John 18:1 – 11
Easter is approaching
Well, we know Easter is just around the corner, don’t we? The reason we know that, of course, is not just because the stores are selling hot cross buns, They’ve been doing that since the first of January. The reason we know that Easter is almost upon us, is because the media has started the annual, trotting out, of all kinds of crazy speculation about Jesus.
Every year, in the weeks leading up to Easter, there is some “new” discovery. Maybe some new revelation about the shroud of Turin, the linen cloth which some people belief was wrapped around Jesus’ body after his crucifixion. Or you may recall the hysteria around the so-called “James Ossuary”. This limestone box for holding bones, which everyone now believes is a forgery, but, at Easter a couple of years ago, filled the headlines because inscribed into the side of the box are the words “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
What better way to get your TV ratings up in the lead up to Easter, than with an expose on the box that contained the bones of Jesus’ family, or not! And there have been plenty of others. But this year, a perennial favourite makes a comeback, Here’s the headline:
Spanish historians say they have discovered what Monty Python could not;, the Holy Grail, the legendary cup Jesus supposedly drank from at the Last Supper. The New York Post is reporting that the 2000 year-old cup has been discovered, hidden, in a church in northern Spain, where it’s rested since the 11th Century. However as you read on, you discover that the researchers quote: admit the first 400 years of the cup’s history remain a mystery, and they can’t prove the chalice ever actually touched Christ’s lips. So let’s not get too excited just yet!
Nevertheless, we can’t miss the fact that we’re only days away from Good Friday, and Easter Day. And John 18 reinforces the fact, Jesus’ hour, the time for his crucifixion and resurrection, is rapidly approaching.
Jesus takes the initiative to bring the cross nearer
But as that hour approaches, there’s no sense of Jesus trying to shy away from what’s in store, is there? John really makes it clear, that Jesus isn’t some hapless victim, the pawn in somebody else’s game. He’s the one driving these events to their conclusion. So let’s have a look at Jesus in the driver’s seat.
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.
Jesus had often met in this garden with his disciples. Likely this was a walled garden, owned by some farmer, who allowed Jesus and his disciples to come and go as they pleased. So perhaps it’s a little surprising, that Jesus deliberately chooses to go to the place, where he knows, Judas will find him. If it was me, I’d be hiding under a bed somewhere! But Jesus does what he had often done in the past and goes Gethsemane. Matthew and Luke give us the name.
It was the French author Victor Hugo who once wrote "Habit is the nursery of errors", do the same thing over and over, and that’s when you’ll make a silly mistake. Is it just force of habit?
Jesus comes here so often, that he doesn’t realise, this will be the first place that Judas thinks of to come looking for him?
But it becomes pretty clear, doesn’t it, that Jesus isn’t just acting out of habit, but that he deliberately goes to the one place, where Judas would be sure to find him.
It’s night time, so there’s not a lot of people around,
And this garden is at the outer limits of where a good Jew was allowed to spend the night during the Passover, so there’s even less chance of a crowd witnessing the arrest, and springing to Jesus’ defence.
No, this was the ideal location, for Jesus to be, so that he might be captured, bound, and dragged off to the religious authorities, without interruption.
Judas knew that,
But what John wants us to remember, is that Jesus knew that.
And that’s why he and the disciples are here.
We see in verse 3 that Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees.
John uses the word that technically means a group of about a thousand Roman soldiers, including over 200 cavalry. Although almost certainly it wasn’t that full number who came to arrest Jesus.
Even so, there’s Judas, leading a group of Roman soldiers, plus the temple guards, sent by the chief priests and Pharisees. It seems pretty unlikely that Jesus and his disciples wouldn’t have seen, and heard this crowd coming.
Had Jesus wanted to have escaped, plenty of chance to do so.
The sad irony of seeking the Light of the World
Last week when Tom was sharing up here about the conversations about Jesus he has with his mates at uni, I took the opportunity to make a rude comment about engineering students, of which Tom is one, so let me apologise if I offended any engineers, but we know there are different kinds of people don’t we, and different kinds of people see the world in different ways.
If a typical arts student, and a typical medical student, and a typical engineering student all witnessed the same event, and all wrote down an account of that event, if we were to read them, we’d probably conclude that we’re reading about 3 different events, rather than the same event, right?
