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Nazareth Revisited


Gethsemane -- The Arrest.

Having concluded the prayer considered in the last chapter, Jesus went forward "over the brook Kedron," and turned aside into the secluded clump of trees since renowned in all the world as "the garden of Gethsemane" -- of which it seems there are remains at the present day.

It is said that "Jesus oft-times resorted thither with his disciples" -- probably for congenial privacy: he specially desired it on this occasion. He was about to suffer, and he desired the opportunity of special petition to the Father. The words he had spoken on the road, and the prayer he had just prayed in the presence of his disciples, seemed to be more "for their sakes" than his own. But now, for his own sake, he desired to draw near in the mental agony caused by the immediate prospect of sufferings from which the flesh naturally shrank. He desired strength for the supreme effort of his mortal life. He desired to be saved from it altogether if that were possible. Both desires led him to seek that opportunity of earnest wrestling with the Father which could only be fully enjoyed in solitude. We may understand, therefore, why, on entering the garden of Gethsemane, he immediately asked his disciples to halt at the entrance while he went forward. That he should take Peter, James, and John with him, while asking the others to stay, is illustrative of the closer affinity, which we have seen all the way through, to exist between him and these disciples; but even these favoured three might not be with him in his final struggle.

Having entered the garden so far with them, he came to a halt, and in their presence, "began to be sore amazed and very heavy." He was in visible and powerful distress. There was none of the foolish brag about "dying game." He confessed his feelings. "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death." It is not possible that we can accurately estimate the reason of his distress, which presently deepened to an "agony" in which "his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." We may be sure it was something more than the mere prospect of physical suffering that titus painfully exercised his powerful and heroic mind. Popular theology finds the explanation in a supposed vicarious concentration of God's anger at sinners on the head of his faultless son. But this apparently suitable view cannot be entertained, for many reasons. God's anger was never manifested towards the Son of His love at any stage of the dread experience, God required him to submit to shame, rejection and death, not in anger, but in wisdom and love, that the righteous principles of God's action with the human race might be representatively declared in him, as the basis on which His favour might be shewn in a return to man in life and kindness. So Paul teaches in Rom. iii. 24-26. This reconciles the fact that salvation is by grace or favour, through forgiveness, "freely," with the fact that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.

The shedding of blood is no payment or satisfaction of a debt, but the ceremonial vindication of God's supremacy, the recognition of which is necessarily the first principle of fellowship with God. Christ was the Son of Man as well as the Son of God, and as such partook the nature that inherited death because of sin in Eden. He was therefore the suitable medium of this vindication. It pleased the Father that our sinful and condemned nature should be sacrificially put to death in a spotless wearer thereof, as the foundation of reconciliation for all such as should come unto God by him, reckoning themselves as crucified with him and taking part in his death in the way provided. On this basis, forgiveness -- real, free forgiveness -- was offered. The carrying out of the plan involved no anger towards Christ. On the contrary, the Father's love and pleasure were toward him in all things, as not only testified during his life, but as shewn in the veiled sun at his death, and the opened grave at his resurrection, and as shewn in angelic comfort in the Garden of Gethsemane. It did involve his submission to a very painful ordeal, in which "it pleased the Lord to bruise him: he hath put him to grief.... Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him (contrary to the fact) smitten of God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions: he was bruised for our iniquity: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah liii).

The struggle lay in the demand made for his voluntary submission to an experience from which his whole nature revolted. He had received the "commandment" as he said (John x. 18). The part he was called upon to perform was the part of "obedience." This also is testified, that he was "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. ii. 8): that he learnt (or made the acquaintance of) obedience through the things that he suffered (Heb. v. 8). Obedience implies the liberty to decline what is commanded. There was the strong inclination to avoid what was required in this case, as shown by the terrible perturbation which the prospect of it caused him; and we may judge from his words to Peter, a little later, that it was in his power to do so: "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" (Matt. xxvi. 53). From this we may infer that the Father was prepared to grant whatever Christ positively requested in the way of deliverance. The Father had made known His will that Christ should surrender to a cruel mob, and be insulted and crucified by them -- with a meaning to be afterwards "testified in due time" (1 Tim. ii. 6). But if Christ quailed -- if it was too much for him -- if he said, "I cannot," God was prepared to rescue him, though it would be rescue at the expense of his failure in the great work that centred in the cross. While we must hold such an issue to have been morally impossible, still its latent possibility as a recognised ingredient in the case helps us to understand the nature of the mental struggle which caused Christ to "sweat as it were great drops of blood" and led him in agony to pray with increasing earnestness as the last moment approached.

