What happened in Gethsemane? Betrayal, denial, and failure – a snapshot of the world’s response to Jesus.
2 Samuel, chapter 17; Psalm 71; Matthew, chapter 26
Matthew 26:47-56 (NLT):
And even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests and elders of the people. The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss.” So Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss.
Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.” Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.
“Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? But If I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?” Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day. But all this is happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” At that point, all the disciples deserted him and fled.
I suppose that practically everyone who reads this knows who Judas Iscariot is. Even people who are not followers of Jesus know Judas’ name. “Judas” has become synonymous with “traitor,” much like Benedict Arnold for Americans. Earlier in the chapter we read how Judas went to the religious leaders to ask them, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” (26:15). We could respect traitors who act on their principles, even if we don’t agree with them. But we despise traitors who act solely for money. Judas is condemned for betraying Jesus; he is hated for betraying Jesus for money.
That’s what makes Jesus’ comment to Judas so surprising. “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.” My friend. Jesus knew what Judas was going to do; he told everyone at the Last Supper that he would be betrayed. When Judas asked, “Rabbi, am I the one?” (verse 25), Jesus told him, “You have said it.” That brief dialogue speaks volumes. Judas not only betrayed Jesus; he attempted to deceive Jesus. “Am I the one?” Yet when Judas shows up with the vigilante mob, Jesus says, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.”
Someone in Jesus’ group draws a sword and starts slashing away at the mob. Eventually, he cuts off the ear of one of the high priest’s slaves. When we read this passage we think of Judas’ betrayal. Sometimes we go further and ponder Peter’s denial. We might even consider the other disciples’ failure, running away and leaving Jesus alone. But how often do we think about this violent response?
Betrayal, Denial, and Failure
Jesus knew Judas would betray him. He knew that Peter would deny that he even knew Jesus. Jesus also knew that all of the disciples would desert him when the crisis came. He told them all ahead of time what would happen. But he didn’t predict the violent response of the one who cut off the servant’s ear. Why? Was it because he didn’t know? Perhaps he didn’t want to put ideas into anyone’s head?
As I reflect on this passage, my thoughts turn from what Jesus knew ahead of time to how he felt “in the moment.” He was gracious to Judas; how many of us would refer to someone we knew had betrayed us as “my friend”? He was forgiving to Peter and the other disciples. Even though he knew they would fail him and desert him, he told them that he would meet with them in Galilee after he rose from the dead. But how did he feel about those took up the sword to try to defend him? We would suppose that he was grateful. Surely Jesus would be pleased that his followers cared so much about him that they were willing to fight for him?
I doubt it. I think that taking up the sword was as big a denial as what Peter would do. Taking up the sword and fighting was a rejection of everything that Jesus had taught them. If the disciples didn’t understand that yet, did they understand anything he had taught them? I don’t think that’s a stretch. Consider Jesus’ response. After telling this follower to put away the sword, he said, “Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” (verse 53, emphasis added).
Fulfilling God’s Purposes
Jesus then says, “But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?” (verse 54). Jesus not only understood God’s plan; he understood God’s purposes. We can know that our part in a plan is without completely understanding how it all fits together. In fact, many times we will not fully know God’s purposes. But God always shows us what our part is – and Jesus’ example reminds us that we need to do our part.
Faith means that we trust God even when we don’t understand God’s purposes. Satan loves to sow doubt: “Why would God tell you to do that? That doesn’t make sense!” But God’s track record reminds us that we can trust him completely! And God reminds us that we don’t have to be marked by betrayal, denial, and failure. Our lives can reflect obedience and allegiance to Him!
God’s track record with me is perfect; he’s undefeated. Every time I’ve done what he tells me to do, it has worked just the way he wanted. That doesn’t mean that I always understand his purposes. Sometimes I don’t understand completely even after the fact!
I surrendered my life to God during my senior year of college. Although I had wanted to be a lawyer from my childhood, I knew that I needed to surrender that to God. So I asked God to show me if it was his will for me to go to law school. I applied to one law school – the University of Notre Dame. There were 20 applicants for every place in the first-year class that year; I was accepted. I was confident that this was God’s will!
Until ten years later, when God began talking to me about ministry. Although I eventually came around to surrender to that call, I had doubts. Why did God let me go to law school if this was his plan? I still don’t know the answer to that question. But I know it was God’s will for me to become a lawyer. I also know it was God’s will for me to become a minister. Why was his plan for me to follow that particular path? I don’t know. But I do know this: I have no doubt that this is the plan God had for me.
Betrayal, Denial, and Failure
So how does this tie in with today’s passage? Judas wasn’t looking for God’s plan; he was looking out for himself. He betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The other disciples thought they were looking for God’s plan, but instead they were looking for what they wanted God’s plan to be. When the crisis came, they bailed. They demonstrated that not only by deserting Jesus, but by being so wrong about God’s plan that someone drew a sword to keep God’s plan from being fulfilled.
Jesus understood. He told them, over and over, what would happen. He made clear to them what God’s purpose was. They still missed it. I think that’s the failure that discouraged Jesus most. And that’s what challenges me to make sure that I don’t miss it!
Father, I confess that there are times when I try to substitute what I think your plan should be for what it actually is. Thank you for steering me back in the right direction! And thank you for your patience and your grace. Help to recognize what my part is in your plan. Show me as much of your plan and your purposes as I need to know. Guide me and strengthen me each day to do what you have called me to do. Help me not to betray your purposes, deny your sovereignty, or fail in what you’ve called me to do.
Father, hallowed be your name. May your Kingdom come in ever greater measure each day. Help me to know and to do your will each day as you form me in the image of Jesus. Thank you for giving me exactly what I need each day to do your will. Protect me against the many things the enemy seeks to use to deceive me and hinder your work in me. Guard my thoughts and my heart, that I may fix my eyes on Jesus. Amen.