They’d point out different things,
They’d want to emphasise different parts of the story,
It’s a little bit, like that, when we compare the 4 gospel accounts of Jesus life.
They are very obviously, all writing about the same events, but because of their different audiences, their different concerns, the way they re-tell the story differs,
And what we’ve learned about the Apostle John, in the 4 years that we’ve been working our way through this his book, is that he loves symbolism.
Good, and evil,
Darkness, and light,
John uses that symbolism here, almost with ironic effect.
We know that it’s night. Way back in chapter 13, John told us that.
And John likes to point it out when people who are far from Jesus, or who are opposed to Jesus, come to Jesus at night, because the physical darkness, symbolises their spiritual darkness.
Nicodemus, in chapter 3, as a good example. His heart is in darkness, and John highlights that, by picturing the physical darkness surrounding him
Twice already, Jesus has identified himself as the light of the world, not just “a light, in the world”, but the light of the world, and yet here comes a posse, in darkness, demonstrating the ignorance of who Jesus is.
And it’s like John can’t even help himself, he describes them bring 2 different kinds of light with them, torches and lanterns.
With piddly little lights, they come looking for the light of the world.
Do you see the contrast?
It’s like using a candle, to find the sun.
If you need torches, to find the light of the world, who calls people out of darkness, it just goes to show how far you are, from really seeing and understanding the light.
The forces of darkness are marshalled against the light of the world.
Yet they pale in comparison against this one they rail against.
Jesus knows what has to happen in order to fulfil God’s plans
Those seeking to arrest Jesus are, almost comically unaware of what’s really going on, but Jesus is not.
Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,”
Some of you will know that last week Darren and I were interstate with some of the other Trinity Network staff, and I stayed on in Sydney with Paul Harrington, because Chris Edwards, who used to work at Trinity Hills Church, was being consecrated as bishop of North Sydney.
Paul and I then had to dash from the cathedral to the airport, realising that we’d cut it pretty fine, only to find ourselves held up when we got to airport security, because a woman in the queue right in front of us, had an aerosol can in her carry-on bag, and it wasn’t allowed through.
And, she just had a melt down! Started screaming, swearing, hitting the security staff.
And, of course, you make a fuss like that at the airport and the Federal Police turn up, and after some more yelling, and a few more obscenities, they told her she was under arrest, and that’s when things really went downhill for her!
She started hitting the cops, and kicking them, so they tried to handcuff her, at which point she decided it was time to start biting.
On and on, cops calling for back up, all the bystanders filming with their mobile phones.
Needless to say, she didn’t make her flight!
What I witnessed last Saturday, couldn’t be more different to this, could it?
Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,”
Jesus knows exactly what’s going to happen, and so not only accepts his arrest, he brings these events about.
No victim of circumstance,
He wasn’t caught by surprise,
Jesus knows exactly what it will take, for rebellious humanity to be reconciled to the God we have rejected.
It will take his death.
We know that’s what it will take, because we’re looking back on history.
John wants us to be sure that Jesus knew what it would take.
Jesus had already said in chapter 10, I lay down my life, No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.
Well, here we see exactly what that looks like, don’t we?
The Vegemite effect; Where do you stand?
But John, is ever the careful theologian and, careful teacher.
He’s painting for us, this picture of the supreme Son of God, the Good Shepherd, laying his life down for his sheep.
He’s not forced to do it,
He’s not swept along unwittingly by the actions of others,
He is deliberately moving events towards their necessary fulfilment in the cross,
Knowing all that was going to happen to him,
He went out, and presented himself to his enemies
And yet John would hate for us, to come away from this scene, with only part of the picture.
Look at verse 2 again Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place,, 3 So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers, and some officials
And then down in verse 5, (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)
Do you see the way John pictures Judas for us?
He’s someone who has been on the inside,
Drawn in, privileged,
Who then uses what he’s gained as a trusted insider, to break that trust, and share what he knows with the enemy.
Yes, Jesus must be arrested.
Yes, the torture and agony of the cross must be endured, if people like you and I, who shake our fists at God, or who politely ignore him, can ever be welcomed into his family.
Yes, friends, we need Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion,
But the necessity of that, and the sovereignty and knowledge of Jesus as he drives towards it, by no means exonerate Judas.
Occasionally, my children do things that are wrong.
