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The Arrest and Trial of Jesus

Date: Nov. 6, 2016

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Matthew 26:47-68

Key Verse: Matthew 26:53-54

Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

Who here remembers 1995? I know that some of you weren’t even alive at the time, but those of you who were. What do you remember? Well, 1995 was the year, Michael Jordan returned to basketball and the Bulls, starting the Bulls’ second run as champions. Major League Baseball ended a strike. In technology, the space shuttle Atlantis docked with the Mir space station, marking the first time that a space shuttle docked with Mir and ushering an era of cooperation in space between the US and Russia. Windows 95 was released, eBay and Yahoo were founded, and JavaScript was first introduced, along with DVD’s. In the news, was the bombing in Oklahoma City, the nerve gas attack in Japan. Closer to home 750 people died because of the heatwave in Chicago. In movies, Toy Story was the first computer generated movie and the highest grossing film. 1995 also saw the release of Braveheart. I know, some of you guys remember Braveheart. It starred Mel Gibson as William Wallace, a 13th century Scottish hero. Now, I know the film isn’t really historically accurate, but it has some awesome scenes. William Wallace leads the Scots to battle the English for freedom. Now in the first big battle scene. The Scots and English line up to face each other on the field of battle, but what is supposed to happen is that the Scottish nobles parlay with the English to increase their lands while the Scots disperse. While the nobles get ready to meet the English, William Wallace shows up. He insults the English and incites them to battle. Now, the Scots are afraid. The English have an army and the Scots have untrained men, but William Wallace gets up and begins to rally the troops. He says, “I see a whole army of my countrymen, here in defiance of tyranny. You've come to fight as free men... and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?” A man answers, “Fight? Against that? No! We will run. And we will live.” Wallace continues, “Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!” With that, the troops are rallied, ready to fight, and they win. The point I am trying to point out is that in the movie William Wallace is in control most of the time. He had plans and strategies and could take dire looking situations and rally people to his cause. Even in his death, William Wallace was in control. He did not cry out or break, but shouted “FREEDOM!” with his last breath. That was just a movie, but it gives context to our passage. Today, we will see Jesus arrested and put on trial, but in all of it Jesus was in control.

Our passage today starts on the Mount of Olives. Jesus had finished the Passover meal with his disciples and went out on the mountain to pray. There in the olive grove, Jesus prayed for hours for the strength to carry on. He wanted God’s will to be done, but his own flesh was wanting another way. There was a battle of wills and Jesus wanted the Lord’s will be done. At the end of all the prayer, Jesus gets up and sees his betrayer coming. That is where we pick up in this passage. We start out, “While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people.” (47) So here comes Judas, one of Jesus’ own disciples and he is leading a large crowd of people and they all have swords and clubs. They are armed for a fight, or they are going to storm Frankenstein castle if they add a few pitchforks, one of the two. At any rate, the crowd consisted of Romans and Jews. The Jews were the ones carrying clubs and the Roman soldiers carried the swords. They must have been asked to come along in order to make the arrest appear official and because they were probably warned about a possible civil unrest. It was kind of like all the police at the Cubs rally on Friday. The city asked for state police to help out in keeping things safe because five million people were supposed to be coming. That number is a little suspect, but there were a lot of people and they were standing shoulder-to-shoulder. So in the same way, the Romans were asked to come along because great unrest was expected and it would be more than the temple guard could handle. Some peg the number of people in the crowd to be around 600 people. That is a lot of people to come and arrest one man, but maybe they expected Jesus to shoot fire from his eyes and lightning out of his rear.

