Mark 14:42-46 “‘Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’ Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’
Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him.”
You consider the movements of the Lord Jesus on this particular day – the Thursday before his crucifixion. In the morning he had withdrawn from the people of Jerusalem and sent his disciples to prepare the Passover in the Upper Room. He had met with the twelve later that afternoon, washed their feet and ate with them. He had initiated the Lord’s Supper, preached to them, prayed for them, sang with them. He had then left the Upper Room and climbed the Mount of Olives. He had taken just three of them into the Garden of Gethsemane where he had prayed and agonized alone before his Father while they were overcome with weariness and slept a stone’s throw away from him.
1. THE ARREST OF JESUS.
Then everything changes. The solitude comes to an end. Christ is ready to receive the people. His fight with God is over; the cup has been drunk; God’s will has been accepted. Now he presents himself to God as his Lamb, and Almighty God, as it were, makes an announcement, “Men may now approach my Son.” So the world draws near; it is a particularly hostile segment of the world. A crowd comes looking for Jesus, armed with swords and clubs and carrying flaming torches. They look like an overwhelming force of men. In fact our Lord has vanquished them already in his triumph in the Garden – though they don’t know this. Soon he is about to make a public spectacle of them all, but they won’t know that either.
How is Jesus of Nazareth going to be captured? Is it going to be after a sword fight, slashing and striking at one another amidst the olive trees, like the outlaws of Sherwood Forest? Is Jesus going to hide here and there as they come hunting for him while his disciples get cut down? No, not that way. It is not acceptable that a willing sacrifice be hunted to death. Shall Jesus make arrangements and stroll along to the house of the Chief Priest and turn himself in? No, that would almost excuse them; he would be making himself a party to their crime. No, the way he is to be arrested is this, by betrayal through one of his closest friends. His enemies find someone to lead them right to Christ, and that someone is Judas Iscariot. Mark tells us of Judas’ betrayal in these verses, and then, after verse 45, Judas is never mentioned again in the gospel. He disappears from Jesus.
It was through our Lord’s friend Judas that Jesus is set up and handed him over to those who wanted to kill him in a particularly ghastly way. Everything to do with Jesus’ death is dark and cruel. Mankind’s sin reaches its climax in the crucifixion. God was the one who was the great owner of the vineyard. He had sent many servants to get his rent from the vineyard keepers, but they had stoned one servant, beaten up another until he was half dead, and killed another. Last of all he sends his son for his dues; “Surely they will reverence my son,” he says, but they pounce on his son with glee and murder him. That was the height of their rebellion. This is what we are seeing in the Garden of Gethsemane; the Son has been sent by the Father and these armed men are taking him to finish him off. That was the extreme of their guilt. There is in the heart of all men a latent hatred of God; it lurks behind every excuse men make to have nothing to do with God: “We don’t want to read in the Bible about God. We don’t want to go to church on Sundays and bow before Christ because we hate him.” That sin is in all your hearts; it may be wallpapered over by your gentility and civility, but the covering is only paper thin. “We will not have this man rule over us,” says the natural man Let me illustrate its reality by recounting this incident.
Last week the greatest annual festival of books in England and Wales took place in Hay on Wye. One of the most interesting events was to bring together two brothers, Christopher and Peter Hitchens, two notable writers and columnists. These men, famously, had ignored one another for four years. I always read anything Peter Hitchens writes in his columns and books. I especially commend to you his book, “The Abolition of Britain” which begins with his comparison of the two funerals of Winston Churchill and Lady Diana, and his analysis of the difference between those two huge events. He is one of the most pertinent writers in Britain today, but Christopher his brother is totally different, and he was asked on the stage in the public meeting what was the difference between himself and his brother, and this is what he said, “The real difference between Peter and myself is the belief in the supernatural. I’m a materialist while he attributes his presence here to a divine plan. I can’t stand anyone who believes in God, who invokes the divinity, or who is a person of faith. I mean, that to me is a horrible, repulsive thing” (The Guardian Weekly, 31 May 2005).
That is a vivid example of the contemporary human enmity towards God, which attitude is today more and more in our faces as Christians, and I guess that it’s going to increasingly affect us – if we are faithful to the Lord. But I am saying that the extreme of human hatred was 2000 years ago when men murdered Jesus Christ the Son of God, when sinners became deicides. Sin reached its fulness then; it was seen here on earth at its darkest, in the killing of the spotless lovely Son of God. Judas’ cruel betrayal shows us how black and foul human nature has become.
