There is a saying that is used sometimes in leadership circles – that the good and healthy leader is one who “walks toward the barking dog.” By this, it is most often referring to the inevitability of conflict in any leadership endeavor, and that the wise leader is one who does not ignore problems or hope they will solve themselves. Rather, the good leader moves wisely and deftly toward the issue to deal with it in a resolute way.
It is difficult to walk toward barking dogs – literally or figuratively. It is fearful. It might not go well, and the chained anger and barking is most likely more tolerable than the risk of being bitten and mauled – literally or figuratively.
But what does it take to walk forward toward some situation when you know for a fact that it is going to end painfully and poorly? I have previously in devotionals written about my admiration for Civil War soldiers who walked straight into the face of a cannon – seeing the enemy double-charge it with canister shot – knowing life will end in the next 30 to 60 seconds … yet walking toward that gun.
This is the situation we see in the passage today in John 18. Jesus has turned the corner and is walking irretrievably toward the cross … not by lack of knowledge, but rather with a full understanding of what awaits him there. This time, there will be no “escape through the crowd.” Jesus will be arrested and sacrificed for the sins of mankind. The path is set and the road established; Jesus is walking into it – face forward.
18:1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.
2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.3 So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
The garden spoken of here is the Mount of Olives, located across a valley from the city of Jerusalem and opposite the temple mount. It was a gathering place for the disciples when in Jerusalem for feasts, and of course Judas was privy to this information.
Here Judas arrives with a detachment of soldiers (probably about 60, according to the word used in the Greek language) and some muckety-mucks of Jewish religious leadership. These leaders, who had become tired of this Jesus character and were now committed to his disposal, had gotten the Romans to go along with the arrest of an insurrectionist fellow who threatened the peace.
It is interesting that it was in a garden that Satan came to the first Adam and tempted him to fall into sin and death, and in another garden the “second Adam” begins the journey that will lead him to a death that will bring life.
Another interesting element in this story is that this very location was where King David was betrayed by his friend Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15), even now as Jesus was being betrayed by his friend Judas.
4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
In verse four, we see the clear statement of John that Jesus knew everything that was going to happen, and yet he willingly submitted himself to it in obedience to the father.
The answer to their question of seeking Jesus of Nazareth – “I am he,” – causes the whole gang to apparently get knocked backward onto their tuchuses! I confess to forgetting about this entire part of the story, but it is pretty amazing. Yet it does not seem to faze them a bit, and they must have just picked themselves up and continued as it nothing happened (oops, we all fell over an olive root at the same time!).
7 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.
8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9 This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
Here is another part of the story that always amazes me – in that it did not amaze them! Actually, we need the additional information supplied by Luke’s Gospel for me to make this point about the ear of Malchus – where Jesus picks up the bloody thing and puts it back on the guy’s head! I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a detached body part put back on someone’s frame – and if I did, I think I’d be a bit impressed.
And again we see in the story that Jesus is walking toward the barking dog. He has “a cup to drink” that has been given him, and as the perfect Lamb of God, he is going to drink it fully and willingly.
12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.
So Jesus is arrested and taken first to Annas. These trials of Jesus can be a bit confusing. Annas was appointed as the High Priest in A.D. 6 and served through A.D. 15. According to Jewish law, this was supposed to be a position for life. But the Romans would never allow a single person to have such a position; and so he was followed in office by five of his sons and ultimately his son-in-law Caiaphas – who was at this very moment the officially serving High Priest.
John gives another of his “explanations” as to what was happening, reminding the reader that Caiaphas had made the statement that it would be better for one person to die than to have the Romans come in and bust up the place because of an insurrectionist and his mob. He had no idea how prophetic and prescient were his words.
There are times in life and service to the Lord when we are called to walk toward barking dogs – to do something that is difficult, maybe even painful. We may be called to break off a bad relationship, or perhaps to confront a sinful situation. The Lord may lead us to speak the message of the Gospel to people who will not likely receive it well. We may have to stand for righteousness and truth in a work setting where doing so is going cause us to have to pay a personal price. But Jesus walked toward the dog – toward a hill while carrying a cross … and we are admonished as his followers to take up our cross and follow him.