Story 184: The Arrest: When Everyone Falls Away

Matthew 26:46-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-65; John 18:2-11

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MARCH 3, 2015: The mosaic of the arresting of Jesus in Gethsemane garden in The Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony) by Pietro D'Achiardi (1922 - 1924).

Jesus knelt in prayer in the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane. In an agony of prayer, He asked His Father to remove the terrible trial before Him. The Father’s answer was no, and so He surrendered to His Father’s will. Then Jesus rose up to His feet and went over to His disciples. He found them sleeping once again.   “‘Sleep and take your rest later on,’” He said. “‘See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going.’”

Jesus hadn’t even finished speaking when they came. The jangles of armor and thudding of feet could be heard and the flame from torches flickered against the dark cloak of the garden trees. Judas was leading the way with a host of men behind him. The chief priests and elders and Pharisees had come with their lanterns and weapons, eager to be a part of the night’s events. They had brought a company of Roman soldiers with them. There was at least two hundred men, each carrying his own weapon as if prepared for battle.

“‘Whom do you seek?’” Jesus asked, knowing full well they were coming after Him.

“‘Jesus the Nazarene’” they answered.

“‘I am He,’” The Lord said. At His words, the mob drew back and fell to the ground. Imagine it. Did the men fall back because God had declared Himself before them, or were they blown away with the sheer boldness of His announcement?   Whatever the cause, it must have been disorienting to rise up again and realize it was their job to arrest the One who had spoken.

Again Jesus asked, “‘Whom do you seek?’” There was no fear in Jesus, and there was no attempt to hide. He was already set on the course of obeying His Father, and these were the events that He ordained. When they recovered, they said, “‘Jesus the Nazarene.’”

The Lord said, “‘I told you that I am He; if therefore you seek Me, let these others go their way.’” Jesus was talking about His disciples. He had stepped forward to identify Himself clearly and to protect His men. Just the night before He said He would not lose one of the disciples God had given Him. Only one among the twelve was lost, but his actions showed that he had never belonged to Christ in the first place.

As Judas plotted and planned with the Jews, he told them about the Garden where Jesus went with His disciples every night to sleep. It would be the perfect place to arrest Him. The crowds who were loyal to Jesus would be far away and fast asleep. They wouldn’t be able to defend Him. They could seize Jesus without having to deal with His impossible questions in front of the people.

But there was a problem. In the darkness of night, it would be difficult to figure out which of the men in the garden was actually Jesus. Only Judas knew Jesus and the ways of His disciples well enough to identify the Lord immediately. So they made a plan. When they arrived in the Garden, Judas would go to Jesus and kiss Him on the cheek. That was the sign that would tell the soldiers who they should arrest.

Judas went up to the Lord and said, “‘Greetings Rabbi!’” and kissed Him.

“‘Judas,’” the Lord said, “‘Are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’” Then He said, “‘My friend, do what you have come for.’” How gently He treated His betrayer.

All of these things had taken place in the space of a few moments. Imagine the chaos and confusion for the disciples as they emerged from their bleary, sorrow-sodden sleep. Suddenly, Roman soldiers and the faces of their poisonous Jewish leaders were standing there in the light of torches and lanterns. And there was Judas. What was happening? Was this it?

Fear and tension and panic took over. Their fierce determination to stand loyal to Jesus arose in their hearts. “‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’” they asked. Surely it would have been a hopeless battle in any other circumstance, but they were on the side of the Messiah! They meant it when they said they would die for Him.

Before waiting for an answer, Simon Peter drew his sword and struck out against the men who advanced to seize Jesus. His blade grazed the head of a man named Malchus, a slave of the high priest. Peter’s blow sliced off his right ear! Imagine Malchus’ cry. Imagine the massacre that would have come next if the soldiers had raised their swords in defense of the Jewish leaders.

But Jesus declared, “‘Stop! No more of this!’” Everyone froze. As Jesus reached out and healed Malchus, He told Peter to put his sword away. “‘All who take up the sword will perish by the sword,’” He said. “‘Or do you think I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How, then, shall the Scripture be fulfilled. It must happen this way. The cup my Father has given to Me, shall I not drink it?’”

Wow. Peter did not understand. Jesus was not at the mercy of the men who came to arrest him. His Father had orchestrated the events of that night. The religious leaders didn’t understand, either. They thought they were coming to destroy a defiant young preacher.

But Jesus knew who He was. He understood His authority in Heaven. He knew that there were thousands upon thousands of magnificent, powerful angels standing at the ready, fully prepared to obey His every command.

Can you imagine them there in the heavenlies? Straining in their obedience to God as they watched their Lord under attack? His angelic warriors could have laid every man in that Garden to waste in the blink of an eye. They could have decimated the entire city of Jerusalem in a moment. They could have wiped out all of the Lord’s Jewish enemies and the entire Roman Empire in a day and made Him King.

But they didn’t.

It was not the plan of the Father. He had a far greater and deeper victory in mind. When the Lord came to conquer the world, it was not by brute force. The greatest exhibition of power in the universe does not come in the form of violence. It comes in the form of surrender to the Most High God.

The Father and the Son had planned this salvation before the world began. They gave hints and images of it to the world through the nation of Israel and their sacred Word. Now that the time had finally come for the Son of God to bring redemption, nothing would stop Him from accomplishing it.

 

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