Sep 17, 2017

“A Betrayal, Some Swordplay, and Desertions” 9-17-17

Matthew 26:47-56
September 17, 2017

Readers of the late Charles Schultz comic strip “Peanuts” are familiar with the frame in which beagle Snoopy is sitting on his dog house with a typewriter, beginning his great American Mystery novel.  It always begins with the same line: “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Actually, that line was supposedly voted to be the worst opening line for a mystery novel.
We have no evidence that the night on which Jesus was arrested was stormy, but it was certainly dark.  Maybe not literally dark, but certainly morally dark and spiritually dark.
The spiritual darkness is seen in Judas, an apostle and friend of Jesus
We do not know how the darkness entered Judas’ soul, but we do know that somehow he gave Satan a foothold in his life and he decided to sell Jesus to his enemies. 
The enemies of Jesus had been looking for a betrayer.  They had determined that Jesus had become such a threat to their rule and the safety of themselves and their nation that He had to be done away with. 
But, in recent weeks and especially on that week in Jerusalem, the popularity of Jesus had experienced a resurgence and there were so many people around him every day that it would have been dangerous to arrest him.  Many of these people believed that Jesus was the one sent by God to redeem his people, and they would most likely resist any effort to take him away from them.
Jesus enemies knew that in the evenings, Jesus left the crowds and went to places where there were not many people around him, but they did not know where those places were.  So they needed one who knew where and when Jesus would be without many supporters to tell them the time and the place. 
There has been much speculation about why Judas agreed to supply this information to Jesus’ enemies, but the fact is that he not only supplied that information, he led the arresting party to Jesus in the garden on the Mount of Olives.
And what an arresting party it was. When we put all of the gospel accounts together it appears to have been a combination of various types of people.  There were officers of the temple.  The temple had its own police force or guard, to keep peace in the temple and to enforce the regulations for behavior in the temple.  These men would have been armed with swords and spears.  At least one of the gospel writers seems to think that there were also some Roman soldiers among the arresting party. 
And there seem to have been some non-military and non-police people there.  We know that at least one of the servants or slaves of the high priest was there.  And we know that some of these civilians were armed not with swords and spears but clubs.
Matthew describes this group as a large crowd, and leading that crowd was Judas, the betrayer.  Judas not only betrayed Jesus, he added a measure of deceit to his treachery by addressing Jesus as his beloved rabbi, which he once was, but not anymore.  He turned the kiss of friendship of a student for his master, into the mark of the victim.
Jesus, of course, was not fooled and although he did address Judas as a friend, he told him to get on with his treachery.
Then there was a bit of action in that garden.  Matthew tells us that one of the Apostles took out a sword and began to hack at the arresting party.  In the gospel of John, this man is identified as Peter.
Earlier that evening Peter had promised Jesus that he would defend him to the death, and here we see that he was as good as his word.  The gospel of Luke tells us that there were two swords among the 11 apostles, and Peter, having one of them, sprang into action, regardless of the consequences.  There were two apostles with swords against a large crowd with many swords and clubs.
And I think that provides the context for a well-known and sometimes misunderstood saying of Jesus.  He told Peter to stop attacking and put his sword away.
His attack had already wounded a servant of the high priest, cutting off one of his ears, which Jesus restored according to one of the other gospels.  Peter had utilized the element of surprise, but what could be expected at that point would be a response from the crowd that would end in a slaughter of the 11 and maybe even Jesus.  And I think that is the context in which Jesus said “all who take up the sword will perish by the sword.”
I do not think this is a mandate of Jesus for his followers to be pacifists although I do not harshly judge those who do.  I think what he was saying was that all who took up the sword that night to defend him could expect to be killed.
Then he addressed the crowd who had come to arrest him.  He protested as a leader of the people and a man of honor.  They had come to arrest him in a manner that would be wise if he were a violent criminal with a group of violent followers.  Their approach with a large group with many weapons, to overpower a feared enemy in a secret place is a tactic still used by police and special military units today.
Jesus protested that such tactics were not necessary for him; he was a leader of many people, respected by many, a teacher and healer, a man of peace, who respected the law.  He did not need to be arrested in such a show of force.
But he was not without the means to defend himself if he so chose. 
When he told Peter to put away his sword, he told him that he could summon 12 legions of angels to defend him if that were God’s will.  12 legions would be somewhere between 72,000 and 60,000 angels.  That is quite a fighting force, or defensive unit.
We saw something similar in our first lesson from II Kings.  We need to remember that as we feel called to defend Jesus and the church and as we are called to work for him, God is not without resources of his own.  He does not call us because He needs us; he calls us because he loves us.
As we face very real threats to our nation and our existence as a people and as Christians, we need to remember that God has plenty of resources to defend him and us.  Sometimes he chooses to use us and sometimes he takes care of things in other ways.
We need to learn to depend on God’s power and strength and not behave as if our well-being and the well-being of our families and our church all depend on us.  We are God’s, and he is more powerful than any human force, for good or for evil.
I think that this passage when combined with the previous passages shows us how difficult it is to follow Jesus sometimes.
Jesus’ apostles, minus Judas, had promised to defend Jesus, and when one of them started to do just that, Jesus forbade him.  He basically said, “I don’t need your help here.”  Confused and overwhelmed, they all ran away when they saw Jesus arrested.
Sometimes we really don’t understand how Jesus wants us to help him or serve him.  But if we get confused and overwhelmed and run away, he will be waiting for us to come back.
Sometimes, we need to remember that there are multitudes of angels maybe just beyond our sight, and let God direct them as well as us.
In addition to that, there is one more truth that is repeated in this passage that should give us great confidence as we serve God in this life.
In this passage Jesus spoke to both his friends and his enemies about the fulfillment of Scriptures.
To his friends, he suggested that his arrest and coming suffering and death, and the resurrection they could not foresee, were all the fulfillment of things that had been written in the Old Testament Scriptures.
And he said the same to his enemies.  In their arresting him and having him put to death, Many of the OT Scriptures about the Suffering Messiah were being fulfilled.
But when speaking to his enemies he added something.  Those were came to arrest him were acting on the authority of the High Priest.  The Priests at that time did not recognize all of the OT to be the word of God.  They did not recognize the writings of the Prophets to be Scripture.  They only recognized the Law or the Pentateuch as the Word of God.  So in addressing them, Jesus specifically referred to “the Scriptures of the prophets”.  Even as he faced death, he seized a moment to teach his enemies a truth about God’s word.
It is sometimes difficult to follow Jesus.  When it is we need to remember the armies of angels God has to defend us.
And we need to remember that the Scriptures must be fulfilled.  The scriptures tell us about the return of our Lord, the establishment of His eternal kingdom, and eternal life.  They also tell us that Jesus will attend to a final reckoning and justice for all the unfinished business of this world.  And they tell us of eternal life for all who believe in Jesus and love and serve him.
Have faith, my fellow believers.  As he faced death, Jesus told his followers and his enemies that God would prevail in the end.  He did, And he shall.

Pastor David Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906