Monday, April 04, 2011

With Christ at the Scene of the Arrest (Various Scriptures)

I grew up, as many of you know, in police custody. My father was a police officer in Winston-Salem for about three decades. One afternoon, when I was about seven years old, I saw a young man carrying a TV through the woods near our home as we were driving out of our neighborhood. I brought this to my dad’s attention because something didn’t seem right about it, and he had taught me that when things don’t seem right, they usually aren’t. I wanted to see my dad bring the car to a screeching halt in the middle of the road, jump out and go tackle the guy. But instead my dad kept driving. He turned the corner, wrote down the license plate number of what appeared to be the getaway car at the edge of the woods, and he radioed it in to the police department. My dad circled the block a few times, and watched them put the TV and several other items in the trunk of the car, and drive off. He followed from a distance, communicating back and forth via the radio in cop-language I didn’t understand. We watched the car pull into a driveway about a block away from Smith Reynolds Airport. Once he watched them unload the stuff, he radioed back in and in no time the house was surrounded by police cruisers, and the officers brought out a young man from the home. I watched from a safe distance in the car as my dad walked over to the man, and hugged him tightly. My dad, with tears in his eyes, came back to the car, and told me that he had coached that young man in youth football. But he did what he what he had to do. He positively identified this young man as the one we saw carrying the TV from the home. I said, “Dad, why didn’t you jump the guy when he came out of the woods?” He said, “Son, when you go after someone for a serious crime, you have to be very careful that you get the right guy.”

There are many ways in which that story has nothing to do with our text of Scripture today. Then there are some ways in which the story is sort of a polar opposite of our biblical narrative. Then there are still other ways in which they are very similar. We are walking with Christ through Easter during these weeks, and today we are with Christ on the scene of the arrest. A plot has been concocted between Judas Iscariot and the religious leaders in Jerusalem to apprehend Jesus and destroy Him. Mark 14:2-3 says that they were seeking how to seize Him by stealth because they were afraid that an uprising would occur. So, they devised a plan to overtake Him at night, with Judas there to give the positive identification. When you go after someone like this, you have to be very careful that you get the right guy. And the Gospel narratives make it clear that the crowd got the One they sought. There was a positive identification.

Now, sometimes people ask why we have four Gospels in the New Testament, and why they differ from one another. The accounts of Jesus’ arrest provide us with a good case study of this. Each Gospel contains an account of the arrest. Each of them records different information, but it is not contradictory. Rather, the accounts are complimentary. By examining each one, we learn different details that give us a fuller picture of the episode. Each one provides us with details about the positive identity of the One that Judas led the crowd to apprehend. So we will look at all four Gospels this morning and see the positive identification of Jesus, here at the scene of the arrest.

I. Jesus is positively identified by His betrayer (Mark 14:43-46)

John’s Gospel tells us that Judas knew where to find Him. Jesus had met often with the disciples there in the Garden on the Mount of Olives. John also tells us that the crowd of people, which included a cohort, that is a detachment of Roman soldiers that may have numbered 600 men or more, brought lanterns and torches with them. This tells us that the garden was very dark. They were looking for a guy with a beard, in a robe and sandals. That described almost every Jewish male in Jerusalem, so they had to make sure they got the right guy. So the signal Judas arranged was that he would kiss Jesus, and when they saw him kiss Jesus, they would know that this was their man.

Now, if you travel outside of the United States today, you will likely encounter cultures where kisses are still exchanged as demonstrations of greeting, respect, and honor. It is an ancient custom, and it was the norm for Jesus’ culture in that day. Slaves would kiss the feet of their masters; disciples would kiss the hem of their teacher’s garments; a person may kiss the hand of another to show respect and honor for them. And, at times, a person may kiss someone on the side of the face, embracing them to indicate deep friendship and affection. Jesus called His disciples “friends” and they had undoubtedly greeted one another like this often in their three years together.

The Greek word for kiss here is intensified, and it can mean “to kiss earnestly, intensively, or repeatedly.” It is the same word used by Luke when he described a sinful woman who came before Jesus with tears in her eyes and poured perfume on His feet and wiped it with her hair, kissing his feet repeatedly. It was an extravagant kiss like this that Judas used as a signal to betray the Lord. To those who were unaware, it would appear to be an affectionate display of great respect and honor, but to those who knew the signal, it was a positive identification of the one they were to “seize and lead away under guard” (v44). This was the teacher, the Rabbi, whose teachings had upset the religious leaders so greatly and threatened the power they held over the people of Israel. Judas had made the positive identification with his hypocritical kiss. But the scene does not end there. There is more to understand about the identity of Jesus, and we find it by turning to John 18.

