If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew 26:47-56 as we continue our study in the gospel of Matthew. The sovereignty of God is seen again in the passage. We will study this text under three headings created by William Hendriksen. Firstly, in verses 47–50, we will consider the onslaught of the treacherous. In verses 51 – 54, we will look at the defeat of the defenders. Lastly, in verses 55 – 56, we will see the triumph of the captain.
I. The Onslaught of the Treacherous
You remember Jesus has already aroused His disciples from their sleep, and He has gotten them up and they are marching towards Judas, and those who are here to arrest Jesus. And at that time they are approached by Judas and the crowd. Judas identifies himself to Jesus, and he identifies Jesus to the crowd by greeting Him as a teacher and then giving Him a kiss. It would have been a normal way that those in the Near East would have greeted one another, an affectionate sign. And because it is an affectionate sign, it actually heightens the despicableness of what Judas has done. He has used a sign of affection to mark Jesus for arrest.
And then Jesus does something absolutely mind boggling in verse 50. He basically gives permission to Judas and this mob to arrest Him. He says, “Friend, do what you have come to do. Just go ahead and get it over with.” Jesus is virtually giving permission to Judas and his captors to arrest Him. This again shows the sovereignty of our Lord Jesus Christ. His character, His resolution, and His majesty are brought into bold relief against a backdrop of this betrayal. We cannot but admire the dignity of the Lord Jesus Christ as He goes through this indignity. He does it with magnanimity, and He does it with the sense that He is not forsaken. He is not out of control. God’s providence is ruling over all. And the Lord Jesus’ utmost trust in the Father’s plan provides an example for us the midst of our own trials.
II. The Defeat of the Defenders
As Jesus is being arrested in verses 51 – 54, Matthew tells us that one of His disciples attempted to resist that arrest by taking out his short sword and cutting off the ear of the servant of the High Priest. Matthew, very kindly, doesn’t point the finger at Peter. But John’s gospel clearly shows that Peter was the culprit.
Peter’s attempt to resist the arrest of the Lord Jesus Christ is quite feeble. Peter had pledged to Jesus that he would be faithful to Him to the end, and he had pledged that he would die with or for Him if necessary. And this is Peter seeing his opportunity to be a faithful disciple to the Lord Jesus Christ. And I want you to understand that Peter’s actions, as brave as they are, reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of Jesus’ mission and the purpose of His death. Peter’s actions were ignorant and uncomprehending, because as Jesus will say twice in this passage, He had to be arrested in order that the Scriptures would be fulfilled. Jesus was conscious that God’s plan was being worked out here and nobody, not Peter, not Judas, not the mob was going to keep that plan from being worked out. And it is not because Jesus lacks the ability to ask of God to spare Him that He is going to the cross. He is going to the cross because He has chosen to go to the cross. He is not a passive victim. He is the prime actor. Jesus goes to the cross not because the Father can’t stop it, but because of His desire to fulfill the word of God.
And if you do not understand that you do not understand the cross. The cross is not some sort of “Plan B” idea that God came up with. Jesus understood that, and so He rebukes His disciples. And I want to say that if you’re a sinner who thinks that you’ve done something beyond Jesus’ willingness to receive you, you need to remember this: That the one who was willing to suffer is a willing Savior. The almighty Son of God who allowed men to bind Him and take Him away and crucify Him is desirous that sinners turn from their ways and trust in Him and find salvation. If He’s willing to suffer what He suffered, surely, He is full of readiness to save everyone who calls on His name.
III. The Triumph of the Captain
In verses 55 – 56, Jesus addresses the crowd that has come to take Him captive. He announces to these same people why it is that He is going to be taken captive. Jesus says, “You are doing just what I predicted because God decreed it before the foundation of the world. He told His prophets, His prophets wrote it in the Scripture, and I came into the world in order to fulfill that Scripture, and you are merely instruments in the hands of God. I am not being taken today against My will. I am being taken today in accordance with the will of God which I have freely embraced.”
Notice here that Jesus doesn’t just acquiesce or concede to God’s sovereignty. He doesn’t shrug His shoulders and say, “Well I guess God has just allowed this terrible thing to happen.” Rather, Jesus is convicted and pleased with the Father’s will. He says, “This is in accordance with His holy, perfect will and I embrace it because it is the will of My Heavenly Father, and it’s good. It may be horrendous for Me, but I willingly embrace it because it’s good for His people, and I love His people. And He’s promised to give them to Me if I lay down My life for them.” Jesus reveled in the sovereignty of God, and He proclaims it even to that multitude of captors.
And then we’re told at the very end of verse 56, right as He is being led away, perhaps in chains, that all His disciples flee, just as He told them that they would. The failure of the disciples reminds us that sometimes we don’t know the weakness of our heart until we are tried and tested. Have you ever gotten excited, and you were moved at a Christian meeting of some sort, and you resolved to be faithful to Christ like you’ve never been faithful before? You were filled with zeal for Him; and in forty-eight or seventy-two hours you found yourself falling prey to sin once again. If the actions of the disciples in verse 56 teach us anything, they teach us not to trust in ourselves, but to wholly lean on Jesus’ name because it is only by His grace that we are upheld. May God bless you as you do so.