“Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.”
Have you ever heard of that saying? It is a classic idiom often passed along to youth and young adults to remind them to be cautious of their actions, especially once evening gives way to the early morning. The idiom is based on the belief that the later it gets the more likely we are to make bad choices of judgment and do things we may later regret. As well, the more likely we can find ourselves in challenging or difficult situations.
Not that I am ever guilty of making such poor choice of judgment late in the evening. I did, of course, attend West Virginia University, which is known as a quality institution that does not support things like couch burnings or late-night campus parties.
What we hope for with this saying is that it will reminded us all that our choices have consequences. Those of us who have uttered this saying to our children or those who we are in ministry with desire that it would lead someone to make sound decisions and wise judgments.
On that early Friday morning long ago, this idiom rang loud and true for Jesus. Nothing good happens in the Garden of Gethsemane after 2 a.m.
It was about this time when Jesus walks out of the garden with Peter, James, and John to join the rest of the disciples and to meet an approaching mob. This mob, which was comprised of people carrying swords and clubs, came to arrest Jesus. Sent on this mission by the religious and political leaders of Jerusalem, the mob wanted to bring Jesus back to Jerusalem to face drummed up charges of being a blasphemer and leader of a revolution. The mob’s true motive was to end Jesus’ ministry and life.
Truly, nothing good happens after 2 a.m. This time marks the beginning of a painful stretch of events where Jesus would be beaten, humiliated, beaten again, and ultimately left to die on a cross. In this garden where Jesus fought the temptation to seek an easier way of fulfilling God’s desires, Jesus stands at the beginning of the trial that would take him to Golgoatha. It begins as he is deserted by the ones he spent the most time with during his three-year public ministry. During this scene from Matthew 26:47-56, Jesus is deserted three times by his disciples and it leaves Jesus to face the journey to Jerusalem and Golgatha alone.
The desertion began with one of the most infamous examples of betrayal we have in recorded human history. One of Jesus’ own disciples leads the mob. This disciple would desert Jesus from fellowship with the Lord. This disciple was Judas.
Judas Iscariot was, perhaps, one of the darker and more complex individuals that made up Jesus’ initial group of 12 disciples. What we know of Judas, outside of this act in Gethsemane, paints a picture of an individual who does not understand who Jesus is and the ministry he came to do.
We see a person who was left in charge of the ministry funds, but was accused, as John tells us, of taking some of the money for himself. He was also a zealot, which meant he likely desired a military solution to restore the Davidic kingdom in Jerusalem.
It is possible Judas was frustrated with Jesus and his ministry. It is important to note that Jesus knew it was Judas who would betray him. For whatever reason, Judas was not “all in” on where Jesus was going and the ministry he led. So, Matthew tells us, Judas went to the chief priests and elders and agreed to give Jesus over to them in return for 30 pieces of silver. Judas walked away from fellowship with Jesus in order to seek out his own purposes and desires.
How Judas betrays Jesus is worthy of retrospection. Judas betrays him through two ways that were intended to put a distance between himself and Jesus. First, Judas calls Jesus “Rabbi.” In Matthew’s gospel, the use of that term does not reflect someone who is a “teacher,” but is used negatively to describe the religious elite. By using this term, a term Jesus does not use for himself, Judas is looking down on Jesus. At the same time, Judas gives Jesus a kiss. Traditionally, this is a sign of welcome and love towards someone else. However, Judas uses the act of a kiss to show his contempt and disrespect towards Jesus.
It is also worth noting that Judas was not the only disciple who deserted Jesus in the garden. Matthew reports that when the mob approached Jesus to arrest him one of the disciples took out a sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Matthew does not tell us who it was, but we later learn in John’s account that it was Peter who drew the sword.
This should not surprise us. Peter is the disciple who was more often than not led by his emotions, especially in stressful moments, than by thoughtful approaches to difficult situations. Peter’s emotions are centered on protecting Jesus. By doing so, however, he ultimately walks away from Jesus’ teaching by seeking violent means to bring about God’s kingdom. An act that goes against the very essence of Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus taught and showed the way of seeking a better way than turning to violence to seek justice. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to even turn the other cheek. He teaching calls us to seek peaceful solutions in stressful times. This does not mean Jesus did not get rightly angry or stood up for injustices. John 2 and Jesus’ act of overturning the tables shows us that Jesus is willing to express just frustrations when the church misses the point of God’s kingdom. But even in that moment in the Temple, and here in the Garden, Jesus teaches that our response to injustice should be holy and rooted in the hope of God’s love.
Peter’s act was more about seeking a quick solution than it was about asking where God is in this situation. He deserted Jesus by failing to look past what he thought would work by looking toward the desires of Christ in this difficult moment. Peter allowed his emotions to dictate his actions and it led him to desert the Lord in the garden.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last time Jesus was deserted in the garden. If it was not enough to be betrayed by one of his disciples and to see Peter, the one who first started to understand that Jesus is the Messiah, desert him, imagine what it might have been like for Jesus to see all of his disciples to walk away from him.
Matthew tells us that all of Jesus’ disciples left after Jesus was arrested. They deserted his presence and left him alone. Jesus’ disciples, all of them, chose to walk away from him when he needed them the most. The reason is that they were likely afraid of what might happen to them. They did not want to be associated with Jesus for fear that they, too, may be arrested and brought up on charges by the religious elites or political leaders. So, they wanted to get as far away as they could from the garden.
By doing so, they deserted Jesus to leave him alone to face the difficult moments that would lie ahead. There would be no one with Jesus on that walk to Jerusalem. No one would be with him as he faced the false charges. No one with him when he heard the verdict and the punishment of death delivered to him. He was alone without those he had given of his time and energy to teach and to lead into being fishers of men and women.
On that early morning, Jesus was deserted three times. Each of these desertions were painful and hurtful. They are also familiar to us. Not just because we recount these stories every year during Lent. They are familiar to us, because they remind us of how we desert Christ in our own relationships with him.
Like the disciples, we are prone to walk away from Jesus in times of trial and stress and abandon our relationship with the Lord. We can remember times when we have deserted Jesus out of our own frustrations or insecurities. We can remember times when we sought our own will and course of action for our lives, instead of seeking the desires of our Lord. We can remember times when we walked away from Jesus when he needed us the most.
Each of these moments are painful. They are painful not just to us, but also to our Lord. On the night Jesus stood alone in the Garden, surrounded by those who sought to end his ministry, Jesus felt the full weight of the desertion and betrayal of his disciples and each of us gathered here. He lifted those acts upon his shoulders and carried them with him to the cross.
It is on the cross that, with outstretched arms, Jesus forgave us of our acts of walking away. The cross is the means of forgiveness and the extension of grace to all people. All of us have deserted Christ in some form or fashion in our lives. We have all chosen to walk away through our words, acts, and deeds. On the cross Jesus extended his arms to welcome those who have deserted him back into the arms of grace.
Jesus freely extends the offer of grace to us when we chose to walk away. It is up to us to decide whether to accept Jesus’ grace and to be redeem by his blood and walk in the path not of desertion but of fellowship and love.
As we remember the moments that we have walked away like Jesus’ disciples, may we experience God’s grace in ways that reconnect us to our Lord and each other.