Before they arrived, though, Judas had set up a sign to show them who to arrest. “Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’” (48) I’m not exactly sure why they needed a sign, Jesus was pretty well known. Perhaps it is because it was dark and hard to see. Some suggest that there might have been a number of people camped out on the Mount of Olives because of the Passover festivities and the soldiers wanted to make sure that they arrested the right one. So, Judas’ sign was one that would require him to get very close. I mentioned two weeks ago that Judas’ betrayal was sharp because Judas was someone who was very near to Jesus and here you can see the betrayal was intimate because of the greeting that Judas wanted to give: a kiss. Now, this was a common greeting and showed special honor. In that region, men would greet each other with a kiss on each other’s cheeks. So Judas was going to honor Jesus while betraying him. As soon as he was near, Judas came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” Again, Judas refused to call Jesus “Lord” like the other disciples did. He had respect, but showed his betrayal in his words.

Now, if you remember from a few weeks ago, Jesus knew that he was going to be betrayed by someone close, and betrayal can be very hard. Let’s go back to Braveheart. About a little more than halfway through the movie, William Wallace is betrayed. On the battlefield, Scottish nobles did not attack and on the side of the English was Robert the Bruce concealed in armor. Now, Robert the Bruce was a Scottish nobleman who was next in line for the Scottish throne. He had allied himself with Wallace and Wallace said the people would follow him if only he led them. It looked like the powerhouses of the Scots had come together against a common enemy, but Robert the Bruce had chosen to betray Wallace for more land and securing his throne. They went in to battle with the king of England. When it was assured that the English would win, the king left the battlefield with his entourage and Wallace chased them down. One soldier turned back and knocked Wallace off his horse, and lo and behold that soldier was none other than Robert the Bruce. The look on Wallace’s face was one of shock and afterwards, he sought revenge on those who betrayed him. Jesus was not that way. “Jesus replied, ‘Do what you came for, friend.’” (50) Jesus knew the betrayal was coming and he knew who was going to betray him.

With those words, the soldiers proceeded to arrest Jesus. “Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.” (50-51) Jesus’ disciples were ready for battle, and one of them sliced off an ear with a sword. Now, none of Jesus’ disciples were soldiers and they weren’t particularly proficient with a sword. He probably missed his target and hit the ear instead. In another part of the Bible, we find out that it was Peter with the sword. Peter was acting on the passion he had when he said that he would never leave Jesus and he would be with Jesus to the death. He is acting on that emotion, and honestly, it was a foolish thing to do. There is a large crowd of trained soldiers there trying to arrest Jesus. What chance would a bunch of country bumpkins, who have never used a sword, have with trained and hardened soldiers? Maybe they thought that Jesus would be their trump card and he would power up in an explosive fit of rage.

But that wasn’t the case. “Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’” (52) Jesus corrected Peter and told them the consequences of fighting. Jesus didn’t need to be saved. He had an army at his disposal. “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (53) One legion consisted of six thousand men in the Roman army, so Jesus is saying he could call down 72,000 angels to protect him. Now, this isn’t an exact number. He uses the largest contingent of soldiers, a legion and the number twelve is a perfect number in the Bible and symbolizes God’s power and authority. He’s just putting the pieces together: a perfect number times the largest group of soldiers known. Then he throws the term “more than” on top of it. At any rate, 600 men are no match for one angel, let alone 72,000. Here, Jesus shows his authority in the situation. He is in charge and he could have ended it right here, but he had restraint.

And he had it for a reason. Jesus continues, “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (54) It was God’s plan that Jesus would be arrested. Jesus himself had predicted this at least four times prior to his arrest. It was intended that he would be handed over. It was written down hundreds of years prior to this event, and it is the reason that Jesus was in Gethsemane praying. Jesus knew what was going to happen and that it needed to happen. He needed strength from God to do his will. Now, just being in Scripture is not enough. Jesus isn’t saying that he has to be arrested because God wrote it down, but it is all a part of God’s plan to save humanity from our own sin. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and he needed to become sin and take the punishment of the whole world for all time. To do that, Jesus needed to be arrested and handed over to the chief priests and elders of the people.

