[March 8, 2009] Last Sunday we read how Jesus, after sharing the Passover Seder with His disciples, went with them to an olive grove on the hill across the valley from the Golden Gate of Jerusalem, to pray as was His practice. There He made His ultimate submission to the Father’s will.
Betrayed (Luke 22:47-48)
In today’s reading from Luke (22:47-71), Judas, one of Jesus’ Twelve, led a group of Roman soldiers (temple police on loan from Pilate to Annas, the father of the high priest) accompanied by chief priests, council members and others (henchmen of the high priest and his father) to Jesus. Judas tries to kiss Jesus (it was a pre-arranged signal to this “crowd”) but Jesus holds back and asks accusingly, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” This was a betrayal, and it hurt, even though Jesus had foreknown it.
At the Lord’s Table we repeat the words of the evangelic tradition, “On the night in which the Lord Jesus was betrayed …” (1 Corinthians 11:23). It is important for us to remember that the betrayer was one from among us. It is possible for someone who claims to be committed to Jesus, to be a Christian, to betray Him. Jesus was not only betrayed on Maundy Thursday but is continually. To betray someone is to violate their trust and one’s allegiance to them in order to aid the enemy. The enemy is the world as a spiritual system (gestalt) that tries to seal itself off from God. We betray Jesus when we side with the world and betray the Gospel or betray one another.
Let us not be fooled. As long as we are in the world, our allegiance is always being tested. This is why we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” literally, “the test.” Betrayal is secret. Your fellow believers may never know about it, and you may deny it to yourself. But God knows. Let us always hear that warning in the Lord’s Supper, “On the night in which the Lord Jesus was betrayed …”
Misguided Enthusiasm (22:49-51)
The other disciples, who had been sleeping moments before, ask Jesus if they should fight and, before Jesus can answer, Peter strikes the slave of the high priest and cuts off his ear. Jesus immediately forbids any more fighting and heals the man’s ear. According to the translation Jesus says, “Let them go this far,” which can be paraphrased, “Stop, let them be!” But the words might also be translated, “Do you take it even as far as this?” as an expression of His frustration with His disciples (see 22:38). Luke did not name Peter in this scene because Peter was still alive (see John 18:10).
In Matthew Jesus is a fiery apocalyptic prophet and tells the disciples that He was capable of defending Himself with legions of angels. While this is true, in Luke Jesus makes no attempt to defend Himself. Unlike Judas who betrayed the Lord, the other disciples do the opposite. They rashly defend Him with the use of force. The way of the church is martyrdom, not self-defense. This is not to say all self-defense is wrong. It is wrong in the cause of the Gospel. The church is called to take up the cross, never the sword. To take up the cross does not mean to take up the symbol of the cross as a banner like Constantine did. To take up the cross means to carry the beam on which we will be crucified. To take up the cross is to die, not to impose our will on others by force. “If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his soul shall lose it, but whoever loses his soul for My sake, this one shall save it” (9:23-24). More than at any other time, the time to take up the cross is in the presence of our enemies. Enthusiasm for Jesus is simply not enough, and it can be completely misguided.
In the twelfth century, the churches of East Asia once rivaled the churches of the West. When the Muslim world was expanding (by force), the churches accepted the aid of Genghis Khan who was himself married to a Christian and favored Christians and Buddhists. The threat to the Muslim world made the Crusades seem like a backyard skirmish. The Muslim world retaliated with tremendous force. Within a century, the churches of Asia were practically wiped out by massive slaughter. The cause of Christ must never use force!
Handing Himself Over (22:52-53)
Rather than offering resistance, Jesus calmly and deliberately hands Himself over. Boldly He asks the crowd, “Why did you come out with such force? Were you too afraid of Me when I was there with you in the Temple day after day?” The Sadducean priesthood was unpopular with the people, but Jesus had the support of many, especially the pilgrims who had come from Galilee to celebrate the Passover. Jesus’ courage stood in contrast to their fear.
The Sadducees in cohort with the high priests may have wanted Jesus dead but they would not have acted on their own because they were afraid of the people. The fact that the high priest had the help of Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus shows that Pilate was behind this. Pilate had secretly ordered Jesus’ arrest because of the popular claim that Jesus was the “King of the Jews.” This was what the final charge was. It was bound to be an unpopular move but one that reinforced his authority. Therefore he ordered the high priest and the council to frame Jesus and hand Jesus over to him. There was to be no king but Caesar and the governors whom he appoints. The high priest and his party collaborated with the Romans, and the Romans protected their status and wealth, which is the main reason they were so unpopular. But they were also afraid of the Romans. Even putting themselves at risk from the people, they feared the Romans even more and had Jesus arrested.