They take after their father in that regard,
But I’ve noticed how quickly and easily, my kids blame each other,
“They did it!”,
As adults we get better at it;,
But it’s the same thing. We want to shift the blame away from ourselves.
It’s a poignant line, isn’t it? (And Judas, the traitor, was standing there with them.)
This is the final word on Judas in John’s gospel, and he’s standing with those who hate Jesus.
He’s group physically, with those he’s aligned himself with spiritually, ideologically.
John wants us to be very clear about the Vegemite Effect.
“What is the Vegemite Effect?” I hear you ask!
You know what they say. You either love the stuff, Or you hate it!
There is no middle ground.
There is no one in the world, It seems to me, and the Internet I checked! There is no one who is neutral about vegemite.
You stand on one side or the other; Love or hate.
And John’s final word on Judas underlines that for us.
There are 2 sides, when it comes to Jesus.
And as Judas now, fades, from the story, his rather haunting legacy, is to force us to ask ourselves, where, verse 5, where we stand, when it comes to Jesus?
Will we die with him and for him?
Or do we stand with those, who are opposed to him?
There’s something about Jesus
Friday, I was driving up to Murray Bridge. Gregg Smith had asked me to speak at Murraylands School, and as I was driving out . I was stuck behind a truck on the Freeway, and the company that owned this truck apparently have policy of printing proverbial wisdom on the back of their trucks.
So for kilometre after kilometre, I was staring at this:
“See everything as though for the first time.”
I googled it when I got back to the office, and plenty of people are saying it, but it sounds to me, well stupid!
When you look at something, don’t ever bring what you learned last time, to help you this time.
Don’t ever built up your knowledge of a subject, always come at it form a position of complete ignorance. That’s what it’s saying!
Many of us, have seen this part of John’s gospel before.
And yet, even reading it now, we can add to what we’ve learned previously,
And so even next time we read it, we can go that little bit closer to understanding who Jesus is.
There’s something about Jesus, here, isn’t there.
Verse 4, “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.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
Jesus reveals his identity
What’s going on?
We’ll, what we’ve learned before about this language will help us.
Jesus says “I am he,”, which is a simple response, “It’s me”, but those simple words can also carry much greater meaning.
This is the language that God chose, to identify himself to his people in the Old Testament. “I am”, places like Exodus 3, Isaiah 42.
And so these simple words, on Jesus’ lips, carry another meaning.
I mentioned before that I was in Sydney for Chris Edwards’ consecration as bishop. Traditionally, bishops are given a great deal of respect, and people referred to them with titles like “Your Grace”,
And “My Lord”,
And because Chris is a good friend of mine, and because we don’t at all relate in that kind of formal ecclesiastical way, since his appointment, I’ve taken to calling Chris, “My Lord Bishop.”
And when people at the cathedral heard me calling the bishop that, they thought I was being incredibly respectful.
But I wasn’t was, I?
My words were actually saying, “We’re such good friends, that I can tease you, about the position you now hold. Of course any doubt about that is removed when Chris calls me “stick boy”, suggesting that I’m the little kid who follows the bishop around, carrying his staff!
Jesus’ words mean much, much more, than just the combination of the letters.
In fact, in chapter 8, when Jesus says these same words, I am, people there pick up stones to try and kill him, because they understand that in identifying himself with these words, Jesus is claiming to be God.
What do we see here?,
This is God, in the garden.
Jesus displays his authority
And since that’s who Jesus is, it’s natural for his authority to be displayed.
The Federal Police I saw in action last week, their authority was such that the 2 of them were able to arrest someone, but it was a pretty drawn-out struggle.
Jesus’ authority, is so great, that he only speaks, and those opposed to him fall to the ground.
There doesn’t seem to be any suggestion that they’re recognising Jesus or worshipping.
It seems that they’re involuntarily forced to the ground, by the power of Jesus’ identity.
Which I reckon the Federal Police would quite like to have that kind of authority, wouldn’t they?!
It’s interesting that the only other time John uses this language of “drawing back”, is in chapter 6, when some of Jesus’ followers draw back from him, because they do not believe.
They draw back because of unbelief.
This lynch mob, they don’t believe in Jesus,
This falling on the ground is a manifestation of Jesus’ spiritual authority, whether they like it or not.
Think of Saul persecuting Jesus, until he encounters him on the road to Damascus, and what does he do? Some of you know the story, He fell to the ground, Acts 9:4.
