The Betrayal (22:47-53)
The moment has arrived. While Jesus is telling his disciples again to pray so that they will not enter into temptation, a crowd of people arrive and Judas is leading them. Luke highlights this shocking event. “Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them.” The scriptures prophesied that this would be how the Messiah would be treated. “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” (Psalm 41:9 ESV) His friend, his close companion, is the leader of this betrayal. We are told in verse 52 that this crowd consists of the chief priests, temple officers, and the elders of the Jewish nation. They have come to take Jesus by force and they are expecting a scuffle because they are carrying swords and clubs. What a fearful and intimidating scene.
The signal for identifying Jesus to this mob was a kiss. The kiss was the greeting of a friend in that culture. The irony is staggering. The kiss of a friend will be the signal to hand Jesus over to the mob for arrest. As Judas approaches Jesus to kiss him, Jesus asks him something. Literally, the word order is this: “Judas. A kiss the Son of Man betray?” The NRSV tries to carry the weight of that word order. “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” (Luke 22:48 NRSV)
Verses 49-50 show the fearfulness of this scene. The disciples ask, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” But before there is a response from Jesus, one of the disciples (Peter we are told in other gospel accounts) strikes the servant of the high priest and cut his ear off. The disciples have their two swords and they are ready to fight for Jesus. But that is not the plan or purpose of our Lord. Jesus answers, “No more of this!” Jesus is not trying to avoid this moment nor is he going to engage in a physical battle with weapons against his enemies. Amazingly, Jesus touches the servant’s ear and heals him.
Jesus then addresses the mob. They have come as if they are arresting a dangerous outlaw. Jesus then points out the hypocrisy of this moment. Every day Jesus was standing in the temple courts teaching. But they would not arrest him there for the fear of the crowds. So they come in the cover of night, away from the crowds, as if Jesus is a dangerous criminal, which he is not. But evil is having its moment right now. The forces of evil are having their way for a time. I think this is an important observation that Jesus makes. The forces of evil are having their way for a time. Evil has its day and Jesus accepts this truth.
The Denial (22:54-62)
So Jesus is seized and led away to the house of the high priest for hearing before the high priest and Jewish leaders. Matthew records that all the disciples left Jesus and ran at this moment (Matthew 26:56). But Peter does not run far. As Jesus is led away, Peter is following at a distance. He is watching, wanting to know is going to happen to Jesus. But this is dangerous to do. He could just as easily be arrested with Jesus. So Peter follows Jesus and his captors to the house of the high priest. In the courtyard of the high priest, they had kindled a fire. The “they” refers back to this mob that arrested Jesus. The temple officers and soldiers are sitting outside in the courtyard around the fire as they wait for the interrogation by the high priest to conclude. Peter comes into that courtyard and sits down among them. This is a very dangerous situation for Peter.
As Peter is sitting by the fire among all these people, a servant girl is staring intently at Peter through the fire. As she continues to examine him, she comes to the realization that and declares, “This man also was with him.” A dangerous identification is made. One can easily imagine the fear that ran through Peter as this identification is made. “That is the guy who was with Jesus when we arrested him!” So Peter denies his association with Jesus. “Woman, I do not know him.” We are called to confess Christ and deny ourselves. Peter does the reverse. Peter denies Christ to serve his own interests.
A little later another person make a similar identification of Peter. “You also are one of them.” You are one of Jesus’ disciples. But Peter responds, “Man, I am not!” Then another hour goes by and another person begins insisting that Peter is a disciple of Jesus. “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” With great force Peter denies his association with Jesus again. “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” While Peter made this final denial, the rooster crowed. We do not know if Jesus was being led out of the high priest’s home at this moment or whether from the courtyard one could easily see into the house. In either case, it is at this moment that the Lord turns to look at Peter as he completes his third denial. As the Lord looks at Peter, Peter remembers how Jesus had predicted his three denials this very night. Peter had vehemently declared that he would never deny Jesus and would go to the death for Jesus. But his words were empty. When the time of danger came and when the power of the temptation arrived, Peter denied the Lord three times. So Peter leaves the courtyard and cries bitterly over what he has done. How could this happen? How could a disciple of Jesus be will to betray Jesus? How could the leader of the disciples be willing to deny Jesus?
1. The danger of spiritual overconfidence.
Luke has painted for us the picture of the problem of spiritual overconfidence. Jesus warned Peter that he would deny him. Peter did not believe him. He declared that these other disciples might fall away but he never would. When on the Mount of Olives, rather than praying in the face of this severe temptation, the disciples were found sleeping. In 1 Corinthians 10 the apostle Paul wrote to those Christians about the failures of Israel in the wilderness. He then gives the lesson of Israel’s failure for us: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NIV) Spiritual overconfidence is a dangerous attitude. We fall because we do not see or admit our weaknesses. We do not listen to the Lord and prepare ourselves for Satan’s attack on our faith. Denying Jesus sounds impossible until we are in a pressing moment where admitting Jesus would cause us harm.
2. The ease of denying Jesus.
Do we see how easy it is to deny Jesus? It is fine to admit loving Jesus to other people who claim to love Jesus. But what about confessing Jesus when it will give us trouble or cause us suffering? We deny Jesus when we refuse to pray in public. We deny Jesus when we will not open a Bible in public. We deny Jesus when we will not admit to being a Christian. We deny Jesus when we refuse to speak out against sinful behaviors. We deny Jesus when there is very little that is distinctive about how I live my life and the lives of those who do not follow Jesus. It is so easy for us to deny Jesus. Do we set our light under a basket so no one can see who we are or see Jesus in us? Or do we set our light on the table, illuminating the whole room so that all see Jesus in our lives?
3. Failure under the world’s pressure.
The problem with Peter is the same problem we face. When the world presses on us, we cave in. No one wants to be an outsider. No one wants to be an outcast. We do not want to be ridiculed at work because we demand to have our Sundays off so we can worship. We do not want to take flack for telling others to stop their cussing and evil talk while in our presence. We do not want people to criticize us for telling others that sexual immorality is a sin against God. The world is trying to press our values in on us. This is the meaning of Paul’s words in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2 ESV) We cannot masquerade as a worldly person. We do not pattern ourselves after the thinking of the world. To be a Christian means to not be like the world in any pattern or fashion.
4. If there is hope for Peter, then there is hope for us.
The story is not recorded so that Peter would have his name dragged through the mud or his reputation sullied. The point is that Peter is crushed by his sin but still finds can come back to Jesus. We know what Peter becomes. Peter comes back stronger in the Lord after his failure. There is hope in the blood of Jesus to come back from the depths of our sins and return to him. For all the damage we do by our sins, our Lord is so gracious that he will take us back though we reject him and deny him. I try to visualize what the look was that Jesus gave as his eyes met Peter’s eyes. Surely he did not look at him with hatred or anger. Rather, how often Jesus looked at his creation with compassion. Jesus is going to the cross to deal with our denial. Jesus is going to allow his death to occur so that every sin we make can be overcome.
Let us change how we look at sin. We need to stop simply seeing sin as a breaking of God’s law. Can we see our sins as something far worse? Our sin is a denial of who we are to be. Our sin is a denial of our Lord. Our sin is a rejection that God’s way is able to provide for my needs and desires. The eyes of the Lord are looking at you. Will you weep bitterly over your sin and turn back to the Lord? Or will you continue to deny the Lord who loves you and died for you?