Where True Strength Is Found
October 10, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
The Disciples Run Off
1. Today's gospel reading was the scene of the betrayal by Judas. The place is the garden of Gethsemane. A mob with swords and clubs lead along by Judas came to arrest Jesus. In order to arrest Jesus without making a mistake in the darkness in the middle of the night, they had settled upon a signal. "The one I kiss is him. Take a hold of him so that he doesn't escape!," said [Judas].
2. It doesn't mean that so far Jesus had been hiding or running away up to this moment. He had been teaching the people, daily, on the temple grounds, in public places. But, they could not arrest Jesus in broad daylight because there were large crowds in support of Jesus. Had they apprehended Jesus from among those people, an uproar would have erupted. An insurrection might even have broken out. The Roman authorities were probably silent; [but,] it would have lead to the Roman army marching into Jerusalem. Such a situation was to be avoided by all means possible. The capture was in the middle of the night for that reason.
3. It was Judas who was hired for that purpose. For thirty pieces of silver. Judas' job was to guide them in capturing Jesus in a place that would not draw public notice. In order to arrest him in a place where there were no crowds, he was asked to lead them to the place where Jesus and just a few of his disciples had gathered. But then, a number of the disciples of Jesus were pretty hot-headed. There might be some who would act violently. With that in mind, Judas made a load of armed people come along for the ride. Just as Judas had anticipated, there were some violent types there. According to another gospel account, we're told it was Peter who had brandished a sword. But they were outnumbered. Cut it any way you want, the chance for success was zilch. So what did the disciples do eventually? The scripture gives a plain report as follows. "All of the disciples abandoned Jesus and ran away," (verse fifty).
4. Leaving Jesus behind, the disciples ran off at full speed. Yet it was no surprise for Jesus. The Lord had already predicted this state of affairs. At the last supper with the disciples Jesus had said, "You will all stumble over me. For, the scripture says, 'I will strike the shepherd. Whereupon, the sheep will scatter.' But, after I rise from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee," (verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight).
5. That's right. It was all clear to Jesus. However, there was a person who had objected to Jesus' statement. It was Peter. He said such a thing was impossible. He put it like this, "Even if everybody else stumbles, I will not stumble." The other guys don't get what's up, however, I alone will not stumble. I alone will never do something like abandon you and run off. This was Peter's conviction. But, the Lord told Peter, "I truly say to you. Today, tonight, before the rooster crows twice, you will say you don't know me three times." But Peter did not back down. He strongly insisted, "Even if I had to die with you, I would never say that I do not know you or anything like that."
6. He doesn't know the inside of other people's hearts. But he does know what's in his own heart. Anybody would have felt that way. We would have felt that way, and Peter did feel that way. So, he says, "Even if everybody else stumbles, I will not stumble." Other people do know their own selves, however they may be. He surely does have something steady within him. Peter did have within him the hope of the reconstruction and revival of Israel. He had the dream of the realization of the kingdom of God. He had the sense of purpose that even if he had to give up his life for it, he would freely do so. Above all else, for that purpose he had a loyalty to Jesus the messiah who had come, and, he had a sincere love for Jesus. That's right; so, Peter had said with all sincerity, "Even if I had to die with you, I would never say that I do not know you or anything like that."
7. It wasn't just Peter. The other disciples too were thinking the same thing. The text puts it like this, "All of them spoke the same way," (verse thirty-one). However, in regard to them the scripture states that "All of the disciples abandoned Jesus and ran away." It means that neither the hope that was in them, nor the dreams, nor the sense of purpose, nor the love, nor the loyalty, at that moment, with any firm basis for them, served them a lick of good. That's right; at crunch time, what was in their hearts did not do them any good.
The Strength Found Outside A Person
8. At the extreme opposite to that of the figure of those disciples is the figure of Jesus. A betrayed man. A man abandoned by his disciples. A man arrested according to a great political authority and considered soon to be a dead man. A life like that of a single leaf from a tree in the midst of a tempest. That was Jesus. But as we read this, that single leaf from the tree isn't blown away even though it is in the midst of some [huge] kind of tempest. With resolve, the Lord spoke to the armed mob, saying, "Did you come to arrest me with swords and clubs, as if you were facing a robber? Even though I was with you and was teaching, every day, on the temple grounds, you did not arrest me. But, this is so that the scriptures are fulfilled," (verses forty-eight and forty-nine).
