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Consider the Cross, Much?
This week, we’re beginning the section in John’s gospel wherein Jesus plunges into the depths of the cross. Jesus has finished his final words to his disciples in the upper room where he taught them and washed their feet and instituted the Lord’s Supper, and he prayed for them in the high priestly prayer that we considered in previous weeks from chapter 17.
Now here, in John 18, the drama of the cross starts moving forward at full pace. Verse 1, “When Jesus had spoken these things”—that is, presumably everything he had said in chapters 13–17 in the upper room at the last supper—“he went out [of that room] with his disciples across the brook Kidron”, and the story of his betrayal and arrest and crucifixion continues for the next two chapters, until we see him put into the tomb at the end of chapter 19. That’s what we have to look forward to, in the coming weeks. Two chapters of Jesus being pummeled with betrayal, mockery, shame, death, and God’s wrath against sin.
Sound exciting? Is the cross something you enjoy thinking about at length? We’re coming right off the heels of Christmas, right? “I prefer to think of the baby Jesus, more than the bloody Jesus”, we might say if we’re honest with ourselves. We give a full month to thinking of baby Jesus and Christmas, culturally. Then there’s Good Friday, or what is often traditionally referred to as “holy week”, which seems to be much less of a production in our culture and churches. Do we, as Christians, enjoy and find much benefit from thinking about the cross? I once had a pastor of a liberal church tell me “I don’t want any of your bloody cross Christianity, that’s not the Christianity I teach”. It’s not an easy pill to swallow, folks.
This is what one respectable man says in book I read rather often. “It is my conviction, and at times my sad experience, that as the cross goes out of focus in the Christian’s life, coldness and backsliding set in.” If we are not pondering the humbled, crucified Christ at length, “coldness and backsliding set in.” Do you agree with that? Does it ring well with your own experience? Have you ever found that at times your soul can be warmed and contented by nothing other than the cross and what Jesus did for you in those final hours of his life? Think of his final prayers, his betrayal, his last supper, his last few words as he uttered the words of Psalm 22, his love for us as he hung on the cross, his resolve to save sinners, his sacrifice. Think of how the gospels tell the story as though he’s in control of it all, orchestrating it all to his plan.
Are there times when that’s the only thing that will warm your soul—and perhaps, you didn’t know it’s what you needed until you pondered on it afresh. “Ah, yeah, that’s what I needed, I needed Jesus and the cross, and to ponder what that means.” The writer I mentioned followed up with the words, “If our meditation on the cross be meagre, can our love for the Saviour be great?” It’s worth pondering, folks. I trust it’s what we all need this morning, whether we know it or not.
So, that’s where we’re going this morning, and in the coming weeks. We’re going to consider the betrayed, arrested, crucified Christ. There’s so much to consider—and folks, it all reveals him. It reveals him, folks, in all his mercy and glory and judgment, that we might be moved to receive him with contentment and gratitude.
What Jesus’s Feet (in the Garden) Tell Us
Look with me at verse, where it all gets started. You might say that especially in verses 1–4, Jesus’s feet really reveal something about himself, in the way he’s moving about and to where, in this passage.
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.
So this is a transition sentence for us, here in verse 1. “When Jesus had spoken these words”—and again, I personally take that to mean everything Jesus said in the upper room where he had the last supper and spoke at length with his disciples. After he said those things, he got up and went to this garden with his disciples.
Now, here’s the question. Why does John describe this place as a “garden”? He uses the Greek word “garden”, there, and I think that’s significant. Matthew and Mark, you know, refer to this as “a place called Gethsemane”, without ever calling it a garden. They call it “a place called Gethsemane”, and then they proceed to speak of Jesus’s anguish in Gethsemane as he prayed that the father would allow the cup to pass him. He was under such duress, in the Father’s hands, that he sweat blood. That’s Gethsemane, as Matthew and Luke describe this place. Then of course, “Gethsemane” means “oil press”. So we get this image in the name Gethsemane of being pressed, oil pouring out of olives—much like Jesus would be pressed and blood would pour out of him even as it did in that Gethsemane. Jesus was the one being pressed in Gethsemane that evening, with the mighty weight of God’s wrath against sinners like you and me. It seems like Matthew and Luke are going out of their way to really convey that image of Jesus under the weight of the Father’s wrath, submitting under the Father’s sovereign control and purpose, and its very much a “Gathsemane”—that is, a pressing—moment.
