By Harris Franklin Rall
We do not know how long Jesus and his friends talked together on that last night, but it must have been midnight or after when they finally went forth. Even yet the disciples did not realize what that last journey meant. But Jesus knew. Yonder were the plotting priests, with Judas telling where they might find him. Yet even now, with the blow about ready to fall, Jesus' thoughts were with the disciples. With one last warning he tried to prepare them against what was to come. Heavy of heart, he turned to them: You shall all stumble and fall to-night because of me. What the prophet has written is to be fulfilled: "Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered" (Zech. 13. 7). But after I am raised, I will go before you into Galilee. As usual, Peter was first with his answer: Though all shall be offended, I will not. It was this Peter who needed the warning above others, and so Jesus turned solemnly to him: This very night shalt thou deny me, Peter, deny me three times before the cock crows twice. At that all began to protest, and so they went on their way, Jesus making no further answer.
The Meaning of the Garden
Why Jesus Stayed. —It was to the Mount of Olives that Jesus went, to a place where they had been accustomed to resort (Luke 22. 39), possibly a garden belonging to some friend. It is probable that they had been spending the last nights here, and Judas would know the place well. Why, then, did Jesus go there ? Back of that lies the larger question: Why did he stay in Jerusalem? It was not too late to escape. The leaders would have been quite willing to let him go. It was not his life they cared for; they wanted him out of the way. It would have suited them as well to have him flee the city, if he would give up his claims and forfeit his hold upon the people.
But Jesus did not think of flight. Long ago, in the wilderness yonder by the Jordan, he had fought his first great fight concerning his work. He had found his answer then, clear and definite: He was to obey and not choose, to serve and not to rule, and to trust his Father. A second great conflict had come to its crisis on the mount of transfiguration. He had realized there that obedience and service pointed to Jerusalem and death; but he set his face steadfastly to go that way. The third and last great conflict of his life was now come. He had made his last appeal. With all his power he had pleaded, warning and beseeching. He had failed. He had had a certain support from the people which had thus far thwarted his foes; there had even been some enthusiasm at the first. But he knew well enough that there had been no repentance, no real acceptance of his message. In all this he had followed his Father's will. He was taking no new way now, only the same road of obedience and service. Now, however, he saw that it was his Father's will for him to stay, to face betrayal and desertion and death. He had been serving men in life; in some way he was to render a last and greatest service by his death.
What He Sought. —Jesus went to the garden for prayer, just as he went to the wilderness in that first time of testing, and to the mountain in that second trial. He had done what he could for his disciples, even to the last moment; now he must face his own problem. He must gain certainty from above as to this course and strength from above to face it. The Christian disciple must ever be grateful to those first followers of Jesus for preserving in this frank and simple account the story of our Lord's prayer and struggle. Nothing in all the Gospels shows so well his kinship with us as this picture of his pleading, his need, and his utter dependence upon God. Nothing shows more clearly how he stands above us than this picture of his utter obedience and trust, of that strength and quiet of soul in which he rises from the struggle. Jesus was never more a king than in the moment when from out that garden he went forth to die.
The Conflict in the Garden
The Petition of Jesus. —Having arrived at the garden, Jesus took the three who were his intimates a little to one side. He told them of the burden that rested on his soul, a burden like that of death, and asked them to watch with him while he prayed. Then, withdrawing a little way, he began to pray. In the agony of his struggle he fell upon his face, as he cried, "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; remove this cup from me: howbeit not what I will, but what thou wilt.*' What was the cup from which Jesus prayed deliverance? We need not search for some hidden mystery here. Jesus had looked forward to death; now he was facing it in all its terrible reality. And it was not simply the suffering and death. Despite the torture and ignominy of the cross that was the lesser part. There was the betrayal by one disciple and the desertion of the others. There was the cruel treachery of the leaders and the shameful indifference of the people, his own people. It was this sin of the people that rested heaviest upon his soul. And so he cries out, as any son might to the Father: Is there not some other way? If it be possible, let this cup pass away from me!
His Prayer of Victory. —But it is not the struggle and the petition that are most important here; it is the victory that Jesus won. For this prayer was no mere meditation or simple petition. It was a moral battle, such as prayer at its highest is wont to be, a conflict in which man rises to God by laying hold upon the hand of God. Out of that conflict Jesus came forth a conqueror, and his prayer points the way for all right prayer and for all victory. Trust, petition, surrender were the three steps. It began with a perfect trust: "Abba, Father," words that in themselves are prayer enough to voice all faith and desire. Next he brought his petition, just as every child may bring to the Father his every interest and need. And then came the surrender, that trustful devotion to God which is the spirit of all true prayer and its sign of achievement. For the goal of prayer is not the winning of our desire, but rather this harmony with God in which his will becomes the deepest wish of our heart. Such a union with the Father's will had marked the whole course of Jesus' life; now he maintains it victoriously at the end. He comes out of the conflict seeing his death as the Father's will, and ready that that will should be done.
The Struggle. —The victory did not come without terrible struggle; again and again Jesus uttered his prayer. And his struggle was alone; the sleeping disciples could not give him the sympathy which he craved. The story of that hour has presumably come down to us through Peter, upon whom Mark's Gospel probably depends. Peter conceals nothing of the failure with which he and the others must often have reproached themselves in later days. But the strain of the week of excitement and danger in the great city had told upon these men of the open. They had seen the Master's agony of spirit. Three times he had spoken to them, bidding them watch with him. Listening each time, they had heard the first words of Jesus' prayer and then fallen asleep again. Now Jesus came to them for the last time. He had heard the approach of his foes and he called to his disciples: ''Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough; the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners."
