Reflect upon this Good Friday meditation on the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, as it will soon be shared with all of God’s People who gather for worship in our community Good Friday service:
Whom Are You Looking For?
Betrayal & Arrest
And so it begins. After three years of ministry, culminating in a prediction of his impending death, an assurance of his resurrected presence, and an extended time of prayer for his disciples, and for all who will follow in their footsteps, Jesus is at last betrayed into the hands of his enemies by one of his own. The soldiers approach him, fully armed, and ready for a fight. Ironically, the soldiers also come equipped with “artificial lights” to arrest “the light of the world.” Their lanterns and torches serve as an ironic reminder of their impotence in opposing him. As the readers of John’s Gospel, we have known since the first chapter that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not over come it.” (1:5)
As the company of soldiers approaches Jesus in the garden, he poses the central question to them – “Who are you looking for?” (18:6) Jesus has asked this question in John’s Gospel account before, and he will ask it again. It happens to be the same question that he asked the men who would become his first disciples way back in chapter one. This time, however, instead of seeking to enter into a relationship with Jesus, the soldiers are seeking to arrest him, and ultimately to kill him. In a couple of days, this very same question will be posed by the Resurrected Lord to Mary Magdalene, as she searches for him in the empty tomb. We would do well to consider this question for ourselves, as we gather for worship on this Good Friday – Who are you looking for?
When the soldiers answer Jesus’ question with the reply that they are searching for “Jesus of Nazareth,” he responds to them with a simple declarative phrase, recorded in the Greek as ego eimi, often translated as “I am he,” or simply as “I am.” With these words, Jesus identifies himself not simply as the ones for whom the soldiers seek, but with the Divine Name “I AM:”
- That name, which was spoken from the midst of the burning bush in Exodus 3;
- That name, which Jesus spoke to the Samaritan Woman at the well in John 4;
- That name, which he repeated to his frightened disciples while walking upon the water in John 6, as he assured them, “I am, do not be afraid.” (6:20)
- He repeated that name twice in the presence of the Pharisees in John 8, famously informing them that “before Abraham was, I AM.” (8:58)
- And in John 13, while predicting his own betrayal and death in the presence of his disciples he said, “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” (13:19)
John reports that when Jesus said “I AM” the soldiers “drew back and fell to the ground.” (18:6) Such is the only proper response to coming face-to-face with the divine. The Evangelist is intent on communicating to us that even in these difficult moments, the power and authority of Jesus shine through.
And so, the eternal question of Jesus rings down through the centuries to each one of us – “Who are you looking for?” If we have come here simply to memorialize the horrendous suffering of a man who lived many years ago, then we have missed the point.
What Christ most desires from us is not RECOGNITION, but a RELATIONSHIP.
When the soldiers discovered who Jesus was, they responded as pawns of the forces that were determined to eliminate him, thereby supporting their own positions and personal agendas. What is required of us is to pattern our response to Jesus’ question after the initial responses of the first disciples, who upon hearing the question – Who are you looking for? – responded with a question of their own: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (1:38) He replied, “Come and see!” A relationship ensued, a partnership was begun, and the world has never been the same again!
Pastor Tom Strandburg