Red Letter Year: 6/4

Matthew 26:47-58

47 And even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests and elders of the people. 48 The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss.” 49 So Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss.

50 Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.”

Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. 51 But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.

52 “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. 53 Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? 54 But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”

55 Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day. 56 But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” At that point, all the disciples deserted him and fled.

57 Then the people who had arrested Jesus led him to the home of Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of religious law and the elders had gathered. 58 Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance and came to the high priest’s courtyard. He went in and sat with the guards and waited to see how it would all end.


A few moments before, Jesus was struggling in Gethsemane. Now he confidently declares that thousands of angels are at his disposal, but they must not be called on in order that his mission, the messianic mission foretold in Scripture may be completed. This marks a significant shift in Jesus’ thought and attitude, from one of shrinking from the moment to one of ample confidence. What caused this sudden change? It wasn’t his friends who have been sleeping, except for the one who is coming to betray him. The only other thing we have here is that Jesus has been praying, pouring out his despair to God, asking for a reprieve, submitting to the Father’s will. These were all the things Jesus said in prayer, what we read yesterday. What we have here is what Jesus heard in prayer, what the Father and Holy Spirit spoke back to him. He received a picture of angels standing ready. He heard again the words of the prophets. He was encouraged to complete the mission he had already accepted. Jesus had been predicting this moment for most of Matthew, even in the face of rebukes from the same disciples who are now sleeping and fleeing. Knowing it was coming did not give him this confidence, not even knowing the will of God shielded him from doubt and fear. But prayer did. Jesus poured out all he was thinking and feeling in that moment and the Holy Spirit poured back in truth, vision, and hope. If this was the experience of Jesus, how much more so for us?

The New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 6/3

Matthew 26:31-46

31 On the way, Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”

33 Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter: this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

35 “No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.

36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”

42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look — the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”


There are a few things to pay attention to in this passage. One is the internal struggle Jesus goes through here. He is depressed, confused, and so upset he feels like he is about to die (that he feels all this exonerates them as not being sinful). Ever been there? We can see some of this internal struggle in how his prayer shifts from “if some other way is possible, then no to this,” to “if no other way is possible, then okay.” This is a poignant example of how we work things out in prayer, how we come to terms with God’s will, with our own desires and weaknesses, with the full range of emotion that goes into being human. (It is also a needed corrective for prosperity-driven teachings that discourage people from praying “if this is possible” – Jesus himself prayed this.)

Gethsemane stands as the counterpoint to the Transfiguration. In both scenes, Jesus brought the same three disciples. In the Transfiguration, we see the fullest expression in the Gospels of Jesus’ divinity. In Gethsemane, we see the fullest expression of his humanity. The orthodox understanding of Jesus as fully God and fully human comes directly from holding these passages together in tension.

The other thing that really jumps out here is the disciples and their inability to stay awake, despite Jesus’ explicit command. They have only just declared their willingness to die for Jesus, but now they can’t even stay awake and pray when he asks them to. Thinking back to the Transfiguration again, we see interesting parallels. Faced with Jesus’ divinity, they became over-excited, talked and planned nonsense and had to be quieted. Faced with Jesus’ humanity, they are underwhelmed and keep falling asleep. Jesus’ disappointment with them is evident, he finally doesn’t bother waking them again. Like the foolish bridesmaids in chapter 25, they can’t keep focus, they can’t keep alert, they can’t keep praying. They claim to be ready for action, ready for glory, but they show here that they are not ready to lay the groundwork of prayer necessary for kingdom action and kingdom glory. Jesus shows us here that he himself went through a process in prayer coming to terms with his next steps in bringing about the kingdom (Heb. 5.8 describes this as Jesus “learning obedience”). He implores Peter and the others to do the same, but they don’t and will soon desert him. It is to their credit that we still have this account of their disobedient napping. They made sure we had this account to remind us that keeping alert comes by prayer, knowing our next steps in advancing the kingdom come by prayer, that all action and glory not grounded in prayer and founded on prayer are sure to go wrong.

Spend some time rereading and reflecting on how Jesus struggles in prayer in this passage. Keep alert and pray like that.

The New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.