Over the past few weeks, we’ve read the stories of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, an act of defiance and protest against the Roman empire and Temple leadership in a parade for the peasants. We read the story of Jesus’ Last Supper with His Disciples and Judas’ first act of betrayal. Finally, we read about Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Today, our Scripture includes the final act of Judas’s betrayal. Judas had accepted 30 pieces of silver from the chief priests to lead the Temple guard to Jesus. Somewhere in the time span between supper and the point at which we pick up the story Judas left to go to the Temple guard and lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus and the Disciples had privately gathered.
The chief priests, elders, and scribes did not want to confront Jesus publicly during the day in the middle of crowds who could potentially start a riot. Jesus would need to be confronted in privacy to not incite a storm of protest. The Temple leadership would send a group of men armed with swords and clubs to retrieve Jesus and bring Him to the Temple. The Roman authorities allowed the Temple to have temple soldiers a group larger than a police force but smaller than an army.
Temple leadership would have easily recognized Jesus, but the men sent by Temple leadership wouldn’t know Him. Judas have given the small legion a sign that he would kiss Jesus when they arrived in the garden. Then, after entering the garden, Judas goes to Jesus and kisses Him.
Judas had been disappointed that Jesus had not lived up to his Messianic expectations of one who would free Israel from the oppression of Roman rule and restore the Davidic kingdom. So, he sold Jesus out for a few pieces of silver. Judas had participated in a plot to kill Jesus, because he didn’t understand what Jesus was doing. Judas’ hopes were bolstered when Jesus entered into Jerusalem in an act of political defiance, but he soon realized that Jesus was not who he had hoped the Messiah would be.
That same Messianic hope was probably why the Disciples were armed that night. The Temple guards stepped forward, seized Jesus, and arrested Him. And, at that, one of the Disciples was ready to throw down. One of the Disciples drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of the guard’s men. The Disciples were ready for a fight. They had probably been hoping for the moment when they could participate in the rebellion that would overthrow Rome. They didn’t expect Jesus’ response.
Jesus willingly gave into the guard’s arrest. Jesus rebuked the Disciple for resorting to violence saying all who drew a sword would die by a sword. Jesus reminded the Disciples that if He wanted to get out of the situation an legion of angels would be at His side to set Him free and usher Him to safety.
Then, Jesus turns His anger to the guard asking if He had been leading a rebellion that required the men to come at Him with swords and clubs. Jesus had been publicly teaching in the Temple courts and they could have easily taken Him then. As this all occurs, the Disciples flee in His greatest hour of need to have friends surround Him.
When I first preached about Judas’ betrayal. I talked about disappointment. Judas had been disappointed in Jesus for not being the Messiah he wanted and Jesus was disappointed in Judas for his betrayal. Judas fulfilled the final act of betrayal. Jesus felt the weight of that betrayal in His arrest then He was further disappointed when all His Disciples left.
So, what does disappointment have to do with us, with the church. The church is the body of Christ and we are individually Disciples. I think that like Judas was disappointed in Jesus for not being what he expected the world can be disappointed in the church for not being what they expect.
1st Corinthians Chapter 12 says that we are the body of Christ and each one of us is a part of it. As the body of Christ, we carry on the work of Christ in the world. We continue His ministry of bringing about the kingdom of God through acts of mercy and healing, by feeding the hungry and casting out the demons of brokenness and oppression. But, let’s face it, the church, and I mean the whole worldwide church, including this local church, the church has a propensity to act more like sinners and less like Christ.
There are many great ministries that happen in the Name of Christ. The Church can be successful, but not always. Churches can focus more on building the biggest, most beautiful buildings with the highest steeple reaching up to the Heavens, but ignore the need for housing in their backyard. The Church can hold the most wonderful banquets and shut out their hungry neighbors. Some churches act more like country clubs than communities of faith. Churches build up wealth instead of build the kingdom of God.
Church-goers can be very judgmental of their brothers and sisters in Christ. We can tear each other down rather than build each other up. We can gossip under the guise of sharing prayer concerns. We can turn our backs on other church members when they’re in need. We can talk behind each other’s backs and hold contempt for others.
I posted on my Facebook page the question of how the church disappoints. Being that most of my Christian friends are ministers, I didn’t get the response I was looking for. Instead, I got a few responses for cynical friends. One said, “the buildings are nice, it’s the darn people who keep showing up each week.” Another told me about her church that recently fired her for challenging their faith rather than enabling their cling to the status quo. At my last gig, I got caught between two hard headed men that were feeding each other lies with a clueless senior minister. One of my mentors once said that the church would be easy if there weren’t people involved.
The world sees us behaving this way and recognizes that it is not how a community should not act if it claims to believe in the God of love and represents a man who lived for justice and died for mercy. The world doesn’t want to be a part of a community that fights about stupid, little things and barely tolerates one another.
Who would want to be a part of that no matter how much they love the Lord or need to hear the Gospel?
The world sees us and it is easy to be disappointed in what the Church has become.
It disappoints Jesus just like He was disappointed in His Disciples. Jesus had not been disappointed in His Disciples for trying to defend Him. He was disappointed in their violence. Jesus needed their defense, but they fled. I think Jesus needs our defense now and the Church is failing Him.
We get caught up in ourselves and don’t get caught up in Him. I’m struggling here to make my point. I think we are engaged in great ministries. We have great worship experiences and I see evidence of your private devotions. But, the Church, the world-wide Church, including us, fails.
Here’s how. We live in a world where the Gospel is quickly losing its prominent place in society. There are people who never went to Sunday school or vacation Bible school as kids. There are kids who are not being raised in the church. There are people who don’t know what Christmas and Easter are really about, have never heard the stories.
And, what do we do. We gather around tables and grieve. We mourn the lack of children in our Children’s church. We wonder how we can get young families to attend every Sunday. We wonder how we can fill up our pews. We wonder how to reach people so they can hear the Gospel. We worry what the church will be like in 20 years when half the congregation has died or are homebound. But, then, we don’t do anything.
We have these great plans for outreach in our vision. But, outreach is not evangelism. They only thing I heard about evangelism in the plan is to use technology to reach people. We want to do outreach, but outreach is different that evangelism. Outreach is what we are compelled to do. Outreach is a response to the Gospel call to use our time and talent to serve God’s world in the Name of Christ. Outreach is not evangelism.
I know we are slightly encouraged when we see Hollywood releasing movies like Noah and Son of God. And, Heaven Is For Real is coming out next month. We think society is reclaiming the Gospel truth, but it is not. Movies feed humanity’s need for spirituality, but doesn’t invite people to participate in a church community. People can feed their spiritual longings with reading books and going to movies, but people want a place to belong. A place where they can feel loved and accepted with all their brokenness and fears and failures. Where they can hear how much God loves them in spite of their sin.
Movies don’t invite people to that place. People invite people to the church. Its really easy. This church has A LOT of new members that have come simply because they were invited. I know its scary to invite someone to church. You may feel like you need to explain why church is important or you fear you might offence someone. I assure you very few people are going to be offended by your invitation and most people will be glad you want them to be a part of something special in your life.
I challenge you. I’m sure I’ve given you this challenge before. I really want you to make an effort. Invite someone to come to church on Easter. Anyone. A friend, a co-worker, a stranger at the grocery store. Invite them like their soul needs it, because their souls’ future depends on it.
Jesus is waiting for us to defend the Gospel. Are we going to do it or retreat from Him?