By J.R. Miller
It was after the great intercessory prayer. Jesus now set out on His journey to the cross. The Garden of Gethsemane was on the way. This was one of His familiar sacred resorts for prayer, and here He lingered for an hour. Leaving eight of His disciples at the outer edge of the Garden to watch, He took three, His closest friends, with Him a little farther. "Sit here," he said to them, "while I go over there and pray" (Matthew 26:36). He was drawing near to the terrible experience of the cross, and sought help. Before He passed into the darkness, He wanted the lamps of comfort lighted. Though He was the Son of God, He sought strength and help--in prayer and communion with His Father. We know that the praying in Gethsemane made the darkness of Calvary less dark, and the woe less bitter. Indeed, the battle was really fought under the olive trees, and when the next day came with its darkness and anguish--He was ready for it and met it all calmly.
The great lesson for us, is that the way to prepare for coming perils and sorrows--is by prayer. A season spent with God, will make us strong for any experiences of struggle or duty. It is said that a young officer under Wellington, when ordered to perform some perilous duty, lingered a moment and then said to his commander, "Let me first have a grasp of your all-conquering hand--and then I can do it." We need to feel the grasp of the mighty hand of Christ--and then we can perform any duty, meet any peril, and endure any trouble. A mother whose life was very hard used often to go away upstairs to her room for a little while, when the burdens became unbearable, and she always would come back with a song and a shining face and a brave heart. We should always seek the Garden--before we have to take up the cross.
This Garden meant a great deal to Jesus. Often He had come here with His disciples in the troublous times when His enemies were plotting His death. Here we have a glimpse of our Lords devotional habits. All through His life--He had His times for prayer. There were mountaintops where He spent whole nights communing with His Father. We are apt to wonder why He, the Son of God, needed so much to have His seasons of prayer. But the holiest need prayer the most. Some people manage to get along without much praying--but it is at the expense of their spiritual life. Not feeding their souls--they grow very lean. Luther used to say he had so much to do--that he could not get along with less than three hours of prayer each day. Some of us would put it the other way, and say that we have so much to do--that we have almost no time for praying. But Luther was wise. A great deal of praying needs always to go--to a very little working. Then the habit of praying is important. Some people tell us that prayer should be spontaneous and that regular periods make it formal and take the life out of it; but if there are no regular seasons and places of prayer--there will soon be no prayer at all. Jesus had habits of prayer.
Jesus, as He was nearing His cross, sought strength in two ways. He craved human sympathy. He wanted His disciples to be near Him, and to wait and watch with Him. In this they failed Him. Then He craved His Father's help. In this longing, He was not disappointed. God never fails those who call upon Him in their distress. The cup did not pass from Him--but as He pleaded, His agony became less and less intense, until His cries were quieted into submissive peace.
As Jesus came from the Garden, He saw the torches flashing in the near distance. Every new line in the story of the betrayal, shows new blackness in the heart of Judas. Going out from the supper table, he hastened to the priests, and quickly got under way with his band of soldiers and police. He knew very well where Jesus had gone. Then, when he had found Him, the manner in which he let the officers know which one of the company they were to arrest, shows the deepest blackness of all--he went up to Him as to a dear friend, eager and ardent, and kissed Him! And the words mean that he kissed Him repeatedly, over and over, and with pretended warmth and affection.
Let us remember how the treason grew in the heart of Judas, beginning in greed for money, growing into theft and falseness of life, ending at last in the blackest crime the world ever saw! We should watch the beginnings of evil in our hearts.
A picture in the royal gallery of Brussels, represents Judas wandering about on the night after the betrayal. He comes by chance upon the workmen who have been making the cross on which Christ shall be crucified on the morrow. A fire nearby throws its light full on the faces of the men who are sleeping peacefully, while resting from their labor. Judas' face is somewhat in the shade--but it is wonderfully expressive of awful remorse and agony--as he catches sight of the cross and the tools used in making it--the cross which his treachery had made possible! But still, though in the very torments of hell, as it appears, he clutches his moneybag and seems to hurry on into the night. That picture tells the story of the fruit of Judas' sin--the moneybag with thirty pieces of silver in it (and even that, he could not keep long), carried off into the night of fiendish despair--that was all. The same terrible story of sin is repeated yet, whenever men sell their souls for money, or for any price this world pays.
Jesus was not taken by surprise. He knew what it all meant when He saw the soldiers and officers with lanterns and torches and weapons, coming toward Him. He knew the meaning of the kiss from Judas. But He was not startled. He met the betrayal calmly. He stepped forth, saying, "Whom do you seek?" When they told Him, "Jesus of Nazareth," He said, "I am He." They were panic-stricken and fell to the ground. Here we have a glimpse of the power of Jesus. Though He seemed to be ensnared and unable to escape--yet really He never was more free, than at that moment. He could have called legions of angels with a word, though even that would have been unnecessary, for He had almighty power in Himself, before which, had He put it forth, all His enemies would have been as nothing!
We must remember that Christ's death was voluntary. He gave Himself as a sacrifice. He laid down His life for the sheep. Here we see the love of Jesus in freely offering Himself as our Redeemer.
"When Jesus said, 'I am he,' they drew back and fell to the ground!" In this scene we have also a hint of the appalling effect which Christ's look will have upon His enemies on the judgment day. One glance of His holy eye, will send terror into all impenitent hearts and drive the ungodly forever away before the wind! They will call upon the hills and rocks to fill upon them, to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb--but in vain!
In the time of His own great danger Jesus did not forget His disciples--but sought and secured their safety. "If therefore you seek me--then let these go their way," He said. Illustrating the picture He had drawn of the Good Shepherd, He did not flee when He saw the wolf coming, leaving the sheep to be scattered; but gave His own life for the sheep.
The incident also illustrates the great work of redemption. Jesus procures the deliverance of His people--by surrendering Himself to shame and death, while they go their way in joy and safety. So watchful was He over His own people in their time of panic and fear, that as He had said, "Of those whom you have given me--I have not lost one." And that is just as true now, after nineteen centuries, as it was that day. He never has lost a single soul who trusted in Him. No one ever has perished, who took refuge in the love of Christ. His infinite power protects all who submit themselves to Him as Redeemer and Savior. At the day of judgment Christ will be able to say these same words, "Of those whom you have given me--I have not lost one." We need not be afraid to trust ourselves to the saving of Christ. No matter what our peril may be in any condition or circumstances, we need never be afraid, if we are doing our part faithfully and trusting Him. No power can snatch us out of the hands of Christ!
We are not surprised to find the disciples interfering in behalf of their Master. It broke their hearts to see Him handled so roughly. Peter was always brave. He could not restrain himself, and, after drawing his sword, which he carried, he struck at one of the guards and cut off his ear. But Jesus checked his assault and said, "Put your sword away! The cup which my Father has given me--shall I not drink it?" We ought to take this word of Jesus for our own. He meant that no resistance such as Peter had attempted, should be offered to His arrest; and the reason was that His betrayal, capture, and coming death belonged to "the cup" which the Father had given into His hands; and therefore must not be rejected. The lesson is, that there are some evils against which we should not lift a finger!
Just how far we ought to resist wrongs inflicted upon us by others--is often a difficult question to settle. We remember the words of Christ elsewhere: "But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well." (Matthew 5:39, 40).
Possibly this doctrine of nonresistance may sometimes be carried too far; but there is no doubt that far more frequently the erring is on the other side. At least we are very sure that if the wrongs threatened belong to "the cup" which the Father has given us--we ought not to resist them.