************ Sermon on Matthew 26:53 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 8, 2009
"Tempted by Swords and Angels"
A garden can be a place of beauty and rest and quiet reflection. A certain peacefulness comes over those who withdraw from the busy pursuit of life to stroll slowly through a garden. There, surrounded by plants and flowers growing in their natural setting, their souls become rested, their minds become quiet, and their senses enjoy the sights and sounds and smells. There is something about fragrant blossoms, buzzing insects, and beautiful plants and flowers that appeals to the nature lover in all of us. Perhaps this is why our state and national parks are so popular at vacation time.
For our Lord Jesus, the Garden of Gethsemane frequently served as a quiet place of peaceful reflection. There He enjoyed many hours of intimate fellowship with His heavenly Father. Luke 22:39 implies that Jesus went as a frequent visitor to this garden on the side of the Mount of Olives. It is rather ironic, then, that the last time our Lord visited Gethsemane, it was the very opposite of a place of peace and rest and renewal. Rather, it was for Him a lonely place, a place of agony, a place of pain and suffering, a place of temptation and betrayal.
I The Pain of the Garden
A Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane is seldom given the attention it deserves when we consider the Lord's suffering. To be sure, it does not stand out compared to the suffering and agony of the cross. Yet, what our Lord experienced in Gethsemane is a crucial part of His work as Redeemer and Mediator. It shows us His obedience to the will and plan of God. It displays His perfection and completeness as Savior. It allows us to further comprehend the depth of His love for sinners.
We can point to three things which contributes to our understanding of Jesus' agony in the garden at the time of His arrest. The first thing was the utter loneliness of our Lord. He Who bore our sins did so alone. It was a lonely path that the One "despised and rejected of men" had to walk. The "man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering like one from whom men hide their faces" knew the loneliness of the abandoned (cf Is 53).
Our Lord had left the upper room in Jerusalem where He had instituted the Lord's Supper. Leading the disciples out of the city, they arrived at the garden on the west side of the Mount of Olives, about a half-mile west of the Temple and across the Kidron Valley. The garden was not very large (an acre or two at the most) and probably was surrounded by walls (Jesus "went into it" and "went out" of it – cf John 18:1,4). As I mentioned last week, Jesus wanted the support, comfort, and close presence of Peter, James, and John as He struggled in the garden. However, His friends were of little or no help to Him at all because they kept falling asleep. In the garden, Jesus had to suffer and pray all alone.
Jesus knew He would be suffering all alone. He predicted that Judas would betray Him (Mt 26:25). He mentioned to the disciples that "you will all fall away on account of me," like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 26:31). Sure enough, when Jesus was arrested "all the disciples deserted him and fled" (Mt 26:56). Jesus was left alone – alone in the clutches of the enemy. He bore it all alone. So again and again our attention is directed to the fact that Jesus must suffer alone: abandoned, forsakened, despised, and rejected.
B The second thing which contributes to our understanding of Jesus' agony in the garden at the time of His arrest was temptation. I am sure you realize that temptation was nothing new for Jesus. Right after His baptism, for instance, He was led into the wilderness where He fasted for 40 days and then was tempted by the Devil; bow before me, said Satan, and all the nations of the world and their splendor will be yours without having to go the way of the cross and the grave (Mt 4). After He predicted His suffering and death, Jesus was tempted by Peter to avoid the way of the cross and the grave; Peter took Him aside and rebuked Him saying, "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!" (Mt 16:22). During the Last Supper, Jesus had to struggle with His coming betrayal by Judas (Mt 26). And, as we learned last week, when Jesus first entered the garden He had to struggle with drinking from God's cup of wrath (Mt 26).
Now, at the moment of His arrest, Jesus again has to struggle with temptation. He has to struggle against the temptation to use swords and angels.
i. First, Jesus was tempted with swords. When the disciples saw the armed crowd, they assumed Jesus wanted them to fight. According to Luke, Jesus had told them to carry swords (Lk 22:36) and they had brought two along with them (Lk 22:38). It was Peter who swung his sword and struck a glancing blow against the head of the high priest's servant, slicing his right ear off. Jesus had a chance here to again escape the cross and the grave. The crowd facing Him, after all, were not trained soldiers. In the face of armed opposition from Jesus and the disciples they would have backed down rather quickly.
You know the saying: fight fire with fire. This is the natural, human reaction. Since a crowd was coming at Jesus with swords and clubs it is only natural to meet them with swords and clubs. That's why Peter did what he did; Peter's motto was strike first, strike hard, and strike often. For a fleeting moment, I am sure, the thought must have crossed Jesus' mind too. Fight it out and He would not have to go the way of the cross and the grave.
Jesus, however, knew something that Peter didn't. Jesus knew that the kingdom and salvation come not by power, not by sword, but only by the way of the cross and the grave.
So, what was Jesus' response? "Put your sword back in its place," said Jesus, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Mt 26:52). In saying this Jesus is not only refusing to defend Himself but He is also laying down a principle of the kingdom. The way of the world is the way of the sword: strike first, strike hard, strike often. The way of the world is to use violence, threats, bloodshed, lies, defamation of character, and perjury. But those in the kingdom don't use the ways of the world. Instead of strapping on a sword, they brandish the Word of God. Instead of telling lies, they pray. Instead of hating their enemy, they love him.
