"The cup which my Father has given me—shall I not drink it?"
The signal-kiss having been given by the traitor, the soldiers and officers "laid hands on Jesus and took Him." Then Peter, in a fit of momentary but ill-timed enthusiasm, drew his sword and smote one of the foremost of the band, a servant of the High Priest who was the real leader of the conspiracy. Perhaps he aimed at the head, but, better versed in the use of oar than sword, he only hit the ear. This was divinely over-ruled. Had the blow been fatal, both Leader and disciples would have been reasonably charged with armed insurrection, and in that case Jesus could not have pleaded before Pilate, "My Kingdom is not of this world."
Peter showed something like heroism—one armed man attacking a multitude. But it was not true courage. He acted without orders from and in opposition to the whole spirit of his Lord. He broke the compact which Christ had just made with His captors—"If you seek me, let these go their way," safely, peaceably. The act was one of insanity, for it was calculated to provoke wholesale retaliation. Had it proceeded from true courage, Peter would not have at once forsaken his Lord, nor denied Him.
At once Jesus rebuked Peter, and forbade all resistance, saying, "Put up again your sword into its place, for all those who take the sword shall perish by the sword"—this would have occurred then and there but for the intervention of the Prince of Peace. At once He calmed the rising wrath of the guard—Loose my hands that I may approach the wounded man and heal him. Or—Thus far you have suffered from my friends, forbear to retaliate; there will be no further resistance; the injury shall be redressed—and He touched his ear and healed him." He had compassion on His captor, and returned good for evil. He drank the cup.
In commanding Peter to sheathe the sword, He gave a permanent law to His Church. Force would only provoke force, and in the use of this weapon, the world has the superiority. The violent invite violence; but the gospel message is gentleness and love. He rebukes all who would promote His Kingdom by force, as He had rebuked His disciples when they desired to bring down fire from heaven to consume some hostile Samaritans—"You know not what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man has not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." His work was to "bear witness of the truth," not by inflicting, but enduring suffering, so that witnessing should mean martyrdom, if need be. The bitter cup was to be drunk, not forced on others. By suffering, His followers were to conquer. Jesus came to suffer, and so to save. He would neither reject nor avoid the appointed and necessary cup of sorrow. "Shall I not drink it?"
Peter was repeating his former fault when he tried to dissuade Jesus from going up to Jerusalem to suffer. Had Jesus wished such deliverance, the moral power which had made His foes fall back, and the miraculous power which healed Malchus, would have availed without Peter's sword.
Far more—could not the Lord of angels have at once called their thousands to His rescue? "Don't you think that I cannot beseech my Father, and He shall even now send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" Even now, having suffered thus far, and face to face with the soldiery and police, it was at His own free option that He went forward to the cross. He laid down His life of His own accord. At His request, the Father would at once send, not a solitary angel, as in the garden; not a single cohort, like that which had come to seize Him, but "twelve legions of angels." The Roman Legion, composed of many cohorts, numbered six thousand men. Twelve legions, this number probably suggested by the united number of Christ and the eleven disciples, would constitute seventy-two thousand. More than twelve legions—not of feeble men, but of invincible, irresistible, celestial warriors, then mustering round about Gethsemane in unseen array—would in one instant flash forth for His rescue. But, instead of uttering the word which would have secured safety, He said, "The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?"
It was the Savior's own desire to suffer. To escape would be to falsify Scripture, to renounce His own purpose, to abandon His work of salvation; above all, to contravene the Father's loving will. My Father has ordained this cup, mingled it, knows every drop in it, presents it—shall I not drink it? He is infinite in wisdom, and cannot err; infinite in love, and cannot be unkind; infinite in resources, and would not give it to me to drink if His and my own great purpose to save the world could be better realized. It is not so much a grief as a gift—for my own blessedness; for "the joy which is set before me;" for my triumph on man's behalf over sin and death. It is a cup which, drained by me, shall procure to countless multitudes a cup of redemption, a cup of consolation, a cup of glory in the everlasting banquet of heaven. "The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?"
And He drank it to the dregs! He uttered a final word which might reach the hearts of His murderers, and lead them afterwards to repentance, "Are you come out as against a thief, with swords and staves to take me?" Has my life been one of lawlessness and injury? Do you come with weapons to seize one who never resisted wrong, and lanterns as if to search out a thief hiding from justice? "I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and you laid no hold on me." Was my teaching immoral or seditious? Had it been so you might then and there have apprehended me. Why this midnight violence?
"But this is your hour, and the power of darkness." You are now left to yourselves, for full revelation of your cherished hate, for unchecked execution of your cruel purpose. It is a brief hour of my seeming defeat, soon to be followed by eternal triumph. It is the power of darkness for a little moment prevailing, soon to be driven off by the dawn of the everlasting day.
"Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled." After His care for their safety, His generous setting them at liberty to act on their own impulses, His obvious desire in the Garden for their presence and sympathy, His sorrowful anticipation of such desertion when, at the Supper, He said—"All of you shall fall away because of me this night—for it is written, I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. Behold the hour comes, yes, is now come, that you shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone—and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me."
Surely, had they watched with Him they would still have continued with Him. As human, He still needed their companionship and sympathy. They might also have gone prepared to bear witness on His behalf against the malicious slander of false witnesses. This was another bitter element in His cup of sorrow, that with the sole exception of John, "they all forsook Him and fled."
Then His enemies mustered their forces to secure Him. As though He were to be more dreaded than the Samson whom the Philistines took such pains to capture, the cohort of Romans and the Jewish police, "the band and the captain and officers of the Jews, took Jesus and bound Him." And He, the Messiah King, the Lord of heaven and earth, submitted to be thus bound, and was led unresistingly to be condemned and crucified. His own words were verified—"I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And He was reckoned among the transgressors." "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter." He drank the cup His Father had given Him.
Let His followers, whenever they have to drink a cup of sorrow, be comforted in remembering this last word of Christ at Gethsemane. He, the sinless One, suffered for us the sinful ones. By reason of our transgressions, His cup was so bitter. By drinking it, He provided an antidote for the poison which sin infuses into every cup of ours. His love prompted Him to drink it all. He has thus removed from us the danger, fear, and sorrow. Our garden of grief, by His bitter cup, has been delivered from its darkest gloom, has been illumined by Divine love and rejoicing hope. He who has thus saved us from sin and death ever lives our sympathizing Brother and High Priest, will be with us in every trial, and enable us also to say, "The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it."