Significantly it was by betrayal in a garden that the last Adam was arrested because man had became a betrayer in a garden at the very beginning. Remember that our first parents were put in a garden and told to tend it and keep it. They were told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man was there under probation, the focus of his obedience was, “Do not eat from that tree.” In the Garden of Eden was the first occasion for man to betray his God; instead of replenishing the Garden he stole the forbidden fruit and listened to the serpent. He opened his heart to evil and he brought sin into the paradise of God. Now, once again, here in this Garden of Gethsemane there is betrayal. Another traitor is active; and we who live in the garden of Wales know this spirit in ourselves; you and I have often betrayed Christ, haven’t we? Haven’t we warmed out hands by a fire and listened to filthy stories and blasphemies and said nothing? Haven’t we? Do we know nothing about betrayal? There were a group of people talking, and as the pastor approached them he heard such words as, ‘odd’, and ‘awkward’, and ‘out of step’ being bandied about. He asked them what were they talking about and they mentioned a certain person, and in a moment he said, “Yes, that person is different . . . yes, a very singular person . . . very out of line with others . . . a very odd person these days.” Then he said, “Do you know that I’ve never heard that person betray an absent friend.” The people there never forgot that rebuke. I am saying that we ourselves know about betrayal, and it’s very fitting that this Lamb who bears all our sins should endures this first sin of betrayal in this Garden.
Everything that follows the Garden of Gethsemane is pure bitterness. That is our Lord’s experience, and it begins with betrayal. “He that eats bread with me has lifted his heel against me.” That is what the holy sinless Son of God experiences; and for our Lord to become a faithful and sympathetic High Priest he must know the gall of that, so that he can sympathize with us when we know family betrayal, or what our best friend has been doing behind our back, or church betrayal, when we discover what our minister has been doing secretly. The sins of slander and misrepresentation and ingratitude are all very common, and the experience of our Lord means that we can run into his presence hurting because of these things, but confident that he understands our emotional pain because he has been there. We can weep before him, “Lord, my husband has betrayed me,” and our great High Priest in heaven sympathizes. He will send us the most perfect relief because he has felt identical pain but to a degree far worse than any of us. The words of the suffering servants in the book of Psalms – 41 and 55 – speak of Christ’s experience, “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Psa. 41:9). It was from the Passover Meal with Jesus that Judas went straight to the army headquarters and led the soldiers to take Jesus. Again the psalmist says, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God . . . My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords” (Psa. 55:12-14, 20&21).
Christ knew these psalms, in fact he had inspired their writing. This is his own spirit saying these things. In other words, there was no surprise or accident about the betrayal. When Jesus saw these men coming towards him and there, in the lead, directing them right to him was Judas, there wasn’t a look of amazement on Jesus’ face. There were a number of times he had told them all, “One of you is going to betray me.” Judas had said to him, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” and Jesus had answered, “Yes, it is you” (Matt. 26:25). Then he further said to Judas, “What you are about to do, do quickly” (Jn. 13:27). Jesus knew Psalms 41 and 55, and he knew the heart of Judas and the way he would be arrested. All this was foreknown. Everything in the Garden, and in the trial, and on the cross took place as the working out of God’s great design to provide an atonement for a world’s sin. The armed men following Judas were only God’s instruments brought there by God to bring about our redemption. There is a hand above us, moving the vast machine of this universe, and making all things work together for his glory. All the soldiers and armies of the world might obey their generals, and many Christians might become betraying Judases, but the resurrection morning will prove that even in the darkest garden all things were being done according to the will of God. So Christ had complete composure as he approached these men that God was in control. You can have the same composure facing an unknown future that the same God has your life in his grip.
2. JUDAS WAS THE TRAITOR WHO BETRAYED CHRIST.
What was Judas? He was our Saviour’s servant. There was never a better Master to work for, no boss so patient, no tutor so understanding as Christ. He would be the one taking the lion’s share of the poverty and the criticism in the grim days, protecting his boys. Judas could always hide behind mighty Christ. Judas was also Jesus’ friend. There was no tokenism about this friendship. Jesus didn’t pretend to love him; he did love him. He was interested in Judas’ family and his health. He showed him many kindnesses – as a person does to his friend. They walked arm in arm together, often sharing the same place to sleep. Jesus kept back nothing from Judas that he’d revealed to others. Judas was privy to all the teaching of Christ. He was Jesus’ bosom friend. What privileges Judas had, and we long to have had them, to hear what he heard and see what he saw. But notice this, how they failed to help him.
i] The warnings Judas got failed to keep him, and Jesus did warn him. There are four warnings of betrayal recorded in this gospel. He once said to Judas and the others, “woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Mk. 14:21). The peril was made personal and clear. We cannot say, “If only someone had warned Judas.” All the warnings didn’t keep Judas.