Look at Jesus. The mob was coming at Him with swords and clubs. What did He do? Jesus restrained His friend and healed His enemy (Lk 22:51). "Put your sword back in its place," said Jesus, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Mt 26:52).
ii. Jesus was also tempted with angels. He could have called on them and the darkness of the garden would have been lit up by a heavenly host. Jesus said,
(Mt 26:53) Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?They had helped Jesus before. After His temptation in the wilderness, for instance, we are told by Matthew that "angels came and attended him" (Mt 4:11). And, when Jesus was sweating it out in the garden about God's cup of wrath, Luke tells us that "an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him" (Lk 22:43). Jesus literally could have called on 10,000 angels.
Perhaps this does not impress you. But consider, for a moment, what the Bible tells us about angels. When God removed man from the Garden of Eden a single angel, a cherubim with a flaming sword, was all that was needed to keep man away and out (Gen 3:24). It took only one angel of the Lord to kill all the firstborn of Egypt during the night of the Passover (Ex 12). God sent an angel before the Israelites to drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites from the Promised land (Ex 33:2). An army of angels surrounded Elisha and his servant and struck blind the entire army of the Arameans (2 K 6). In one night, the angel of the Lord put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian army camped before Jerusalem (1 K 19:35). The angel of the Lord protected the three friends of Daniel in the fiery furnace (Dan 3:28). God's angels shut the mouths of the lions so Daniel was not harmed by them when he was thrown into the lion's den (Den 6:22). If Jesus had called on them, 10,000 angels would have made a mockery of human swords and clubs. Against them all human efforts to capture the Prince of Heaven would come to nothing.
But just as Jesus did not lift the sword, so Jesus did not call on the angels – though He was tempted to do so. Momentarily, at least, Jesus must have been tempted to call on the angels. Momentarily, at least, Jesus must have been tempted to show His real greatness to Judas and the mob that came to Him with swords and clubs. In His situation I know we would have called on the angels and said, "Take this you scum ..."
C The third thing which contributes to our understanding of Jesus' agony in the garden at the time of His arrest was His obedient surrender to the Father's will. No form of resistance was tolerated. He was going to be "led like a lamb to the slaughter" (cf Is 53). "Friend," He said, "do what you came for" (Mt 26:50).
Jesus refused to resort to either swords or angels in His defense. If there was blood to be shed, it would have to be His own. If heavenly beings were to be involved, let them be ministering servants rather than avenging angels. Swords and clubs and angelic hosts must be put aside.
Why? Jesus wanted to stick to the Scriptures. As Jesus Himself put it, "... how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Mt 26:54). And, "... this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled" (Mt 26:56). Jesus was going to do the Father's will. The prophetic word must be fulfilled. Nothing on earth or heaven would stop Him. Redemption would be accomplished.
II The Garden in Redemption History
A To see what is going on in the "Garden of Gethsemane," we must see the place of "gardens" in the history of redemption and salvation. In the Bible, the "garden" stands as a place of fellowship between God and His people. It represents covenant life, a relationship of harmony and unity between God and man.
Consider the garden at the beginning of time – the "Garden of Eden." In this garden, fellowship between God and man was established. In this garden, God was man's friend. They walked together as Friend with friend in unity and peace. Everything for human life and well-being was provided.
But then came the Fall. The covenant was broken. The God/man relationship was shattered. That's why man had to be evicted from the garden. The Great Divorce had taken place.
B Consider also the garden at the end of time. I call it the "Garden of Heavenly Delights." Isaiah gives us a couple of pictures of this garden:
(Is 35:1-2) The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, (2) it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.The Book of Revelation tells us that unlike Eden, nothing impure will ever enter this garden, nor anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful. And there will be no more curse, no more demonic temptation, no more fall.
(Is 65:25) "The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain," says the LORD.
This garden includes a "river of the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb" and "the tree of life yielding its fruit, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations." The throne of God and of the Lamb will be there and "his servants will serve Him. They shall see his face and his name will be on their foreheads; and they will reign forever and ever" (Rev 22:1-6).
C Between these two gardens lies the "Garden of Gethsemane." The "Garden of Gethsemane" occupies a crucial place between the broken fellowship of Eden and the restoration of fellowship in the "Garden of Heavenly Delights." To restore mankind to fellowship with God, the Lord Jesus had to endure the agony of Gethsemane; He had to endure the alienation that the sin in the first garden caused. Jesus went to the garden craving fellowship with His heavenly Father. He prayed a heart-wrenching prayer: "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me" (Mt 26:39). As we discovered last week, He was crying, "Don't forsake me, don't leave me."
Gethsemane was the second Eden. The Second Adam in the second Eden endured the rejection of the Father that the sin in the first Eden caused. But Gethsemane was also the reverse of Eden. In the first Eden, Adam forsook God and God had to remove him from the garden. In the second Eden, it was God Who forsook Jesus, and had Him removed from the garden by force. In the first Eden, Adam was tempted and fell. In the second Eden, the Second Adam was tempted and remained obedient.
Again, Jesus was tempted. This time the temptation was swords and angels. Again, Jesus remained obedient.
Why? To be the perfect Savior Who is more than able to save us from our sins. Why? So that we can spend eternity with God in the "Garden of Heavenly Delights."
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