Although, here in John’s gospel, there’s a different focus. It’s not “a place called Gathsemane”. John describes this place as a garden. Jesus crosses the brook Kidron, and he enters a garden. When you hear that, what might come to mind? I don’t want to overplay this because I frankly don’t see other people talking about this too much in reference to this passage, but I struggle not to see what’s going on here. The first place we see a garden in our Bibles, obviously, is in Genesis 2 and 3. Adam and Eve are in there, and it was in that garden when they didn’t submit to the Father’s will. It was in that garden when they were approached by a devilish figure—the serpent—and they were led into disobeying God as they listened to the voice of the serpent. The serpent, it seemed had every initiative and took charge of that conversation. He was the first to speak, ““Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”. He was calling the shots, entering and tempting at will, with complete control of that conversation. That’s significant, as we’ll see in a moment.
What else happened in the garden? God cursed the serpent, and said that an offspring of the woman will crush his head and destroy him. A savior would come from the woman, and destroy him. Then, yes, Adam and Eve were cursed and cast out of the garden, and they started having children with good faith that through one of their children, a savior would come.
Fast forward to our passage, in John 18. Jesus, the Messiah, on the night he was betrayed (John uniquely tells us) “went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.” What do you think is going to happen? Who might they encounter in that garden? Keep reading. Verse 2—
Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.
This is quite an image, in a garden, in the dark of night. What do we know of Judas, at this point in the story? What was the last word we heard about Judas? He was referenced in chapter 17 as “the son of destruction”, but the last time we saw Judas referenced by name, we read that Jesus dipped a morsel of bread into his wine and “he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him.”
There are layers to this, folks. Satan, who has entered Judas, is meeting the promised Messiah in a garden. He’s meeting with the second Adam in a garden, and we only have to wonder what will happen. Who will be calling the shots this time? Who will say the first word? Who will win out in the end?
That’s how John is telling this story. He’s not focusing on Jesus’s suffering in Gethsemane like Luke and Matthew. He’s focusing on Jesus’s power and control over this situation, perhaps as a second Adam, in a second garden, with a second interaction with the serpent. And folks, Jesus in control. There’s no doubting it.
Why did he go to this garden in the first place? Why did Jesus go there? He knew it was a place Judas would try and find him. Verse 2, “Jesus often met there with his disciples”, and Judas knew about that. Then you could look ahead to verse 4, “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “whom do you seek?”
Do you see it, folks? Do you see what John’s gospel is trying to show us? Jesus goes to the garden because he knows it’s where he can go to be arrested. He goes there because he just told Judas—and the devil in Judas—“what you are about to do, do it quickly”. He goes there because his time to suffer and die for the sins of his people, and fulfill his mission to save his people, has come. He’s being every bit of proactive, here, as you can be in a situation like this.
Oh, and I love verse 4. He stepped forward, and he got the first word. “Whom do you seek?”. This is his moment, his conversation, and he’ll rule this garden and this conversation like the first Adam never did—and he’ll reap salvation out of it.
By the way, don’t just think that this is Judas and some little group of authorities behind him.Verse 3 says that Judas, “having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees of soldiers. Strictly speaking, that’s a way of referring to a group of 1000 Roman soldiers. In reality, most speculate that the soldiers that night numbered in the several hundred range. Remember, this is the time of Passover when the Roman authorities would send a military presence to ensure that there weren’t any riots in Jerusalem during the feast. So, whatever sizeable group of soldiers Rome sent to secure peace during this Passover celebration, it would seem that Judas had that behind him.
The devil showed up to the garden. This time, not as a snake, but as band of Jewish and Roman authorities—numbering in the hundreds. Verse 4, again, “Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “whom do you seek?”. Name your prize.
