.
But, before he could answer, one of them had snatched up his sword and lashed out. The apostle John tells us that it was Peter who leapt to protect his Master. We’re not surprised to learn that it was Peter; it is in line with everything we know of his impulsive character. He loved his Lord but his action was entirely wrong because of his earlier failure to pray according to Jesus command – and do you remember Jesus had recently said?
Jn.14:15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."
In others words it is Jesus who decides what loving him looks like not us.
The man that Peter struck was the servant of the High Priest, a fact which all the gospel writers mention. It is further proof, if proof was necessary, that the plot against Jesus went all the way to the top of the Jewish establishment. John tells us the man’s name was Malchus.
I imagine that Malchus must have seen the blow coming and tried to dodge. He almost made it but the sword struck him on the side of his head and sliced his ear off. The situation really is on a knife’s edge now and how easily things could have spiralled out of control and degenerated into a confusing bloody skirmish.
And a voice rang out. It was a calm yet commanding voice. It was Jesus’ voice. No man ever spoke like this man. He spoke with authority. Demons obeyed this voice. The winds and the waves obeyed this voice. Even the dead obeyed this voice. Now his disciples and the crowd are controlled as Jesus speaks:
"No more of this!"
And there was no more bloodshed in the garden that night.
Instead of bloodshed there was healing. In fact the very last act of those free hands before they were bound was to re-attach a severed ear and that not of a friend but of a hostile enemy. Malchus was not a disciple; he was part of a crowd that had come to lay hands upon Jesus. And Malchus must have understood what was on the cards for Jesus when he was taken. He was no reluctant participant – if he had been he would have been dragging his heels at the back of the crowd but no, there he was right at the front or else Peter’s sword would never have come near him. And yet Jesus had compassion on him and at such a time as this!
Why Did Jesus Do That?
Well for one thing Jesus was making it clear that the Kingdom of God was not to be advanced by weapons of this world’s warfare. The church is not to try to advance its interests by resorting to physical violence and the use of force. The only legitimate weapons that the church has at its disposal are: the Word of God, prayer and testimony – these are the weapons the Holy Spirit will empower and make effective.
But the main reason is to be found elsewhere.
Jesus had come into the world to be the Messiah and in the divine plan the Messiah had to suffer but that suffering had to be the suffering of an innocent victim. The Messiah would suffer as the sin-bearer acting on behalf of his people and this entire mission would be more than compromised if the Messiah had blood on his hands. If the Messiah was found guilty of leading a violent insurrection then he could not be the Messiah of God’s plans!
And so Jesus acted immediately. There would be no insurrection and everyone would know that he had neither instigated nor approved of the one isolated act of violent blood-shedding that occurred in the garden that night. Everyone would know that he had even acted to undo the damage that had been caused by that single sword stroke.
The situation was now a non-violent one though doubtless there was tension in the air. The disciples had been reined in and restrained and the crowd was waiting on further developments. Jesus had more to say.
Jesus Speaks to the Leaders
Before the arrest is actually carried out – after all that is why the crowd had come and Jesus had no intention of resisting in any way – Jesus addressed himself to the members of the Jewish leadership that had come with the crowd.
He asked them one question and made two observations.
v.52 "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs?"
What did these leaders really think about Jesus? Did they really think that he was no better than a common thief, a bandit who posed a threat to the community and who would need to be restrained and apprehended with swords and clubs in the middle of the night? Did they really expect him to try to escape at whatever cost? Did they really believe him to be about to raise an armed insurrection?
We are not told about any replies that might have been given, but that really is not the important thing for us. What we must learn from this is that we need to ask ourselves: "What do we really think about Jesus?" I want to ask you whether you have ever done that? Have you come to your own conclusions? I’m not now asking you to nod in approval to what somebody else might say but what do you say for yourself? What do you believe deep down about him?
If you come to the conclusion that Jesus was just a trouble-maker in the first century who belongs in the annals of history then I’ll understand you not wanting to commit yourself to him as a disciple. But similarly if you say something far more positive I’ll expect you to act upon that belief in some tangible way. The reason why some of you are not closely following Jesus as Lord or are not following him at all may quite possibly be because you’ve never thought seriously enough about what you’ve heard and what you say you believe.
Having asked his question Jesus went on to make two statements.
The first was really a rebuttal of the implication that he was a robber, a common criminal, and nothing else. And so Jesus explained what he had been doing and how he had been conducting himself over the preceding week:
v.53 "When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me."
A criminal avoids attention and when the situation turns against him he hides himself away waiting for things to settle down again. But that was not at all what Jesus had done. Day after day from early in the morning he had gone into the Temple, that most important and public of places in Jewish life, and there he had received all those who wanted to meet him and he had taught there. He had not attempted to run and hide, he had no need to for he had done nothing wrong, never. He did not deserve the treatment they were handing out to him. He was and would be an innocent victim.
The second and final thing Jesus said was:
v.53b "But this is your hour, and the power of darkness."
They want to do away with him and they are about to have their way. The situation to unbelieving eyes looked hopeless. The best of men is about to be destroyed, the very Messiah of God is going to be put to death, evil seems to be triumphant!
But God delights in breaking the power of evil when evil itself is at the very zenith of its power and influence. God has not lost control when everything appears to be bleak!
Notice what Jesus says: "this is your hour..." yes their influence in real but it is only for a limited duration. The powers of darkness could do their worst and it seemed in the garden that things could hardly get worse. But the next day they would. A show trial in a kangaroo court would unjustly condemn Jesus, the Holy Lamb of God, to death on a cross. Within hours the Son of Man would be nailed to a cross and lifted up to die. Darkness would prevail there too and what a strange darkness it would be! From full noon for three hours the earth would not be flooded with light but shrouded in darkness as the as Jesus hung dying.
Isaac Watts wrote of that darkness is one of his hymns:
Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut his glories in,
when God, the mighty Maker, died
for man, the creature’s sin.
The leaders of the people and the powers of darkness would have their brief moment, their hour, and the darkness was real but then it would soon be past! The darkness would give way to the glorious light on the third day, the resurrection day, when the Light of the World was set free from the tomb to live in the power of an indestructible life.
This is the day of salvation and that means that there is still the opportunity of coming to the Saviour before it is too late. You have not yet been cast into that outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth but you must not go on rejecting Jesus. You must give up all your hostility towards him, your indifference towards him, and every empty outward show of friendship – you must trust him.
Praise God for this wonderful friend of sinners whose name is Jesus!