9. "But, this is so that the scriptures are fulfilled." That's what Jesus said. Put in other words, as is previously demonstrated by the scriptures, it means, "It is [happening] so that the plan of God is fulfilled." You might be thinking that you can do with me what you will through violence or by authority, but that is not true. Only the plans of God the Father move forward towards fulfillment. Jesus made that declaration. What is being expressed by that statement from Jesus is the bond between God the Father and Christ the Son. In times of betrayal and violence, what helped Christ stand was not convictions or a sense of purpose and mission. Jesus did not stand because of the strength that was within his own heart. That's not how it was, rather Jesus stood fast because of his bond with God the Father.
10. Just before this, the figure of the Christ in prayer was illustrated. "Abba, o father, you can do anything. Please take this cup from me!," (verse thirty-six). [It is] the figure of Christ, while suffering and agonizing, in prayer, as he dripped sweat like blood. What we are seeing here in this is not the figure of Christ facing reality all calm and composed by [some] tough inner emotional strength. As seen from a worldly perspective, it is the figure of a very frail Jesus. But there was a father and son bond there, in which he could pray pouring out all of his fears and sorrows. This very relationship of father and son supported the Christ. Unafraid of what others might think by his saying, "Please take this cup away from me!," Jesus prayed that way and after it he then rose up with these words on his lips, "But, not what I desire, but may what matches your will be done!" This relationship with the father allowed the Christ to stand unshakably, both before the betrayal by Judas and before the mob that came to arrest him.
11. Because I am a pastor, I have had many an occasion to visit persons who have gone into the hospital. Sometimes during those moments, there have been times I've heard statements from other patients like "It's good to be a person with faith, isn't it?" At times of hardship, when [people] confront a crisis, it is true to say that faith will support a person. But while hearing those words, there are times I think, with what kind of conviction or belief is that person saying that? Is it with the meaning that "The piety within that person, the faithful heart itself, will sustain him or her?" As a matter of fact, most of the time it is said with that kind of meaning. We also often hear the sentences, "You should believe in something. A believing heart is important." But, in that sense, whenever one says,"The piety within you, your faithful heart, will sustain you," it is not correct. As we see with Peter and the other disciples, what is inside the heart of humans is truly brittle. It crumbles apart easily depending on the situation.
12. What sustains human beings is not "the believing heart" within the person. It is not anything like "faith" in that type of sense. What moves and feeds the heart is not what is on "the inside" of a human being, but what is on "the outside." That is, it is the living God himself. True strength for human beings could be defined as being connected steadily to the One who moves and feeds the heart, and not having in your heart a motivation [based on your own power].
Wake Up and Pray!
13. So, Jesus spoke as follows to his disciples. "That you not fall into temptation, wake up and pray!," (verse thirty-eight). You know he really meant for us to, "Pray!" Not directing our eyes inside ourselves, not searching for something certain inside ourselves and depending on it, but instead he requires of us to turn and set our eyes upon God, to be connected to God, to live face to face with God.
14. These disciples who had fled away became the leaders of the early church and they were later called the apostles. The shameful past of these leaders is thus recorded in the scriptures. When you ponder it, it is odd, but one thing is clear. It is that they never tried to hush up their shameful past. Instead, they dared to keep on telling it. Peter and the others even kept talking about how he denied Jesus three times. So it remains in the scriptures just like it is. They must have known deep down to the core of their being that the reason they were in leadership positions in the church, the reason they could continue being Christians in the first place was not because they had the strength within their own hearts.
15. It must have been the same way for Mark also, the man who wrote the gospel. He tacked on another episode to the story of when the disciples had fled. It is the story of the youth fleeing completely naked. Even though it [may sound like] nothing special, it really is a pretty good story. Yet, Mark surely could not have wanted to write it because he was also a kind of "runaway." The Acts Of The Apostles gives a record of the events at the time when Paul was about to set out on his second missionary journey as follows. It is the passage that was read today in the second reading. "Barnabbas wanted to take John called Mark along as well. But Paul thought that they should not take along a person who separated from then before in the province of Pamphylia and who did not go with them to preach and work," (Acts 15:37-38). At the time of the first missionary journey, when Mark had gone with Paul and the others in the group, he must have had a sense of purpose and a passion for the trip as it were. But along the way he fell out and returned back to Jerusalem. Paul became enraged. He couldn't bring along a guy like that again, and so at the second time around, it is Mark who is given up on by Paul.
16. But Mark doesn't end there. He crosses over to Cyprus with Barnabbas, and according to tradition he later works as an interpreter for Peter and eventually writes The Gospel [Of Mark]. Furthermore, he would write in it that a youth ran away naked. [Though it was not him,] he almost certainly wrote it with the idea that "This is none other than my own self." Even for Mark [the respected man he turned out to be], it was totally clear to him that his getting to the point where he could write the gospel was not based on [any] strength and steadfastness within his own heart.