Faithlife Sermons

The Gospel According to the Armed Mob

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There’s a trope in action movies and TV shows that you’ve probably seen at some point where they try to show you that the hero is not someone you want to underestimate. This kind of scene usually involves a lone hero, maybe unarmed, being surrounded by foes who seem to have him hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. Sometimes the bad guy will encourage him to give up, and the hero usually replies with a really cool line like, “This doesn’t really seem like a fair fight . . . for you!” before cleaning up on the bad guys in a thrilling fight scene to show how skilled he is.
There’s also a showdown brewing in our reading for this evening, a confrontation between Jesus and all the forces that want to destroy him. This is the moment of Jesus’ arrest, the moment that his enemies try to take him down. And kind of like a filmmaker using a confrontation to show that we shouldn’t underestimate the protagonist, John uses this confrontation to show us that we shouldn’t underestimate Jesus. Just as last week we saw how Caiaphas the high priest unintentionally said something true about Jesus, this week, the mob of enemies are going to prove something about Jesus by the very way they react to Jesus. This arrest isn’t going to go like you’d expect. But then again, it isn’t going to go quite like the movies either.

The Mob

Let’s look at the contenders in this confrontation. First the mob arrayed against Jesus. This crew consists of both soldiers from the Roman cohort stationed in Judea, and guards from the temple police sent by the religious leaders. So we have representatives of pagan imperial power, the greatest fighting force the world had ever seen, and muscle from the corrupt religious establishment that Jesus had been speaking out against. And all are led and guided by Judas Iscariot, the traitor, who we’ve been told in John’s Gospel was under the direct influence of Satan. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect representative sampling of the “powers of darkness.” Pagan empire, corrupt religion, all guided by the demonic. And they aren’t empty handed either. They’re well supplied with light, torches and lanterns, to search every dark nook and cranny of the garden for the man they’re after. And they’re armed to the teeth. We don’t know how many people are in the mob, but rest assured that with a cohort of 600 Roman soldiers to draw on, and the chief priests determined to see Jesus dead, it should be plenty to handle one unarmed prophet and his dozen disciples. Things aren’t looking good for Jesus so far.
That is how things look with the powers of this world. So often the forces of darkness look like they have all the light and the power. It’s easy to get intimidated and to flee from Jesus like the disciples. The forces arrayed against Jesus and his church look like they have great power to harm us. The powers of this world that want us to abandon and run away from our Lord can discredit us socially, they can take away our material possessions, and even do us physical harm. In many times and places, the persecutors of Christ and his people have actual weapons on their side, military and police power can be used to harm and even kill Christ’s followers. We have not faced much of that in our lives, the weapons used against us are much more subtle, but people can still threaten to harm us in other ways. You could be prohibited from sharing and talking about your faith at work. You can be shunned and shamed by family and friends for standing up for your beliefs. Yes the weapons, the power and influence of the forces of this world frequently seem much more powerful than Christ and the message of his kingdom, and they can intimidate us into running away from Jesus. But it can be just as easy to be attracted and lured to the lights that the forces of this world carry. In this world of darkness, worldly ideas seem so much more illuminating and enlightening than Christ and his simple message. Doubt seems more fashionable and realistic than faith. Ideologies of social progress and tolerance seem much more enlightened than Christ and his ancient, dusty words. To the world, the teachings of Jesus and the Scriptures are the darkness, a sleep and stupor that we need to wake up from. When faced with all the might of political power, of modern religious trends, and the spirit of the age, how can this poor, simple prophet measure up?


Time to turn our eyes to the other side of the confrontation, to see what kind of power Jesus has in his corner. We’ve noted already it doesn’t look like much. He himself has no weapons, his allies consist of a ragtag group of eleven guys, only two of whom have any kind of weapons, and all of whom will abandon Jesus fairly quickly as things play out. The well-equipped mob has every reason to expect Jesus to run and hide in the dark, or to break down and beg for mercy.
But something remarkable happens when the two sides meet: It becomes obvious who has the upper hand in the confrontation, and it isn’t the mob. Jesus is in total control. We’re told that he already knows exactly how things will go down. He is the first to step forward and the first to speak. Jesus does all the interrogation, making them clarify twice who it is they are looking for. He even makes them retreat and fall down with just the mention of who he is. Just what power does Jesus have in his corner? What can give one man this total authority over his own arrest? The answer is simple: the name of God. When the mob says that they are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus’s answer is “I am.” Now, on one hand this is a perfectly standard way of saying, “that’s me,” in Greek. But people don’t fall down in awe just because of that. John wants us to see a deeper meaning in this statement of Jesus. He wants us to hear the power of the name of God, Yahweh, “I Am Who I Am” who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. It’s written right there on our altar. I AM. Jesus is repeating the claim he made in John 8, when he said, “before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus shares the divine name with God the Father, because he was with God and was God in the beginning. And the power of that name makes Jesus’ enemies stagger in spite of themselves.
And what Jesus uses the power of that name for is not to save himself, it is to save his followers from the powers of darkness. “I told you that I Am He. Therefore, on this basis of that authority, if it’s me you want, let these men go.” It says that Jesus said this to fulfill something that he had said earlier. In the previous chapter, Jesus prayed,
John 17:12 ESV
While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
“I guarded them, I kept them in your name which you have given me.” That is exactly what Jesus is doing here: protecting his disciples using the power of the name of God that he has been given. By the power of the name, I Am, Jesus commands the forces of darkness to take him and leave his followers alone.
It’s strange, the arrest goes exactly the way we’d expect in the end: the armed mob arrests Jesus, the lone, unarmed man. But only because Jesus allows it. Jesus dictates how his arrest will go, and his followers are safe because Jesus willingly offered his life to the powers of darkness in their place.
That’s what Jesus does. He uses the power of his name to protect his followers from darkness and death. Because he gave his life for us into death, we are protected and go free. And so great is Jesus’ love and faithfulness to us that keeping us with his name is his top priority, even when we are getting everything wrong. Even while some of us are intimidated by the powers of this world and tempted to flee from Jesus like most of his disciples that night, while others are drawing swords like Peter to lash out at their opponents in anger, and while some are even joining up with the powers of darkness like Judas, Jesus is commanding the forces of death and the devil to leave us alone and take him instead.
Jesus has marked you with the name of God as well, and he keeps you in it. From the day someone put water on you and said “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” you have come under the protection of the name of God. The powers of this dark world, whether they be ungodly culture, oppressive governments, or twisted versions of religion ultimately have no power to harm you. Their lights are false, manmade lights that don’t truly illumine anything. Their weapons can only harm your body, which Jesus will raise from the dead, since he has already passed through death and come out the other side. Jesus is guarding you with his name, and he will not let you be lost.


So there’s no need to fear the darkness of this world. You don’t need to flee away from Jesus to be safe, he is keeping you with his name. You can follow with Jesus and watch as he confronts the powers of darkness. Listen to their accusations and arguments, but know that they cannot harm Jesus and they can’t harm you. Patiently take the blows and the insults with Jesus, but don’t lash out in return. Follow him this Lent all the way to his cross, just like the disciple whom Jesus loved did. There you will see Jesus defeat the powers of darkness by the power of his Name, as they use up all their might against him. Therefore as I usually do, I end my sermon in the NAME of Jesus. May he keep you in it always. Amen.
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