Scripture: While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. Matthew 26:47-56 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Matthew records the last few hours before Jesus’ arrest when he earnestly prays to the Father. Instructing all but Peter, James, and John to sit and rest, he takes the three to a more private setting and transparently confesses that he is distressed while urging them to stay nearby and vigilantly intercede for him. At this point, Jesus prays in solitude, expressing his dread about the looming crucifixion while embracing his desire to fulfill the Father’s will. Twice during his agonizing prayer, he pauses to reconnect with the Three but finds them fast asleep. The first time Jesus admonishes them to watch and pray so that they may not fall into temptation. The second time, Jesus quietly retreats to prayer, but when he returns the third time, he reprimands them and commands them to rise and follow him to his ordained moment of betrayal.
Today’s reading continues the narrative of Jesus’ last hours before his crucifixion—focusing on his arrest. Knowing Jesus would likely take the Eleven to the Garden of Gethsemane (their favorite retreat), Judas leads the charge and reveals to the temple guards his rabbi’s identity by greeting Jesus with a kiss. Surprisingly, Jesus submits to his captors and even calls them friends. But Peter impetuously lobs off the ear of the temple guard, Malcus (see John 18:10). So Jesus tells Peter to put away his sword and admonishes him for thinking violence is the answer, adding that those who draw the sword die by the sword. Moreover, Jesus explains he could call on the Father’s protection, and angels would rescue him. But more to the point, this moment is ordained to fulfill Scripture regarding Zechariah’s messianic prophecy of the pierced shepherd (see Monday’s Daily Focus to read more).
Jesus then turns his attention to the chief priests’ thugs and exposes the hypocrisy of their religious leaders who, two days earlier, backed down on arresting him in the temple for fear of inciting unrest among Jesus’ growing number of followers. So Jesus repeats what he told Peter: God has sanctioned their aggression to fulfill Scripture. At this point, when it is evident that Jesus would not invoke supernatural intervention, his disciples flee for their lives, just as Zechariah foretold.
Takeaway: In ancient Israel, to greet someone as a “friend” would not connote intimacy but politeness in line with their high standard for hospitality. Here, though, Jesus may have intended to create a memory his disciples will later recall that crystalizes a key point from his Sermon on the Mount: love your enemies (treat them as if they are your friends). And while Peter’s rash response of violence may seem out of line, in fairness, according to Luke, just a few hours earlier, Jesus instructed any who had no sword to sell their cloaks and buy one (Luke 22:36). But using the metaphor of a sword, Jesus spoke of “readiness” to battle against the spiritual warfare that would soon unfold.
Our takeaway? While the hours leading to Christ’s crucifixion and last breadth prepared him to press on to victory and set us free from sin’s sting of death, skirmishes continue throughout this New Covenant age until his return and final battle. So what are our weapons of warfare? The same as Christ’s: prayer, Scripture, and community. As addressed in yesterday’s Daily Focus (link above), Jesus forewent sleep to pray earnestly and find peace and strength to calm his troubled soul. He also intermittently cited Scripture to remind him and his disciples of his messianic mission. Lastly, even though Peter, James, and John failed him when he sought their support, Luke tells us the Father provided him “community” via an angel sent from heaven to strengthen him (Luke 22:43).
Indeed, Paul, who suffered much hostility in proclaiming his and our treasured Gospel, writes to the Ephesian church to put on the whole armor of God. Citing our armor of protection (truth, righteousness, Gospel of peace, faith, and knowledge of our salvation), Paul mentions our only weapon: the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. And he urges the Ephesians to always pray in the Spirit, for all the saints and him, i.e., to broaden our scope to the community (see Ephesians 6:13-20).
So what does this look like in our daily walk? We will not be very effective if we only employ this trifecta of spiritual weaponry when needed. Instead, let’s make it a regular practice (while avoiding the pitfall of legalism) to pray, read and memorize Scripture, and stay connected to fellow believers. When we do, these three expressions of our faith will serve us well in times of need—as they did for Christ and Paul—and we might make a friend of an enemy.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who lived in intimate communion with you, relying on the gifts of prayer, Scripture, and community. We confess, though, that we often struggle to consistently connect with you and your Son utilizing this trifecta of our faith. Still, we fully know how vital they are to resist the world, the flesh, and the devil. So would you please help us to persevere with regular practice of these spiritual weapons of warfare so that we might be ready for the next skirmish? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling