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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:It Must Happen This Way
Text:Matthew 26:45-56 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

In Christ Alone

Go to Dark Gethsemane

Ten Thousand Angels 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
03/23/14 – a.m.
 “It Must Happen This Way”
Matthew 26:45-56

In the previous passage from Matthew 26, Matthew records how the disciples slept as Jesus prayed. It was night time. Their eyes were heavy with weariness. It was probably around midnight. It had been an exhausting day and an exhausting week.

But now they wake up, and in the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane, they see lanterns. John describes the scene in his parallel account. In John 18:3 he writes, "So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons."

The torches, lanterns and weapons point us to a number of ironies:

The Light of the World Arrested in Darkness

First, He who is the Light of the world is arrested in darkness. You would think that those who are in darkness would want light. What happens when the electricity goes out at night? You reach for the flashlight, for lanterns, for candles.  Light is necessary to show us the path that we must be on. Jesus is that light.  John 1:4 states: "In Him was life, and that life was the light of men."

Jesus is the only true Light in a world of darkness.  He Himself said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 18:12). But now, into the dark night at Gethsemane comes this band of soldiers and religious leaders led by Judas Iscariot.  And they have lanterns.  Why?  So that they can find and arrest and try and crucify Jesus - Him who is the Light of the world.

You see, it wasn’t just that the night was black and dark. So, too, is the human heart apart from Christ. As the Lord said in John 3:19-20, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

An Army Against Unarmed Jesus

A second irony is that Jesus was never armed, but an army was sent to arrest Him.  Both verse 47 and verse 55 tell how they were armed with swords and with clubs. In verse 55 Jesus says, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture Me?”

Although Jesus wasn’t armed, Peter was. In verse 51 we read, "With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear."  While Matthew doesn’t mention Peter by name, John does.  It is not surprising that it would be Peter, impetuous Peter, who would reach for the sword.  He was undoubtedly trying to decapitate the servant of the high priest, whose name was Malchus. But Malchus must have ducked quickly, sparing his whole head but losing his ear. Luke reveals how Jesus healed Malchus (Luke 22:51).

As we read of this irony, that the prince of Peace is confronted by a large group bearing weapons, clubs and spears, we are also reminded that our weapons are not of this world. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 Paul writes: "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

The Lord often has shown us that we need not fight as the world fights because we have His divine weapons to demolish strongholds. Consider how shocked Gideon must have been when the LORD said to him, as he was ready to face the mighty army of the Midianites, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands.  In order that Israel may not boast against Me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’"

Some of you may recall that "twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.  But the LORD said to Gideon, 'There are still too many men.'”  And I’m sure most all of you, including you children among us, remember what happened next.

The Lord said to Gideon, “'Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there...'  So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, 'Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.'”

Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The LORD said to Gideon, 'With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.'”  (Judges 7:2-7).

Three hundred men went out against the mighty army of the Midianites. And you know who won.  It wasn’t the Midianites.  It was the little group of Israelites. They won because they fought, not with the weapons of the world, but with trust in Almighty God, the source of their strength and salvation.

As the Holy Spirit says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-31, "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.  It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'”

As Peter swings his sword to take on those who came to arrest Jesus, Jesus reminds him and us that we don’t wage war as the world does.  We have the power of prayer.  We have the guidance of God’s Word. We have the indwelling power of the Spirit so that we can declare with confidence, “He who is in (us) is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Betrayed with the Sign of Affection

A third irony is that the betrayal of Jesus was sealed with the sign of affection, a kiss. Why would Judas use a kiss? Some commentators point out that a kiss was the common greeting in the Mideast in that day.  Paul writes "Greet one another with a holy kiss" to both the Roman and the Corinthian church (Rom. 16:16; 2 Cor. 13:12). Consequently, in the view of some it was like Judas coming over and shaking Jesus’ hand. It was just the common greeting of that day.

But other writers point out that the kiss reveals how approachable Jesus was to His disciples. He wasn’t a leader who separated Himself from others, but rather He associated with those whom the Pharisees disdained as sinners, whether tax collectors, the sick and lame, women of ill repute, and the disciples themselves.  He lived as a common man among common people. The way Judas approached Jesus shows that Judas knew how approachable Jesus was.

And the application for us is that Jesus is approachable to us, no matter what our background, no matter what our sins, no matter what social standing or lack of it that we have, we can come to Jesus and He will receive us. He is totally approachable. As He said in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away.”

Commentators spend quite a few pages on why Jesus addressed Judas as “Friend.”  Most point out that even in His betrayal Jesus is gracious, even to the son of perdition, the one about whom it is said, "It would be better if he had not been born."

Often when we are hurt, when we are betrayed, when someone has cruelly deceived us, we sink down to their level.  We are all about retaliation.  But Jesus remained calm.  He knew the kiss of betrayal was necessary for Him to be arrested, tried, convicted, crucified.  As He is recorded as saying in John 18:11, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given Me?” ­­ He realized that the kiss of betrayal was part of the answer to His agonized prayers in Gethsemane, “Father, not My will, but Yours be done.”

