The triumph of the Son - John 18:1-11
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There is an old English saying, ‘You are nearer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth.’ A tad sentimental no maybe, but there can be little doubt that for many people that sense of wonder, which points to Something or Someone beyond this world, is evoked through experiencing the beauty of nature. So let me tell you about Charles Darwin.
In his early life Darwin’s visit to the Brazilian rain forest had suffused him with, "feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion." That, of course, was before he rejected belief in God. Later, as he began to more fully embrace philosophical naturalism-that is the idea that there is no God or spiritual world, only that which can be seen, heard and touched- he admitted that he lost the faculty to appreciate anything other than hard data. He said, ‘Now the grandest scenes would not cause any such convictions and feelings to rise in my mind. It may be truly said that I am like a man who has become colour blind.’ The same happened with poetry, drama, art and music, all of which used to delight him. He confessed in his autobiography, "But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry; I have tried recently to read Shakespeare and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music…My mind has become a kind of machine for grinding laws out of a large collection of facts." Sadly, what you see in the case of Darwin is a withering of the soul so that he is more like a machine than a man.
Now I think it is interesting that in the Bible it is in two gardens- gardens which create the feelings of devotion spoken of by the early Darwin- that we see two spiritual battles for the soul of man taking place. In fact you could say that the story of the Bible is a story of two gardens: the Garden of Eden and the garden of Gethsemane. In the first, Adam took a fall. In the second, Jesus took a stand. In Eden Satan led Adam to a tree that led to his death. In Gethsemane, Jesus went to a tree which led to our life. And in both cases the stakes are high- namely, the soul of every man, woman and child living on this planet. You see, to disobey God means coming under the judgement of God and being banished from Eden. So like the fallen Adam we find ourselves east of Eden, lost, wondering aimlessly through life, having a feeling that we were made for something more but not being quite sure what that something is as our senses become increasingly dulled as Darwin found. But even more than that, the eternal well being of our soul is at stake. Consequently we need someone who is able to undo and reverse the effects of the havoc Satan and sin introduced in the first garden. And who that someone is we see in the second garden-Gethsemane. So that is where we are going to visit tonight as we turn to John 18 and consider the triumph of the Son.
Now in a sense what Satan did in Eden he still does today- destroying the sacred. So truth is replaced by lies; trust with suspicion, harmony with chaos- which is exactly what we see happening all around us. But Jesus reclaims the holy. He will not sit back in silence as Satan strip mines the sacred. At the right moment he stands and speaks and Satan and his instruments stumble and are silent. And that is exactly what we see taking place here.
First of all we have a divine presence vv 1- 5. ‘When 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. 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.’
That Satan is instrumental in these events and is to be seen to be more than lurking in the background, has already been more than hinted at earlier in John’s Gospel. So in chapter 8 Jesus finding himself in conflict with the Jewish authorities because of his miracles and claims to divinity says to them in verse 44, ‘You belong to your father the devil and you want to carry out your father’s desire.’ What was that? Well, Jesus goes on to tell them, ‘He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.’ In verse 37 he says ‘You are ready to kill me because you have no room for my word.’ You see, when faced with God’s truth incarnate in Jesus, the religious authorities plot to get rid of him, to murder their Maker. That is what they are about to do here. But just a few hours earlier as Jesus and his disciples celebrated what is called ‘The Last Supper’, we see Satan making his next move in Chapter 13: 27. Having said that one of his own followers would betray him we then read, ‘As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.’ Then v 30, ‘As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.’ Too true it was! Not only had a physical darkness descended but so had a spiritual darkness. And the results of this satanic manoeuvring we see coming together in Gethsemane. The father of lies who introduced death in the first garden using a serpent - is now seeking to bring about more death in the second garden using soldiers.
