Just how important is the Passion--the term we use for everything after the Lord’s Supper to his death—to the Gospel writers? Fully a quarter of the their accounts focus on the last week of his life. Yes, he came to teach and heal, but first and foremost he came to die. All during the last week, the cross cast its shadow over everything our Lord said and did.
So now we come to the part of the story which the author thought was so important, starting with the arrest. As I’ve mentioned before, all of this was a farce pretending to be legal proceedings, starting with the fact they arrested him at night away from the public.
One of the reasons I love John’s Gospel so much (and truth to tell, it’s my favorite of the four) is because John records so much that isn’t recorded elsewhere. Since the other writers gave attention to his agonizing prayer in the Garden, John decided to only concentrate on what’s recorded in chapter 17 and skip the Garden scene altogether.
So the religious leaders and soldiers showed up, and they asked which one of them was Jesus. They didn’t have a picture of him, and in torchlight it’d be questionable which one of them was him. When he answered “I am he,” for some reason they all “drew back and fell to the ground.” There are two explanations I’ve heard for this. The first is that his presence alone, the very words coming out of his mouth caused them to fall down in a near faint. The other, which I lean towards, is that they were expecting a fight; they were anticipating--in a dark garden lit only by torches--an ambush. When he boldly told them “I am he,” they fell back thinking they were about to be attacked.
They asked him a second time, and he answered again---without hesitation—that he was the one they were looking for. He added a request that since they had him, they could let his followers go.
I think that this is very poignant. John tells us that the reason he did was so that his earlier words “I have not lost one of those you gave me” would be fulfilled. In those few words lie a depth of meaning we’ll never plumb.
He knew that if the disciples were arrested and likely tortured as he'd be, they’d fall. And even in these moments in which he’s about to be led away to torture and death, he cared about A) his word and B) the benefit of his disciples. Even as it was, they all fled and one of them—the leader among them—would deny he knew Jesus’ name.
He knows how weak we are. He knows how easy it is for us to fall. “[He] knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” And whatever it takes to make sure we don’t fall beyond recovery, he’ll do it.
That’s comforting and humbling at the same time, isn’t it? And there’s a word of challenge in it as well: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
As I said, quite a bit packed into those few words.
Lord Jesus, I don’t have to tell you how weak I am—you know it better than I do. I think I need to know how weak I am, how easy it'd be for me to fall, but for the everlasting arms beneath me. Thank you.