(Written by Pastor Tim Redfield)
Matthew 26:47-56 – 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, “Friend, do what you came for.”
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 At that time 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.
The story of Christ’s betrayal centers on the betrayer, Judas Iscariot. Have you ever wondered how he could have done such a terrible thing? What was he thinking? How could he have betrayed the Son of God in this way? How could Judas betray someone he had learned from for three years? To help us understand what motivated Judas, we need to look at what is said about him elsewhere in scripture. We learn from other passages that Judas had always been tempted by the sin of greed. We find out that he had been the treasurer of the disciples and he had often helped himself to some of the money (John 12:6). The sin of greed is what led Judas to agree to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
Even though he knew the heart of Judas, our Savior showed love to Judas. Jesus gave him an opportunity to change his ways on Maundy Thursday as he was celebrating the Passover with his disciples. He told the disciples that the one who dipped his hand into the bowl with him would betray him. Judas was even bold enough to ask if he would be the one. When Jesus told him, “Yes, it is you,” he gave him an opportunity to turn from this wicked act, but Judas continued down his sinful path. The gospel of John tells us that Satan filled Judas and he left the meal so that he could betray Jesus. Rather than foregoing his terrible betrayal, Judas gave himself over to his sin. Judas was so completely controlled by the devil and his own sin that he would not turn back from his action.
When Judas came to the Garden of Gethsemane, he betrayed our Lord with a kiss. Judas led the enemies of Jesus into the Garden and directly to Jesus. He did not have to identify Jesus; it would have been obvious who Jesus was. The betrayal with a kiss made it much more of a betrayal of the friendship that existed between Judas and Jesus. It was a normal Jewish custom for a Rabbi and a student to greet each other with a kiss. However the Rabbi was supposed to always greet the student first. For the student to greet the Rabbi first was a sign of disrespect. Judas showed through his action that he had betrayed the relationship. Through a kiss, which should have been a sign of a loving friendship, Judas betrayed his loving Savior.
Again, Jesus gave Judas a chance to stop what he was doing. Jesus reached out to him and called him “Friend.” When Jesus said this, it probably reminded Judas of all the time that they had spent together. All the time that Judas had spent learning about Christ and his mission. Jesus was also very specific with the Greek term that he used for “friend.” It was not the normal word used for a friend. This word, although translated as friend, was not a term that meant that there was a loving relationship between the two people. This word meant that there had been a friendship at one point but that one person had despised or scorned that friendship. Jesus, when he called Judas “Friend,” reminded Judas of the betrayal that he was carrying out.
It could be easy for us to develop a “holier than thou” attitude toward Judas. We might look at Judas and say, “What a terrible sinner Judas was?” However, before we judge Judas too harshly, we need to examine our own hearts. We might think that we would never betray Jesus, but is that really true? Certainly, we were not there in the garden, we did not hand Jesus over to the angry mob that wanted to kill him, but we have betrayed our Savior. Every time we fall into sin, every time we insult him and turn our backs on him, we betray Jesus and we betray the faith that has been put in our hearts.
It is a betrayal of our Savior when the recently confirmed student puts his catechism away and lets his Bible collect dust on the shelf. We insult our Savior when we tell him that he is an inconvenience in our lives, when we become too busy to make time for his Word. When we let all the worries, riches and pleasures of this world lead us away from our God. We turn our back on our Savior when we give into the temptations that our friends put in front of us, rather than standing up for God’s law. When our friends and relatives ridicule and make fun of our beliefs, do we remain quiet? Do we sell out our Savior for far less than thirty pieces of silver?
As we look at how the Lamb of God was betrayed, we realize that Judas is not the only one who has betrayed the Lord. It is important to realize that we also have betrayed our Savior with our sins. After we realize that we too are guilty in this matter, we can appreciate the fact that Jesus permitted all of this to take place. Jesus permitted this wicked, dastardly deed of the betrayer. Jesus allowed himself to be betrayed. He allowed this because it was how he was going to bring about our salvation.
So that Jesus could carry out his work to save all people, he had to submit to this arrest. Jesus could have fought the arrest. Jesus could have called upon legions of angels to defend him. He could have miraculously left the Garden that night and saved his own life. But that is not what he did. We see that Jesus allowed himself to be arrested. The apostle Peter did not understand what Jesus was doing. He tried to stop this arrest, pulling out his sword and cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Peter probably thought that he was doing the right thing by defending Jesus. He was upset that Jesus was allowing this to happen and was not fighting back.
Jesus could not allow Peter to interfere with this arrest. Jesus quickly settled down his disciples. He got Peter to put away his sword. He even healed the servant whose ear had been cut off. Jesus told the disciples that these things needed to happen so that the scriptures could be fulfilled. Even if the disciples did not understand what he meant, they stopped fighting and allowed the arrest to take place. Once the disciples realized that they could not stop this arrest, they all fled and left Jesus. Jesus was left standing alone to endure the punishment that would bring us peace. He willingly went to face the punishment because of his great love for all people.
Jesus had to allow this betrayal and arrest to take place. Jesus had to go through the trial, suffering, and death all alone so that he could pay the penalty for the sins of the entire world. We know that our God could have prevented this entire tragedy but then there would have been an even greater tragedy. If Jesus had not been betrayed into the hands of sinful men, then the entire world would still be left in its sinful state. Then all people would be doomed to hell because of sin.
Fortunately for us, Jesus went through with the plan of salvation. He willingly let himself be betrayed, he willingly let himself be arrested, and he willingly let himself be deserted. Because Jesus did all of this for us, we strive every day to live lives that serve our Lord. We know the price that our sins cost. We know that our sins sent Jesus to the cross on Calvary. Because of this knowledge, we never want to betray our Lord again. We desire to serve him, we desire to put our Christian knowledge to use, and we now desire to let everyone know the importance of the great sacrifice that Jesus has made.