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Dear Friends in Christ,
I was at a movie many years ago, a Star Trek movie, where one guy was really absorbed in the action. At the climax of the movie, when the crew of the Enterprise figures out how to make a photon torpedo find an invisible enemy ship and that enemy ship is destroyed he couldn’t help himself. He shouted “YES!” and began to cheer.
When I was young, when this portion of the passion history was read; when the mob says that they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus replies “I Am HE”, and they all fall down as if knocked over by an invisible bowling ball, I would think “YES! Jesus, show them who’s in charge.” It’s a wonderful section of the Passion History. It’s like a bright light shining in what is otherwise a very dark story.
Jesus says, “I Am He”. If you are familiar with John’s Gospel that should ring a bell. Seven times John records an “I AM” statement of Jesus. I am the bread of life; the gate; the good shepherd; the light of the world; the resurrection and the life; the way, the truth and the life; and the true vine. But the most telling of all the I am statements of Jesus is this, before Abraham was born, I AM. It was obvious to all who heard him that he was claiming to be God, the one and only true God who always has and always will exist, the only being who can simply say “I AM”.
The mob was looking for Jesus of Nazareth. They knew he was powerful in word and deed. They knew about the times he had escaped the grasp of those who had wanted to stone him or to throw him off a cliff. They came prepared with lanterns and weapons and even some mighty Roman soldiers. But Jesus makes it clear by word and deed that he is not who they think he is. He is not just a lowly carpenter’s son from Nazareth. The power of those three words of truth, I AM HE, knocks them to the ground. He is God, equal with the Father from eternity.
Don’t you get it guys? Don’t you get it Judas? Don’t you see who this is? Jesus is the great I AM come to earth in the flesh! If being knocked over by an unarmed man simply by the power of his words doesn’t get your attention, he is about to heal the ear of one of his enemies that Peter foolishly cut off. Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Word become flesh, the savior! But they don’t see it. Even after being knocked over by the power of his statement “I AM HE” they are determined to arrest him.
We like to think, “How foolish these people were that they didn’t see who Jesus was; that they could think that they were the ones in charge, that they had the power.” But we often do the same thing. We often go about our lives thinking that we are the ones in charge. We sometimes think that we can oppose God, or at least ignore his word. Sometimes, when we think that way, he may let us get knocked flat on our backs the way he did this mob of men to get our attention. He wants to remind us that we aren’t the ones in control, that we can’t oppose him and his will forever. All he has to do is speak a word to make it very evident that he is in control, not us.
By saying “I AM HE” and having the power of his words knock the whole mob to the ground, Jesus was letting them know who he really is. He is true God, one with the Father from eternity, the promised Messiah. He was giving them something to think about, planting a seed that he Holy Spirit may have used later to bring some who had come to arrest him to faith. But there was another reason Jesus displayed his power in this way. It was out of concern for his disciples.
After those who had been knocked over got back up and regained their composure Jesus asked again, who is it you want? When they replied, Jesus of Nazareth, he again said “I AM HE”, but then he added, If you are looking for me, then let these men go.
Amazing, isn’t it? The unarmed man, the one they came with weapons to arrest, the one who was greatly outnumbered, is the one giving the orders. And they obey! When the disciples ran, not one from the mob gave chase. None of the disciples were arrested, not even Peter who had pulled a sword. Jesus made sure that they were kept safe. He would not allow any that the father had given him to be lost.
Jesus cares for us the same way he cared for the disciples. Like the disciples we are weak. We give in to temptation. We fail to watch and pray. There is no reason he should want to protect us, but he does. In his grace he makes sure that he always provides a way out of temptation for us. In his grace he often keeps things from happening that he knows would be too difficult for us to bear. He knew that the disciples were not at a point in their faith that they could endure being arrested so he made sure that they were allowed to go free. Later, many were arrested, but at a point in their lives when their faith had grown and being arrested didn’t cause them to give up their faith. They probably didn’t even realize what Jesus had done for them that night in the garden until much later. And that’s often the way it is for us too. We look back on our life and think, “wow, that situation I was in could have been much worse, and if it had been I don’t know if I could have kept the faith. The Lord saw to it that it wasn’t something that I couldn’t bear with his help.” He makes sure that none the Father has given him are lost.
By saying ‘I AM HE” and causing the mob to be knocked to the ground, Jesus made sure that all the attention was focused on him. He made it clear that he was in charge. He could have easily escaped if he had wanted to do so. But the one who is I AM, the one who made and rules the universe, chose to take on human flesh so that he could be arrested. He willingly gave himself up knowing in advance everything that was going to happen to him. That knowledge had minutes before caused him to sweat blood as he wrestled in prayer. The Father had answered his prayer. “It is my will that you be arrested, beaten, treated as a criminal and be nailed to the cross. This is the only way that I can be a just and holy God, and yet forgive sin. You, my perfect son whom I love, with whom I am well pleased, are able to bear the sins of the whole world because you have none of your own. You will display for all to see how loving and gracious I am because you will suffer and die for those who hate me.” Jesus had said, “Thy will be done.” He didn’t run. He didn’t try to hide. He went out to meet the mob and said, “Here I am. I am the one you want. Take me.”
Jesus still wants the attention focused on him. Judas was focused on himself and so he gave in to greed and was led to betray Jesus for money. Peter and the others were focused on themselves, on their own safety, on their own fears, so they forsook Jesus and ran. Anytime we focus on ourselves we too will fall into sin in one way or another. Focusing on ourselves may lead us to cheat or steal because we don’t think we have what we need. Focusing on ourselves may lead us to lie about others to try to keep a friend or to get ourselves out of trouble. Focusing on ourselves may get us to run away from helping those in need, and even from Jesus, denying that we know him, in order to keep from suffering ridicule or persecution.
When we realize that we have focused on ourselves and fallen into sin Jesus reminds us to focus on him again. He calls us to remember what he did in the garden. Even though he knew everything that was going to happen to him he willingly gave himself up for Judas who betrayed him, for Peter and the others who forsook him, for you and for me who all too often only think of ourselves and should be the ones who suffer for our sins. He willingly gave himself up so that the Father could punish him for the times that we thought only of ourselves and fell into sin. He says to us, “I AM HE.” I am he, the eternal God who set aside the glory of heaven so that I could come to earth to save you. I am he, the one who uses my power as God to protect you. I am he, the one who willingly allowed myself to be arrested, condemned and crucified so that I could take on the punishment you deserved for your sins.
When you hear this portion of the passion history, and like me, you are tempted to think, “YES Jesus, you show them who’s in charge”, remember that he wasn’t just displaying his power as God. He was willingly offering himself up in our place so that we might be free for all eternity. When you hear Jesus say “I AM HE” think, “YES Jesus! Thank you for taking my place. Thank you for being willing to offer yourself for my sins. Thank you for being my Savior.”