Luke tells us, "Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed Him." (Luke 22:39) This is why the chief priests are delighted to have Judas, one of the inner circle, agreeing to the betrayal of Jesus. Judas knows it is the habit of Jesus to pray in the garden, that this is where He prays "as usual", and this inside knowledge allows Jesus' enemies to seize Him when no crowds are around. The garden is a special place of prayer for Jesus. Many of you may have a special place in your house where you like to pray, and doesn't that place feel like holy ground? For many years I wrestled in prayer over a particular thing every morning in the floor beside the bed. During those troubles it was my favorite place to pray and somehow it caused that spot to become sacred.
Jesus too has a favorite place to pray and it's in the lovely Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. He has prayed so much there that it feels like holy ground to Him. It's a place where the clamor of the outside world falls away and He can be alone with the Father. Most of you have probably seen the famous painting known as "Christ In The Garden Of Gethsemane" by Heinrich Hofmann. It shows Jesus in a peaceful but solemn pose, kneeling at a large rock, hands folded in prayer and face uplifted to heaven, with the disciples sleeping in the background. Beautiful as that painting is, I believe the gospels paint an entirely different portrait of Christ in the garden and it looks more like this:
Matthew tells us that, "Jesus went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to them, 'Sit here while I go over there and pray.' He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.'" (Matthew 26:36-38) Jesus takes the eleven men to the garden but only His closest friends Peter, James, and John are taken further into the garden with Him. Jesus is weighted down with a sorrow so heavy it almost feels like it's going kill Him. Have you ever had the kind of sorrow that made you feel weighted down nearly to death? Most of us have, or will have, some sort of grief that will cause us to wish the Lord would just take us on home, like Elijah wished in our study of 1st Kings last week. But none of us have ever had to bear the sins of the whole world. I think this was a horrifying experience for the sinless Son of God. Imagine every sin being laid upon Him which means every heinous crime, every wretched thought, every depraved act. We see things in the news that horrify us, stories of murder and abuse and neglect. Stories like that tend to stick in our minds and bother us. In order to take on the sin and punishment of mankind, Jesus is going to have to endure every awful sin being placed on Him, every sin from the creation of man until the end of time as we know it. The sorrow of Jesus is heavier than we can fully understand. Jesus is now in the olive press literally, figuratively, and spiritually.
Jesus moves to His special spot of prayer after advising the disciples to pray also, "On reaching the place, He said to them, 'Pray that you will not fall into temptation.' He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.' An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like great drops of blood falling to the ground." (Luke 22:40-44)
Jesus prays not to have to drink the cup of Gods wrath and judgment if there is any way around it. We studied about the Last Supper in which Jesus didn't drink of the fourth cup, the cup of blessing. He said He wouldn't drink of it until He can drink it with us in the kingdom. But Jesus does have a fourth cup to drink on earth and that is the bitter cup that mankind deserves to drink. Jesus took that cup of wrath and judgment, drinking it Himself, drinking it all the way down to the dregs, so we don't have to drink it. If Christ is our Savior, we have escaped this dreadful cup and will instead drink a cup of blessing in the kingdom with our King.
At about this time, Luke tells us that an angel appears in response to the pleas of Jesus and strengthens Him. His prayer to let this cup pass by Him is answered but it's answered with a "no". When the angel appears to strengthen Him, Jesus knows this means there is no escaping the bitter cup. In our own lives God sometimes says no to our prayers but He still sends us comfort and strength. If it's God's will for us to endure hardship, He can be trusted to provide the strength to endure it. The Apostle Paul, a man who prayed earnestly and most likely in tears for a problem to be removed from him, was also answered with a "no". But he was still able to say that God's grace is sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:9) God's grace was sufficient when He said no to Jesus. God's grace was sufficient when He said no to Paul. God's grace has been sufficient in our own lives when He has said no to us. Based on all this evidence, we must trust that His grace will always be sufficient.
Matthew says that Jesus goes back to check on the disciples and finds them sleeping. Jesus asks Peter, "Couldn't you men keep watch with Me one hour?" (Matthew 26:40) He then goes back and prays, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done." (Matthew 26:42) What a wonderful prayer of submission this is! Jesus is determined to do the Father's will even though the weight of it is nearly more than He can bear.