ii] Again, the position Judas held did not keep him. Judas was a preacher, one of the top twelve preachers in the world. Peter says, “he was one of our number and shared in this ministry” (Acts 1:17). He was not one of the Seventy; he had been selected and commissioned by our Lord himself as his apostle. When Judas preached many were blessed by what he said. He had the gifts of an apostle so that the sick were healed, deaf ears were opened, and the blind were made to see. Judas, who couldn’t keep the devil out of his own life, could cast demons out of the lives of others. His words and wonders showed that here was a man who had spent a long time with Jesus. Yet he is the one who betrayed his Lord. His position did not keep him.
iii] The knowledge Judas had did not keep him. Judas had sat down on the mountainside and listened to the Sermon on the Mount. He lived in days when listening to and then remembering the teaching of rabbis and scribes was given a premium. People charged their memories with retaining what they heard. Judas could repeat what Jesus had said. Judas knew Christ’s sayings, his sermons, and his parables. When men had argued with our Lord Judas could remember what Jesus had said in reply. Judas had changed his thinking as he learned from Jesus. Many erroneous ideas he had given up. He was a sound, clear follower of the teaching of Jesus, but that knowledge did not keep him.
iv] Again, Judas’ conscience didn’t keep him. We know he had a powerful conscience because he was overwhelmed with guilt after they’d condemned Christ. Matthew tells us, “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’ So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Matt. 27:3-5). Judas was dead before Jesus. Here is a man with a conscience, a clear sense of right and wrong, but that conscience did not keep him.
v] Judas’ blameless life did not keep him. Where do I get that from? Two facts, firstly that he was appointed by the apostles to look after the money that they were given. You might have thought that Levi the tax-collector would have fitted that office, but Judas was judged a better man that Levi. If there had been any hint of impropriety in Judas the Twelve would never have made Judas the financial secretary. The other reason I speak of his blameless life is this, that when Jesus told them that one of them was going to betray him they were utterly flummoxed as to who it might be. Betrayal by any one of them was unthinkable. They couldn’t think of one of the Twelve who would do such a dastardly act, not Peter, not John, not Judas certainly. All they could say was, “Is it I?” What a deceiver Judas was. The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. So Judas was a man of high public morality, but his blameless life did not keep him.
What are you hoping will keep you? You may have spiritual advantages of every description. Your parents might have been Christians, or still are. You may be sitting under a living ministry in a gospel church. You may have the finest Christian friends. All this may be so, and yet those things alone won’t keep you. Some of you are content with religious privileges. You think that that is all you need. You lament not possessing them. “If only I had a Christian husband . . . been given a godly wife . . . I wish I had a living congregation . . . give me the preaching of the Gospel each Sunday . . . give me such privileges and then I would walk with God for ever,” you dream. What a mistake it is to trust in privileges. Judas had many privileges but Judas betrayed Christ.
It requires more than privileges to save souls. Joab was David’s captain; Gehazi was Elisha’s servant; Demas was Paul’s companion; Lot’s wife was the husband of a righteous man. These all died in their sins. They went down to the pit in spite of all their knowledge, warnings and opportunities. They all tell us that it is not privileges alone that men need. They need a new heart, a life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the loving, keeping power of God, the obedience of saving faith.
As J.C.Ryle once wrote, “Let us value religious privileges, but let us not rest entirely upon them. Let us desire to have the benefit of them in all our movements in life, but let us not put them in the place of Christ. Let us use them thankfully, if God grants them to us, but let us take care that they produce some fruit in our heart and life. If they do not do good, they often do positive harm: they sear the conscience, they increase responsibility, they aggravate condemnation. The same fire which melts the wax hardens the clay; the same sun which makes the living tree grow, dries up the dead tree, and prepares it for burning. Nothing so hardens the heart of man as a barren familiarity with sacred things. Once more I say, it is not privileges alone which [keep people from betraying Christ], but the grace of the Holy Ghost. Without that no man will ever be saved.
“I ask the members of evangelical congregations, in the present day, to mark well what I am saying. You go to Mr. A’s, or Mr. B’s church: you think him an excellent preacher; you delight in his sermons; you cannot hear anyone else with the same comfort; you have learned many things since you attended his ministry; you consider it a great privilege to be one of his hearers. All this is very good. It is a privilege. I should be thankful if ministers like yours were multiplied a thousand fold. But after all, what have you got in your heart? Have you yet received the Holy Ghost? If not, you are no better than [Judas].
