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"Why Do You Strike Me?"

Jan 14, 2023


Pastor Peder Kling


Sermon Passage: John 18:12-27

Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)

A Yucky, Tangled Mess

Do you get a bit of a pit in your stomach as you read these words? This is about as messy and dirty and yucky as sin gets. This is the sort of passage that we might read, and I think we’re supposed to say, “ugh, man, I don’t want to get even close to that sort of thing with a 10 foot pole”. We have one man betraying Jesus—handing him over to his enemies. We have all the disciples abandoning and fleeing from Jesus as soon as he was bound (as Matthew tells us). We have Peter and presumably John (the unnamed disciple in our passage) following Jesus at a distance in the cover of night, and Peter expressly denies any association with Jesus. Then of course, we have the masses and Jewish authorities putting an innocent man on trial, striking him, and using the judicial system through any means possible to have him killed. Have you ever heard of an innocent person being exonerated after spending decades in prison? It’s like that, except way more ugly. This is the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, God in the flesh, having never sinned, being betrayed and denied and beaten under trial. This is the ugliness of sin on full display, here, folks—and in the middle of it is Jesus’s undisputable righteousness and glory.


How did this happen? Really, folks—how did it come to this? I mean, I understand the dirty, scheming religious zealots who wanted Jesus dead. That’s not much of a surprise. Jesus was disrupting their power and control and influence, so they sought to kill him. That’s what the world does. It’s ugly, it makes us squirm when it happens—although, for the disciples to desert and deny Jesus like this? That’s a little bit closer to home, folks, isn’t it? How did that happen? Does it make you wonder, “could that be me?”


This morning, we’re going to try and get a flavor of just how ugly this situation was—and don’t worry, there’s hope at the end. We’ll get there. But, even the structure of this passage leads me to think that we’re supposed to see how this is all tangled, muddled moment of sin. Notice how John is telling us the story of Peter’s betrayal and this first part of Jesus’s trial. The other gospels simply tell us the story of Peter’s denial in one shot. But here, we first see Peter’s first denial, and then John takes a break from Peter and turns our attention to Jesus’s trial before Annas the high priest. Then, after we’ve seen that ugly mess, John takes us back to Peter with the words “Now”—that is, meanwhile, “Peter was standing warming himself”, about to betray him again. And again. Ugh, this is an ugly, tangled mess. Let’s try to untangle it a bit, and consider all the ways sin is sinfully messy in this passage. Of course, in the end, we’ll see a glimpse of Jesus beginning to untangle it.


The Trial’s Beginning and the Schemes of Sin

Look with me at verse 12, and we’ll dig in to see more this morning. Remember, this is coming right off the heels of Judas betraying Jesus, and Peter has just cut off one of the soldier’s ears (which, thankfully, Luke tells us that Jesus healed at that very moment). What happens next? Verse 12—


12   So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him.


Now, just so we don’t miss it, the word “so” there in verse 12 could also mean “therefore”. Peter cut off a soldier’s ear, “therefore” the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus. Is that what we might expect to see? What might we expect to see if someone cuts off a police officer’s ear? We’d expect to see that man brought into custody too, no? Why didn’t that happen? 


Folks, again, the main point of our message last week was that Jesus is ultimately calling the shots, here. He’s in control. In verse 8, Jesus told the officials after he had thrown them to the ground with a mere statement of his word—“I AM”, yes, “I AM he”—Jesus then said “if you seek me, let these men go”. Jesus was in control, and he was resolved to be the only one arrested and crucified that night, and not even Peter cutting off a soldier’s ear would hinder that. You might even say that Peter deserved to be taken into custody, after his aggression, Jesus went in his stead, because he was calling the shots. He was resolved to use this massively sinful situation to save and heal. As I quoted Amy Carmichael last week, “the last thing the Lord Jesus did before his hands were bound, was to heal.” Despite the fact that these Jews are scheming, despite how messy the sin is in this passage, Jesus has his own scheme and purpose that will prevail. He always does. 