Gentle, Jesus, meek and mild, this is not.
Australians generally have a tendency to be informal, and overly familiar, don’t we?
And those of you who come from other countries, know that better than the rest of us!
And yes, this is the Jesus who welcomed, even little children, and loved them,
But let’s not confuse a welcoming Jesus, with an impotent Jesus.
Let’s not allow familiarity, to cloud our view of Jesus.
This is, embodied in flesh, the God who led his people out of slavery in Egypt,
This is the God who set out to make a people for himself, guiding them and providing for them, sewing the silver thread of his plans and purposes throughout human history for generation after generation.
This is the Son of God, the one who painted the stars in the sky, and breathed the mountains and oceans into existence.
And this is the reality of the power of Jesus. One scholar I read this week observed rather dryly, God did not, and does not, play games concerning his Son
There’s a great passage in C S Lewis’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, where Mr & Mrs Beaver are telling the children about Aslan, the king, the Christ-figure in the story.
Listen to how it unfolds,
“‘Is, is he a man?’ asked Lucy.
‘Aslan a man!’ said Mr. Beaver sternly. ‘Certainly not.
I tell you he is the King of the wood, and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea., Aslan is a lion.’
‘Oh,’ said Susan, ‘I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’
‘That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,’ said Mrs. Beaver; ‘if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.’
‘Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy.
‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.
But he’s good,
He’s the king I tell you’.”
We must not, in our familiarity, miss this display of Jesus authority and power.
Whatever they understood about Jesus, in this moment, some revelation of Jesus’ power and authority is given to them, such that they had no choice but drew back and fell to the ground.
So, whether we’re Christian or not, we need to remember not to treat Jesus flippantly, to embrace one side of his nature, but ignore other aspects of who Jesus is.
But this is also a great comfort isn’t it?
Because, in effect, we’ve read ahead, haven’t we?
We know what happens next!
Jesus gets crucified!
It looks, for all intents and purposes, like things go very badly!
The Apostle Paul, probably the foremost leader of the early church admits as much in his letter to the church in Corinth 20 years after this event. In 1 Corinthians chapter 1, Paul writes, we preach Christ crucified:, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
How can the cross be good?
Why is it worth following Jesus, when this happens?
And maybe you’re not a Christian, but you’re here today because you want to know, “Is Jesus who he claimed to be?
Can he deliver on his promises?”
Because on Good Friday it looks like he can’t.
Or if you are a Christian, and there are times when you wonder about the forces of evil in the world,
Whether that be, evil spiritual forces, the devil, the spiritual forces under his control,
Or maybe you’re troubled by the human element of evil, people who commit terrible acts against others.
Does it look to you sometimes like those forces have the upper hand?
Well, here’s the answer.
Here we see, in startling fashion, the powerlessness of Jesus’ enemies, as they come face to face with his power and authority as the only Son of God.
The American pastor and author A W Tozer once wrote:
Christ can never be known without a sense of awe and fear accompanying the knowledge.
He is the fairest among ten thousand, but He is also the Lord high and mighty.
He is the friend of sinners, but He is also the terror of devils.
He is meek and lowly in heart, but He is also Lord and Christ who will surely come to be the judge of all men.
No one who knows Him intimately, can ever be flippant in His presence.
“‘Course he isn’t safe.
But he’s good”, said Mr Beaver.
Jesus acts as the Good Shepherd
And that too is shown clearly here, as Jesus acts as the Good Shepherd, laying his life down for his sheep.
I’m sure you noticed the repetition. 8, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”
Now it’s not that Jesus didn’t quite catch what they said, and so he asks again.
No! He asks again, so the soldiers and officials will repeat his name, drawing the all the focus onto him, and away from the disciples, 9 This happened verse 9, so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
John’s taking us back to verse 12 of the previous chapter, and Jesus’ prayer that I have not lost one of those you gave me.
This is the answer to that prayer. Even with an armed gang;, a cohort of soldiers, a detachment of the temple guard, Jesus still has his way, and we see down in verse 15, the disciples were free to go.
Even in this moment of adversity, Jesus still acts for the well-being of his people.
It’s a little foretaste of the cross, isn’t it? As there are, scattered throughout John’s gospel;, Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, saying, unless I wash you, you have no part with me.
This is another one of those kind of cross-shaped snapshots.