Betrayal and Arrest. — It was the company that had been sent out by the chief priests and scribes and elders to apprehend Jesus. Judas was at their head, and it marks the depths to which the man had fallen that he points out Jesus to these foes by walking up to him and giving him the wonted kiss of friendly salutation. It was a mixed company that came, probably hastily gathered at night, some bearing swords, others only staves. One of the disciples drew a sword (Peter, according to John 18. 10), but Jesus bade him put it up. To the men before him Jesus simply said: I have been in the temple daily teaching; you might have taken me then. Why do you come out against me by night as if I were a robber? Then, without resistance, he followed them. As to the disciples, what Jesus had anticipated came to pass; they all fled, panic-stricken.
The Problem. —The story of Judas has been a problem to students and has called forth many theories and explanations. Some have viewed him as a misguided enthusiast, convinced that Jesus had miraculous power if he would only use it, thinking by his plot to compel Jesus to assert himself and seize kingly power. Others have painted him an utter villain, a monster so black that there seemed nothing human about him. Leaving these extremes, there are two questions which occur to us all: How could Jesus have taken such a man into the company of his intimate friends? And how could any man have resisted the influence of that fellowship and turned to such a deed?
The Men Whom Jesus Chose. —The answer to these questions brings us back to the method of Jesus. The twelve whom he chose were not saints; they were men in the making. The Gospels reveal their faults of character with perfect frankness. They quarreled with each other. Two of them wanted to call down fire from heaven upon a village that had refused hospitality to the company. They had selfish dreams about places of honor in Jesus' kingdom. In the hour of his danger the whole company deserted him and the foremost of them denied his Master with an oath. They were slow to understand Jesus' message and purpose. To the very last they could not see why Jesus should take the way of service and death when he might have honor and power.
And yet Jesus chose these men. They had responded to his message, though they had not understood it all. They were loyal to him personally. They wondered at his way, but they followed him. In the end they remained true despite the death of their Lord and the shame of the cross. They had in them the making of leaders in the Kingdom, and that was the final reason for his choice. More and more he made their training his central concern, that they might carry forward what he had begun.
The Message Tested. —Jesus saw such possibilities in Judas himself, possibilities both of character and usefulness. The message of Jesus had stirred the best that was in him and he had followed. In a way he was one of the leaders of the circle. He was treasurer and steward for the company, arranging for necessary provisions and lodging. Judas had watched with wonder, like the rest, the Master's power to heal. He knew that Jesus could command the following of the mass of the people if he would. But Jesus would not choose that way. Instead he talked strangely of coming as a servant, and his speech of the Kingdom had nothing about thrones or victory over Israel's enemies, but about righteousness and being merciful and becoming like a child. And then came those days in the north, when Jesus owned himself at last as Messiah, but at the same time declared that he was to go to Jerusalem and be refused by the people and finally taken prisoner and put to death.
The Failure of Judas. —We have seen the disciples protesting, but nevertheless following Jesus to Jerusalem. Why Judas remained in the company is not clear. In any case, as the end grew nearer, the inner revolt of Judas became more complete. He had not followed Jesus for any such end as this: a Messiah helpless before his foes, a King that would not use his power or strike a blow! It may have been that Judas's covetousness entered in, but probably this was quite incidental: thirty pieces of silver were a petty reward. Anger and disappointment were probably stronger reasons. His feeling was in part like that of the mob which cried out, "Crucify!" He had convinced himself that Jesus' claim was false; the man who went thus to death could not be the Messiah.
The End. —There are two accounts of the end of Judas. According to the one he hung himself in remorse for his deed (Matt. 27. 3-10). According to the other, he was killed by an accident (Acts 1. 18). It is but fair to conclude from Matthew's account, that Judas realized his awful error as well as his sin. It may have been that he followed and watched Jesus at the trial, that he gained some new vision of the Master, and saw at length beyond all doubt that he whom he had betrayed was the Messiah. No man can sink so deep in life that there may not be forgiveness for his penitence. But there are consequences of sin that are irrevocable.
Directions for Study
The Scripture passages: Mark 14: 32-52; Matthew 27. 3-10; Acts 1. 18-20.
Recall the events of the evening as discussed in the last lesson: the Master's plan for the last evening, the washing of the feet, the warning as to the betrayal, the Supper and its message.
Read carefully the passage in Mark (14. 32-42) telling of the Master's struggle and agony, and the discussion upon this passage. The best preparation for this study will be a spirit of deep and humble reverence. Let us not try to understand all the Master's experience, but let us be sure to take for ourselves the lesson of the meaning and need of prayer. If he needed to pray thus, what of us?
Concerning Judas, the references given tell us in reality very little. As you read these passages and the discussion, recall the experience of Judas as a whole. Three facts are plain: His great privilege as one of the twelve, his betrayal of Jesus, and his final repentance of that deed.
What is your conception of prayer and its purpose?
Read 1 Corinthians 9. 26, 27; Philippians 3. 12-14, and consider the character of the man who wrote them.