Folks, Jesus’s feet are revealing something about him in this passage, aren’t they? He’s walking to the garden, to get arrested. He steps up first to say the first word. He’s the one in control, calling the shots. This isn’t a martyrdom. It’s a rescue mission—“the son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. His feet, in all of this, are revealing his purpose and his control, even in this garden.
You might say that Matthew and Luke, in describing Jesus praying to the father while sweating blood in Gethsemane, are seeking to show Jesus as submitting to the Father, in the Father’s hands, even unto unbearable anguish.
John, however, is showing us that Jesus has the higher hand over his enemies, and he’s confronting and controlling a group of soldiers that were led to Jesus by a man possessed by the devil.
It might seem, from a worldly perspective, like Jesus is done for, at the mercy of this army. But folks, it’s just the reverse, and John’s gospel is showing us that. Jesus is here to crush the head of the serpent, overthrow his enemies with complete control, and die for our sins.
We see it in his feet, in where he’s going and when he’s stepping up. We also see it in his words. Keep reading.
What Jesus’s Words Tell Us
Starting there in verse 4, just listen to the effect Jesus’s words have on these men.
4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
This is awesome, folks. Judas has enlisted an army to capture this one guy—Jesus. They think they are approaching him on the offensive. They think they have caught Jesus by a surprise. Little do they know that Jesus got there first, to get the first word. “Whom do you seek?” They say “Jesus of Nazareth.” How did Jesus respond? He gives them two words in the Greek. Ego eimi— that is, “I am”. That’s what he says, and what happened. No more forward marching for these Romans. Jesus steps forward, he speaks, and they fall back to the ground.
Folks, I trust you see and already know what Jesus really said, when he said “I am”. This is another “I am” statement—referring back to the way God, Yahweh, revealed himself to Moses. “I am who I am—I simply exist, I’m God, maker of all things, judge over all, sustainer of all, and there’s no other beside me. I am.” That’s God, how he refers to himself. That’s Jesus, in the garden, in the flesh, representing us as the second Adam, about to take our sin upon himself—and yes, he powerfully refers to himself as I Am to the utter dismay and defeat of his enemies. They’re doing his bidding, even as he’s come to be arrested and crucified for our sins.
Jesus was not taken forcibly. He gave himself. That’s the whole point of the gospel, folks. God gave himself—his righteousness, his sacrifice, his Spirit, his blessings and riches in glory—freely and entirely of his own accord. That’s on full display, here in John 18. Or as Jesus says in John 10:18, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my faither.” That’s the gospel—God giving God to you, in all his power and righteousness and forgiveness—and yes his victory over his enemies.
Just imagine the power, folks. Jesus says that, allows his power to come through his word for a split second, and an army is fallen to the ground. Calvin says some notable things about this when he say, “There was no [lack] of power in him, therefore, to restrain [the soldiers’] hands if he had thought proper, but he wished to obey his Father, by whose decree he knew that he was called to die.”
Calvin also says this, “We may infer from this how dreadful and alarming to the wicked the voice of Christ will be, when he shall ascend his throne to judge the world.”
Isn’t that true? In this garden, where he has descended to save his people by dying for them, he speaks a quick word to show his power and authority over his enemies who fell to their feet. Imagine how dreadful and alarming to the wicked his voice will be when he ascends his throne to judge the world on the final day.
There are sounds that are haunting, aren’t there? Have you ever heard a sound that is deeply haunting to your bones? I once heard a recording of a celtic carnyx war horn—a sort of loud horn the celts would use to haunt their enemies just before going to war. The sound makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It was the last sound many heard before their death, and no doubt, I imagine it was a sound that haunted many in the moments before their death.
When you look through history, many other such horns and sounds and blasts were used to the same effect. Jesus, folks, will utter his voice, and the earth will melt under his judgment.