Having made known hisdistress to the three disciples, he asked them to remain where they were and wait. He then went further into the thicket, and threw himself on his face in a transport of earnest entreaty. How long he occupied himself thus we are not told, unless we have it in Christ's question, "Could ye not watch with me one hour?" (it was long enough for the waiting disciples to fall asleep): nor are we informed of all the words he used in his agonised imploration, but enough is recorded to show us the exact workings of his inner man at this supreme moment, and to give us the sublimest instruction as to what is the acceptable attitude in prayer to God when we are called upon to suffer. He did not pray the fatal prayer of unconditional deliverance. At the same time, he showed his desire for deliverance if it were compatible with divine ends: "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt. Abba Father, all things are possible unto Thee: take away this cup from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt. Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done." "Being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly." Was the Father angry, or even indifferent to the sorrows of His beloved? Far from it. He could not grant deliverance in harmony with the object he was aiming at in the sufferings of Christ, and Christ did not ask it or wish it otherwise.

But He gave what He could: strength for the conflict. "There appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him" -- not strengthening him as a man is strengthened who takes strong drink for an emergency, for that would not have required an angel; but a simple afflatus of the spirit from God. The strengthening would be mental strengthening by appeals to that faith which overcomes, and which is liable to fail in moments of weakness. Who but an angel could have performed such a part for the Son of God? We can imagine the tender, loving words in which the angelic comforter (probably Gabriel, who communicated the prophecy of the Messiah's sufferings to Daniel, and announced his coming birth to Mary) would rally memory, dimmed in the "sickening anguish" of the hour: how he would remind him of the great "joy set before him;" of the momentary character of the shame and suffering to which he was about to be subjected; of the certainty of Yahweh's performance of the promise of resurrection and the oil of gladness; of the multitudes who would attain to everlasting life and joy through his submission: and of their glad praises of him in the day of glory.

We may have sometimes seen a beautiful, earnest, loving child shrink from a task appointed or a medicine prescribed, yet strive, under the soothing persuasions of love, to bring itself into conformity with what is required. Its tearful, suffering face is a spectacle to melt a father's heart. How immeasurably more touching must have been the agonised countenance of the Saviour as

He "yielded to his Father's will,"

In sad Gethsemane.

After a time, being strengthened, "he rose up from prayer," and then returned to the three disciples. He found them asleep. He had asked them to "watch with Me." What an addition to his sorrows it must have been, that in his darkest hour his closest friends were for the moment insensible to his needs. He evidently felt it: "What! could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation." But reason and pity (blended as they never were in human breast before) quickly mollified rebuke, and led him to find excuse for men late at night who had been busy all day, and who had been brought into the depression of sorrow by his own words. He added, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

The armed rabble that was to arrest him, under the guidance of Judas, was on its way, but there was yet time for prayer. So he went back to the heart of the wood -- "about a stone's cast" away from his disciples, and prayed as before. Returning a second time, he found the disciples again overpowered with sleep: "their eyes were heavy." He spoke to them, but "they wist not what to say to him." Still the band was at a distance. Again he went away to prayer. Returning a third time, the hour had come. The hum of men's voices was outside the garden; the flare of their lanterns and torches was visible through the trees. With a touch of sorrowful sarcasm, he said to his sleeping disciples, who quickly roused up in the presence of danger, "Sleep on now, and take your rest.... The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners." They sprang to their feet, and Peter drew a sword. The armed crowd began to enter the garden in search of Christ.

They did not know him, and would have been powerless to find him without Judas This need occasion no surprise, when we realise that the class of men employed to apprehend him were such as hang only about courts and prisons, and could not be found among Christ's audiences during the comparatively short and recent time he had been in Jerusalem as a teacher. Judas had undertaken there should be no mistake as to his identity. He should walk straight to him and kiss him, and the officers would do the rest.

"Jesus, knowing all things that should come upon him," anticipated the action of the crowd and walked forth from the concealment of the garden towards them. Judas quickly saw him, and at once gave the signal agreed upon. He walked up to him and saluted him, "Hail master, master!" Christ's first response to the infamy was in the mildness of powerful though agitated self-control: "Friend, wherefore art thou come?" Then, as Judas made no answer -- could make no answer -- to such a question, Christ's words deepened in their tone; smothered indignation underlay them, as he said with emphasis, "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?" What viler treachery could man be guilty of than to hand over an irreproachable friend to his enemies for the sake of money? But to do this with the privileged token of affection, and to do it in a case like Christ's who went about doing good, and whose only offence was his zeal for righteousness, was to sink to a depth of wickedness that beggars language to characterise Its unutterable infamy was condensed into Christ's simple interrogatory.