Let me ask: as you read verse 3 what impression do you have? Is it one of Judas sneakily leading the way to Jesus secret rendezvous with a handful of soldiers and one or two of the Jewish officials in tow? I used to think that. But when John speaks of a ‘detachment of soldiers’ the Greek word is speira, which has three possible meanings. It could refer to a Roman cohort of three hundred men. It can also signify a cavalry or infantry of nearly 2,000 men. Or it could mean a detachment known as a maniple, which contained 200 men. Amazing isn’t it? You are talking of at least 200 armed men dispatched to arrest a carpenter and eleven assorted tax collectors and fishermen and maybe one revolutionary. And as if that were not enough you also have ‘the officials’ of the chief priests and Pharisees. A lovely euphemism that- ‘officials’- that is like referring to the Gestapo as ‘state investigators’ -they were in fact the temple police and they too would have been armed to the teeth. So these are Israel’s finest as well as Rome’s. And then of course there is Judas, one of Jesus’ own inner circle. Hell must have been throwing a party -that night. Satan must have thought that even he had surpassed himself here. The Roman government, the Jewish establishment and even a member of Jesus’ own cabinet all conspire to inflict the final death blow on the Son of God.
Now I don’t know about you-but I would have been terrified at that sight. To be praying, safe and secure in the company of friends one minute and then to be faced with a mob coming out of the darkness the next is enough to freeze the blood in anyone’s veins. Just imagine walking down one of the dark side streets of Hull late on Saturday night and there blocking your way is a gang having had too much to drink with knives flashing and broken beer bottles being brandished. How would you feel? Scared stiff? Of course! But not Jesus- v 4 ‘Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?" Far from Jesus retreating further into the garden as a coward, he steps forth out of the garden as a conqueror. He knows what is going to happen. Here is a divine presence, one who is in complete control of things. And that this is so comes out in what happens next with the divine declaration-v4.4Jesus, 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."
Now isn’t that remarkable? They only stand a few feet away from his face and they don’t recognise him. But as is often the case in John’s Gospel, words and descriptions operate at two levels-the literal surface level and the deeper spiritual level. On the surface they didn’t know which of the crowd was Jesus of Nazareth, hence the question. But at a deeper spiritual level, they didn’t realise that he was as God incarnate- hence the answer- ‘I am he.’ And the moment those words are uttered the first domino is flicked and down they go. If the situation were not so critical it would be almost comical. These are the best Satan can come up with, Rome’s finest, the Temple’s elite and one word from Jesus and the two hundred fighting men collapse to the ground into a noisy clanking pile of shields, swords and armour- so this is more like a scrap yard than a lynch mob. Now don’t miss the symbolism. When Jesus speaks, Satan falls. It doesn’t matter who the evil one has recruited. It doesn’t matter if he has infiltrated the government. It doesn’t matter if he has seduced God’s temple. It doesn’t even matter if he has enlisted one of the original handpicked apostles. The best of Satan melts as wax in the presence of Christ. Do you believe that?
But why? What is so special about Jesus reply that this should be the response-a response which is immediate and involuntary- total collapse? Well, the Greek form of what Jesus says is literally ‘I am’. Jesus is using a divine self-declaration. This is the form of self-identification that God himself takes to his lips throughout the book of prophet Isaiah: for example Is 41: 4: ‘Who has called forth the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord-with the first of them and the last- I am he.’ Is 43:11 "You are my witnesses" declares the Lord, "and my servant who I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.’ Or Is 51:12 ‘I, even I am he who comforts you.’ At one level, Jesus is answer to their quest that, yes, he is the one they are looking for. At another level he is revealing his true identity that he none other than the God of the universe in whose presence you fall! This is always the effect of being in presence of the divine. It happened to Ezekiel- Chapter 1: 27 as the prophet saw a figure on a throne which he describes as ‘The appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord’ What happened? Ezekiel tells us, ‘When I saw it, I fell face down as I heard the voice of one speaking.’ John had a similar experience on Patmos in the Book of Revelation 1:17, ‘When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.’ For one split second in that garden as a result of the divine word spoken, the glory of the One and only God manifest itself and the effects were immediately felt although not fully understood. These people wanted Jesus of Nazareth, and that is who they got. But of course they got for more than they had bargained for- they got their Maker and their Judge.