Jesus Offered Himself Willingly

The passage also teaches us that Jesus offered Himself as our sacrifice willingly. That truth is also evident in the previous passage in Matthew 26. Matthew describes how Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow, even to the point of death (v. 38). But after being strengthened through prayer, even though His circumstance didn’t change, Jesus went from being overwhelmed with sorrow to confidence in the face of death. That passage closes with two exclamation marks, as Jesus exclaims, “Rise, let us go! Here comes My betrayer!” (v 46).

William Hendriksen, commenting on verse 46 writes: “Go where? Away as far as possible from the approaching band? Fleeing? No, the very opposite: Going forward to meet those who have come to arrest Him.”  (Matthew, pg. 921).

We see the willingness of Jesus to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins over and over.  Even in verse 50 where Jesus addresses Judas as “friend,” He goes on to say, “Do what you came for.”  He had agonized in prayer.  He knew His Father’s will.  He was ready to go forward with His arrest, to go forward with the series of judicial trials and with the crucifixion itself.  So he tells Judas, “Do what you came for.” 

If Jesus hadn’t been willing, He certainly had the power to prevent His arrest and all the events it would lead to. He had the power in and of Himself, but He also had instantaneous access to a whole host of mighty angels. As He said to Peter, in verse 53, after telling him to put his sword back in its place, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

Even one angel, glorious in splendor, could have driven away this large crowd that came to the Garden with their clubs, swords, and lanterns, searching for Jesus with Judas Iscariot. But Jesus doesn’t talk about one angel, but twelve legions of angels. Legions were used in the Roman army. Each legion would number 6000 soldiers. Times that by twelve and you have not the 10,000 angels that the popular hymn mentions, but 72,000 angels.

Jesus is saying to Peter, I don’t need your sword. In an instant I could have 72,000 angels here to disband this mob of people. I could walk away a free man without any help from you and your sword.”  But Christ came to this earth to willingly give of Himself.  Although the popular hymn is low on the number of angels, its point is well taken that “He could have called 10,000 angels to destroy the world and set Him free; He could have called 10,000 angels – But He died alone for you and for me.” (Ten Thousand Angels, Roy Overholt)

And He did die alone. There was no other person, no other being who could redeem us. It was, and is, Jesus alone.  All the disciples deserted Him, leaving Him alone, just as He had predicted in Matthew 26:31.  That is why our faith must always be in Christ alone.  He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one will come to the Father, no one will gain entrance into heaven, except through faith in Him (John 14:6).

Scripture Fulfilled

Secondly, we see in this passage that the desertion of the disciples, along with the arrest, trials and crucifixion of Christ were all a fulfillment of Scripture.  Twice in this passage, in both verse 54 and verse 56 Jesus points out how all that was happening was a fulfillment of Scripture.  As noted in Matthew 26:31, Zechariah had predicted that the Shepherd would be struck and the flock scattered.  As Jesus is arrested, His disciples all scatter. Verse 56 concludes the passage before us by saying “Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled.”  At that point they fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah.

The same is true with the betrayal. After telling His disciples that He could call twelve legions of angels to His rescue, He added, “But how then would the Scripture be fulfilled that says it must happen this way?” (v 54).

All the details of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus were foretold in the Old Testament.  His betrayal. His trials. His thirst on the cross. The casting of lots for His undergarment.  It’s all there in the Old Testament. All those events unfold as Scripture is fulfilled in the New Testament.  And just as all those Scriptures telling of the first coming of Jesus and His judgment at the hands of sinners were fulfilled, so also will be all the verses that foretell the second coming of Jesus to judge sinners with equity and justice.

Perfectly Faithful

A third application which springs from this passage is that God is perfectly faithful, even though we are not. As this section closes we find the disciples all deserting Jesus, just as He had predicted.  But do you remember in the previous passage the note of grace, even as Jesus predicted that all the disciples would fall away on account of Him?  In verse 31 Jesus had quoted from Zechariah 13:7 telling how all the disciples would desert Him.  And then in verse 32 He assures them, “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Just as the death of Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New, so also was His resurrection.  Death could not conquer Jesus.  At the very moment when it looked to all the world that Jesus was defeated, He was instead victorious.  As Colossians 1:19-20 puts it, "For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross."

Through His death and resurrection, the disciples found peace. They found that by grace they were reconciled through that shed blood on the cross.  Even though they fled. Even though Peter would call down curses, denying that He knew Jesus.  Even though they were great sinners, they were reconciled, forgiven, and are presented to the Father without spot and without blame.

And the same goes for you and for me. The disciples found out that God is perfectly faithful, even though we are not. May you and I, in humble repentance and saving faith, know the same truth, and rejoice in it, now and throughout eternity.  Amen!

                                         - bulletin outline -
“Do you think I cannot call on My Father, and He will at once put at
My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then
would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
                                                                                 Matthew 26:53-54
                            “It Must Happen This Way”
                                    Matthew 26:45-56
I.  There are several ironies in this passage:
     1) He who is the Light of the world is arrested in darkness (45-47)
     2) Jesus was unarmed, but an army was sent to arrest Him (47,55)
     3) His betrayal is sealed with the sign of affection, a kiss (48)
II. The passage teaches us:
     1) Jesus offered Himself as our sacrifice willingly (46, 50, 53)
     2) The arrest, trials and crucifixion of Christ fulfilled Scripture (56)
     3) God is perfectly faithful, even though we are not (Matt. 26:32, 56)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Ted Gray

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