Next, verse 13—


13 First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 


So, this is describing the first step of Jesus’s trial at this point—and, I want to take a quick moment as we’re getting into Jesus’s trial to give us a direction of what’s to come. I imagine if you’re like me, the steps of this trial are a bit confusing and hard to follow in the gospels. So, here’s some clarity. 


A Quick Overview: Jesus’s “Three and Three” Trials, 

Think of it this way. Jesus had to first go through the Jews, because this was ultimately a Jewish affair, and then he’d have to go through the Romans because the Romans wouldn’t allow the Jews to kill someone like this without their approval. So, the Jews take him first, and they put him through three different trials hearings, of sorts; then the Jews bring him to the Romans who likewise put him through three different trials or phases. So, if you get confused as you’re reading the gospels on this, just think “three and three”—three judicial steps with the Jews, and then three judicial steps with the Romans, and it all happens like rapid fire because it’s ultimately a scam.


In verse 13, there, he’s first taken to Annas—and remember, this is all happening at night. So, right there, you need to think “there’s underhanded scheming, going on here”. Trials weren’t supposed to happen at night like this. But you know—they have Jesus, and there’s work to be done. 


So they take Jesus to Annas first. Why Annas first? Verse 13 says “for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year”. In other words, he was the patriarchal figure of the high priestly family, and there was a whole political thing going on between the Jews and the Romans at the time. The Jews thought Annas was the rightful high priest, although the Romans didn’t like Annas, so they kept forcing the Jews to defer to the next high priest, who would naturally be in Annas’ family. So, when you read that in verse 13 “Caiaphas… was high priest that year”, John may have been saying that with a subtle nod to this struggle, as it would have felt like the Romans were pushing the Jews from one high priest to the next year by year. But nonetheless, the Jews stayed loyal to Annas, who they thought was the rightful high preist, and so they first brought Jesus to Annas. That’s stage one of this Jewish trial—Annas. Next, still under the cover of night, they’ll send him to Caiaphas for a trial hearing, of sorts. Then, it seems that they’d reconvene again in the morning with Caiaphas and the greater company of the Sanhedrin so that it all looked more official, done during the day with the right company and sorts. So, those are the three Jewish trials—two night time trials (one with Annas and then one with Caiaphas), and then one “more official” trial in the morning before Caiaphas. Do you see how they’re working the system, here, scheming through the night to expedite this? 


As for the three parts of the Roman trial—that’s pretty easy. Jesus is sent to Pilate, the local governor. Then, he’s sent to Herod, the king, who then sends Jesus back to Pilate, at which juncture Pilate hands him over to the Jews, and washes his hands of the blood-guilt. 


The Point: Seeing the Schemes and the Sovereignty

So, there’s your roadmap—and, to be clear, none of the gospels clearly spell it out that clearly. Giving us minute-by-minute itinerary is not what the gospel writers were concerned about. It’s only when we read all four gospels, and piece them together, we can see that this is what happened—three Jewish hearings, and then three Roman hearings—and the more you dig into this, the messier and more sinful the scheming appears. That’s what the gospel writers are ultimately concerned about—showing us how ugly and unjust and sinful the situation is, and how righteous and submissive to the Father Jesus is. We’re painfully sinful, Jesus is righteous and in control of it all. Hence, John goes out of his way at this point to remind us what Caiaphas said. John tells us in verse 14—


14 It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.


Remember that, from chapter 11 verse 50? Caiaphas advised Jesus’s death on the behalf of the people—and while Caiaphas meant one thing, we’re told that God meant him to say it and mean another thing. Caiaphas said this to justify his desire to kill Jesus. “If we don’t kill this man who is disturbing our peace, Rome is going to come in and destroy us!” I think was the sentiment behind his statement. Although, John tells us that he said that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as a sort of prophet unawares, and God meant him to say “yes, it’s better for one man to die rather than the whole nation be destroyed under the wrath of God (not the wrath of Rome)”. 


