Two of the greatest love stories ever told. The one, at Camelot…the other, at Calvary. Two of the noblest kings ever to live. The one, King Arthur…the other, the King of the Jews. There are many comparisons and contrasts between Camelot and Calvary, but one scene from Camelot illustrates a great theological dilemma that only the cross could resolve. We start with a scene from Camelot, where the immoral relationship between Queen Guinevere and Arthur’s most trusted knight, Sir Lancelot, has divided the Round Table. When the scheming Mordred catches them in an encounter, Lancelot escapes. Guinevere is not so fortunate. She faces a trial. The jury finds her guilty and sentences her to die. As the day of execution nears, people come from miles around with one question on their minds: Would the king let her die? Tragically but resolutely, Arthur decides: "Treason has been committed! The jury has ruled! Let justice be done!" Arthur stands high in a castle window, as Guinevere enters the courtyard, she walks to the unlit stake. Arthur turns away, emotion brimming in his eyes. A herald mounts the tower where Arthur has withdrawn -- “Your Majesty. Shall I signal the torch?" But the king cannot answer. Arthur’s love for her spills from his broken heart: "I can’t! I can’t! I can’t let her die!" Seeing Arthur crumble, Mordred relishes the moment: "Well, you’re human after all, aren’t you, Arthur? Human and helpless." Tragically, Arthur realizes the truth of Mordred’s remark. Being only human, he is indeed helpless. But where this story ends, the greatest story ever told just begins. Another Execution Scene. Another time. Another place. Another king. The setting: A world lies estranged from the God who loves it. Like Guinevere, an unfaithful humanity stands guilty and in bondage, awaiting judgment’s torch. Could God turn His head from the righteous demands of the law and simply excuse the world’s sin? Like the wicked Mordred, Satan must have looked on in delight: Without even waiting for His Guinevere to look up in repentance, the King stepped down from His throne, took off His crown, laid aside His royal robes, and descended His castle’s polished steps into humanity’s pockmarked streets. That scene in the movie was an epiphany of understanding. Suddenly, it all made sense. We know now why He had to die, why there was no other way. When love and justice collide, only the cross offers a happy ending. (Philippians 2:6-8) (From Ken Gire’s book Windows of the Soul. Copyright © 1996 by Ken Gire, Jr. Zondervan Publishing Houses.)
It is just over a month until Easter. We will consider the story of Jesus’ betrayal, death, burial and resurrection…the most important events in the history of the world. After Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in chapter 17, the private ministry of the Lord and His disciples has now ended, and the public drama of redemption is about to begin (John 18:1-11). Man will do his worst, and God will respond with the very best. This reminds us of what Paul shares in Romans 5:20, “But, where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Perhaps the best way to see and understand the truths of this section of Scripture, is to pay attention to the symbolism that is involved. First, we have the Garden of Gethsemane (which means “oil press”), and which is located on the west side of the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. Jesus would often retreat to this garden to pray, rest, and meditate. (Luke 22:39) Human history began with a garden…the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8ff), and the first sin of man was committed in that place. Jesus is obedient to His Father when He comes into this garden, and…because of His obedience…righteousness and life are available for all who would trust in Him.
Now, Jesus has been rejected by His people and at the very moment is being betrayed by one of His disciples. Jesus is fully aware of what lies ahead of Him. He leaves eight men near the entrance, and then takes Peter, James and John and goes into another part of the garden to pray. Judas has lived with Jesus for perhaps three years, and has listened to Him teach…yet, He does not really know Jesus. The traitor brings soldiers armed with clubs. The word “band” means this number is equivalent to a Roman cohort -- 600 men! Judas wants to be certain that he has enough men to handle the job, apparently…if only he had a clue at all, as if the Father couldn’t dispatch 600 men with but a whisper. He has no idea that the Lamb of God is going to meekly submit, and that there will be no battle. Jesus understands what is about to take place. Judas expects some sort of deception, so he arranges to identify Jesus by kissing Him (Matthew 26:48-49). The kiss is a sign of affection and devotion…so the fact that it is used for betrayal symbolizes just how base an act of treachery that is taking place.
Jesus shocks both Judas and the officers by boldly presenting Himself to them. He has nothing to fear and nothing to hide…He willingly lays down His life for the sheep. By surrendering, Jesus helps to protect His disciples from harm…He keeps them safe not only spiritually, but physically as well (John 17:11-12). It is fascinating that all of the soldiers draw back and fall to the ground when Jesus tells them, “I am He.” Perhaps their fall is a manifestation of Divine power or an exhibition of the majesty of Jesus…we do not know. What we do know is this -- Jesus is in control of this situation. The Jewish leaders had tried to arrest Jesus on a number of occasions, and always without success. They may be prepared for conflict, but when they are met with surrender and calm, they are overwhelmed.
All of the disciples have courageously affirmed their devotion to Christ, now Peter decides to prove it with an act of violence. He draws out a sword and decides to bring the fight to those present…he cuts off the ear of the servant of the high Priest, a man named Malchus…like this provocation had any chance of succeeding. Peter obviously has not understood Jesus’ plan…that this is going to be a “spiritual” battle, and not a physical one. The sword represents rebellion against the will of God. His spirit, heart are not yet in the right place…but, they will be. Jesus does not need Peter’s protection…as He could have called 10,000 angels to come to His defense. Jesus’ miracle in healing Malchus’ ear symbolizes and reveals Jesus’ grace toward us…and so the story will move ahead.
So in case some left it out or forgot to mention it when they explained what it meant to be a Christian, let me be clear: There is no forgiveness without repentance. There is no salvation without surrender. There is no life without death. There is no believing without committing. Kyle Idleman, "Not a Fan" (p. 35)
There are so many lessons to learn from this event. Jesus is the Prince of Peace who came not with a sword, but with grace and love. This is not a political statement in my estimation…and those who would use this event to defend pacifism do so out of context, in my estimation. But, what we do understand is that Jesus wants us to live lives of surrender…and to understand that we are not going it alone in the spiritual battle against the world and Satan. He is willing to come along side of us and fight our battles. He sent His Holy Spirit to do just this…to empower us to live lives based upon His estimation of matters in this life, and not from our own standards, as exemplified by Peter. It really does come down to a choice that we have to make every single day – am I going to live for Christ, or am I going to live for myself.