So listen to Jesus’s words in this passage, folks. He steps forward with his feet, signaling authority and control and he says with his words, “I am.” They’re haunting words to God’s enemies, yet hopeful words to God’s people. Take pains, through true repentance and faith, to ensure you are among his people, brothers and sisters.
He says something else, by the way, which likewise establishes his authority and control through his words. What else did Jesus say in this passage?
Look at verse 8. 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.”
Imagine being in Jesus’s position, here, with your own human power and abilities. If an army came to arrest you, do you think you’re in the position to say “if you seek me, let these other men go?”. You’re not in any position to say anything, folks. You could beg, or reason, but in the end, you’re completely at the mercy of your captors. If they want you and your crew, they’ll take you and your crew. If they just want you, they’ll just take you. Nothing you say will have any effect on anything.
Although, after Jesus just threw them to the ground with his word, he then says “if you seek me, let these men go”. I think there’s a little more authority behind those words than a simple plea bargain, or wishful begging. Jesus said this, and therefore it happened. It’s not unreasonable to think that these authorities wanted Jesus and his disciples arrested and killed. John 12 speaks of a plot the Jews made to kill Lazarus, because “on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus”. The Jews hated Jesus and the movement Jesus started so much, they’d kill anyone who was associated with it. They wanted to snuff out this movement at all costs. So, no doubt, it’s not unreasonable to think that these authorities could want Jesus and his disciples arrested that night. In the end, they only wanted Jesus—and yes, they only wanted Jesus because that was Jesus’s plan. Jesus was calling the shots. Jesus had spoken. “If you seek me, let these men go.” He spoke, so that’s what happened.
He didn’t just speak. He prayed for it, didn’t he? That’s what the next verse is getting at, verse 9. We’re told that Jesus said this “9 to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” If you recall, Jesus said this in the previous chapter in his prayer to the Father. He said he wouldn’t lose one, but that he’d keep his disciples in the Father’s plan and purposes. He said it, he meant it, he prayed it, and he’d die for it. This is how committed Jesus is to his people—to you and me. He takes the hit, the sacrifice, every time. He leads out front, guiding and protecting and keeping us, because we can’t do it on our own. We can’t, folks. Just think of what happens next, in verse 10. Peter does a very “Peter” thing, doesn’t he, taking matters into his own hands, taking out his sword and cutting off an ear. Jesus will keep that at bay, too, protecting Peter from Peter’s foolishness.
So, what’s the image we get of Jesus in this garden? It’s not the Gethsemane image of the suffering and pressed Jesus in Matthew and Luke—albeit, that image is also true. Jesus did anguish before the Father in this garden in the moments prior to Judas’s arrival.
Here in John, in what John refers to as a garden, Jesus is revealing his power and glory and control over this dreadful situation. He’s in control undoing the curse and thwarting the devil which the first Adam in the first garden couldn’t—and he’s orchestrating it all for you and me, who would believe upon him and submit to him with true repentance and faith.
Then you could think of it this way. Jesus’s feet have revealed his glory and control and power, as he’s moving forward into the garden and toward the soldiers. Jesus words have revealed the same, as his statements push back the Jewish and Roman army. Now, there’s one last part of this story, and it relates to Jesus’s hands.
What Jesus’s Hands Tell Us
Look at what happens in verse 10. Again, this is right after we’re reminded that Jesus will not lose one of his disciples. What’s about to happen? One of his disciples is about to act very “lost”, and Jesus won’t allow it. Verse 10—
10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
This is wonderful, folks. It’s so revealing of us, and so revealing of Jesus. Peter thought he was the real deal, didn’t he? Jesus took the first step forward before these military officials with a bold word, and Peter figured he’d take the second step forward with a swing of his sword. In fact, we have no reason to believe Peter is wielding a sizeable sword—a small little dagger may be what’s more in view, here. Peter takes up his dagger against a detachment of Roman soldiers.
