JOHN 18:1-14.MARCH 3.
NOTHING connected with the Gospel narrative appeals to human judgment more forcibly than does its simplicity. The fact that the weaknesses and failures and stumblings of the apostles themselves are faithfully narrated, and that without apologies or excuses or attempts to gloss over the defects, shows a sincerity, a truthfulness of intention, very rarely found in other writings. Nowhere is this more conspicuous than in the present lesson, which records the shameless perfidy of Judas, and the weakness of the remaining eleven, who, in our Lord's darkest hour, all forsook him, seeking personal safety,one of them subsequently denying him. The writers of the Gospels would have been excusable had they interjected explanations and excuses for their course; but the narrative is really stronger as it stands, and we are, perhaps, inclined to furnish excuses for them which we might have been loath to receive had they offered them for themselves.
We note that two of them had swords, and that by our Lord's permission, if not direction (Luke 22:35-38), [R2779 : page 89] that it might be manifest that he was not overpowered by the high priest's servants, but that he merely yielded himself to arrest. The Apostle Peter probably reasoned that if the Lord had directed the bringing of the swords they were for use and not for ornament, and with commendable courage he drew his sword in defence of his Lord against the first of the party who attempted to lay hold upon him. The blow was evidently intended for the head, but perhaps was providentially warded off so as to injure merely the ear. But what consternation it must have brought to Peter and to the others, when the Master objected to their using the swords, objected to their defending him, and even healed the servant who was smitten! Confronted with such conditions, we can readily see that the faithful eleven could do nothing but one of two thingseither stay with the Master, and, like him, submit to arrest, or flee, and thus secure their personal liberty and safety, which the Master evidently did not wish to secure on his own behalf.
We can readily imagine that eleven strong men, as they were, in the prime of life, even if they had but two swords amongst them, could have done considerable damage to the band that came to arrest our Lord; but while the excitement and activities of a battle inspire courage, to be compelled to stand idle and not be permitted to lift a hand in self-defence in the presence of an armed enemy, is most discouraging to anyone. And the natural tendency of all under such circumstances, to flee, was in this instance assisted and accentuated by the Master's own suggestion, "Let these go their way." Under full consideration of the circumstances, therefore, we must acquit the apostles of anything like cowardice, and must say that under similar circumstances to theirs few of the Lord's people would know how to do otherwise than flee, as they did.
The band of men whom Judas led out for our Lord's arrest were not Roman soldiers, but merely under-officers and servants from the high priest's household, armed with such weapons as they could command, sticks and swords, etc. The Roman military authority, represented in Pilate, took no cognizance of Jesus and his work until the next day, when the priests, chief rulers, and a multitude of incited servants and people, brought him to the tribunal and demanded his execution.
St. John's account does not mention the miserable act of betrayal by which Judas indicated which one of the twelve was Jesusthe betraying kiss, nor our Lord's words of reproof: "Friend, wherefore art thou come? Judas, betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?" Judas evidently advanced beyond the band to give the salutation, according to prearrangement, that he should thus indicate the one they sought.
It is difficult for any noble-minded person to read the account of Judas' course without feeling a deep sense of righteous indignationa sense of the baseness of character which could thus betray, for thirty pieces of silver, the one whom he recognized as the noblest of men, whether or not he was sure that he was the Messiah. It may not be amiss that we notice here that Judas did not reach this depth of iniquity suddenly, but rather that the disposition had grown upon him during the three years of his intercourse with the Master, when the reverse disposition should have had control. At the time when he was chosen to be an apostle he evidently was a good man, so far as outward appearance at least was concerned; and his name, which signifies "Praise," would seem to indicate that his parents had been of a religious cast of mind, and had wished, and, so to speak, prophesied of him, that he would be a messenger of God to sound forth his praise. And what a privilege and opportunity he enjoyed in this direction!
