Ambush on the Mount of Olives

Scene 1

The moonlight flashed off the blade arcing toward his head. Malchus had only enough time to shift his head out of the direct path of the sword before he felt its weight slice through his flesh and smash into his skull. He fell to his knees. His mouth filled with bile. He saw his severed ear lying beside his feet. He felt like screaming and fainting in the same instant.

But then he saw the prisoner’s tunic stride into his vision. The prisoner must have cast off all restraints and somehow strode through the milling mob as if they were all nothing.

Malchus saw the prisoner’s hand reach for the ground. He saw the prisoner’s hand take hold of his severed ear, and then place it back onto Malchus’ head. 

Whole. Renewed. 

And there, with Malchus, stood Jesus. There he stood. Standing between a sword-and-club-wielding mob, and the eleven, hopelessly waving just two swords between them. For a moment, everyone froze; for a moment, everyone silent: as they studied the unbound, unrestrained prisoner standing in the gap.

There stood Jesus, standing in the gap between the mob and the eleven.

There stood Jesus, standing in the breach between heaven and earth.

There stood Jesus, radiating a glory no human eye could see.

There stood Jesus, resplendent in a glory visible only to those who have received the kingdom of God.

There stood Jesus, standing between the Legion of demons empowering the frenzied mob, and the dozen Legions of angels desperately waiting for His command to act.

There stood Jesus, standing in front of Peter. 

Peter, he who, with sword in hand, willed Jesus to claim the throne and restore the kingdom to Israel. He who had struck the first blow. He who was willing to strike despite being out-numbered and out-matched. He who was willing to die for the political kingdom he expected Jesus to establish.

There stood Jesus, standing in front of Peter. 

The Peter who Jesus had foretold would deny him. The Peter for whom Jesus had prayed that Peter might have faith. Not faith in Jesus to prevent Peter from denying Him; but faith that Peter might repent and return. Not faith that Peter might not fail; but faith that, when Peter returned, would have the faith to feed Jesus’ flock. 

Jesus read his heart. Jesus had read his heart, and knew him.

There stood Jesus, standing in front of Peter. 

Then Jesus’ voice filled the silence, “Enough! Resheath your sword. All who take the sword will perish by the sword. Shall I not drink my Father’s cup?” Turning to the mob, Jesus challenged, “Have you come out like robbers, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me.” Then, pliantly holding out those hands that had so recently slipped the restraints and worked power, Jesus submitted, “But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.”

Peter’s heart crumbled. He was confused. Here was his King. The King he was willing to die for. Submitting. Jesus had changed the rules. Dashed his hopes. Smashed his dreams in an instant. The kingdom Peter foresaw vanished. Forever. 

There stood Jesus, the mob now milling around him, jostling in their bid to bind the Son of God. 

There stood Jesus, watching Peter run. 

“My kingdom,” whispered Jesus, “is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting that I might not be delivered to these Jews. But my kingdom is not of this world.”

“For this purpose I was born, and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

But neither the milling mob, nor the absconding disciples heard. “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice,” whispered Jesus. But no one heard; no one but Malchus heard him.

And Jesus read his heart.

Scene 2

There sits Jesus, enthroned in glory. The King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. His throne emblazoned with the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” At his outstretched arms, his adoring followers sing, 

“Worthy are you,
    for you are slain,
    and by your blood you ransom people for God
   from every tribe and language and people and nation,
    and you make them a kingdom
        and priests to our God
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

And then, resplendent in the glory of the kingdom, his outstretched arms begin to ache, again. And he sags. Pushing up against the cruel nails piercing his legs, he fights to breathe, gasping again for air. The pain in his legs eventually becomes too much, and he again sags down on his arms.

To his left and to his right, to his front and his back, all he hears are jeers. Catcalls and jeers. “Aha!” said a man walking past, “You who would leave our temple desolate. You who would destroy our temple and rebuild it in three days. You who called yourself the Son of God, the Messiah, Chosen of God, King of the Jews. Prove it! Prove it by coming down off that cross. Come on, you who would save others. Save yourself! If you are the King, save yourself. Come off that accursed cross.”

The catcalls also came from closer than the milling crowd. To his left and his right, the catcalls echoed from the occupants of the flanking crosses. Jeers. Mad curses. “Are you not Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Jeers. Curses. Catcalls.

Again and again. “Bah, you fake Messiah. Save us all!”

But slowly, a voice fell silent. Craning his neck, he glimpsed the words on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” as if he were seeing them for the first time.

Suddenly, he saw not a prisoner dying in shame. But a King, enthroned in glory, his life being crushed by other-people’s-sins. 

“Jesus,” he exclaimed, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And Jesus read his heart. No time to be baptised. No time to repent of knowingly committed sins. No time for reparations. No time to say the Sinner’s Prayer. No time for anything but, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus read his heart.

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

Kingdom. Paradise. Today.

Standing quietly by, John remembered Jesus’ words, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”

Breaking in, as if from another dimension, the praises start up again,

“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
    for his judgments are true and just.”

And Jesus breathed his last.

Scene 3

Joseph was madly running past the temple complex when he lost his balance and fell heavily onto the heaving ground. It was already near pitch black. But it wasn’t his vision causing him trouble, but the heaving, shaking moving ground. 