Quite simply, as we’re seeing the schemes of sin and these evildoers putting Jesus through this mob trial, first going to Annas, we’re reminded that God is sovereign over all these sinful schemes. That’s verses 12–14.

So, with that, let’s keep reading. Let’s jump right into the messiness of Peter’s sin, as this story really picks up now.


The Beginning of Peter’s Denial the Stealth of Sin

Now, we’re told in Matthew and Mark that when Jesus was bound and taken away, “they all [i.e., the disciples] left him and fled”. So, the remaining eleven disciples spooked and scattered like cockroaches. 


But, what does our passage in John tell us? Verse 15, “Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple.” Most take that other disciple to be John, since John never refers to himself in his gospel, but simply says “another disciple” or “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, and such. So, Matthew and Mark tell us all the disciples fled. John tells us Peter and John followed Jesus. 


Which is it? I think it’s both. Folks, Peter wasn’t following Jesus with the cavalier courage he had moments earlier in the garden—I think that’s clear in what’s about to happen. He doesn’t have that in him—but, maybe he thought he did. I don’t know. The story, folks, is honestly a bit haunting and way too close to home to leave me feeling comfortable with myself. 


Think about this. They darted—the fled in fear, abandoning their Lord who was just bound. If you did that, do you think your conscience might be troubled, even just a little bit? Do you think you might want to at least follow close behind Jesus, just enough to hide in the darkness and see what’s about to happen? 


You’re afraid of completely abandoning your Lord, and yet as you get closer and closer, you begin to realize you’re afraid to stand up for him. Ever been there? Folks, I think that’s where Peter was, here. Brave, bold, courageous, outspoken Peter. “I’ll gladly lay my life down for you, Jesus!”. To which Jesus says—“Will you? I don’t think you know what’s in you, Peter.” 


I’ve thought this week, “could it be that Peter started to follow Jesus that night, in some stealthy way, only to take advantage of a moment and get Jesus out of the mess?” That coheres with Peter’s personality, it would seem. Maybe he had that in his mind, maybe not. The passage doesn’t say. 


What we do find, though, is that Peter slowly began to learn about himself as that night went on. Again, verse 15—


Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in.


So, Peter’s in. John had some connections with the high priests through his family heritage, and so John’s VIP pass was able to get Peter into the court as well. You have to admit—that’s gotta take some courage, right? He’s in enemy territory, with his Galilean accent, and a face that’s probably recognizable to some. I don’t get the impression that this is a massive venue—as we’ll recall in a moment, Jesus was within eyeshot of Peter throughout all of this. This takes some guts, which again, makes me wonder what Peter’s intentions were at the beginning of all this. He originally darted with the rest of the disciples, then he and John decided to follow Jesus. Whatever their original motivations were, it turned sour real quick. 


The pressure is on, folks. He’s in enemy territory, and the shame and mockery toward Jesus and his followers is thick at this point. Have you ever been in a room full of people that despise or think lowly of Christians? It’s hard to stand tall, to confess Jesus in a moment like that. Peer pressure is a real thing, folks. Add the threat of swords and captivity to that, and see how strong you are.


So, verse 17—


The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?”


That’s what she asked—just a quick, passing question deserving of a quick, passing reply. Although, this wasn’t just a question. Even though it was from a servant girl, this was a loaded question, at least grammatically speaking. 


Here’s the difference. “Just wondering—are you going to eat that piece of chocolate?”. It’s a very disarming question, isn’t it? 


Then, there’s this question. “You’re not going to eat that piece of chocolate, are you?” Do you hear how the question is loaded to anticipate a “no” response? We can pressure people in the way we ask questions to reply “yes” or “no”. 


“You’re going to eat that, aren’t you?” 

“Why yes I am”.


“You’re not going to eat that chocolate, are you?”

“Psh, no, of course not.”


“Are you going to eat that piece of chocolate?”