And so it is today. People ‘want’ Jesus of Nazareth. Their searching is even given noble terms like ‘spirituality’ and like these people they seek to domesticate him. They want a Jesus they can man handle. And if the truth be known that may be you. You are happy to have Jesus as a prophet. You even happy have him as an inspiring religious leader. But be warned. When you approach the real Christ you will discover he far exceeds all of those things. If you honestly turn to the Bible’s account of him, you too will hear his voice speaking and when you do, then you will be brought to the ground spiritually. One person who discovered this in his own experience was C. S. Lewis. For years he had been a militant atheist but it was when he started to seriously look into the claims of Christ, the one G.K. Chesterton described in his book as the Everlasting Man, that he realised how weak his atheism was and how strong was the alternative. But bow to the inevitable he eventually did. This is how he describes it: ‘You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen college, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.’ You see that was the night he met with divine royalty. No wonder that in his Narnia books Lewis depicts the Christ -like figure of Aslan as a lion whose roar has the same effect as the voice of Christ in the garden. So in the ‘Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe ‘we have this little episode which echoes the event we are looking at here: ‘And now, said Aslan presently, ‘to business. I feel I am going to roar. You had better put your fingers in your ears.’ And they did. And Aslan stood up and when he opened his mouth to roar his face became so terrible that they did not dare look at it. They saw all the trees in front of them bend before the blast of his roaring as grass bends in a meadow before the wind.’ Before the Lion of Judah- you bend.
And why was Jesus so confident that he could face his accusers with a dignified calm? Because he knew this was all part of the divine purpose,-v7, ‘Again 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?" No we have seen that the Romans, the Jewish elite and Judas, are all willing dupes of the great enemy of the soul. But there is one more he seeks to use inspite all of his good intentions and that is Peter. Did you see it there in v 11? Out comes the sword and the whole sorry episode could have ended there and then in the garden in a blood bath if Jesus had not spoken and if the other disciples decided to follow suit. Let’s face it, it would have been a no contest 12 against 200! Who does Peter think he is- Zorro! Unless, of course, at the back of his mind was the thought that Jesus could somehow be forced into performing a miracle with a well placed thunder bolt or two and so ushering in the kingdom of God by violent means. The devil would have loved that. Something similar had happened before hadn’t it? When Jesus first announced his mission to go to the cross it was Peter who passionately tried to dissuade him and so received that crushing rebuke from Jesus, ‘Get behind me… Satan you are not on the side of God but men.’ And so it is here. God’s plan was but a hairsbreadth from disaster all because of one sincere but misguided apostle.
But God’s method of bringing in his kingdom was to be quite different. It is not the way of the sword but of sacrifice. It is not a matter of revolution but of substitution. Let me explain what I mean. In v 11, Jesus speaks of the necessity of ‘drinking from the cup that the Father has given him.’ What is ‘the cup’? Well this is where the principle of using the Bible to interpret the Bible come in and in Psalm 75:7 we read these words: ‘It is God who judges: He brings one down and exalts another. In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked drink it down to its very dregs.’ So this cup which Jesus is to drink is the cup of God’s righteous anger towards wickedness and sin. Notice this is what the Father wants the Son to do and the Son wants to do it. He is speaking of the cross, that moment in time when the wickedness and sin of all time was placed upon the shoulders of the sinless one and the fury of God’s abhorrence to all that is unholy and filthy and ruinous is poured out on him and he drinks that cup to the last drop on our behalf, in our place. Here is God’s sacrifice for sin. Here is God’s substitute for sinners. And the result of that wonderful work we see prefigured here in the garden-v 8, "I told you that I am he," Jesus answered. "If you are looking for me, then let these men go." This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: "I have not lost one of those you gave me." It is as Jesus is taken that his followers are released, he goes away to die so that they may go on to live. Again this is fulfilled at two levels- the literal and the spiritual. Literally, the disciples fled and were not captured and Jesus was taken. But in a more profound sense, it is by Jesus dying the death we deserve that we are set free from sin’s condemnation and Satan’s grip and so ensuring that eternally not one of those given to Jesus by his Father will be lost- in short he is talking about Christians-those who have surrendered their lives to him. Now that is the divine purpose behind all of these events- our salvation. Oh, Satan may think he is the master strategist, using the greedy, the abusive and the weak willed to further his ends. But even his designs are taken by God to serve his higher purpose- namely Satan’s own defeat through the triumph of the Son.
Whatever you do, do not miss the reassurance this passage provides. Satan falls in the presence of Christ. One word from his lips and the finest army in the world collapses. Satan is powerless against the protection of Christ. ‘I have not lost any of the ones you gave me.’ So when Jesus says he will keep you safe, he means it. Hell will have to get through him to get to you and he has already been there for you. When he says he will get you home, he will get you home. And the proof that he will? Well, that brings us to a third garden in which we see an empty tomb and a risen Saviour. Let’s pray.
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