Sermon for Sunday, September 20th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Jdg 16:18-22 ESV] 18 When Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up again, for he has told me all his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hands. 19 She made him sleep on her knees. And she called a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. 20 And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him. 21 And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison. 22 But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
New Testament reading:
[Phl 2:1-11 ESV] 1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
[Mar 14:32-50 ESV] 32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” 43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled.
[Jhn 18:1-14 ESV] 1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” 12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.
There are a number of famous traitors in history whose very names evince the crime that they committed. In the Revolutionary War there was the traitor Benedict Arnold whose defection to the British has made it all but impossible for an American today to name their child that otherwise fine name “Benedict”, Latin for “blessed.” In the Old Testament Job’s friends turn against him, Delilah betrays Samson for a sum of money, and David’s counselor Ahithophel becomes a traitor and gives his support to David’s enemy, Absalom.
But no more famous a traitor exists in either the Bible or all of world history than Judas Iscariot.
Twice already in this Gospel the apostle John has given the reader a foreshadowing parenthetical note: “Judas was going to betray Jesus.” (John 6:71, John 12:4)
Then also we read that the devil put it in the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Jesus. (John 13:2)
Matthew’s gospel explains how this comes to be with a scene (26:15) where Judas comes to the chief priests and says “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” “And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.” And the text says “From that moment he sought an opportunity to betray Jesus.”
Now in John’s Gospel, chapter 18, we come to that notorious act of Judas.
Jesus is betrayed, as planned.
He is betrayed, as planned by Judas. And he is betrayed as planned by God.
I. The Account
When Jesus had finished his Upper Course he went with his disciples across the brook Kidron. That is, he went East from Jerusalem through this low and dark valley which had a brook, dry most of the year but for a seasonal flow coming through it. This brook, it is said, was more often filled not with water but with the blood of animals sacrificed at the temple. And it is not difficult to see symbolism in this as Jesus walks across this perhaps still bloody ravine.
And he going to a garden. To Gethsemane. And it is not difficult to find symbolism here either. As the fall occurred in the Garden of Eden, now the story of redemption goes through a garden as well. But this is not a garden like we think of with low-lying plants. Rather it is more like an orchard. A grove of olive trees. And this garden is at the base of the Mount of Olives where olives trees did then, and still do, grow.
So this is the setting for Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. The text says that “Judas knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples.”Jesus was going there intentionally, knowing that he would be captured. He wasn’t in hiding; he went to the garden as the willing sacrifice.
And there at the garden Judas had with him a “band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees.” This is the combined forces of evil. Those same combined forces that would kill Jesus; the Romans and the Jews together.
And it is amazing to see how various evil groups can get along to oppose Christ. In our day many Feminists get along with Islam to oppose the Christian world. And I’ve found this quite remarkable because Islam doesn’t exactly have the best record in the “freedom of women” category. But, you can see, evil is not known for its consistency. Opposition to Christ trumps all else.
Well this evil band of Romans and Jews comes to Gethsemane, per Judas’ direction, and brings with them lanterns, torches, and weapons. It is a “band of soldiers.” In the original Greek a “speira,” the word used for a Roman “cohort” or group of 600 legionaries. There is a debate about just how large this group was to come for Jesus. Was it actually 600 men? Wouldn’t this be overkill? Maybe not. The Philistines sent at least 1,000 men after Samson and he defeated them all. And is Jesus not more powerful than Samson?
This whole operation—bringing about the arrest of Jesus—has been planned by Judas. But in a greater way it has been planned by God.
II. Betrayed, as planned by God.
In verse 4 we read “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek.'”
Jesus knew what was going to happen.
And he initiates the conversation.
They—the leaders whether Jew or Roman or both—say “Jesus of Nazareth.”
And Judas is there to identify him, but he doesn’t have to. Jesus identifies himself.
“I AM HE.”
And with that they “drew back and fell to the ground.”
So overpowering were Jesus words—these same words that he used in his seven I am statements declaring his divinity— ego eimi, that the whole cohort falls to the ground.
And this isn’t a falling over backwards because of some physical energy exploding from Jesus. This is a falling forward, down to the ground face first, in the position of worship, as the power of God made it so that they could do none other. This reminds us that one day even the enemies of God will fall down and worship him.. Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10-11)
The conversation repeats as if to make absolutely sure that this is the right man to take into custody. “Whom do you seek?” “Jesus of Nazareth” “I told you that I am he.”
“So if you seek me, let these men go.” Jesus the lamb to be slaughtered. He will not have anyone else come with him. Not one will be lost either to crucifixion at this time, nor eternally lost as Jesus takes the cross upon himself and protects his apostles from this trial of their faith which they are not able to sustain.
Simon Peter—and whenever you hear his name you know a bad decision is going to be made—Simon Peter takes his sword and swings it and cuts off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest.
And people have used this passage to support the right of self-defense. But there are much better passages to defense the right of self-defense.
In Exodus, there is the passage that says:
[Exo 22:2-3 ESV] 2 If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, 3 but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.
See, if a person is killed at night they are an intruder. One has the right to protect his life and his house against an intruder. One has the right of self-defense, and is not guilty for the death of another when it is done in self-defense.
But in our passage that is not what is going on.
Why does Peter have a sword? [REPEAT: “Why does Peter have a sword in the firstplace?]
It is not for self-defnese, but so that Jesus would be counted among the troublemakers, as the Scriptures prophesied.
[Luk 22:36-38 ESV] 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
Only a couple swords were necessary. Had they wanted to defend themselves they would each have a sword. But the purpose was to be counted—falsely—among the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12).
When Peter had used his sword, Jesus did not say “nice swing” but rather “Pur your sword into its sheath.” Luke tells us (22:51) that Jesus heals the ear of the soldier, Malchus.
What power is this! First by his very word they fall down. Now he heals the ear of the soldier. From this we see so powerfully that Jesus’ word is more powerful than a two-edged sword. He is of immense power, and can do what he wishes. It is not in Judas’ power to arrest Jesus, it is in the very plan of God. It had to be.
I love what Jesus says here as recorded by Matthew’s Gospel:
[Mat 26:52-56 ESV] 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. 56 But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.
The disciples leave and Jesus goes as a willing lamb to the slaughter in the plan of God.
This betrayal of Judas then adds to Christ’s suffering.
I recently read a book called “God’s Smugglers” by a Christian man named Brother Andrew. Now, I don’t like people calling themselves “brother” or “elder” or certainly not “apostle” or anything like that. But there is a good reason that Brother Andrew has that name. See he, during the Cold War, smuggled Bibles into the Eastern bloc, to those communist countries behind the Iron Curtain. And it was almost safe to give out his actual name. And the Christians he met in those countries called him “Brother Andrew” and so he went with “Brother Andrew.”
Well this was a fascinating book about those difficult times and places. And it spoke of many successes in bringing the word of God, in the literal sense of bringing the physical Bibles, to Christians and even pastors and church who had no Bible at all!
Brother Andrew had to be secretive like a spy when he entered those countries. The KGB was on his heels. He could only trust the Christians. Or could he?
Some of the Christians—or those he thought were Christians—betrayed him. They were afraid of the authorities and what they would do if they found Bibles—contraband, propaganda—on them.
And what a terrible blow it is when someone has betrayed you.
I speak from some personal experience as once such event significantly impacted my life. So painful it is that I must move on and not discuss it in detail.
With the betrayal of Judas, there is is this added pain that Jesus felt on the cross. He had, of course, to endure the physical pain of the whips, the nails, the thorns, and the spear. But he also suffered from those who mocked him, and he suffered from the betrayal of Judas. It is as if all terribleness comes together at one moment on Jesus. Any one of these things is hard to endure. But altogether they produced a most trying moment in “the passion” of Jesus Christ.
All of this had been planned by God.
It was his plan that Jesus would take upon himself the sins of His people.
And Judas’ betrayal did not change God plans. The arrest of Jesus is integral to God’s plan.
It fulfilled Scripture. And in Jesus taking the “hit” for the disciples, letting them go free, he fulfilled the word that he had spoken “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.”
Jesus says “take me, not them.”
That is what he says regarding his dispels and that is what he says regarding us.
“Take me, not them.”
We deserve death on the cross.
We are the sinners. He is the pure holy spotless blameless lamb.
But he says “Take me, not them.”
And of the sins we commit, do we not betray God? Are we not traitors whenever we chose something else in place of God? We are traitors when we watch Sunday sports rather than being in worship. We are traitors whenever we join the enemy in anger, not having patience – that fruit of the spirit. And we are traitors to God whenever we do not trust him, and seek out own path.
Judas sought his own path, and it led to destruction.
Now, consider, what is the punishment in most places for being a traitor? You might lose a friend permanently if you betray them. But if you betray your nation as Benedict Arnold did, or as one today might give out military secrets to China, the punishment for such is death.
US Code on Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities: Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death,
And if this is the punishment deserved by a traitor to the nation, how much more is the punishment deserved by a traitor to God?
But Jesus sees us sinners and says “Take me, not them.”
The good shepherd willingly lays down his life for his sheep.
Why? Why does he do this?
In the plan of God it is better that Jesus Christ should die than all God’s people perish.
The words of the High-Priest Caiaphas were truer than he knew he was uttering when he advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people. Little did he know that in his evil plans, and Judas’ evil plans, that God would reign supreme using their evil in his plan for our eternal salvation.
When you are attacked with those thoughts that say “I am a hopeless sinner” remember that Jesus said “Take me, not them.” Praise be to God.