“Let me think about that.”


There’s a difference, a pressure to answer yes or no, in the way we ask questions. 


What about this servant girl? How did she frame this question, there in verse 17?  “You’re not one of Jesus’s, are you?” She expected a “no” answer. She led Peter into a quick, swift, easy “no” answer, and Peter fell for it. I almost wonder if the words rolled off Peter’s tongue before he even thought about it. “It’s small talk, she framed the question to anticipate a ‘no’ answer and it just rolled off my tongue!”


“No, I wasn’t going to eat that chocolate bar”, to which you might think a few seconds later, “ugh, why did I say that? I totally was going to eat it!”. It’s so easy to let the tongue slip, folks.


“I am not”, Peter says. Then verse 18, “Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.”


His body was warm, and his soul was growing colder and colder. How aware of this he was, we don’t know. 


But just think of Peter’s situation in all this, folks, because it’s so relatable. He’s afraid to run away from Jesus entirely, he’s learning more and more that he’s afraid to stand up for Jesus. He’s feeling the peer-pressure, and he doesn’t have the courage within him. It seems like this has all come upon him so fast, so subtly, and he’s quickly discovering weaknesses he within him that he knew nothing about. “Pride goeth before the fall”, folks. If you think you’re above any kind of sin, whatsoever, think again. Pray to the Lord for humility and grace to keep you from the fall and misery of pride. 


The only thing keeping you from infidelity to your spouse, or lying, or stealing money, or cheating on a school exam, or hating someone in your heart with a hate so strong that it poisons everything around you—the only thing keeping you from any of that is God’s grace.


Then again, take a lesson from Peter, here. Perhaps you’re already begun to fall into it, and you’re not fully self-aware yet. Or, perhaps you are aware of it, and you don’t know what to do about it. What now? We’ll see in a moment.


Let’s take a haitus, and consider the trial as John goes there next, before returning againt to Peter. So far we’ve seen the beginning of Jesus’s trial, and the schemes of sin; and we’ve seen the beginning of Peter’s denial, and the stealth of sin. 


The Trial, and Violence of Sin

Now, to continue the trial in verses 19–24. 


Notice in verse 19 what Annas the high priest is questioning Jesus about. He “questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.” So, this is theological. This is a Jewish, religious trial concerning this man, his influence and followers, and what he has been teaching them. Many have been quick to point out that the questioning and charges at this level of Jesus’s trials are religious and theological. However, what happens when the Jews take the Jesus to the Roman authorities, for a civil trial? The religious accusations won’t stand, there, will they? So, they turn the accusations to a more political flavor. “This man is making himself out to be king, so this man opposes Caesar!”. That wasn’t even a discussion on the table in these first three Jewish trials.


Imagine being going through a series of trial proceedings, and the charges against you change as the proceedings move from one court hearing to the next. That’s not justice. The nations, even Israel, are scheming against the Lord and his anointed. 


So, Annas is questioning Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. What does Jesus say next? He basically says, in verses 20–21, that he doesn’t need to discuss his teachings. Annas—or at least someone nearby—should already know them. Jesus has been teaching openly in public for three years.


Jesus is basically saying, “I won’t be my own testimony or my own accuser. Call witnesses to testify against me! There should be plenty of them!”. That’s what the judicial system at the time demanded. It’s plausible that it was actually wrong, against trial procedures, to question someone on trial like this—much less at night. It’s scheming, and Jesus called them on it because he’s committed to justice and truth.


So, what happened? Verse 22, folks, is the pivotal moment in our story. From what we know, this was the first physical blow of our Lord on that night, and the beatings would continue until he breathed his last. Verse 22—


“When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying ‘is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?’”


“Why do you strike me?” It’s an amazing question, Jesus asked. They’re striking a righteous man. Why? Well, if you can’t prove innocence by reason—if you actually don’t have the higher hand—what do people tend to do? They resort to violence. They assert power when they don’t actually have it. Honestly, I think this blow was a simple, “stop talking, you’re not in charge, the only thing coming from your mouth should be ‘yes sir, I’m guilty sir’”. 


