The account of the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane ends with these words: “Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled.” Read Matthew 26:47-56.
Have you ever felt abandoned when you really needed someone on your side?
That’s where Jesus stands at the end of this text — alone in the midst of a hateful mob of bullies. His friend Judas has betrayed Him and by the end of the scene, all His disciples have fled. The angry hands that hold Him fast are rough, strong and coarse. There is no compassion in their eyes and no love for Him in their hearts.
From all outward appearances, everything has gone wrong. Jesus was supposed to be the King. Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah. The bewildered disciples thought, “This just couldn’t be right! How could everything have gone so wrong?”
And yet, had the disciples had ears to hear, this is precisely how Jesus had told them it would go down.
- Mark 8:31: Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
- Mark 9:31: He was teaching His disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill Him, and three days after being killed, He will rise again.”
- Mark 10:32b-34: He took the 12 aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to Him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death; then they will hand Him over to the Gentiles, they will mock Him, and spit upon Him, and flog Him, and kill Him; and after three days He will rise again.”
Jesus has told them the truth. They had been warned. It had been laid out before them again and again, and yet still, when it happened, when the words of Jesus became reality, the disciples all fled.
Before we too quickly condemn them, let us honestly consider what we would have done.
Remember what these guys had been through.
It had been a long journey … three years in the making. They had left everything to follow Jesus. They had put all their trust and hope in Him. Indeed, they had staked their lives on the promise that He was the Messiah, the chosen and anointed one, the one who would redeem Israel and set them free.
His teachings were often difficult to understand and nearly impossible to reconcile with the world they saw around them. But His miracles! They had witnessed God’s power at work within Jesus. He was the Christ; of that, they had no doubt. But recently He had been saying things that troubled them. They were tired. They were confused. They were emotionally exhausted. And then, He had determined to come to Jerusalem for Passover.
It had been a long week … from the glorious, festive entry into the city with waving palms and cheering crowds to the disruptive confusion of the Temple when Jesus seemed to some of them to go mad. Then there were the awful things He was saying about the teachers of the Law right to their faces! Jesus seemed determined to make enemies with everyone!
They had been glad to retire with Him to the upper room for the celebration of the sacred Pascal meal – but then, what began as a celebration had turned into a very long night.
- Passover Meal that went off-script and turned into something far different;
- Foot washing that made them all very uncomfortable and took a very long time to complete;
- A long walk with a long talk about the Vine and the branches;
- A long public prayer about Jesus’ unity with the Father and His prayer for His followers;
- A long time of private prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane …
They simply could not stay awake and it was after the third watchless watch that they awoke to the reality that they were surrounded an angry mob. There were torches flickering through the trees. They were startled, disoriented, confused. And yes, they were afraid. What would happen next? Would this be the big show-down where Jesus revealed His power and glory? Were they about to witness the cosmic battle between God’s good Son and the world’s evil minions? What were they expected to do? Should they draw their swords and defend their friend? Were they about to be arrested, too?
Jesus seemed eerily calm.
They took hold of Him and Peter lashed out.
But Jesus ordered peace and brought healing.
He was giving Himself into their hands!
The disciples were human … and they fled.
So, where did everyone go when everything went so seemingly wrong that night in the Garden?
Some of their stories we know from the testimony of Scripture:
We catch up with Judas Iscariot in Matthew 27.
Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound Him, led Him away and handed Him over to Pilate, the governor. When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the 30 silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
We follow Peter as he follows at a distance (Luke 22:54-62)
Peter followed at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with Him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know Him,” he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with Him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
We don’t know where he hid in the interim, but by the middle of the following day we find John standing at the foot of the cross (John 19.25-27)
Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
So, Judas, Peter and John are accounted for, but what about the other 9? What happened to Andrew, James the son of Zebedee, Matthew, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot?
Where did they all go when everything seemed to go so wrong?
Where do you run when you’re in trouble? To whom do you run?
Where would you go if your life were in danger? They would have run to Jesus but that was not an option. They had just seen one of their own betray the Christ. Whom could they trust? Were they next on the Sanhedrin’s list? Where could they go to collect themselves? What were they to do now that Jesus had been arrested?
- Maybe they returned to Bethany where they had been staying each night with Jesus.
- Maybe to the upper room where the Last Supper had just been celebrated.
- Maybe to hide in the midst of the tens of thousands of Galileans who had swarmed into Jerusalem for Passover.
- Maybe Simon went to consult with the Zealots.
- Maybe Matthew went to plead with the Romans.
- Maybe some of them went to seek out the Jewish leaders who had become believers that they might plead Jesus’ case.
- Maybe one of them went to Joseph of Arimathea and another to Nicodemus to see if they might buy Jesus’ release.
From the time of Jesus’ arrest to his death on the cross the disciples are virtually invisible. We don’t know where they ran from the Garden of Gethsemane, but we do know that by Sunday they were all together, hiding in the upper room, behind a locked door. Well, everyone but Thomas.
John 20:19-29 tells us that,
After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the 12, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.” A week later His disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Without Jesus the disciples had been in chaos. With Jesus again in their presence they were at peace. Without Him they had been panicked, scattered, lost. But with Him they experience the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace. Nothing in the world has changed and yet the presence of the risen Christ in the world has changed everything. Indeed, there is no better place to be when everything goes wrong than at the side of the One who makes all things right.
Things don’t always seem to go right in our lives. There is conflict, loss, disappointment and heartache in every day. Your particular pain might be physical, spiritual, financial, emotional or even social. You might be feeling very much alone in the world and you may be wondering if anyone really cares. Whatever is wrong, there is only One who can make it right.
Jesus came to make things right in an ultimate sense of the word. Jesus came to restore us by giving us His own righteousness. To make us right with God, right with ourselves and right with one another, Jesus endured what He endured. Jesus came to make all things new. He came that we might have life and have it abundantly. Indeed, Jesus came not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.
It looked to the disciples as if everything had gone horribly wrong, when in fact all things were going exactly the way God planned in order to make all things right.
The first disciples didn’t get it. I’m hoping we do. As the disciples of Jesus Christ in the world today we have a choice to make when everything seems to go wrong. We can abandon the One who has brought us this far or we can trust Him to lead us through – even in those times and places where there seems to be no way. We can run and hide or we can take a stand for the truth we know will set us free. We can make alliances with the powers of the world or we can rely on Jesus Christ whose power has overcome the world.
Where will you choose to be the next time everything seems to go horribly wrong?
I choose to be with Jesus because I know that He alone can make all things right.