Nearing the Cross — Arrested
by Pastor Mike Fortune
March 13, 2010
- Jesus is in control [John 18:1-7; John 10:17-18]
- Of His fate and yours [John 18:8-9; John 10:28]
- Even when we're not sure, His words are as good as His touch [John 18:10-14; John 20:29]
This morning, our pilgrimage through the book of John continues. We actually started this journey three years ago! But because we’ve been taking plenty of detours during the summer months and holidays, today we’re returning to chapter 18 and starting a new series I’m calling Nearing the Cross. If you haven’t read John 18 and 19 in a while, I encourage you to do so. I can’t think of a more appropriate portion of Scripture to focus on in the weeks preceding Easter than these.
Interestingly, the content in the book of John, especially in chapters 18 and 19, have the most in common with the synoptic accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But as we’ve noticed before, there are startling differences as well. I’ll highlight some of these as we proceed, but the first one that leaps out at me is that Jesus is in control. And this is point number one today. Nearing the cross in the Synoptic Gospels, Judas is the one who is in control while Jesus is portrayed as the victim subject to the betrayal of a good friend’s kiss [cf. Matthew 26:45-46; Mark 14:41-52; Luke 22:47-54]. Which is why I love the lyrics to that Michael Card song we just heard simply entitled “Why?” Card writes, Why did it have to be a friend / Who chose to betray the Lord? / Why did he use a kiss to show / That’s not what a kiss is for.
And apparently, John knew that! Maybe that’s why he doesn’t include that part of the story in his account! Have you noticed that before? But it’s not just the kiss that’s missing in John’s Gospel. So is any record of Jesus’ birth, baptism, and temptations. And aside from an implied reference in John 18:1, not even Christ’s agony in Gethsemane is mentioned. Why? One of my fave seminary professors and current dean of the Loma Linda University faculty of religion Jon Paulien suggests [in The Abundant Life Bible Amplifier commentary] the reason is because the former Son of Thunder wanted to convey that Jesus was not just lowly, meek, and mild. But that at times he was also assertive [John 2:4; 4:17-18; 5:45-47; 7:6-9], willing to debate [3:10-12; 5:39-40; 8:44], and maybe even a little sarcastic at times [John 9:41; 10:32]. I love his response to the unbelieving Jews in John 10:32 when they were literally picking up some stones to kill him and Jesus cooly replies, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
We must remember that John is writing his Gospel decades after the others—between 95 and 100AD—not just to tell the rest of the story or to fill in the blanks. He is also writing to encourage the 2nd generation of believers—many of whom have not seen Jesus in the flesh. His purpose was to remind them that Jesus’ words are as good as his touch. The resurrected Christ is as good as the incarnated Christ! It’s not the same for us that haven’t seen him, but it can be just as good.
That’s why the blessing of John 20:29 is not pronounced on Thomas or any of the disciples in the upper room, but on the 2nd generation of believers who have not seen Jesus in the flesh, yet still believe. And that’s why I love this book! Not just because it shares eyewitness details none of the others do, but because more than any other Gospel, this book is written to us! Because like that 2nd generation of believers, we haven’t seen Jesus in the flesh either! But because his words are as good as his touch, we can still believe! Please turn with me in your Bibles to John 18 to see what I mean.
John 18:1-14 says, “1When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it. 2Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. 4Jesus, 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.) 6When Jesus said, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground. 7Again he asked them, "Who is it you want?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." 8"I told you that I am he," Jesus answered. "If you are looking for me, then let these men go." 9This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: "I have not lost one of those you gave me." 10Then 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.) 11Jesus commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" 12Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.”
The bed of the Kidron Valley begins north of Jerusalem and descends 3,912 feet across 20 miles of the most barren and dangerous parts of the Judean desert south of Jerusalem before plunging onto the rocks above the Dead Sea. In Old Testament times, it was a graveyard [2 Kings 23:6; Jeremiah 26:23; 31:40] and the place where all the blood from the animal sacrifices flowed. Today, as you can see from the pics on the wall, it’s being refurbished with more walk ways and olive trees so tourists from around the world can enjoy its beauty and reflect on the momentous events that occurred nearby.