When William Wallace was betrayed, it looked like his heart was torn out and he methodically took out his betrayers, but Jesus was strengthened and even took charge of the arrest. He could have taken out all the soldiers in the blink of an eye. With a thought, they could cease to exist, but that would not have completed his mission. Jesus had to be betrayed and arrested.

Jesus turned his attention to the crowd and said, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me.” (55) Jesus showed the strangeness of their arrival. Jesus had been in the temple teaching every day, but no one tried to arrest him. If he had done something wrong, then they should have arrested him while he was doing what was wrong. Instead, they came with weapons in the middle of the night like Jesus was some sort of rebel. The chief priests and elders of the people were afraid of what the people would do if they arrested Jesus in their midst. The people loved Jesus, and they might have rioted if they came after Jesus while he was teaching. They needed to keep the arrest private, so coming in the night was the perfect opportunity for them, and as Jesus repeated it was so that God’s will could be done and the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled. With those words, all the disciples took off.

The soldiers took Jesus to the high-priest’s house, where the teachers of the law and elders assembled. There was going to be a trial in the middle of the night. Even if Jesus was going to be arrested at night, his trial should have been during the day, but again stealth and expediency were what the religious leaders wanted. They had to keep it quiet and make the decision as soon as possible to get Jesus out of the way before the people could do anything. It was going to be the trial of the century. Did you know that there was a Trial of the Century in 1995, too? The OJ Simpson trial ended in October 1995. Jesus’ trial, however, was the Trial of Eternity, the most important trial for all time.

In the OJ trial, the biggest piece of evidence was the gloves that were used in the murder. OJ was asked to try them on during the trial, but he couldn’t put them on, and his attorney chimed in, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” In Jesus trial, however, the religious leaders had a different mantra, “If it doesn’t fit, just try another one until it does.” The passage says, “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.” (59-60) The religious leaders were trying to find some bit of evidence to convict Jesus. With all the rule breaking that was going on, they still wanted some semblance of legality by having two independent witnesses give the same testimony, but they couldn’t produce two people to say the same lie. This was a mockery of a trial that had a conviction in mind already, they just needed a technicality to seal the deal, but they couldn’t even provide that.

Eventually, there were two people that had thin evidence. It wasn’t Chicago deep dish; it was New York floppy thin. It wasn’t 64 oz. steak; it was beef medallions. I mean it was soap-bubble-thin kind of evidence. They said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” (61) What these men were referring to was an event from early in Jesus’ ministry. It is recorded in John 2, which means it was from more than two years ago. See what I mean about thin. Jesus did say something similar, but he did not say, “I am able to…” Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and I will build it again in three days.” Jesus never said that he would destroy the temple.

At any rate, the high priest demanded that Jesus answer the charges, but he remained silent. The charges were preposterous and they wouldn’t lead to his death, so Jesus remained quiet. It was at this point that the high priest said to Jesus, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” (63) The high priest was getting fed up and directly asked Jesus under oath if he was the Messiah. This was the stickler. People had a lot of ideas about the Messiah and one of them was that the Messiah would be someone to free the people from tyrannical rule…someone to free them from the Romans. That sounds good, but the religious leaders were, in many ways, beholden to the Romans. The uneasy peace that they had with Rome meant that they would stay in power. If that peace was threatened, their religious power base was also threatened. They didn’t want the Romans to retaliate, so they came to hate the thought of the Messiah. The Messiah would be their downfall, too. That kind of helps make sense the fact that no one came looking for the Messiah when Jesus was born, because they didn’t want to look.

Here is an interesting moment. The trial was technically falling apart. The religious leaders had no real case against Jesus, so they just demanded that Jesus tell them under oath. Now this oath was serious. When presented this way, Jesus was legally required to answer. If he didn’t answer, Jesus would have broken the law. Jesus had to answer, but what he answered is important. “‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” (64) Jesus said the same thing as when he answered Judas at the Last Supper, “You said it with your own lips.” It was a direct admission that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus here reveals the truth, but it is not the truth they were seeking. Jesus was the Messiah, but he was not the conquering hero that the religious leaders feared. There would be no usurping the Romans and no retaliation from them. They were right on the Messiah, but wrong on what it meant. To that, Jesus added, “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (64) Jesus was showing that his power and plan was to return to the Father and sit at the right hand of God.