Jesus continued: “Never mind,” He says in essence. “This is Satan’s brief moment. Let’s go!” Rather than them taking Him by force, He hands Himself over to them. The word for “betrayal” (paradidōmi) is the same word that Paul uses when he says that God did not spare His own Son but “handed Him over” for us all (Romans 8:32), and that Christ loved us and “handed Himself over” for us (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2, 25).
Even though Jesus is betrayed in their hour and “the authority of darkness,” nevertheless it is God who hands Jesus over and Jesus who hands Himself over. Nothing was accidental about Jesus’ fate. Even though the world opposes the church, nothing happens apart from God’s will. If we rested in this fact, we would not be tempted to impose God’s will on others. God can take care of His own cause.
What is required of us is the faithfulness that we see in Jesus.
Detained and Bullied (22:54a, 63-71)
Jesus was taken to the high priests’ house to be detained until the morning. According to Matthew, all night long the high priest and his inner circle battered and harassed Jesus to try to come up with criminal charges that they could bring to Pilate. Jesus in fact refused to cooperate by remaining silent. In the end they failed. They allowed the soldiers to rough Him up before they brought Him to the so-called council in the morning.
Jesus remained silent in the face of this abuse. He refused to let them bully Him into being helpful. He refused to be a partner in this game. In the same way, when others attack us, we must be careful about allowing our opponents to set the terms. The church is continually bullied and put in a false position by the culture. Often we are playing according to a political or cultural agenda that is not our own. Silence would be much better, and much more faithful. The church is charged with a proclamation that comes from outside the cultural array and it needs to set its own terms of confrontation and not be manipulated by special interest groups within or without.
Before the high priest handed Jesus over to Pilate, a move that was bound to be very unpopular—which is why all this was done when the crowds were still asleep in their beds the morning after the Passover Seder—the high priest wanted the approval of the elders. It was an informal meeting (there were rules about calling a formal council that could not be applied at such short notice). The term “Christ” has political connotations but Jesus again refuses to cooperate with them. What He means by Christ and what they mean are not the same. Since the high priest could not come up with any criminal charges that would stick, he tried to pin on Jesus a charge of blaspheme. “Are You the Son of God?” In rather cryptic words, Jesus basically says, “You are talking, not Me.” He refuses to answer them. Because He does not deny that He is the Son of God, they take that as an affirmative. In fact, Jesus has said nothing incriminating, and if this were a regular session of the Sanhedrin, He would not have been condemned. What they call blaspheme is the idea that Jesus might actually be the Son of God. Jesus does not deny it. But He will not give them what they want either. Jesus will not let Himself be manipulated into taking a false step. Powerless to do anything else, they can only resort to force.
The word that is translated “betrayal” is used to speak of how Christ “handed Himself over” to the cross for our salvation. It is also used for the apostles handing down the Gospel “tradition” (Romans 6:17; 1 Corinthians 11:23; 15:3; 2 Peter 2:21; Jude 3). At first, the Gospel tradition was the oral transmission of the eyewitness testimony concerning Jesus. For us, it refers to the fourfold Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. When our enemies try to force us into a false position, it may be the time to be silent. But there are other times when our silence is wrong. The church throughout the centuries has paid a great price to hand on the Gospel to us. If we do not proclaim Christ, no one will believe. For us to refuse to speak of Christ to others amounts to denial.
What did Jesus mean when He said that Peter would “deny” Him? Peter denied Jesus when he said he did not know Him and when he said he did not belong to Jesus. Why would we deny close association with Jesus? We are ashamed of what others might think. It does not matter what it is that we imagine they might think (perhaps we are embarrassed because we make such poor disciples, or because of the poor reputation of other disciples). Jesus says, “Whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words, of this one will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26). In Matthew 10:32-33 He says, “Everyone who will confess in Me before men, I also will confess in him before My Father who is in the heavens; but whoever will deny Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in the heavens.”
At the same time that Jesus is standing firm while being bullied and abused in the house of the high priest, Peter is in the courtyard of the same house denying Jesus. This is a picture of the church. While the Gospel (and those who proclaim it) is being abused by the world, the disciples are in the same courtyard denying that they even know Jesus. Paul says, “No one was with me to support me, but all abandoned me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and empowered me …” (2 Timothy 4:16-17). Others are being martyred for the faith but we are silent and ashamed. How shameful! And then Luke says, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter” (verse 61). Do not ever think He does not see you.
Let us pray, “Lead us not into …” or rather, “Steer us clear of the test!” While others die, our cowardice is NOT excused.