It was across this valley that Jesus walked from the Upper Room to “a garden” according to John 18:1 [though the NIV version simply says “olive grove.”] Only John, by the way, mentions it was a garden. Matthew and Mark speak of “a place called Gethsemane” [Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32]. Luke just says they went to the Mount of Olives [22:39]. John adds that Jesus and his disciples went there often and that Judas knew the place well [v2], but the site where I took a picture of Gethsemane rests on a tradition that cannot be traced earlier than the 3rd century AD. Since the Mount of Olives back then had many more trees [cf. Mark 11:8], some commentators believe the original Gethsemane was higher on the slope. Nonetheless, to this “large crowd” [Matthew 26:47] that had hurriedly made the ten minute walk from Jerusalem to the garden carrying “torches, lanterns, and weapons” [John 18:3] Jesus “went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’”
Garden of Gethsemane
I love point number one in John 18:4 because it so clearly illustrates that Jesus is in control. They’ve come to question him but instead Jesus starts questioning them! Twice he asks them the same question. “Who is it you want?” And after they respond “Jesus of Nazareth”, twice his startling reply is, “I am.”
Now I know it says in your Bible that Jesus said, “I am he.” But the “he” is what’s supplied by the translators. That’s not in the original Greek. Who cares? What’s the point? The point is Jesus said the same thing YHWH told Moses beside the burning bush in Exodus 3:14. He said, “I am.” Maybe you’ve heard some of the seven “I am” statements in the Gospel of John?
- I am the bread of life [6:35].
- I am the light of the world [8:12].
- I am the gate [10:9].
- I am the good shepherd [10:11-14].
- I am the resurrection and life [11:25].
- I am the way, the truth, and the life [14:6].
- I am the true vine [15:1].
To these seven, John adds four more “I am” statements. One in John 8:24. Another in John 8:58 which Jesus used to prove His divinity before Abraham. And then the two we just read in John 18:5 and 18:8. So when the 2nd generation of believers like us read the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John, what should we conclude? Jesus is in control! Not Caiaphas the high priest [see Desire of Ages pp.695-696]. Not the Pharisees [John 18:3] with whom he partnered [John 11:47]. Not the Jewish temple police [John 18:12]. Not the Roman detachment of soldiers [18:3]. And certainly not Judas [18:5]! John doesn’t say that an angel appeared next [though Desire of Ages 694 does] or that any bush was burning, but after Jesus stepped up and said what he did, don’t you think that place become holy ground?!! Maybe that’s why John 8:6 says the mob “Drew back and fell to the ground.”
Point number one: Jesus is in control. Jesus says it earlier this way in John 10:17-18, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Moving on, verse 8 says, “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.’ 9This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: ‘I have not lost one of those you gave me.’” Which leads us to point number two: Jesus is in control of his fate and yours. We know this is true because it’s a fulfillment of what Jesus said in John 6:39. “39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” But that’s not the only place Jesus said that. He said something even stronger in John 10:28. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” I love that one! We know this was a theme of Jesus’ ministry from beginning to end not only because he demonstrated it in verse 9 while stepping up to protect the disciples in Gethsemane, but also because Jesus prayed near the end in John 17:12, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”
That’s why my British grandmother’s favorite hymn were the words to 2 Timothy 1:12 [KJV], “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Yes, Jesus is in control. Point number one. Of his fate and yours. Point number two. And even when life gets crazy or chaotic and we’re not sure, His words are as good as his touch. And this is point number three.
Look at John 18:10-11. “10Then 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.) 11Jesus commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” Although Jesus is in control of the situation, Peter sees things as totally out of control. So he pulls out his knife. I know it says sword. But there are two words for sword in Greek. One is machaira meaning a short Roman sword used primarily for slaughtering animals. And the other is rhomphaia which was a longer more formidable weapon like the sword Goliath used. What Peter whipped out was a machaira short sword. Bigger than a Swiss army knife. Smaller than a Roman gladiator’s sword.
And Jesus knew he had one. In fact, Jesus knew of at least two short swords that his disciples were packing. Did you know this? If I ever did, I had forgotten until this week when I read about the Last Supper in Luke 22.Skip over to Luke 22 with just for a short detour. Toward the conclusion of that meal, right before they leave for Gethsemane, Jesus asks the disciples in verse 35, “‘When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’” He’s referring to Matthew 10:9 or Mark 6:9 when he called the twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. He told them to preach the Kingdom of God is near to the lost sheep of Israel. And when he sent them, he told them not to bring money, bag, or an extra pair of sandals. And when he sent them, did they lack for anything?
‘Nothing,’ they answered. So he says them, “‘36But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.’” 38The disciples said, ‘See, Lord, here are two swords [duo machaira].’ ‘That is enough,’ Jesus replied.”
