Matthew 26:47-56 New International Version (NIV)
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
50 Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”[a]
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51 With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
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?”
55 In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
We come to the passage of the betrayal, with many characters and thematic developments. However, we can get lost in all these different characters and what is going on if we don’t keep our eyes focused on the main character; Jesus. If we focus on Him we see a startling contrast between His actions and that of the disciples.
And so that is what we are going to look at tonight the different contrasts, we will look at the contrast between Jesus and Judas, between Jesus and Peter and finally between Jesus and all the disciples. And in this see the contrast with Jesus and us.
So, Let’s dive in and see;
Hostility and hospitality
The first contrast that we see is the contrast between Jesus and Judas. Judas establishes for the Sanhedrin a signal that the one I kiss is the one that to arrest. Now just to answer why this signal. Remember this would be dark, there were no streetlights, it would be a dark night with a whole group of people, you grab the wrong person and there would be chaos.
Now why a kiss? Well, here we see the first painful contrast. A kiss was a greeting of acknowledge allegiance and fidelity. It was done to show that there was a brotherly relationship and that you are together. Judas uses this sign as a sign for his betrayal. This is why it has stood out as such an act of betrayal. Judas used it for the exact opposite of what it was meant to portray.
But in this Judas walks up to Jesus and calls his Rabbi (teacher) a sign of respect. And then kisses him. All these actions of allegiance and respect hide the hidden reality of betray and self-motivation.
And then stand Jesus who looks at the man who is about to betray him and says ἑταίρος (hetairos) – my close friend (comrade, brother, etc) do what you must.
There is a temperance even to the man who would betray Him. There is a humanising of his enemy. Just personalise that for a moment; if you saw someone come up to you and you know that what they are doing is stabbing you in the back, they are betraying you your mission your friendship of three years. Would you look at them and say brother?
No way, not a chance. We would be filled with rage at the betrayal of this person. In fact, to be betrayed is one of the most hurtful things that we go through.
Dante’s Inferno written by Dante Alighieri a poem written in the 14th century. Now it is an interesting read, as its theology and demonology is terrible in the poem – however the descriptions of the suffering deserved because of sin is profound – he links peoples sins to their suffering giving a sense of how we will be consumed by what we entertain.
Anyway – his final level of hell is for the treacherous for those who have betrayed others. They are locked in great lakes of ice, cut off from all love and especially the love of God. Why I mention this is that the sin of betrayal is the deepest of sins, it cuts the deepest, it hurts us the most. And yet Jesus looks at his betrayer and says friend do what you must.
This is the first contrast. The second is…
Sword and surrender
Next we see is in the actually arrest; one of the disciples pulls out a sword and attempts to kill the servant of the high priest. We find out that it is Simon Peter who is the one who does this from the Gospel of John. However, let’s just flesh this out. There is Peter a fisherman, with a cheap sword, lashing out to try and kill the high priests servant. He is so bad at this that he goes for the head and only gets the ear. Peter is playing above his skill set here.
Also recognise that this high priest has come with a Roman guard – highly trained soldiers of the Roman army. Peter is really punching above his weight group.
So on the one had we have an incompetent Peter trying to solve the problem through violence. And then there is Jesus. Who calls out Peter and tells him to put the sword down. Saying;
52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword
And then says don’t you know that if I ask my father would send 12 legions of angels. A legion was at least 6000 men usually more. So more than 72,000 angels! What Jesus is trying to say is, don’t you know, If I speak there would be more angels here than could be counted.
Jesus had absolute power in that situation; and yet just let evil do evil. Jesus could have reacted, he could have fought back, he could have decimated the entire planet if he wanted yet he says; but if I do how could the Scriptures be fulfilled?
There is a beautiful contrast between Peters desperate attempt to fight back and his display of his powerlessness, and yet Christ’s absolute power and control and yet he chooses to let evil be done to him.
