Capture Jesus

handcuffed

Mark 14:48-49 “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me.”

When Jesus was arrested, his enemies didn’t send the local sheriff to serve him with an arrest warrant. The mob of people in front of Jesus was a more like the ancient equivalent of a S.W.A.T. team. They came prepared for more than an unwilling captive resisting arrest. They looked ready for a small-scale military strike.

Why did they treat him as though he were so dangerous? Both before and after Jesus the Holy Land had had its share of anti-Roman Zealots, patriotic Jews with dreams of being some sort of Messiah, winning their nation’s independence back from Rome. They lived a “Robin Hood” sort of life. Sometimes they even stole from fellow Jews to support their revolution.

The Romans disparagingly referred to them as “bandits,” petty highway robbers who were no genuine threat to the power of the mighty Roman empire. Yet, they feared them enough to punish those they caught with crucifixion–the style of execution reserved for the most dangerous enemies of the state. Perhaps Jesus’ enemies were already laying the grounds for the political charges against him they would present to Pilate in the morning.

Jesus points out that he was not a quasi-terrorist on a mission of political salvation. “Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me.” They knew that Jesus’ was not campaigning to upset the political order. He preached no sermons about taking back the country. But they couldn’t believe that he was more sincere or selfless about his work than they were. They assumed that he was only interested in power over the people, because that is what they wanted themselves.

People still find Jesus dangerous because they fear losing power and control. Many Islamic countries ban all Christian witnessing. In some of them Christians must even worship in secret under the threat of death. Why? Jesus still wins the hearts of the people too easily.

Are we strangers to the attitude that lies behind all this? Isn’t it true that in our own country, at times in our own hearts, Jesus is resisted because we see him as a danger to personal freedom and control over our lives? People want to be captains of their own fate, and masters of their own souls. If we don’t understand the true and godly freedom Jesus brings us by faith, Christianity is seen as nothing but a set of new rules imposed on us from the outside. Jesus still meets resistance, like the people who once sent back an evangelism flyer I had mailed them. On the card they inscribed these words, “No thank-you. We prefer a self-defined religion.”

How sad for such people, and for the enemies of Jesus in our text, when we consider his words again, “Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts…” The main truth Jesus reveals is not about the people in front of him, but about Jesus himself. He preached the grace of a forgiving God. He lived that grace and forgiveness with both friends and foes. In a few hours, he was going to become the basis for that grace and forgiveness by laying down his life. If they had listened, they would know he did not come to take anything away except their sin and its consequences.

Every day he was with them. The Son of God cared enough about these souls, so lost in their search for self-fulfillment, so lost in their goals of earthly glory, so intent on building their own ladder to heaven (or dragging heaven down here to earth), that he didn’t stop at looking on them and try to help them from afar. He made his home with them. On days when it was too hot, he sweated along with the rest of them. He climbed the same hills to get where he was going. He paid the same taxes. He made his home with his own enemies to save as many as he could.

Can you imagine the high and holy privilege they had been given? What wouldn’t we give for a few hours, even a few minutes, with Jesus? They could have gone to him with their most disturbing questions, their deepest doubts about God. God himself was there in the flesh to answer them. Just when God was reaching out to them with his grace most powerfully, just when it was most clear that God desired them as his own, they despise Jesus as a danger to all that they hold dear. They arrest him to be rid of him.

Every day Jesus is still with us. He teaches us from his word. He lives among us in temple courts of flesh, the hearts and lives of those who know him by faith. Let’s watch and listen with hearts captured by his love.

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