What was he thinking? I mean really, what might we suppose Peter was after, here? Was he thinking he’d be protecting Jesus against this sizeable army? Perhaps he was thinking he would distract the soldiers long enough to allow Jesus to escape. Honestly, I don’t think there’s any way around assuming Peter was going in with a martyrs’ mentality. He and his Messiah were hopelessly cornered, he wasn’t about to cower away and do nothing, so he goes in like a brave martyr to show his commitment to the cause. “Hope for the best”, they say. Peter did, you know, say back in chapter 13 that he’d lay his life down for Jesus. Here, Peter is making good on that statement. He’s taking matters into his own hands, with an ill-placed, misinformed, prideful zeal.
“Will you lay down your life for me?” Jesus said back in chapter 13. “Truly truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times.”
There’s a lot to learn in this, folks. We’d always do well to be cautious of times when we think we have it all together, and figured out. We’d always do well to be leery of untethered, religious zeal that’s overconfident in our own faith and commitment and obedience to Jesus. Jesus calls us to a life of humility, sacrifice, repentance from sin, and seeking our joy and wisdom in him and his word and his people. It’s a slow, patient, often ordinary life, Christianity is for most of us. Sure, there are times when the pace of life picks up, or when God calls someone to an extraordinary ministry in the Himalayas or some other obscure calling in the world. But even then, the most qualified for such ministries are the most tempered, humble, people. Jesus humbled Saul of Tarsus to the dust before he called him as Paul the apostle to the nations. And so here, Peter is getting humbled.
The whole point in this passage is that Jesus has it in control, and his plan is wholly contrary to any plan we might conceive of. His ways involve glory through sacrifice, not military conquest or some other worldly conquest. What did Jesus say to Peter, there in verse 11? “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” What resolve, what a peculiar lesson, and a peculiar way. Peter had his mind set on worldly kingdoms and glory—and it made him into a religious zealot, impatient, and untrusting of Jesus. He thought he could protect Jesus, or something like that.
It's not Jesus’s way. “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” The other gospels tell us Jesus was just praying to the Father about that cup—praying in agony about it. Here, Jesus is resolved to drink it, even rebuking his disciples when they get in the way of him drinking it.
And to be sure, we’re talking about a cup of wrath. That’s the imagery. Jesus isn’t concerned about the momentary shame, or the pain on the cross, or the lashings, or the mockery, or even death. Jesus isn’t worried about that. His concern is the cup—it’s God’s infinite wrath against us that’s about to be poured out upon him rather than you and me. Jesus is going to empty that cup which is infinite—and folks, it’s a mystery of all mysteries, how Jesus could empty that infinite cup in a finite time, and so satisfy God’s infinite wrath against us. It’s a mystery, it’s a misery to Jesus we can’t even begin to fathom, it’s a mercy to us.
So, these last two verses are filled with some lessons for us—lessons about ourselves and our tendencies to take things into our own hands as Peter did, and a lesson about Jesus and his commitment to the Father’s unthinkable plan. Jesus had it all under control.
Now, I mentioned that this greater passage doesn’t just teach us about how Jesus took control with his feet, and his words, but also his hands. How does this passage remind us that Jesus took control with his hands?
It’s sort of a trick question. This passage, in John, doesn’t. Although, I think we know the story. What did Jesus do about that ear? He healed the man. Luke’s gospel tells us “he touched his ear and healed him.” Jesus’s hand touched the ear, and the ear was healed.
Folks, it shouldn’t shock us that Jesus’s healing and love extends to his enemies. It’s our only hope. Of our own sinful nature, we are hostile enemies to Christ. The gospel is that in Jesus, he overcomes our hostility, he reaches out, and he heals us from the inside out. I think Amy Carmichael said it well with this thought-provoking statement, when she said, “The last thing the Lord Jesus did before his hands were bound, was to heal.”
Jesus is in charge, folks, revealing his power and glory through is feet as he’s stepping forward with authority, his words as he’s speaking with authority, his hands as he’s healing with authority, and our only response ought to be repentance and faith toward him. There’s no point in resisting him, folks. He is in control, he is altogether wise, he is crucified and risen, and he is offering eternal life and wisdom and blessing to us. Stay humble, seeking his ways, receive him. Let’s pray.