On a side lesson; we could learn a lot from this exchange, we are often so driven to get our own justice that we show ourselves week to actually enact that justice. However, God will bring justice. So we must trust that God is bringing about justice in the world. This will keep us from being like Peter.
However, the contrast is given. Peter’s week attempt at a show of power and Jesus powerful restraint of his own power.
Thirdly we see;
Failure and faithfulness
In the last verse we read tonight (vs 56) we see how all the disciples abandoned Jesus they all failed Jesus and their own claim. We need to go back to verse 35 where Peter and all the disciples all declare how “even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you.”
The disciples betrayed Jesus they betrayed themselves and their words. They are absolutely humiliated in this passage. And yet this is recorded in all four gospels. Their humiliation is writ large.
Now, we must ask, who wrote this particular account that we are reading about here? It was Matthew, Matthew was a disciple. Matthew is highlighting his and his fellow leaders absolute failure when it matter most.
Now, most leaders do not highlight their failures. Especially when that failure is at the most crucial moment in their story. But they report this with brutal clarity. These, the leaders of the church. The Disciples become the leaders of the church, however, they boast in this failure.
Imagine for a second our political leaders boasting in their biggest failures. In fact imagine anyone. We must ask, why are they doing this? Why highlight this?
Well Christianity’s hope is not in perfect people. Paul in 2 Cor 12:9 makes this claim even more clearly when he says;
But he [this being God] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
The Disciples were able to, in writing the Gospels, make light of their failure because the story was never about them. In fact their failure only proves the reason Jesus came. Jesus came to save sinners. No-one in the movement of the church has stood above this reality. No-one challenges Christ on this regard. All have sinned and fall short. Only one stood. Only one was faithful; Jesus!
This is why we boast in the grace of Jesus Christ! We boast because we like the disciples have not been faithful, we have not stayed the course. We have betrayed God, ourselves each other. But He has remained faithful! He always will!
Now, I have to say this because some will be thinking; “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15) as Paul answers in Romans, “By no means!”
The reality of the gospel is that it shows us to be plainly what we are; which is sinners, who have failed. And it then shows us that we are freely forgiven because of God’s love and the cross of Jesus Christ.
Which means, our weakness, our failures only highlight what God did in Christ Jesus. This is why Paul and the Disciples, specifically Matthew here, can boast in their weakness; because that is why Christ came. But if that leads us to say well then that means I can go on sinning; then I would like to suggest that we haven’t understood what Christ did.
Last week we saw briefly into the horror of the hell that Jesus had to go into to save us. And next year we will look at the horror of the Cross and what it meant. These remain an eternal testimony of the consequence of our sin. It is our selfish sin that broke the universe, and cause the Son of God to die. If we think that we can simply go on in that we have a poor view of what Christ did.
But in saying this, our failures show his faithfulness. To borrow a Switchfoot song; “the shadows prove the sunshine.” Our failures only highlight more His overwhelming, incomprehensible love for us.
In fact, this is how we should read all of Scripture; we read through the stories of Scripture and have such a temptations to highlight the characters, to try and emulate Moses or David, to pray for the wisdom of Solomon, or the patience and endurance of Job. The problem is that they are not the main character, they are not who we should be looking to imitate or learn from. In fact the Bible over and over highlights how each of the “hero” fail. Moses the greatest prophet in the Old Testament, killed someone, failed to trust God, and failed. David, a man after God’s own heart, is shown to be a failure, he commits adultery and kills a man. We can go on. Every “hero” of the faith is only what he is by the grace of God. Because it is not about men. It is always, only, about the Son of man; Jesus.
This is a lesson for us today; do not make your faith about people. Don’t trust in pastors, or teachers, or even each other. Don’t even let people look to you, rather let them look past you to Christ. We are what we are by the grace of God.
We are God’s because Christ remained faithful, not because we did. So, don’t put your trust in men, or in even yourself. don’t build your life upon that. Put your trust in Christ. In what He has done. Trust in Him and he will never let you down!