Luke says, "When He rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, He found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 'Why are you sleeping?' He asked them. 'Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.'" (Luke 22:45-46) Luke the physician tells us why the disciples have fallen asleep: they are exhausted from sorrow. It has been a long, confusing, and scary day for them. Jesus has told them distressing things. They don't know how to process these things and the strain of it has worn them out. There is nothing more tiresome than worry and stress. That's why when we become depressed we often sleep more than normal. It's how our bodies try to escape our worries and Luke, being a doctor, knows this. This is what has happened to the disciples but the Lord warns them not to give in to it. They need to be on the alert, praying to stand firm in the face of temptation.
Jesus faced more temptation than anyone in the history of the world yet He stood firm. Jesus never sinned. I don't think it was possible for the Son of God to actually sin but I also note that Jesus spent a great deal of time in prayer. During the forty days in the wilderness Jesus was alone with the Father in prayer and when Satan came to tempt Him, Jesus stood firm. Jesus stood firm through His entire ministry and often resorted to being alone with the Father in prayer. I believe that on the last night in the garden, Satan brought the full force of his powers down upon the Lord Jesus in an attempt to get Jesus to refuse to drink the bitter cup. This is why Jesus had to pray so earnestly and in such anguish He sweated blood. This is why He felt such sorrow it nearly killed Him. Jesus was being crushed in the olive press, in the stone basin of Satan's temptation, underneath the heavy weight of the gethsemane which represents our sins. He was soon to be poured out like the olive oil in the press. Prayer is what helps us not fall into temptation in our earthly lives. And even though we can't fully understand the temptation that came upon Jesus in relation to His inability to fall, we can certainly understand enough to obey His example. We must pray so that we don't fall into temptation.
At this point, the betrayer of our Lord comes with armed soldiers and with a crowd carrying clubs. The sound of the coming crowd reaches the ears of Jesus and the disciples but Jesus is ready now because He is "prayed up". The disciples, because they slept instead of praying, aren't ready. They will become confused and frightened and will end up running away and abandoning their Master. Peter, who shorty before swore he would go to the death with Jesus, will soon deny he ever laid eyes on Jesus. The words of the prophet Zechariah are about to come true. "'Awake, sword, against My shepherd, against the Man who is close to Me!' declares the Lord Almighty. 'Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn My hand against the little ones.'" (Zechariah 13:7) The sword is rising up against the Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Man who is close to the Lord Almighty. The sheep, the disciples, will scatter. And God will turn His hand against the nation for not accepting her Messiah. Forty years later Jerusalem will fall and her temple will burn. Yet God isn't finished with Israel and Zechariah tells us that of the people who survive this terrible time God will bring forth a nation that endures. Israel is a sovereign nation again in the world today and God will never cast her aside.
It's so sad to think about Judas leading the soldiers to this sacred garden where Jesus is in the habit of praying. Jesus has prayed in this garden so many times that it has become like holy ground to Him, something sacred, consecrated to God. Judas is about to desecrate it by his actions. It's as if Judas has brought something unholy into a temple. What a shameful thing to bring the soldiers here where Jesus has enjoyed so many wonderful hours of sweet communion with the Father.
John tells us, "Now Judas, who betrayed Him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with His disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons." (John 18:2-3) The peace and tranquility of the garden setting turns into a noisy and confusing and scary scene now. The disciples, awakened from their slumber, are disoriented and frightened by the approach of these armed men. Plus they see their friend Judas leading the mob. Imagine how betrayed they all feel at this development. One of their own is a wolf in sheep's clothing and they never suspected.
Luke says, "He approached Jesus to kiss Him, but Jesus asked him, 'Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?'" (Luke 22:40) What a false friend Judas is. A kiss was a traditional greeting for a friend, for someone who was your brother in the faith, ("greet one another with a holy kiss" Romans 16:16) and Judas uses it to make sure the soldiers seize the correct man. I believe Jesus looked pretty average, that He didn't stand out in the crowd because of His looks but blended right in with any crowd of first century Jewish men. He had the same hairstyle, the same kind of beard, the same kind of clothing. In the dark He looked just like the eleven disciples with Him. You know how dark it is out in the country without streetlights? This is how dark the garden was, and even by the light of the torches it was difficult to tell one man from another. Judas greets Jesus as if he respects and cares for Him but it's actually just the signal for the soldiers to take hold of the Lord. In Marks gospel we find, "Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: 'The One I kiss is the Man; arrest Him and lead Him away under guard.' Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, 'Rabbi!' and kissed Him." (Mark 14:44-45) We note once again that Judas never calls Him "Lord" but only "Rabbi". Judas was willing to acknowledge Jesus as a teacher but not as his Lord.