“I ask the children of religious parents to mark well what I am saying. It is the highest privilege to be the child of a godly father and mother, and to be brought up in the midst of many prayers. It is a blessed thing indeed to be taught the Gospel from our earliest infancy, and to hear of sin, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and holiness, and heaven from the first moment we can remember anything. But, oh, take heed that you do not remain barren and unfruitful in the sunshine of all these privileges: beware lest your heart remains hard, impenitent and worldly, notwithstanding the many advantages you enjoy. You cannot enter the kingdom of God on the credit of your parents’ religion. You must eat the bread of life for yourself, and have the witness of the Spirit in your own heart. You must have repentance of your own, faith of your own, and sanctification of your own” If not, you are no better than [Judas].
“I pray God that all professing Christians, in these days, may lay these things to heart. May we never forget that privileges alone cannot save us. Light and knowledge, and faithful preaching, and abundant means of grace, and the company of holy people are all great blessings and advantages. Happy are they that have them! But, after all, there is one thing without which privileges are useless: that one thing is the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (J.C.Ryle, “Holiness,” pp.167&168). Judas had many privileges, but Judas had no grace.
Then consider this famous fact that Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Think of it! He addressed him as ‘Rabbi’ and kissed him. It was all so affectionate; it is the same word used of the father of the prodigal son kissing him when he comes home, or the Ephesian elders kissing good-bye to the apostle Paul. A hearty kiss. It is the sign of oneness. It is saying, “There is no alienation between us.” Judas turned Jesus over to death on a cross with a warm gesture of love. Think of it! He’d actually planned to do this. He had told the soldiers, “It will be the one I kiss who is Jesus of Nazareth.” Then he went ahead as planned and kissed him. It made Jesus say to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Lk. 23:46). What additional pain for Jesus! It is another step for him into the firepot of the anathema. Judas, are you betraying with a kiss that great divine being spoken of Daniel 7 who comes in all the glory of heaven? Judas sells God as the Son of Man for 30pieces of silver by means of a kiss.
I love to read what Spurgeon said of this: “Judas betrayed his Master with a kiss. That is how most apostates do it; it is always with a kiss. Did you ever read an infidel book in your life which did not begin with profound respect for truth? I never have. Even modern ones, when bishops write them, always begin like that. They betray the Son of Man with a kiss. Did you ever read a book of bitter controversy which did not begin with such a sickly lot of humility, such sugar, such butter, such treacle, such everything sweet and soft, that you said, ‘Ah! there is sure to be something bad here,’ for when people begin so softly and sweetly, so humbly and so smoothly, depend upon it they have rank hatred in their hearts. The most devout looking people are often the most hypocritical in the world”
3. WHAT THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE BETRAYAL WERE.
For Judas they were unspeakable. He did not even profit by the 30 pieces of silver. However angry he had been before he betrayed Christ, after the guilty verdict was passed and Judas looked at the consequences of his action, he was inconsolable. He took his own life. How terrible! What Judas had done was not the unforgivable sin was it? He had not attributed to the devil the works of the Holy Spirit done through Christ. Judas had not done that. Doesn’t every Christian believe that if Judas had knelt at the feet of that central cross on Golgotha and cried to Jesus, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner,” that Jesus would have gladly said to Judas, “One day thou shalt be with me in paradise”? My sins put Jesus on the cross as much as the sin of betraying Jesus. We might have had Judas as our eternal brother. We preachers would never stop proclaiming Judas as the most glorious illustration of the mercy of God if he had repented and turned to Christ. Grace abounds to the chief of sinners. We must also add that we believe this, that while a suicide is dying if he is then repenting and crying to God for forgiveness his longings won’t go unanswered. I am aware that there is no salvation without faith in Christ. Love can say nothing more. We have no knowledge that Judas ever repented. So he went to hell. That was the consequence of the betrayal for Judas. Unrepented betrayal takes a sinner to hell.
But what was the consequence for Jesus? Here are two men about the same age. Judas’ father was Simon of Carioth of the tribe of Judah, and when he was born his parents were thankful for a healthy boy, They called him ‘Judas’ which means ‘the praise of God.’ Jesus was born in Bethlehem and for thirty years lived in Nazareth, and then through his initiative and sovereign decision the good Shepherd found Judas and called him to be his apostle, one of the Twelve, and their lives were intertwined for three years.