II. Jesus is positively identified by His proclamation (John 18:1-6)

It is interesting that John makes no mention of the kiss of Judas in his Gospel. This is likely because John was the last Gospel written, and the hideous story of Judas’ hypocritical kiss was well known, having been already told in three other Gospels. John provided details throughout his Gospel that the others had omitted. Presumably after the kiss, but before they seized Jesus, John says that asked the crowd, “Whom do you seek?” And their response is, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

If the present generation of American children will be remembered for the uniqueness of their names, the opposite is true of Jesus’ generation. In our day, it is not uncommon to hear of a celebrity naming their child something original like Apple or Rocket, but in that day there were only a handful of names that parents gave their children. You find many men named Joseph, Judah, Jesus, James, Simon, and Levi, and many women named Mary. “Last names” were not in use at that time, so people were typically identified either by their father’s names or their hometowns. So you have, for instance, Simon Bar Jonah (Simon, son of Jonah), Mary Magdalene (Mary of Magdala), Simon of Cyrene, and Jesus of Nazareth. In stating that they were looking for “Jesus of Nazareth,” the crowd is positively identifying Jesus as a human being. Nazareth was the village where he had spent much of his life. He was born in Bethlehem, and He lived for a few years in Egypt, but no one ever referred to Him as Jesus of Bethlehem or Jesus of Egypt. He was known as a man from Nazareth. It was there that He matured to adulthood, learning the trade of His carpenter foster-father Joseph.

By calling Him “Jesus of Nazareth,” we are reminded that Jesus was fully human. That is perfectly accurate to say. But it is NOT perfectly accurate to say that Jesus was merely human. He was fully human. But He was also fully God. A foundational doctrine of the Christian faith is the incarnation of Jesus. That is, He was, and is, fully God, but He became fully human. And so when we speak of Jesus we are speaking of someone who has a divine nature and a human nature. And His response to the call for Jesus of Nazareth is somewhat indicative of His unique dual-nature.

In our Bibles, we read the response of Jesus in John 18:5 as, “I am He.” Now if you are using the NASB, you will notice that the word He is in italics. Some of the other English versions have italics here as well, but some, unfortunately do not. When we find italicized words in these translations, it indicates that the translators have supplied a word that is not found in the original language. If you don’t have italics, hopefully you have a translator’s note in the footnotes or margin or something to indicate that Jesus did not actually say, “I am He.” In Greek, He said two simple words: ego eimi. Translated, He said, “I am.” And notice in verse 6 that when He said this, the crowd “drew back and fell to the ground.” What is it about these two little words that caused such a dramatic reaction?

In Exodus 3, when God appeared to Moses at the burning bush, He identified Himself to Moses as, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex 3:14). From that time forward, the name “I AM” became a special name used by Jewish people to refer exclusively to the one true God. When Jesus said, “I am,” He was making a bold statement, that the Jesus of Nazareth whom they sought was also the Great I Am, the God of the universe. This was not the first time Jesus had used this divine name to refer to Himself. Earlier in John 8:58, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.” And don’t think for a minute that the people didn’t understand what He meant when He said that. John 8:59 says that the Jewish crowd around Him had picked up stones to throw at Him when He said that. This was the prescribed punishment for blasphemy. They understood that when Jesus said, “I AM,” He was claiming to be God. And here, in the garden at the scene of the arrest, He said it again. And they were knocked to the ground by the awesome power of God that this holy name carries.

Now, I want to point out here that Jesus just identified Himself as God, and divine power knocked them off their feet, and what did they do? They arrested Him anyway. The sinfulness of humanity is so intensely radical that even once Jesus revealed His true identity to the crowd, they still wanted to kill Him. This is relevant to us today in a particular way. You know some unbelievers, and you have probably tried to witness to them and pray for them to be saved. And you might have even prayed that God would “prove Himself” to them in order to convince them to believe. But when we see the events of this scene unfold, we see that even presented with incontrovertible evidence, these people were still hard of heart, and their hatred for Jesus was not overcome. So, it may be that your lost friend does not need more evidence. I say that both as someone who is a former atheist and also someone who has a Master’s degree in Christian apologetics. Evidence and argumentation are useful and necessary. But sometimes, even with abundant evidence, a person only hardens his or her heart even more in unwillingness to believe. In Romans 1, Paul does not say that people are lost because they don’t have access to truth. They are lost because they have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. It may be that a person is fully convinced of the truth of who Jesus is in their minds, but they refuse to submit their will and their heart to Him as Lord and Savior. And more evidence is not going to change that. It didn’t when Jesus revealed Himself to this crowd.

And so here in John 18:1-6, we have the positive identification of Jesus as the man from Nazareth and the God of the universe, the Great I AM. His own proclamation provides positive identification. Now, turning over to Matthew 26, we find more details that further identify Jesus here at the scene of His arrest.

