Choosing Judas: Jesus’ First Gethsemane

We’re familiar with the story of Jesus’ agonized prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He died. But there was another, earlier night of agonized prayer in our Lord’s life, described in Luke 6:12-19. 

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated apostles.” Luke continues by listing the names of those twelve apostles, ending with “Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” 

Why do I describe this all-night prayer session as a time of agony? My hunch is that Jesus spent that night, not wrestling with His choice of the first eleven disciples, but rather with that last choice: Judas Iscariot. This was Christ’s foretaste of that later nocturnal prayer in Gethsemane, when He would face the fatal result of His betrayer’s treachery. 

On that earlier night, I imagine Jesus crying out to the Father, perhaps praying the same agonized prayer several times, just as He would later in Gethsemani: “Father, is this the only way? Do You really want Me to choose a hopelessly godless man as an apostle? Please, Father, tell me it’s not so. Please spare Me from having to spend My ministry with this traitor in our midst. Please show Me another way …” And so on. 

For Jesus, from that moment, the writing was on the wall. One of His own disciples, He knew, was a betrayer who would hand Him over to death. Throughout His ministry Jesus would have to struggle with this man’s fundamental rejection of Himself and of the gospel. Moreover, Jesus would have to love this man, treating him just as honorably as all the others. In fact He might have to love Judas even more, perhaps handling him with kid gloves in hopes that he might, even yet, somehow be won over. 

But it was not to be. Judas was the one disciple whom Jesus could not save, for from the very outset he was doomed, as Jesus Himself declared in His prayer to the Father concerning His disciples in John 17:12: While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name You gave Me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” 

It has often observed that while Hell may exist, we do not know the name of anyone there. But we do know such a name. We know the name of Judas Iscariot, the one doomed to destruction. And Jesus knew this too, even from that early time when He spent the whole night praying over the choice of His disciples. 

Do you have a Judas in your life? Someone you wish you didn’t have to deal with, but somehow you can’t escape it? Someone who, no matter how you slice it, spells trouble for you, and yet somehow you must make the choice to keep on loving him or her? 

Only in agonized prayer will you find the grace and strength for such a love, and in the knowledge that Jesus Himself was there before you. 

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