Ever done that to someone? Perhaps you didn’t raise your hand, but you raised your voice. That’s often the sign of someone trying to assert control, but everyone knows they’re not in control, or righteous and in the clear, or holding the true side of the argument.


In all this, we see Jesus is righteous and in control, one hundred percent.


Then again, we’ve seen the schemes of sin throughout all this; and we’ve seen the stealth of sin at the beginning of Peter’s denials. Here, we can add the violence of sin to the list John’s gospel gave us a glimpse into Jesus’s first moments on trial before Annas. Now, as we keep reading, John takes us back to Peter’s denials where we’ll consider more of his sin in this ugly, tangled mess. 


The End of Peter’s Denial, and the End of Sin

When we read this, it become very clear that Peter’s sin becomes less stealthy and more sinister. Again, verse 25 begins with the words “Now”—meaning presently, as this was going on—“Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’” 


So, here’s another one of those questions framed to anticipate a “no” answer. So, Peter has a second go at this same kind of question. And again, for the second time, Peter said “no”. In fact, Matthew tells us that he swore—he made an oath—when he said it this time. “No, I swear before God I’m not one of his disciples”, is what Peter might have said. So, Peter is beginning to dig down and truly harden his heart against his Lord, here. It’s hard to believe, folks.


Then, the third straw that broke the camel’s back. This time, it was the man who knew Peter’s face. Peter had just cut off the ear of this man’s relative. There was no mistaking it—so, the man framed the question to anticipate a positive, “yes” answer. “You’re the guy, aren’t you? I know you, I saw you in the garden, your him!” This is when Peter got real animated. John simply tells us, “Peter again denied it”, although Matthew tells us that Peter basically began to invoke a curse upon himself, as he was basically cussing an swearing and saying “no, that’s not me [exclamatory exclamatory]!”. 


You know, it’s like the Jewish official who hit Jesus in the face. There’s no denying truth—you can’t fight or argue with truth when you’re in the wrong. So, raise your hand. Raise your voice. Raise your stakes and swear an oath—just maybe you’ll gain the upper hand. 


Meanwhile, who is the one in control? It’s Jesus—right over there, calling for witnesses and asking for justice with a patient and calm demeanor, submitting to his father, and invoking the rooster to crow at just the right time to startle Peter out of his sin.


He’s the servant, folks, cornering his enemies and humbling his sinful people who he’s come to save. Has the rooster ever crowed upon you? Have you ever heard it? “Oh, man, I messed up big this time”. He sends his Spirit, you know—and what happens? It’s the end of sin as it’s put on the cross. It’s the beginning of humility and faith and repentance, and the beginning of much weeping. 


We’re told in all the gospels except John that once Peter heard that rooster crow, he went out and wept bitterly. Have you ever seen a grown man cry—or at least agonize in grief—over his sin? It’s the only thing that separated Judas from Peter, you know. Judas went and hung himself, Peter went and wept bitterly. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 7:10 “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” It’s the difference between Peter at the sound of a rooster’s crow from his Lord, and Judas at the sound of his well-earned blood-money from his worldly companions. Godly grief over sin against Jesus produces repentance that leads to salvation and life without regret, worldly repentance produces death. 


The next time Jesus would speak with Peter, as we’ll see at the end of John, Jesus forgives and restores and sends Peter out to do amazing things in his name. It’s the amazing grace and freedom and power of the cross, folks, available to us this morning.



There’s a lot of sin in this story, folks. A lot of betraying Jesus, denying Jesus. There’s a lot of scheming and stealth and violence, ugly things that should make us recoil at the thought of sin. Although, in this passage, there’s also a rooster’s crow, followed by a grieving disciple, who in the end would be reconciled to the Lord, and used by him for amazing things. That’s what happens when Jesus is in control with his mercy.

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