This exchange may be a surprise to you as well, but if you read Luke 22:36-38, that’s what it says. And to be honest, I have no idea what it means. What we do know is Jesus knew at least two disciples were carrying small swords. And that if they weren’t, he actually wanted them to buy one. Maybe to take with their bags and money so they could provide for their own needs after Jesus was crucified. Or maybe Jesus’ comment about two swords being enough applies to him being fed up with the entire conversation of the disciples arguing about who will be the greatest and he’s tired of the entire conversation or that there’s no time to discuss all the details of pacifism. The third option, that Jesus is advocating the use of violence in Luke 22 or anywhere else seems incompatible with Matthew 5:39 and specifically with John 18:11 where he commanded Peter to “Put your sword away!”
Which is where we’ll return to now. Detour over. All I really want you to realize is that Jesus had seen one of the knives or small swords the disciples were carrying and apparently knew Peter was capable of using it. Not just to slaughter animals or prepare food. But to try decapitate the servant of Caiphas the high priest. Because honestly, who besides Mike Tyson goes for the ear? Nobody right? That’s not intimidating enough. You don’t go for his ear. You try to chop off his head! Peter was trying to kill Malchus. But in the darkness he missed. Or perhaps a hand bumped his. And following Jesus’ stern rebuke Jesus asks him, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” Moments earlier, as Matthew 26:42 describes, Jesus had just prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Since then, He had decided to follow the Father all the way to the cross and die on it. More proof on that in just a second.
He shed blood in Gethsemane long before the soldiers pierced his side. He was still in control of his fate and yours, but Peter was no longer sure. That’s why Luke’s account actually says one of the disciples asked Jesus in Luke 22:49, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” But apparently before Jesus could say no, Peter slashes off Malchus’ right ear.
And then a second clue to the divinity of Jesus flashes before their eyes. This time, Jesus steps up not to remind them about who the “I am” really is, this time, Jesus stoops down to pick up the ear and put it back in place healing Malchus in front of everyone. Now no one could say before the Sanhedrin or before Pilate that Jesus and his men were dangerous or a threat to the nation. If they did , they would also have to admit point number three: That even when we’re not sure, Jesus’ words are as good as his touch. Because Malchus was healed on the spot. Isn’t it encouraging to know that Jesus cares about the tiniest details of our lives? Whether we’re for him or even against him?
Right after that verses 12-14 describe how Jesus is bound and brought to the high priest Annas. We’ll talk more about him next time. But let’s not rush past this. Verse 12 says they bound him, but really, who can tie up God? And why would they? Those hands never hurt anyone! Those hands fed people and healed people and hugged children. That’s why in Mark’s account Jesus asks the mob, “48Am I leading a rebellion that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled” [Mark 14:48-49].
No, they didn’t bind Jesus. Jesus allowed them to bind him. And after they did, they led him by the traditional site of Absalam’s tomb. I’ve got a picture of this for you to see. The tour guides call this Absalom’s Pillar. Why? Because 2 Samuel 18:18 says, “During his lifetime Absalom had taken a pillar and erected it in the King’s Valley as a monument to himself, for he thought, ‘I have no son to carry on the memory of my name.’ He named the pillar after himself, and it is called Absalom's Monument to this day.” Josephus wrote about this tomb, which existed in the first century A.D. (Antiquities vii. 10, 3). It has been traditionally identified as the tomb of Absalom, the son of King David who led a rebellion against him.
The Jews marked the place because they were taught that “If any one in Jerusalem has a disobedient child, he shall take him out to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, to Absalom's Monument, and force him, by words or stripes, to hurl stones at it, and to curse Absalom; meanwhile telling him the life and fate of that rebellious son.” That’s why this shrine is so pock marked and beat up. People have been throwing stones at it since the 1st century AD and teaching their children what Absalom decided to do when he attempted to steal the throne from his father in 2 Samuel 15.
Which is the exact opposite of what Jesus decided to do when He told Peter that he was going to drink that cup and obey the Father. Walking through the Kidron Valley, willingly bound by an angry mob, Jesus was still in complete control of his fate and yours. He chose to keep drinking the cup. That wasn’t a decision he made in Gethsemane and then it was over. He kept making that decision every step of the way, back through the Kidron Valley, past Absalom’s shrine, down the Via Dolorosa, and all the way to the cross.
Even when we’re not sure, we can remember that Jesus’ words are as good as his touch. And in the weeks ahead, as we near the cross, I hope to show you why. Let me close with Jesus’ words in John 20:29. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”