“So when he came, immediately he went up to Jesus and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. They took hold of him and arrested him. One of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the high priests’ servant, and cut off his ear. Jesus said to them, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs, as if I were a criminal, to capture me? Every day I was among you, teaching in the temple, and you didn’t arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.’ Then they all deserted him and ran away.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Sometimes it’s terrible to be right. Jesus had been telling the disciples all for months that this moment was going to happen. He had tried to prepare them for it in every way He could. He had even just told them about it again at dinner not more than a few hours before this. But when it finally arrived, it caught them completely unprepared. They weren’t ready for it at all. They all panicked and eventually ran away, leaving Jesus all alone to face the ordeal of the cross. Let’s talk this morning about Jesus’ arrest.
The arrest itself was rooted in a betrayal. Try to imagine yourself there with the group that evening. The garden would have been quiet. Really quiet. The only sounds would have been the normal nighttime chorus of bugs and birds. Perhaps there was a breeze that rustled some leaves. That was it. They were otherwise alone. Because of that, they would have heard the mob coming long before they arrived. They may have been able to see the glow from the torches scattered throughout the procession. They heard the stomping of many feet. The sound of the gear of battle rang in their ears before they saw who was bringing it. As the mob drew near the entrance, they could see the crowd coming. They heard the voices ringing. And so they did the only thing they knew to do: they tensed for a battle.
There’s a scene near the end of the movie Braveheart where William Wallace discovers the betrayal of Robert the Bruce. That’s not how his actual history played out, but it made for exceptional storytelling on the part of Mel Gibson. Gibson’s Wallace was fighting fiercely as the battle became more and more desperate until he saw Robert’s face on the other side of the lines. In that moment, all the fight goes out of him. Gibson captures the emotion of that stinging betrayal in exquisite fashion with his facial expressions. I have to imagine that’s something like what the disciples were feeling as the mob drew close enough for them to start making out individual faces and there was Judas’ face walking at the front of the pack.
The realization of what was happening must have dawned on them all in a flash. They all felt like they’d been punched in the gut. More than one of them probably had to stop to catch their breath. Judas was the one. Judas was the one Jesus was talking about. He had been with them until Jesus sent him to do what he was going to do. They all thought he was going to feed the hungry or some other ministry task. But that wasn’t it at all. He went to corral this mob and lead them straight to where he knew the group would be so Jesus could be arrested. Judas was the traitor.
Somewhat to Peter’s credit, he tried to defend Jesus when the men at the front first moved to arrest Him. This was just the kind of situation he had imagined fulfilling his pledge to refuse to betray Jesus even if it meant dying for him. He whipped out his sword and started swinging. They may have to kill him to put a stop to him, but he was going to keep this mob at bay as long as he could so that Jesus could make an escape. Perhaps he even started shouting instructions to the rest of the group. “John, James, get Him out of here! I’ll hold them off as long as I can. Keep Jesus safe!” No doubt there was a sound of sword being drawn all throughout the mob. There were shouts and commands and chaos generally began to unfold in the garden.
But then one voice rang out above all the sound and fury: “Stop!” It was a voice of such utter command that no one could help but to listen to it. Suddenly it was even more quiet than it had been before the mob arrived. Even the birds and bugs had ceased their nightly chorus. His first act, John tells us, was to scold Peter and heal the servant of the high priest he had wounded. The fact that John actually gives them man’s name – Malchus – makes me wonder if he later became a believer that some in John’s audience had heard of.
If the revelation of Judas’ betrayal had taken some of the wind out their sails, Jesus’ scolding Peter left them all completely deflated. Why would He scold them? They were actually trying to defend Him. Was His plan to just go along with this? Didn’t He realize how this would end? The chief priests wanted Him dead and meant to see those plans fulfilled in one way or another. Was He giving up? How could they keep going if He was giving up? He was the reason they fought and persevered. He was the one who gave them courage in the face of the growing threats against them. If He wasn’t there anymore, they didn’t stand a chance.
Then Jesus addressed the mob. He actually scolded them too. You could have done this at any time, but you chose to come here and now when I’m alone and your actions can be taken in relative secret. It would almost seem that you don’t have a whole lot of confidence in what you are doing. Or perhaps you’re afraid? Are you fearful that I’m going to resist? Do you think I’ll call up my army and give you a fight? I’ve already called down my own disciples. And then He added that line about the Scriptures needing to be fulfilled. In other words, all of this is the Father’s plan, and has been for a very long time. Let’s get to it, because what comes next isn’t going to be a lot of fun.
Now, there are perhaps many things worth noticing here, but one really stands out the most to me. That is the contrast between Jesus and the mob. They came with an armed crowd, ready for trouble. They were looking for a fight, or at least some amount of resistance. They arrived with what they figured to be an overwhelming force prepared to squelch any trouble Jesus and His followers put up against them. In other words, they wanted to make certain they were in control of the situation the whole time.
This is an entirely natural and human way of thinking. We imagine that domination by force is the best way to be in control of a situation. Control in our minds means having a handle on every possible detail so that each one is unfolding just the way we want it to go. Control means that if things start to veer off in a direction not to our liking, we can grab hold of the whole thing and steer it back to the course we want it to take. We do that with various situations in our lives. We do that with various people in our lives. This type of control, though, is always a temporary illusion at best. You might even go so far as to call it a delusion. This was particularly true in this situation.
Jesus was the one in control of the situation that evening. He was the one with the most power (He always is). This was revealed rather hilariously when, as John relates, then He walks forward to ask the guards whom they are seeking, and when they say, “Jesus,” He replies, “I am He,” and the whole group falls down in fear. They weren’t in control of anything. They were terrified of what this known miracle worker could do. I imagine some of them were relating the stories of the time He stilled a storm or walked on water. And they were going to try and arrest this guy? The chief priests must be crazy! Their brash and bold demeanor was a bluff. So often is ours. Anytime we try and do life on our own, we’re no more in control of the situations we are in, whatever they may be, than the mob there to arrest Jesus was. We may be having a grand time playing a part, but He is the one at the board determining how the whole thing goes.
They thought they had power, but Jesus’ power was the real power. No matter what the crowd had convinced themselves to believe, He was the one in control. He always is. If you and I will entrust our lives more fully into His hands, we’ll experience that power and comforting, gentle, compassionate control in our own lives. No more will we have to fear the season we are in. His love will encompass us and guide us. His perfect love drives out fear. As we enter into a new season together with school starting back up, instead of trying to grab control of what’s happening around you by force, trust more in Jesus. Your road forward will be much easier for it. Even when things get tough and tense, He’ll still be the one in charge. Let Him have it and enjoy the ride.