"When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, 'Lord, should we strike with our swords?' And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.'" (Luke 22:49-40) John gives us a bit more information on this incident, "Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.)" (John 18:10) Peter most likely intended to cut off the man's head or slit his throat, but Peter is a fisherman and not a swordsman. Peter is attempting to make good on his promise of defending the Lord to the death.
"But Jesus answered, 'No more of this!' And he touched the man's ear and healed him." (Luke 22:51) In Johns gospel we see Jesus add, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given Me?" (John 18:11) The bitter cup is now in Jesus' hand and the time for swords is not yet. The men may have to travel armed after the crucifixion, after the resurrection when they proclaim the gospel, but not now. The cup belongs to Jesus alone and Jesus alone is able to drink it. He commands that weapons be put away and reaches out and heals the ear of Malchus.
This is the final miracle of Jesus before the crucifixion. From now on, Jesus lays aside the power to do anything above what an ordinary man can do, for in all ways He has to become like us. This is a deliberate laying aside of the glory, power, and privilege of being the Son of God, for Jesus says, "Do you think I cannot call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Matthew 26:53-54) If Jesus had decided He wasn't willing to go to the cross, that mankind wasn't worth it, I believe the Father would have honored His wishes and rescued Him. It's important for us to see that Jesus did this willingly. The Father never forced Him to take on our sin and shame but Jesus did it of His own free will. Jesus was obedient to the Father and to all that God had said in the Scriptures by the prophets, but Jesus plainly tells us here that if He called upon the Father and refused to drink the cup, God would have rescued Him from the hands of man. But Jesus knows there is no other way to save mankind but the cross. The Father has already given this answer to Him in the garden and so it was for our sake alone that Jesus laid aside all that was rightfully His to take on our image, to take on our sin and shame, to drink the cup of punishment that we deserved, to hang in our place like a criminal.
Jesus was "numbered with the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12) and we have a tendency to think of the transgressors as only the men hanging on crosses beside Him, but we are the transgressors Jesus was numbered with. He was numbered with all of us, for we all are criminals. We all are sinners, broken, unprofitable, filthy, liars, thieves, murderers, unfaithful, blasphemers, and any other thing that transgresses the word of God. When Jesus was numbered with the transgressors, He was counted in with us. It was love alone that made us look like anything other than the transgressors we are, for "love covers a multitude of sins". (1 Peter 4:8) It was love that covered our multitude of sins, the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it was love that caused Him to pour out His life on our behalf. I have to stop here just a second and take note that it's the Apostle Peter who wrote the verse that says love covers a multitude of sins. Who could better understand this type of love than a man who publicly denied Jesus three times? Who could better understand this type of grace?
"Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for Him, 'Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on Me. But this is your hour---when darkness reigns." (Luke 22:52-53) These men have come to perform their wicked deed in the dark. They are cowards, afraid to take hold of Jesus in the daylight when He sits teaching in the temple. They certainly have no desire to seize Him as He heals the sick and raises the dead. That would cause a riot of the people even during normal times and this is not a normal time because thousands of pilgrims are in Jerusalem for Passover. Many of the pilgrims have heard of Jesus' fame and the religious leaders fear an uproar if they arrest Jesus in public, an uproar that will bring the steel-toed boot of Rome crashing down on them.
Jesus has never led a rebellion of any kind, has never spoken against Rome or Caesar, has never urged the people to rise up against the rulers. Jesus has only encouraged mankind to step up in their relationship with God. But in the crowd, in the daytime, these hateful enemies of our Lord dared not lay a hand on Him, for they feared the people would not stand for it. The dark places and the secret places are where wicked people do wicked things and the enemies of Jesus have chosen this dark hour and this secret place to pull off a wrongful arrest. The hour of spiritual darkness begins to reign when Jesus is arrested in the garden and it continues to reign until He rises on Sunday morning.
"Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled." (Matthew 26:56b) The Shepherd has been struck and the sheep have been scattered just as Zechariah prophesied. Jesus also predicted this outcome, "A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave Me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with Me." (John 16:32) The men who swore they would go with Jesus to prison and even to death run away and leave Him alone and defenseless with His enemies. The closest friends Jesus had on earth care more for their own lives than for His fate. But the Father is still with Jesus and will remain with Him until Jesus literally becomes sin for us on the cross, at which time Jesus will cry out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" The Father had to forsake the Son in order to keep from forsaking us. The Father had to turn away from the Son in order to keep from turning away from us. The Father had to allow the Son to die so we could live.
Below is our worship song link for today and it has the perfect message to go along with what we studied this morning. It includes scenes of Judas' betrayal and the arrest of Jesus.
You Love Me Anyway