This week I’ve managed several short Bible studies with people that have warmed my heart. I hope they will warm yours too.
Tuesday night I had scheduled a FaceTime Bible study with Tony, who was in his car when I called at 7pm.
“I thought we were going to meet up in person,” said Tony.
I thought I’d been clear that we were going to do this via FaceTime, but we’d also briefly discussed meeting in a sandy parking lot at a boat launch down by the Skagit River near to where we both live. We quickly agreed to meet in ten minutes, and I drove to the river.
I parked in the empty parking area where fishermen usually leave their boat trailers. Tony’s Honda appeared and slowly made its way towards me as he carefully avoided pot holes. He pulled up alongside my car. It looked like we were the recommended 6-10 feet apart as we lowered our windows.
Tony was sporting a black face mask, and with his long ponytail he looked like a hoodlum. I quickly put on my black face mask, and we laughed through our masks before quickly taking them off.
We checked in with each other, prayed and Tony shared a Scripture from Galatians 5:16-17 that had impacted him that day.
As the night was falling we opened our Bibles to John 3:1-8, Nicodemus’ breach of social distancing with Jesus by night. I laughed to think that from an outside perspective it looked like Tony and I were engaging in a drug deal. Rather, we were seeing and entering the Kingdom of God there together, despite the stay-at-home order.
The next day I do a twenty-minute video call with a man in the solitary confinement unit of our county jail. Justin (not his real name) appears with a huge grin on my phone screen. He tells me the good news that he’d been offered a deal: 68 months in prison. He says he was ready to sign, but waiting for his attorney to get off his quarantine. This beats the 200 months he originally thought he’d get.
“That means I’ve only got 27 months to go,” he says, happily– since he’s already been locked up 15 months fighting his case.
“Hey, do you want to look together at something I’ve been studying in the Bible?” I ask. “Yeah for sure, let’s do it!” he says.
I read John 18:1 “When Jesus had spoken these words, he crossed with his disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which he entered with his disciples.”
I describe the ravine between the walled city of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives that we’d visited a few years back, a rugged place off the radar where Jesus hung out with his 12 disciple “homies.” So let’s check out what happens next, I suggest, reading the next verses.
“Now Judas also, who was betraying him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with his disciples. Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons” (18:2-3).
“So Jesus gets betrayed by one of his friends—and that leads to an arrest. Has anything like that ever happened to you, Justin?” I ask. “Have you ever been betrayed?”
“Yeah, like the night I got arrested and ended up here. The cops were tipped off to where I was. They came with guns drawn, and big lights. They surrounded my place, broke in and arrested me.”
“So what was that like for you?” I ask.
He surprised me by saying he felt relief, as he’d been on the run for so long. Now he could face the charges and get them dealt with.
“Well, that’s interesting that you see it that way. I am sure glad you didn’t get shot in the process, which happens too often these days, I say. “Let’s check out what happens next.”
So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon him, went out and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am he.” And Judas also, who was betraying him, was standing with them” (18:4-5).
So they had a warrant and were looking for Jesus the Nazarene,” I say. “And one of his very own was the rat who led them to his whereabouts,” I continue.
Jesus’ readiness to face those who were out to arrest him linked in nicely with Justin’s readiness to do his time. At this point I shared some relevant background.
I share how when Jesus identifies himself as “I am he,” this links up with the Angel of the Lord’s encounter with fugitive Moses in the burning bush in the desert (Exodus 3:1). Moses had killed an Egyptian crew boss and was on the run. The Angel of the Lord told Moses, I’ve heard the people’s cries, including yours Justin, I know his suffering… He calls Moses as a liberator. When Moses asks God’s name, he tells him “I am who I am.” The Greek equivalent of this is “I am he.” “Let’s see what happens next,” I suggest. I read John 18:6-7.
“So when he said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Therefore he again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
“So here with these words, Jesus identifies himself as the God who hears the cries, sees the oppression and liberates the slaves,” I say. “Here Jesus presents himself, identifying himself to them and us as the God of liberation– to his very captors. What happens when he identifies himself?”
“They fall to the ground,” says Justin.
“Yeah, it’s like Jesus just tazed them, and they’re completely demobilized!” I say.
We laugh together, and then talk about how Jesus continues to ask them “who are you looking for?”
As I read the next verses, John 18:8-9, and I can see Justin is listening carefully.
“Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he; so if you seek me, let these (his disciples) go their way,” to fulfill the word which he spoke, “Of those whom you have given me I lost not one.”
We talk together about how Jesus shows he has power, and when he reveals himself people can’t even stay standing. But Jesus’ concern is to protect his disciples. He wants to be sure the authorities take him and not them. Earlier in John 10:11 he said: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Let’s see what happens next,” I suggest, reading John 18:10.
“Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus.”
Peter’s violence just hurts someone even more on the margins than himself—the slave of the high priest. Jesus responds to Simon Peter’s attempts to defend him with both firmness and humility. “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?”
Justin and I were moved by Jesus’ willingness to drink the cup of suffering that his Father had given him. We prayed together, and spent the last few seconds in silence before our 20 minutes video visit abruptly ended. My heart remains pierced as I think of Jesus’ arrest, and of Justin, back in his solitary confinement cell.
Join us for Thursday webinars “Best Practices for Facilitating Guerrilla Bible Studies: “Jesus, the liberator born among us (Matthew 1:18-25).” Sign up for April 16, 10-11am PST here, or 2-3pm PST here.