It is probable that the trenchant power of the question staggered Judas, and cowed the officers themselves for a moment, for Judas made no response, but "stood with" the officers; and Jesus found it necessary to say to them, "Whom seek ye?" They timidly answered, "Jesus of Nazareth!" Jesus firmly said, "I am he," and upon this, they all staggered backward and fell to the ground. What was the reason of this? There is no explanation given. It may seem a singular circumstance, but it strikes the mind as singularly in harmony with the sentiments belonging to the situation. Here was Jesus, the great and glorious and sinless, treacherously brought into the power of an unfeeling mob, the instruments of still more unfeeling and cruel foes assembled at the palace of the high priest. It seemed as if his word and his claims were utterly falsified by such a triumph of brute force. It seemed as if, after all, he were not to "lay down his life" of his own accord, but that it was to be "taken from" him by his enemies, whether he willed or no, notwithstanding his earnest deprecation of this view in the course of his public teaching. How terribly torturing was such an appearance of things, when it was the very question which had been decided with much prayer-wrestle in Gethsemane. It seems altogether fitting, therefore, that Jesus should have been permitted to show at this last moment that it was his own surrender to the Father's requirement and not the superior power of his enemies that brought him into their cruel hands. The withering glance of his eye, which threw them on the ground, could have consumed them in a moment, like the captains and their fifties who went to arrest Elijah.

But the time had not come. It was the time for humiliation and death, yet a time when it might be shown it was the Son of God's surrender to the wisdom of God, and not the victory of a wretched man's cupidity, that had placed power on the side of the armed ruffians who were seeking his life. The latter were made to feel this as they gathered themselves up from the ground and stood with Judas a second time in the presence of this extraordinary man whom they desired to get into their possession. They were silent for a moment. Then Jesus said again, "Whom seek ye?" They repeated, "Jesus of Nazareth" His answer was, "I have told you that I am he; if therefore ye seek me, let these (the disciples) go their way." Upon this they seized him.

Peter could not quietly submit to this. He had drawn one of the two swords referred to at the table, and flourishing it, he excitedly enquired of Jesus if he should smite. Without waiting an answer, he brought it clown over the head of one of the company, who proved to be Malchus, a servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. Jesus had an instant word for Peter and for Malchus. To Peter he said, "Put up again thy sword into its place, for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. The cup which my Father hath given me to drink, shall I not drink it?" "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled that this must be." To Malthus he said. "Suffer ye thus far," and touched his ear and healed him. How impressive is the moral grandeur that could not only teach and practice submission to evil under circumstances so provocative of resentment, but that could at the same moment confer a benefaction on one of his murderers. This was not only "enduring the cross for the joy set before him" (the work of faith); it was the crowning grace of charity added to faith and hope; in which he hath set us an example that we should follow in his steps. It was not only that "when he was reviled, he reviled not again," but he "did good to the unthankful and the evil," which is a higher degree of excellence.

There yet withal followed a protest against the triumph of pure wickedness, which we cannot but feel to be pleasing, and some mollification of the pain caused by the spectacle of transcendent excellence overpowered by mere villainy. The protest came from the same lips that commanded Peter's submission: "Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with ye teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me." What reasonable answer could be expected at the hands of enmity? The Lord gave his own answer: "The Scripture must be fulfilled;" "This is your hour, and the power of darkness." The officers tightened their hold on their surrendering victim. The "power of darkness" for the moment prevailed. The thongs reserved for the worst of mankind were fastened on hands only beneficent and righteous; and he who had done nothing but good among his enemies was led away bound, and insulted like a common felon. They might have spared him the indignity of bonds had they known. He was no common prisoner who would try to make his escape. He went of his own will to prison and to death, "for the love wherewith he loved us."

Faith only can endure the heart-breaking scene Its meaning soothes and upholds: "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world." The enemies of Christ were only actors in the scene, though at the same time acting the perfectly witting part of malice and wickedness. As Peter afterwards told them, "Those things which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he so fulfilled" (Acts iii. 18). By "wicked hands" they took him; but it was "by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" that they had the opportunity (Acts ii. 22; iv. 27, 28).

