I wonder if you’ve ever experienced betrayal. To feel the sting of disappointment; to be let down by a close friend - well, as the saying goes, ‘with friends like that, who needs enemies?’ Perhaps you can identify with David in Psalm 41: ‘Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.’
It might have been years ago, yet the pain remains. How do you respond to such betrayal? Does it open your eyes to the dangers of relationships; a prompt to close everyone out and rely only on yourself? Does it stoke the fires of bitterness and self-pity?
As we turn to our reading this evening, and think about betrayal in this Holy Week, your mind probably quickly lands on Judas. Just as the name ‘Lundy’ in the Ulster mindset refers to any traitor because of the governor of Londonderry, Robert Lundy, during the siege - he wanted to open the gates and surrender - so Judas is now part of the popular vocabulary for a traitor, a betrayer.
But as we look at our text, we find that none of the disciples of Jesus cover themselves in glory - each of them are, to some extent, found to be in betrayal. The scene is the Mount of Olives. It’s now Thursday night, just after the Lord’s Last Supper (which we’ll return to on Thursday). Gone are the crowds of Palm Sunday, it’s just Jesus and his disciples.
In the first verse (39), the disciples are doing well - they follow Jesus. That’s what disciples do - follow their master and learn to do as he does. But (on the Mount of Olives) it’s all downhill from there. You see, the disciples follow, but fail. Jesus tells them to ‘pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ (40) The disciples fall asleep.
They’re exhausted; because of grief; but they have failed to pray, failed to obey. The disciples needed to pray, so that they would be ready for what lay ahead, but instead they slept.
Are there times when we are similarly prayerless? The Lord tells us to pray; gives us encouragements to pray; gives us the words to pray; gives us the Spirit to help us in our prayers, and yet, and yet, we simply don’t. How much easier we will fail & fall if we ignore the means of prayer.
What a disappointment that must have been to the Lord Jesus when he returns to the disciples and finds them asleep. Even now (46) he urges them with the same words, but it appears that it is too late.
You see, while he was still speaking, we find a crowd coming towards them. In words that are the most ironic and disappointing, we read that ‘the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them.’ Here we have one of the twelve - one of those who should have been following Jesus, was instead leading - leading a crowd coming to arrest Jesus.
As if that weren’t bad enough, he approaches Jesus to kiss him. The sign of friendship, love and greeting is instead a sign of betrayal, of rejecting the king. All his three years following Jesus, his privileged position among the twelve, all thrown away - sealed with a kiss.
Why would he do this? Earlier in chapter 22, we’re told that Satan entered into him (22:3), and that Judas went to the chief priests to offer to betray him. They’re delighted, as they were wanting to get rid of him, and so they offer some money as a reward. How great a price, to throw away his privilege for so little money. To hand over Jesus for a little gain. Could it be that we would so cheaply throw it all away? Is there a danger that we would also do away with Jesus for the sake of some gain?
As the disciples realise what is happening before them - and remember that they were sleeping just before the crowd arrived - they suddenly jump in to defend Jesus. They ask ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ (49) but before waiting for a reply, they strike.
The slave of the high priest is on the sharp end of the sword, and loses an ear. Could this be the time of trial they were to pray to be ready in - yet they stampede in, trying to fix things in their own way. They fail to follow Jesus’ example. He tells them ‘No more of this.’
Perhaps you can identify with this approach. We wade in to sort things out, because obviously God isn’t in charge; he needs us to take matters into our own hands with our own strength. Yet it’s just as much an example of faithlessness and prayerlessness as the earlier sleeping was. Whether through inactivity (sleeping) or through overactivity (swording), we can fail to follow the Lord Jesus. What is it Jesus would have me do?
Now, imagine for a moment that you were Jesus. How would you respond? You’ve been betrayed outright by one of the twelve and the other eleven haven’t been much better. What would you do? In contrast to what I suspect would be our natural reaction, Jesus instead continues to obey his Father, and continues to follow the path laid for him to bring about our rescue.
The King has been betrayed, but he is not swayed from his plan. Even as the disciples were snoozing and snoring, Jesus was praying. ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.’ (42) He knows the pain that lies ahead; he knows the suffering that awaits. He asks if it might pass him by - and yet for our sake he prays: ‘not my will but yours be done.’
Jesus submits to the Father’s will, remaining steadfastly committed to the way of the cross, for us. He surrenders himself to obedience for the sake of the disobedient.
More than that - although flowing from it - is his grace instead of rage. The disciples lashed out, but Jesus heals the slave’s ear, even in the face of the hostile crowd. He shows grace to those who least deserved it, who were out to get him.
That grace is shown to us who also were the cause of Jesus’ death. At one time we too were against Jesus and rebelled, but his grace was effective towards us, and led to our healing; our being made whole.
Just as Jesus submitted to the Father’s will, so he now submits to the crowd, willingly surrendering to them, even though they carry him to trial and death. He had been in the temple teaching each day and they hadn’t touched him. They waited for this moment on the dark hillside, taking him in secret. As Jesus says: ‘But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.’ (53)
The human actors were intent on destroying Jesus, but they weren’t the only enemies that night. The powers of darkness were also out to get Jesus, to do away with him. Jesus, the King, submits himself to imprisonment and death, by the kiss of betrayal, to destroy his enemies and bring rescue to repenting rebels. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
This sermon was preached at the Monday night of Holy Week, 25th March 2013 in Aghavea Parish Church.