“Earthquake,” yells a horrified soul from across the street.

Suddenly, from the other direction, from the temple complex itself, comes a terrified shriek, “Heaven help us! The veil is torn. Away, lest we see the Voice and perish!” 

As soon as the quake subsided, Joseph sprinted out of there in the deep gloom. Finally emerging from the city gate, he ran, pantingly out of breath, to Golgotha.

But he was too late. There he saw Jesus’ lifeless body, hanging limply on that cross. Broken men with broken legs either side of him. A spear wound in his side, the bleed now finished.

Too late. Too late to prevent murder. Never too late to sorrow.

Joseph grimly composed his face, mustered up every ounce of dignity as befitting a member of the Sanhedrin, requested the attendance of the centurion on duty, and steadily set his course for the house of Pilate.

Flinching slightly, he entered Pilate’s house, and requested an audience. Soon Pilate joined him.

“Ah, Joseph,” we might imagine Pilate saying to him, “What are you doing here? Just a few hours ago, your fellow Sanhedrists demanded my attention outside my front courtyard. They didn’t want to come in here. Didn’t want to pollute themselves. Happy to talk to me. Happy to get a conviction. Happy to kill a man my wife says is innocent. But no siree, they wouldn’t set foot in here.”

“So, what are you doing here? Don’t you want to eat the Passover meal this evening? Aren’t you polluting yourself?”

“Jesus always said they were hypocrites,” Joseph stared absently. “Whitewashed tombs,” he continued. “Worried about ritual purity while plotting murder in their hearts. They knew who He was.” 

“Pilate,” Joseph returned to the present, “Jesus is dead.”

“Dead, you say? Is this true, Centurion?”

“Yes, sir. Stuck a spear in him meeself. Dead awhile, I say, out came blood and water.”

“With your permission, I would like his body,” asked Joseph. “I’ll see to that he’s buried.”

With a silent nod, a suddenly contemplative Pilate gave his assent.

Joseph strode determinedly out of the palace. Almost immediately, a fellow Sanhedrist caught his eye. They both headed in the same direction. “Are you doing what I think you’re doing, Joseph,” asked Nicodemus. “Yes,” came the reply, “I have a shroud.”

“Well,” said Nicodemus, flipping back his cloak to reveal the package beneath, “I’ve got the myrrh and aloes.”

Joseph quietly nodded.

Arriving back at Golgotha, the pair extracted horrendously large nails from the powerless body. Finally, they got the limp body off that wicked tree.

They couldn’t but help touch his body. Unclean.

As Joseph and Nicodemus stood there, they noticed their hands, covered in blood. Literally, covered in the blood of Jesus.

“No Passover for us tonight,” said Nicodemus.

Staring at his blood-drenched hands, Joseph replied, “No need. I’m already covered by the blood of the Lamb.”

And there they stood. Standing between the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of God. Standing between the Covenant they’d always known and the New Covenant. Standing at the epicentre of time, they’d made their choice.

There was no going back.

Scene 4

Look around you. We’re here, in the 21st century. Worshiping as the church of God. 

We’re still standing in the gap. The gap between the reality and the consummation of the kingdom of God.

No matter how long time lasts, we, just like Joseph and Nicodemus, are never more than a foot from the cross. For the cross is the eternal epicentre.

The cross continues to stand between heaven and earth, forming an unbreakable ladder.

Jesus continues to pray for his disciples, asking that they may find enduring faith.

The still small voice of God still wafts across our consciousness.

Will we turn and be faithful, as did Peter? Will we hear the still, small, whispered voice? Will we see the Glory of the King, as did the thief on the cross? Will we choose our Saviour over family and friends and status and tradition and self-righteousness and sin and the pleasantries of this world, as did Joseph and Nicodemus?

Jesus changed Joseph and Nicodemus’s world. He changed Malchus’ and the thief’s world. Jesus changed Peter’s world. Jesus changed the world. Jesus changed me. And he wants to change you.

Will you hear? Will you see? Will you believe?

Jesus still reads your heart.

Summary

Jesus was charged with two counts. He was charged with blasphemy in the religious court, claiming to be the Son of God, claiming to be Divine. He was charged with treason in the civil court, claiming to be a King. 

King, and Divine. A god-king.

You know, every King has a Kingdom. But through the years we’ve obscured the idea of Jesus’ kingdom. We’ve religified it. We’ve disguised it in theological language. We’ve placed it in heaven.

Many of us know that the word, “church,” translates the Greek word “ekklesia.” “Ekklesia” means “the assembly.” Do you know what the assembly is? In Ancient Athens, the assembly was the parliament of Athens. But, unlike here in Australia, in Athens, every citizen was entitled to enter that parliament, and was expected to do so. So, “the assembly”, “ekklesia”, “church” is simply another way of saying, “citizens.”

Citizens of the Kingdom.

Joseph and Nicodemus and Peter were all looking for the Kingdom of God. The thief never looked for it, but he found it anyway, almost by chance.

Look around you. We’re here, in the 21st century. Worshiping as the church of God; worshipping as citizens of the kingdom of God.

Will you hear? Will you see? Will you believe?

Jesus has come into His Kingdom, do you want him to remember you? Today?

“Today is the day of salvation.” And Jesus still reads your heart.