Again, you can see that Jesus is in complete control. He had given the high priest exactly what he was looking for. They had no case, so Jesus just handed it to them. He had to. The religious leaders were bungling the case. Jesus didn’t need a defense; he needed to suffer and Jesus’ words moved that along. Like I said, this was all to get Jesus to the point where he could take the sins of every person in the whole world. It was not tragic; it was planned and deliberate. It looks like a very dark time for Jesus, but he is in charge of the entire situation. He could have prevented his own arrest, but he refrained. He could have defended himself at his own trail, but instead, he gave them the evidence they needed.

And they ran with it. The religious leaders determined that Jesus was committing blasphemy. They thought he was equating himself with God and that was blasphemous if it weren’t true. They pronounced their judgment and began to mock Jesus. His suffering had begun. This was the beginning of the implementation of God’s plan. Jesus was starting to take the punishment of everyone’s sin. It was all going according to plan.

Now, you might be wondering where I am going with this. Like I mentioned at the beginning, Jesus was always in control. There isn’t anything that goes on that is not a part of the plan. Nothing escapes his power. Even in his darkest times, Jesus was firmly in control. It was his decision to lay down his life for us, and it is his decision to take that life back up again. The same goes for all the things that are going on in our lives. We all have dark, impossible times. I am pretty sure that there are plenty of people out there stressing out about this election. The candidates look horrible and we don’t any of them, but people still have to choose. We wonder what will happen to our nation, but we can’t forget that Jesus is still in control. He guides the nations and puts people into power.

At a more intimate level, we might be dealing with hard times right now. There might be something going on that is heartbreaking. It could be a sickness in the family or yourself. It could be your life is not where you want it to be or your family is not as large as you want. It could be that the choices you made are impacting your life dreams. At any rate, Jesus is still in control. Some parts of my life are not where I expected them to be. I’ll be turning 37 in the next month, and I feel like I have lost years of my life. I had high hopes for my future when I was in school, but I gave them up for God. I accepted God’s rule in my life and left the world of aerospace behind me. I still get sad sometimes that I am doing web development now. It is pretty boring for me. There are challenges, but they seem inconsequential. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have a great life with a wonderful and beautiful wife and two great kids, but I let go of something that was dear to me for God. I don’t know if I’ve seen any result yet, but I have to hold on to the fact that Jesus is in control of my life. I have to trust in that.

There is a song in which the second verse and chorus goes, “When my hopes and dreams are far from me, and I'm runnin' out of faith, I see the future I picture slowly fade away. And when the tears of pain and heartache are pouring down my face, I find my peace in Jesus' name. In the eye of the storm, you remain in control. In the middle of the war, you guard my soul. You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn. Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm.” (Eye of the Storm by Ryan Stevenson) Jesus gives us peace in the midst of the most turbulent times because he is in control. Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) When we come to God, we get peace. We come to understand that we only see a part of what is going on and we get assurance that Jesus is still in control. The storms that we see are but a blip on the horizon. We need to trust in Jesus and his control. We need to look at the situations at hand and realize that Jesus is greater than any hardship, disease or disappointment. He is in control of his own hardships and he is in control of ours, too.

With that knowledge we can have peace in Jesus and draw strength from him. We can become as brave as Jesus. Fear cannot hinder us anymore. There is another song whose chorus and bridge go,

“As Your love, in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us
You are not against us
Champion of Heaven
You made a way for all to enter in

You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way

You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the promises you made.” (You Make Me Brave, Bethel Music)

We can have peace and be brave in the midst of the hardest of times because Jesus is with us and not against us. Paul also wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

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