III. Jesus is positively identified by His mission (Matt 26:52-56)

The crowd that came out against Jesus in the garden was sizeable enough to conduct a small military campaign. A cohort, as John describes it, might include 600 or more men. This is the size of a medium-sized battalion in the U.S. Army or Marine Corps. And they were armed to the teeth with swords and clubs. They were powerful enough to encounter a small army … and they were coming to arrest Jesus. He said in Matthew 26:55, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber?” The word He uses here for robber can also mean a revolutionary. That may better reflect the sense of it. Jesus is saying, “Look, I have been with you in the temple every day, teaching people the truth about God, and you didn’t arrest Me there, but you come out here like you are going to squash a rebellion!”

Was this overkill? In one sense perhaps. In another, maybe not. They had already tried to sieze Him at least three times and each time He got away. And Mark tells us that they were afraid that Jesus’ popularity would cause the people would riot. This was the guy that they welcomed into the city less than a week earlier with a royal parade! And it was no stretch of the imagination to assume that they might meet with violent resistance when they try to seize Him. Jesus’ followers were a rag-tag band that included roughneck fishermen and political zealots. They had inside intel through Judas Iscariot, and he knew that at least two of the men were carrying swords. So, they didn’t know what to expect, but they came prepared for the worst.

Now, when they identified Jesus, both by the Judas-kiss and the proclamation of Jesus Himself, they seized Him by force. Now Luke says that some of the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” But before Jesus could even answer, one of the disciples had already drawn his sword and started swinging it. Now, who do you think that was? John is the only one who names him—it was Peter. He drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. John also tells us the name of the slave – Malchus. Luke, the doctor, takes special interest in the fact that it was his right ear. Now, I think it is safe to assume that Peter was not trying to give Malchus a haircut or a shave or a new body piercing. He was either trying to cut off his head or smash his skull. Peter was trying to kill him. But Malchus instinctively flinched and caused Peter to miss the jugular and sever the ear instead.

What does all of this swordplay have to do with the identity of Jesus? Well, we see in Jesus’ response to this turn of events a clear, threefold statement concerning His mission that serves to give further insight into who He is and what He came to do. In His first statement we see Jesus’ concern for humanity in general and for His followers in particular. He said, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” Obviously, this kind of activity is not good for human welfare – it certainly isn’t good for Malchus, and Jesus says it isn’t good for Peter. If you live this way, you will die this way. You will either fall on the bloody battlefield or else you will be recompensed life for life by the authorities. But more important than this general public service announcement, Jesus is specifying to Peter and all the rest that His kingdom will not be advanced by violence and bloodshed. The Bible speaks about Christians being engaged in an ongoing war, but it is clear to specify that our weapons are not physical but spiritual, and our enemy is not humanity but Satan. Some well-intentioned Christians, and some not-so-well-intentioned folks who have hypocritically claimed to be Christians, have either misunderstood, forgotten, or ignored these truths. As Philip Ryken has written, “Few things have done more damage to the cause of Christ than misguided attempts to advance his kingdom with the sword.”[1] One thing I can think of that has been more damaging is when evil men have sought to advance their own empires using the banner of Christ to mask their hidden agendas. History has provided many examples of crusades and inquisitions in which both were the case. And both have brought dishonor to Christ. The Kingdom of Christ advances as His people proclaim the gospel and live gospel-transformed lives before a watching world. Though Jesus warned His followers that they could expect to be the recipients of violence, they must not be the perpetrators of it. Anytime violence is being waged, we can be sure that the Prince of Peace is neither pleased nor honored by it.

Secondly, in Jesus’ rebuke we see also that His mission is being carried out by the sovereign plan of His Father. He doesn’t need a military defense to protect Him. He says, “Do you think I cannot appeal to My Father and He will at once put at my disposal more than 12 legions of angels?” In other words, if the betrayal, arrest, and ultimate death of Jesus is not within the sovereign purpose of God, He could supernaturally stop it in an instant. A “legion” referred to a military unit of some 6,000 soldiers. Jesus said He could summon 12 of them from His Father. That is 72,000 angelic warriors that stand at the ready to come to His aid if necessary. To give you an idea of the devastating power at His disposal, in 2 Kings 19:35, one angel was said to slay 185,000 of Sennacherib’s Assyrian army in one night. Multiply that by 72,000 to see the potential of the forces that could deliver Jesus from the hands of Judas and a crowd of 600. So you must not see Jesus as an unsuspecting victim of corruption and collusion here. The situation fell completely within the control of His Father, who could have, but did not deliver Him from the scene of the arrest because it was part of His purpose and plan, and part of the mission of Christ.