Now notice how our text says, “Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared.” That number was not inconsequential – like the number of the members of the Welsh Assembly, a few more or a few less matters little. The number twelve was not chosen by chance. It was chosen as being the number of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve patriarchs. Twelve was a necessary number not an accidental number. In choosing twelve Jesus Christ was saying that he is the Father of Young-Israel, just as Father Jacob was the father of Old-Israel, the Israel of the flesh. When Jesus chooses twelve he is gathering around him the new Israel, Young-Israel, the Israel of the Spirit. We are Young-Israel; we don’t derive our ancestry from those twelve patriarchs but we are a spiritual building set on the foundation of the twelve apostles. Jesus has written the names of his twelve men on the foundations of the new Jerusalem. Those twelve men are to be the light of the whole world; they stand for expansion. Christ is going to penetrate the world through the message of the Twelve. He believed that: “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” It took strong faith to give that universal commission in such terms, didn’t it? Here is the world mission of Christ’s kingdom. Jesus’ whole soul is linked to the Twelve. He as the Messiah will rise or fall with these Twelve. He appoints them; he teaches and trains them; he commissions them; he needs each one of them. His office will rise or fall with the work of this beautiful unalterable Twelve!
Now are you beginning to feel the brutal pain? Judas, one of the Twelve appears and he betrays him. The perfect round number of twelve is broken. All hell laughs in derision that this Jesus of Nazareth with his pretensions of world domination through his apostles – “You are the salt of the earth” – indeed! It’s all crashing down at the first hurdle, isn’t it, long before he gets to Golgotha? One of his hand-picked and personally-trained Twelve sells him! Judas tears up the whole neat symbolism. He reduces the twelve to eleven. What a foolish number! All this, I say, is part of the anathema that Jesus is entering. This holy and round number is shattered. Where is the foundation of the church? One of its main foundation stones has gone. The whole edifice to stand on it is already looking a bit wobbly. Where is Christian preaching heading? What an offense to Jesus’ Messianic consciousness was this apostolic betrayal. Eleven – only eleven left – the perfect number is broken!
Such betrayal means deep suffering for Jesus. This is failure for the Messiah. He is failing as God’s great High Priest. Aaron wore a beautiful breastplate on which were twelve precious stones with twelve names carved on it, and he carried it to his grave, but when Christ dies and is buried one of his twelve has gone sliding way. This kiss of Judas is much more than a sinister act of individual treachery, it is an apostle – of whom Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me even so do I send you” – an apostle I say, falling out of the circle of the Twelve, and Jesus having to die with his eyes fixed on a broken number. Do you see how severely God is testing his Son, and how Satan is tempting him: “You began with twelve; three slept in the Garden; one denied you with cursing; one betrayed you, and they all ran off and left you. How many are you going to end up with? It’s failing; it’s all going to end in failure” Those kinds of words whispered to Jesus on the cross for hours were as painful as the nails through his hands and feet. Christ’s work of bringing salvation to the whole world through the apostolic church is being profaned by the betrayal of Judas.
The issue facing Christ is straightforward; do you or don’t you believe in God? Does he trust when his Father has allowed Judas to kiss him, and when his Father has decreed the harmony to be broken; twelve has become eleven. Do you still trust in discordant times? That is the law of the cross. That is the disgrace of Christ’s broken body. Crucifixion in darkness is the only way to resurrection and glorification. And God is saying to him, “You who told your disciples, ‘You believe in God, believe also in me’ are you believing in me? Do you believe that I can raise the dead? Do you believe that I am in charge of the future? Do you believe that the church will be built on the foundation of the twelve apostles? Do you have faith in God?” Yes, Jesus does, and all his conduct in the next sleepless hours shows he will trust in his heavenly Father even when that Father has forsaken him. When Judas brings the soldiers he stretches out his hands to be bound in the Garden. He is tried; he is condemned; he is crucified; he is buried; he rises on the third day; he ascends to heaven; he pours out his Spirit on the apostles; he restores the completeness to his Twelve, and he will present the worldwide church complete to God in the great day.
Christ who endured the kiss of Judas can by divine strength overcome the offense of betrayal. On the cross his work is finished but it is not perfected. He must rise and pour out his Spirit, and guard and keep his church until he comes again. Then he will establish an everlasting kingdom where it will be impossible to betray Jesus. All who are in that Kingdom kiss the Son in faith and love. That Kingdom is perfect. It is 12,000 furlongs square; it has 12 gates; 12 pearls, and the names of the 12 apostles are on its foundations. Twice times twelve thrones surround the one throne; twice times twelve elders are there, and twelve times 12,000 saints fill the heavens. Jesus Christ is there and his Twelve are with him, and from all sides his praises are sung. Jesus speaks and says, “Father I thank you that all you have given me are here except the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled. Here there will never be a single son of perdition out of the whole uncountable throng.” Christ was not kissed by Judas in vain. He did not suffer all he did without his glorious exaltation. He has a name that is above every name, and the kingdoms of this world have beome his kingdoms. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords: God the Son.
June 5th 2005 GEOFF THOMAS