When the disciples saw that Jesus was fully arrested, they fled. The record is that "they forsook him and fled." This is one drop more bitter. It seems to imply that they might have gone with him if their faithfulness to Christ had prevailed over their personal fears. Deserted by friends, and in the hands of enemies who sought his life, what situation could be more desolate? Perhaps the one that followed, when friendship itself repudiated him in the presence of his foes. Peter and John seem to have rallied themselves after a temporary flight. They turned back, and followed the band that were returning to Jerusalem with Christ. They did so. however, at a safe distance. They followed "afar off," yet sufficiently near to notice the direction taken by the sinister procession.

The high priest (who that year was Caiaphas), had summoned the chief priests and elders and scribes to wait the result. They were all assembled in his official palace -- one of the leading public buildings in Jerusalem; but the band stopped first at the house of Annas, who was father-in-law to the high priest. Why they did so we may only conjecture. Annas, as the high priest's father-in-law, and associate in the high-priesthood, would be a man of high consideration in the city; and possibly the captain of the band thought the capture of Jesus would be a very acceptable piece of news to him, and a look at him a gratification to his curiosity, seeing they all hated him and had for some time plotted his death. It was only for a moment: Annas sent them on at once to the palace, where the whole council were eagerly waiting their expected prey. Hearing the band approach and enter, they were all attention, and took their places in the council room. They feared the Nazarene, though they hated him: and all they had heard of his wonderful works had inspired them with a high interest in his person, though it was but the scared interest of a hateful curiosity. Here he was a manacled prisoner in their hands. Was not this a proof that he was a pretender, and not the true Messiah? Could the true Messiah be arrested? So they doubtless reasoned, to their own satisfaction, as they sharpened their eyes on the sad and dejected man who stood before them, under the high vaulted roof of a stately chamber, with seats for 70 old men ranged in crescentic form at one end, the horns of the crescent reaching each side of the hall towards the middle. The high priest, as mouthpiece of the body, interrogated the prisoner. How many disciples had he? What did he teach? Jesus was in no mood to answer useless questions. He therefore mildly said, "I spake openly to the world: I ever taught in the synagogue and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort. In secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? Ask them who heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said." This meek and reasonable answer sounded insulting to those accustomed to the cringing subserviency shown in all ages and countries to the holders of power. An officious officer of the court avenged the indignity by slapping Jesus on the face with his hand, and asking, "Answerest thou the high priest so?" Boils the blood at this monstrous official sacrilege? Prays the heart for the vengeance that paralysed Jeroboam's arm uplifted to sieze a prophet who uttered the word of the Lord against his idolatrous altar? The prayer will have its answer shortly, when the insulted Son of Man appears "in flaming fire, taking vengeance," and when these very men will see, in terror, the victim of their cruelty enthroned in glory as Israel's King and Sovereign of all earth. As yet, it was not the time to show the Father's anger, or interfere with the mission of malice. The officer felt none the worse for his presumptuous sacrilege, but rather the better, as he looked toward the high priest for the approval of his zeal. Jesus replied in meekness: "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?" The high priest then enquired if there were no witnesses? Those who had the matter in charge called several who had been manufactured beforehand, official false witnesses -- men ready to say anything required by authority. One said one thing; another, another; but their statements were so incoherent, so improbable, and so inconsistent with each other, that the council could not for very shame profess to act on them. Jesus stood silent as they tried in vain to inculpate him. At last, the high priest, in a dilemma, addressed himself directly to Christ again, in the hope of eliciting something against him. "Answerest thou nothing? What is it that these witness against thee?" To this most improper question, from a judge to an unconvicted prisoner, Jesus made no response, and the court was non-plussed. Jesus might have foiled them to the last if the high priest had not thereupon put a question in a form which compelled him to answer, and which at the same time furnished an accusation upon which it was glorious to die. Rising in his place, and fixing his eyes on Christ, he said, in a powerful voice, "I adjure thee by the living God that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God." "Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" Jesusanswered, "Thou hast said (that is, thou hast said the truth), I am; and hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." At this the high priest professed to be unutterably shocked. He tore his clothes, according to the Eastern practice, and with dolorous emphasis exclaimed, "He hath spoken blasphemy: what further need have we of witnesses?" He then appealed to the council for their verdict. They had but one answer: "Guilty,' and but one sentence, "Death." The council was the supreme authority in the Jewish nation at this time, in all Jewish affairs: but being subject to Rome, they could not inflict death without the sanction of the Roman Governor. Consequently, it was needful to apply to Pilate, who was governor in Jerusalem at the time; which they arranged to do as soon as it was daylight.

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