Mark 14:43-52 (NIV): 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. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.
The crowd of men was armed when they came after Jesus because they were afraid of Him. They had never really gotten to know who He was, because they were violently opposed to what He stood for. They saw Him not as just a preacher and teacher, but as an enemy, and that made them fear Him. They also feared His disciples and what they might do when their leader was arrested. (With good reason, it turned out, as Peter sliced off Malchus’ ear – John 18:10.)
Judas agreed to the signal of a kiss because in the dim moonlight and shadow of the garden, it would be easy to waste precious moments going after the wrong person. Judas had spent enough time with Jesus that he knew Him even in the dark. With a kiss on the cheek, and a softly spoken “Rabbi” (my teacher), the deed was done, the betrayal was complete, and unstoppable events were set into motion.
Jesus’ disciples bravely stood alongside Jesus as long as it looked like He was putting up a fight. They figured that Jesus would give them a tongue lashing and that these guards, like all of Jesus’ enemies, would simply slink away with their tails between their legs as they had at other times. But suddenly Jesus simply ended the conversation with “But the Scriptures must be fulfilled,” and surrendered to them.
At that moment, all of Jesus’ prophecies were fulfilled, both the several times He had told His disciples that He would be handed over to be killed (Mark 8:31-32, 9:30-32 for a couple of examples), and His prophecy that the disciples would all desert Him (Mark 14:27-31). All of them literally did desert Him, leaving Him to face His arrest, trial, and execution alone. It turned out that Peter wasn’t the only one with a willing spirit but weak flesh!
Father, it is easy for us to make all kinds of grandiose promises when things are easy. When the road is level and smooth, it is easy to promise to walk with You 1000 miles. But only You can see the whole road, not just the level path of the present, but also the steep up- and down-grades that lie just around the next bend. Only You see the portions of the road that hug close to sheer cliffs, with terrifying chasms that will make us faint with terror. Only You know the long stretches through deserts where there is no water. In the end, the only way for us to really be able to follow You all the way is to listen when You describe the road ahead, not denying the reality of what You are saying, or trying to argue You out of going that way (as Peter did, and as we are all sometimes guilty of), and then agree in advance that when the road gets scary, we will stand by You and hang on, with Your help. Then, of course, we have to stay prayed up so that we will not fall into the temptation to cut and run when the enemy closes in for the attack. None of us have it in us to stand up for You and for the gospel on our own. And none of us really want to end up like that young man, all of our faith stripped away, retreating in nakedness and shame. Trust and prayer is the only way. Amen.