From the meager mentionings of the Gospel records, we may reasonably infer that the beginning of his downfall was the harboring of a love of money. Instead of rebuking this wrong spirit, curbing it, and seeking, on the contrary, to cultivate generosity and love and benevolence, he permitted selfishness to have more or less control in his heart and life. We may surmise that he chose the office of treasurer for the little company; whereas, had he been sufficiently alive to his own condition his proper course would have been to have refused it, realizing that already he had too much love of money, and that the handling of the funds might prove a temptation to him. But, on the contrary, he sought the office, obtained it, carried the bag, and the money that was put therein, and the Apostle John tells us that he was a thief. (John 12:6.) This passion for money, like all others of the abnormal propensities of our fallen nature, grew stronger and stronger as it was encouraged and cultivated, until finally it knew no bounds, and he was ready to sell his loving Master, Messiah, for thirty pieces of silver.
But while hating such a character, loathing it, despising it, and seeking to go as far as possible in an opposite direction in our own characters, we are not to overlook the fact that there are many amongst the Lord's disciples who, in a less degree, commit a crime very similar to that of Judasthey sell the Lord, they betray him, while professing to love him. True, this cannot be done in the same personal and literal way today; but the spirit of it may be seen occasionally, we regret to say; we find some who really believe in Jesus, some who have consecrated their lives to be his followers, some who have been engaged in the ministry of his truth, as Judas was there, who are willing to sell the [R2779 : page 90] Lord for a mess of pottagefor good things of this present lifefor a salary, for social position, for honor amongst men, for popularity, and titleswho are willing to sell even their lips, as Judas did, so that, while professing to honor and to serve the Lord, they are willing to join with those who misrepresent his character, his plan, his Wordwilling to rejoice with those who seek to assassinate the Lord. Ah, how well it is that each one ask himself the question raised upon the night of the Supper, "Lord, is it I?" and let none be too ready to excuse himself, but let each search earnestly his own heart and life and conduct, to see that he is not sacrificing in any way the truth and the life for any consideration whatsoever.
In telling Peter to put up his sword our Lord inculcates a lesson which many of his well-meaning followers since have utterly failed to learn. On the contrary, all through the dark ages the swordmilitary powerwas invoked and used on behalf of one party and then another of professed followers of Christ; sometimes against unbelievers, but very frequently against fellow-professors. The sword has left a bloody mark in the church nominal, and has become a cause of offence even to some in the world who see how different is such a course from that which our dear Redeemer prescribed for his followers. Never was this lesson more needed by nominal Christendom than today, when a militant spirit seems to pervade all parties and denominations. It is the soldiers of professedly Christian nations that today are amongst the poor heathen of China, "avenging" the death of Christian missionaries and others. It is these same representatives of these so-called Christian nations that are setting such immoral examples before the heathen people that by their evil conduct they glorify the soldiers of heathen Japan, whose mercy and moderation and self-control are universally admitted.
True, blame for what these soldiers may do cannot be properly charged upon the cause of Christ. We deny that they are Christian nations, and we deny that they are Christian soldiers. We claim that the soldiers are "children of this world," and that they are fighting as representatives of the "kingdoms of this world," under the "prince of this world." Nevertheless, as we come still closer to the question we find, upon apparently good authority, that the government of the United States has been appealed to by Christian ministers and missionaries to take vengeance upon the Chinese. From the accounts in the public press we may infer that the majority of the appeals for mercy and moderation have come from nominally worldly people, and that a majority of the appeals for vigorous measures have come from those who nominally are ministers, servants, representatives of Jesus, who said to Peter, "Put up thy sword into its sheath."
But here again we must draw the line, and surmise that as in olden times the Apostle said, "They are not all Israel who are of Israel," so now they are not all true Christians who are of Christendom. We must suppose that the Apostle's words are still true, "If any man have not the spirit of Christ he is none of his." We must suppose that in proportion as the spirit of love and gentleness and meekness is lacking it is a good evidence that the person, whatever may be his professions, is not a minister of Christ, not a minister of the true gospel, but merely a minister of some human denomination and some false gospel, which contradicts the truth.
