Today we continue to follow Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. This painting entitled, “The Betrayal of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” was painted in 1308 by an artist named Duccio. The betrayal. That is what we’ve called it. And that word sums up the event. “On the night when he was betrayed” we say every time we say the Words of Institution before Communion. When I say that, everyone knows what we mean. But when you read this account more closely, you realize … Jesus is not the only one being betrayed here. In the garden, many people are betrayed.
Consider with me first the disciples. A disciple by definition follows his master. Jesus said, “Come, follow me” and in that moment, fisherman dropped their nets, left their boats, and they became disciples, they became followers of Jesus. And yet, on this night in the Garden of Gethsemane, these disciples no longer follow but lead. Look again at what Luke writes, “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” (22:49-50). The disciples, the followers take action. Asking a question but not waiting for an answer, praying to God but doing whatever they want … a servant is struck. An ear is lost. Followers are transgressors, evil doers of God’s gracious will. Disciples? Followers? Their actions betray them. They are not disciples but something less than that name.
Consider Judas. Lest we forget, Luke reminds us that he is one of the Twelve. But as he approaches Jesus, his lips are filled with poison and his kiss is deadly. Judas approaches Jesus as a disciple, to kiss his master, but the crowd behind him betrays the man. And so we have another betrayal. “One of the Twelve”? Judas is something less than that name.
And then there is the elders and the chief priests. Luke tells us that the officer of the temple guard came along with them. Constantly these leaders complain about the Romans and the oppression of their nation and yet, who are they using to help force the arrest of one of their own? While in the temple, these elders and chief priests listened to Jesus’ teachings and fought with the Scriptures. But here in the garden, in the darkness of night, these leaders are fighting with swords and clubs and the temple guard. These prisoners to foreign rule now try to rule in ways which are foreign to God. And so we have the third betrayal. Leaders of God’s people? Their weapons betray them. They are something far less than that name.
Luke helps us see that the account of Jesus’ betrayal has something to say about us, about you and me. Sometimes, you can’t trust what you see. Jesus is right when he says, “this is your hour when darkness reigns” (22:53). The hour of darkness is not a full-frontal attack in the middle of daylight where armies are armies and weapons destroy. No, the hour of darkness is that time when evil remains hidden. It hides under a kiss, under discipleship, under the leaders of Israel. People may kiss and pray and preach about peace, but underneath … underneath lies a heart ready for war.
And perhaps you’ve been in this darkness. It usually catches you by surprise. You’re living life, things are good, and with the cost of everything going up with inflation and rising gas prices, every penny becomes precious. Unfortunately, you start to neglect the poverty of others. You cut what is called your charitable giving. You know, it’s your money after all, you’ve worked for it. And suddenly, your future has become more important than another person’s present, and God’s call for justice are simply words typed on a page in a book. You speak about justice and the love of God for the poor, but your actions betray you. The power of darkness doesn’t look dark at first. It’s because its deceptive. One day we’re filled with excitement to serve God’s people, pointing out to the world how it has gone astray from God’s ways. And then later we discover what has been hidden all the time under our excitement and proclamation of living according to God’s way … a burning desire for people to recognize me and what I’ve done, and with that, a hatred of our neighbor, not a shred of desire for their salvation at all. Luke’s account alerts us to this hour of darkness, and we confess today how easily it creeps up on us all as well.
Yet, this lesson on betrayal is not the only thing Luke has to tell us about. In this account, Jesus does more than reveal the hour of darkness … he also reveals the eternal love of our Lord. Our Lord enters the hour of darkness and turns into a place of his eternal love. In the midst of all the deception, Luke points to the one thing which remains true … what Jesus is seeking to do for them. Through it all, Jesus never betrays his Father’s eternal mission. When his disciples fight, he brings peace. When a slave is injured, he heals. When his enemies come, he willingly submits to the suffering that brings our salvation. In each case, Jesus meets the hour of darkness, not by withdrawing from it, but by bringing into this world the eternal kingdom of God.
Take for example the healing of the high priest’s servant. Luke tells us that one of the disciples drew his sword and cut off the ear of this high priest’s servant. The confrontation in the garden is beginning to turn deadly. In the midst of this escalating violence, Jesus intervenes to stop the hurting of the slave. Although he will not act in his own defense, Jesus does work for the defense of others. Weak enough to be arrested, Jesus is strong enough to heal. And in this moment in the Garden, Jesus reveals that no matter what is done to him, he will always remain our maker, coming into this his world to heal his fallen creation. He is who he is, the very Son of God, our Savior. And though the powers of darkness rise against him … he remains strong and obedient to eternal love, for he has come to set us free.
There is really more to this account than just the betrayal of Jesus. Jesus is revealing to us the power of God’s eternal love. For ages, people have trusted that such a love exists. They have waited for God to send them the Messiah, to send the one who would set his people free. For three years in Galilee, the people have seen a Savior. They had brought their sick to a healer, they had looked for the reign of this Prince of Peace. And now, even now in the midst of the power of darkness … we find Jesus, we find this Lord being what his name proclaims him to be. In the face of oppression, he is and remains forever the Anointed One of God. When thrown into a situation where he should protect himself … Jesus uses his hands to heal another. When given good reason to fight his enemies … Jesus lays down his life for their salvation. When faced with disciples who were fighting for his freedom … Jesus asserts his authority as their leader, as the Prince of Peace. The names of Jesus remain true in all situations. He is a Savior, a healer, a Prince of Peace there in the garden and here, now, in our midst today.
Have you experienced the power of darkness? Have you found how easily it can slip in among our lives? If so, do not fear, for today our Lord comes to us. Our Savior, Jesus offers forgiveness to you through his word. In the midst of our illness, Jesus comes as our healer. In the midst of our struggles, Jesus gives us his perfect peace. Each time we gather here at the altar for the Lord’s Supper, we begin by saying, “on the night when he was betrayed.” With that statement, we are remembering the hour of darkness in the Garden. But not only that, we are also remembering every hour of darkness which comes after that one. Times when we have been less than our name of Christian.
Yet … no matter how often this hour of darkness comes among us … God’s eternal love remains. He comes to prepare a place for you at this table, he comes to forgive you by his body and blood. Each time we begin with the words, “On the night when he was betrayed”, Jesus continues on by saying … “Take and eat. Take and drink. This is for you!” Whether that hour of darkness occurs in the garden or in your home … God’s love remains. In eternal love, He continues to come and forgive us our sin. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.