This brings us to the third statement Jesus makes in verse 54: “How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must happen this way?” In other words, “Peter, if you could fight off this angry mob so that we all run away to safety, you would actually be undermining what God has already decreed and declared to be necessary.” If we resist what is about to happen here, we undo every promise that God has made concerning the redemption of His people. In verse 56 Jesus said that “all this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets.” Isaiah wrote about this very thing when he spoke of the suffering that would come upon the Messiah for the salvation of humanity. Every other prophet in some way or another wrote of the atonement that God would make for His people through the sacrifice of the Redeemer. Jesus said that all the Law, and the Prophets, and the Psalms (in other words, the entire Old Testament) pointed to Him and the salvation that His life, death, and resurrection would accomplish. This was His mission. Who is Peter, or anyone else for that matter, to step in and try to stop it. In ways that Peter did not yet fully understand, he needs Jesus to go to the cross. You and I need Jesus to go to the cross. It is horrific, it is tragic, it is sorrowful, but it is our only hope. Our sin is horrific, our sin is tragic, our sin is sorrowful. And it cries out to God for justice and for mercy. And the cross of Jesus Christ is the only way that sin gets both justice and mercy. It gets justice because the innocent sacrifice is offered as a substitute, and it gets mercy because the guilty sinner finds forgiveness there under the shed blood of Jesus.

Now, before we conclude, we need to consider one final note about this scene that is recorded only by Luke. Being a physician, Luke is keenly interested in a fact that the other Gospel writers omit. In Luke 22:51, Luke says that Jesus touched Malchus’s ear and healed him. What an incredible picture of the grace of Jesus Christ. Not only does He forbid His followers from fighting to defend Him, He actually heals one of His oppressors who is wounded by His followers. There are so many points of application in this profound statement, but we will just specify a few. First, we must realize that each of us is like Malchus in that at some point in our lives, we have been the enemy of Christ. We are sinners by nature and by choice and from birth our actions and attitudes demonstrate that we are opposed to God. Like the angry mob, we find that Jesus brings a terrible inconvenience to our lives because He threatens to undermine the pursuit of our own agendas and pleasures. And so we suppress the truth in unrighteousness and persist in unbelief and spiritual rebellion. But Jesus has come to heal even the likes of Malchus, and you and me. Also, like Malchus, some today perhaps in this very room have been injured in life by the followers of Jesus. Rather than showing you Christ’s grace and love, some Christian has brandished a sword and cut you. And the pain of that wound has caused you to run away from Jesus. Do not do that! Jesus is the only one who can heal you, even when some of your deepest wounds have come at the hands of those who claim to follow Him. You must come to Jesus, and when you do, He can heal you. And He can even transform the life of the one who wounded you. He will radically transform the life of Peter from the foolish path we see him so often taking in the Gospels, and He can do the same for His hardheaded followers who do so much harm in His name. But finally, and don’t miss this, Malchus will become a lasting reminder to everyone who knows him of the power of Jesus Christ. Malchus is the slave of the chief priest, the very man who will take part in condemning Jesus to death. But every time the chief priest speaks to his servant, the very fact that the servant can hear his words is a testimony to Jesus. Every time he looks at Malchus, he sees a man who could have perished if it were not for Jesus. And if Christ has touched you and saved you, then your transformed life is a witness to everyone you know. They can condemn Christ and renounce and reject Him, but they will have to do it ignoring the evidence of your testimony for Him. And indeed, everyone who rejects Him finds themselves surrounded in life by one testimony after another that Jesus Christ is mighty to save. Your lost friend, family member, neighbor, coworker, or whoever, is surrounded by Malchus’s ears, including your life and witness.

In the midst of our society that says that there are no absolutes, no exclusive claims, many paths to God, many roads to lasting joy, we cry aloud that Jesus, and He alone, can save. We claim without hesitation that He alone is the only hope for sinful humanity to be made right before a holy God. That is a strong accusation to make, and whenever you make that strong of accusation about someone, you better be able to make a positive identification. And Jesus is positively identified by Judas’ kiss, by His own claims to be the God-man, by His mission to go to the cross and save the world, and by the testimony of millions of Malchus’s who have been healed and saved by Him.

He is who He says He is, and He has done what He promised to do. And He did it for you, that you might be saved. He died to receive in Himself the wrath of God that our sins deserve. He lives to cover you in the righteousness of His own life. Do you know Him? Have you placed your faith in Him to save you from sin? If so, then you are His witnesses, advancing His cause in the world, not by the power of the sword, but by the power of His Word, proclaimed through your lips and demonstrated through your life. And if you don’t know Him, this very day you can give your life to Him as Lord and Savior. If you will confess to God that you are a sinner in need of a Savior, and place your trust completely in Jesus, He will save you and you will find in Him a righteousness you can never produce on your own, a life that will be eternal, and a joy that endures forever. All of this is yours because of His life, His death, and His resurrection.

[1] James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, Jesus on Trial (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002), p51.

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