It may not be inappropriate here to notice the general spread of a fiery spirit, bitter, vindictive, merciless, amongst people professing godliness, and of whom we might reasonably expect better things. An evidence of this bitter and fiery spirit is seen in the greater prevalence of lynch law in this enlightened country, where all the laws are in the hands of the majority, and where, therefore, there is no excuse. Accounts of these lynchings seem to indicate that there is, deep down in the hearts of many people who are apparently moderate and well intentioned, a fierce, brutal, savage instinct, which has never been transformed by the renewing of their minds by the power of the holy spirit. Just what this may lead to in the future, it is difficult to say; but it is part of the spirit of anarchy, which the Scriptures assure us will before long spread throughout all Christendom, and result in the great time of trouble, so long foretold, in which everything of law and order will go down before the angry passions of humanity.
The same intemperance as to thought and feeling is manifest sometimes merely in words, but it is, nevertheless, a piece of the same article, and reprehensible. As an illustration of this tendency toward immoderate thought and expression, we call attention to the extreme and unjustifiable utterance of a Methodist bishop, quoted from the New York Sun as follows:
We should not forget, in defence of the bishop, that this language was used during the heat of a political campaign; and yet the palliating circumstances are quite insufficient. No circumstance, no condition imaginable, should lead any minister of the Gospel of Christ to use any such language; and we point it out now merely as an indication of the trend of our times, as being of a piece with the lynching and torturing of fellow-creatures, [R2780 : page 91] as an indication of the wild ferocity of thought which is leading on rapidly and preparing Christendom for anarchy, lawlessness, immoderation in all things. Let all of Christ's true disciples more and more remember the command of the Master, "Put up thy sword!" "Love your enemies." "Do good unto those who despitefully use you and persecute you."
Our Golden Text is the cream of this whole lesson. It expresses most beautifully, most concisely, most forcefully, the principles which underlay our Master's obedience to the Heavenly Father, and which enabled him in all things to come off conqueror and "overcomer;" and all who are seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to be his disciples indeed, will do well to ponder the thought expressed in these words: "The cup which my father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" The thought is clear: It is that he recognized the circumstances and conditions in which he found himself, as being not of those of his own making, nor yet those made for him by his enemies. He recognized the divine supervision of all of his affairs, and knew that nothing could possibly come upon him except as the Father would permit; and because the Father had so arranged it, had poured out this cup for him, therefore it was duty on his part to drink it.
We would not undertake to say that the Lord's people should never look for ways of escape from impending trials and difficulties; for we have the Lord's promise to this effect, that he will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able to endure, but will with the temptation provide a way of escape from those features of it which would be beyond the possibility of endurance. When, therefore, we feel that our submission to evil has about reached its climax, where succor must come or we must utterly fall, that is the time for us to look about us to see what way of escape the Lord is opening for us. But we are to be sure that the way of escape which we take is not of our own, but of the Lord's provision; for if we should run away from duty and trial and testing in one place, it would merely be to fall into other trials and testings, perhaps severer, in another quarter. We are to know in advance that trials, difficulties, persecutions, slanders, are all a part of the portion which the Father has poured out, not only for the Head of the body, but also for all the members. We are therefore to be prepared to endure hardness as good soldiers; not fleeing, but courageously accepting as of the Lord's providence whatever he may permit to come to us, unless we shall see a reasonable, proper, honorable way of escaping from it, which will not be in violation of our covenant, nor in violation of any law of righteousness.
No other lesson, perhaps, is more needed by the Lord's followers than the one of willingness to drink the cup which the Father poursa recognition that the Father is guiding and directing in our affairs because we are his, as members of the body of the Anointed One. In these respects the consecrated children of God occupy a very different position from the world, with whom the Father is not dealing as sons, who are not on trial for glory, honor and immortality, and for whom, consequently, he is not now pouring cups of trial, testing, endurance, etc. "The cup which we drink, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?"a share in his sufferings? "If we suffer with him we shall also reign with him; if we be dead with him we believe that we shall also live with him."