Jesus suffers, so that his followers can go free.
That is the message of the cross, isn’t it? On a much larger scale?
John’s warming us up, getting us ready for the cross, to make sure we don’t miss its meaning.
It’s a little enacted parable, actually, Jesus saving him disciples from physical death, is symbolic of his saving them from spiritual death.
Let me also just point out, that John uses the same language to speak of Jesus’ words being fulfilled, as he uses when he talks about the Old Testament Scriptures being fulfilled.
Even in this moment, of drama, and tragedy, John reminds us that Jesus’ words are really no different, from the words spoken by God through his prophets, in the Scriptures.
We shouldn’t be surprised, should we? Because among those prophetic words from God in the Old Testament, was the promise that God himself would come and, shepherd his people.
God’s judgment on sin must be poured out
Peter, however, thinks there must be some other way,
Some other way for Jesus’ kingdom to come than through the suffering of the cross,
Some other way for sinful people, like him, like you and me, to be welcomed by God,
He doesn’t think that the only way forward is for God’s judgment on sin to be poured out, and so drawing his sword, he 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?”
When Jamie, my 4 year old son and I read the Bible, this is one of our favourite bits!
We act it out with imaginary swords,
We have sound effects for the ear getting cut off, the whole lot.
We love it!
But actually, what we get excited about, is a huge misunderstanding on Peter’s part.
Yes, this is an act of outstanding courage on Peter’s part; brandishing a sword when surrounded by Roman soldiers and the temple guard, but he shows that he just doesn’t understand the necessity of, remember verse 4, all, that, was, going to happen to Jesus.
The necessity, of Gods’ judgment being poured out on sin.
The necessity, of someone dying in his place, our place.
He’s brave, yes, but it’s futile, even more than that, it’s a denial of the work for which Jesus has sanctified himself, chapter 17.
Peter is trying to help, but in reality, he’s hindering God’s work, denying God’s work.
When I was a little kid we lived over at Longwood, and my father had planted trees around our house, which, naturally required watering!
There was no mains water, we only had rainwater, and so you wanted to be careful when watering, so as not to waste any.
Which would be fine except for the fact that my sister, as a maybe 2 year old, always wanted to “help” with the watering. With the emphasis on the inverted commas!
A 2 year old with a watering can is not really the means to water conservation, is it?!
And so it would get to the point, where my dad would sneak out of the house, so he could water the trees, without my sister’s “help”!
That’s Peter’s kind of help, isn’t it?
He thinks it’s helping, but it really just gets in the way.
The cup, is the Old Testament symbol of God’s judgment on sin,
God’s anger at evil and rebellion.
The cup is what those who live as God’s enemies deserve,
The cup is what God’s Son, takes for himself.
Jesus is willing, to drink the cup to endure the full force of his Father’s righteous anger at sin and evil, to endure, not his own personal hell, but your personal hell, and my personal hell,
And here we see that he refuses to be distracted from that goal.
Put your sword away!
For Jesus, victory comes another way, doesn’t it? Through what looked like his own defeat,
Though that way that seems foolishness, but is in fact the power of God for forgiveness.
It’s easy for us as Christian people, to think at times, that we know better than God,
That there must be some other way, for people to be made right with God,
“We don’t need the cross”, we think,
“People don’t need to trust in that”
Of course, the problem is, in insisting that there is some other way, for God’s purposes to be worked out, without the cross,
Without sin needing to be punished, because let’s face it, that’s often where we want to draw the line, isn’t it?
In thinking that there is some other way, we deny the necessity of the cross.
We deny the horror of sin, that stands between us and God.
Effectively, “You wasted your son’s life.”
“We could have done it some other way!”
Whether it be Peter’s way, with the sword, and killing a few baddies.
Or whether we think we can get to God, just by living a good life!
“Well, I’ve tried pretty hard to be good, Jesus, Which I guess means, you died for nothing.”
If any of that were true, we wouldn’t see this single-minded determination from Jesus would we, knowing verse 4, what was going to happen to him, Jesus still seeks the cup the Father has given him.
Which says, Jesus’ understanding, of the seriousness of sin, is vastly different to ours.
Jesus knows that sin must be judged, that there is no justice, if God doesn’t judge sin.
Jesus knows, he is the good shepherd, who lays his life down for the sheep.