‘Christ in the Garden’ – John 18:1-11 – August 16th

If you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to the Gospel of John, chapter  18, verses 1-11.

After Jesus had said these things, He went out with His disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, and He and His disciples went into it. Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with His disciples. So Judas took a company of soldiers and some temple police from the chief priests and the Pharisees and came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.

Then Jesus, knowing everything that was about to happen to Him, went out and said to them, “Who is it you’re looking for?”

“Jesus the Nazarene,” they answered.

“I am He,” Jesus told them.

Judas, who betrayed Him, was also standing with them. When He told them, “I am He,” they stepped back and fell to the ground.

Then He asked them again, “Who is it you’re looking for?”

“Jesus the Nazarene,” they said.

“I told you I am He,” Jesus replied. “So if you’re looking for Me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the words He had said: “I have not lost one of those You have given Me.”

10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. (The slave’s name was Malchus.)

11 At that, Jesus said to Peter, “Sheathe your sword! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?”

This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray:

Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.

We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.

*

Well, we are really getting down to the brass tacks, here. We are now in chapter 18 of John’s gospel and there are only 21 chapters. There are not that many weeks left in this series before we take a short break and then move into the book of Acts for the following year. We’re getting to the climax of the story. Jesus is now on his way to Golgotha. We can see the cross on the horizon./

And because we are now getting into the climax of the story, there’s a particular temptation that we want to avoid. And that is the temptation to railroad through this so that we can get to the crucifixion, ’cause we all know the crucifixion will preach. Right?

On first glance, it seems like this is just kind of a weird story about Jesus getting arrested in the garden. If you hear about this at all, it’s usually either in a passion play or it’s in a quick throw away comment in a sermon on Easter Sunday, or something like that, that’s really about the crucifixion.

But that’s not the way that John wrote this story. That’s not the way that John wrote this gospel. He wrote this as a section of its own. He included this story because he wanted us to hear it. He wanted us to listen to it. He wanted us to understand it. He wanted us to savor it.

And so we are gonna do exactly that, this morning.

And as we read through this passage together, there are at least three things that we notice.

First things first, we notice John drawing attention to the fact that Jesus is the God that the Bible is about.

I’m going to say that again because it’s so simple that it might have just gone in one ear and come out the other: The first thing we see in our passage this morning is that Jesus is the God that the Bible is about.

Take a look beginning at verse four. The police have just arrived with Judas to arrest him, and John says, “Then Jesus, knowing everything that was about to happen to Him, went out and said to them, “Who is it you’re looking for?” “Jesus the Nazarene,” they answered. “I am He,” Jesus told them.”

That’s actually a pretty shocking answer for Jesus to give them.

Why?

Because Jesus is quoting a passage of scripture that absolutely no human being anywhere on planet earth should ever apply to themselves.

Jesus is quoting Exodus chapter 3, verse 14.

If you’ve read Exodus recently, you might remember the story of how Moses sees a Bush burning on a hilltop, so he approaches the burning bush and starts a conversation with it. Because what else are you going to do if you see a burning Bush, right?

Of course, he’s not just talking to a bush that happens to be on fire, he is talking to the God of his forefathers. The God of the universe. The God of the Bible.

The Lord came to Moses in a burning Bush, and he said, “Moses, I’m going to use you to set my people free.” And Moses says, essentially, “OK, but when I talk to your people, what if they don’t believe me?” He says, “Tell me your name, so that I can give it to them, so they will know that I am actually coming on behalf of the God of the universe.”

And in Exodus 3:14, God tells him his name.

There are plenty of ways that you could translate this, but I am gonna read from the Holman Christian standard Bible: It says that, “God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.”

That’s the name that God gave to the Moses to call him, and that’s the name that he gave to us to call him by. God is not just an invisible father figure in the sky. He’s not just the ruler over the universe. He’s not just the one who holds the world together. Even though he is all of these things. God is not just a remote figure, or an idea, he’s also a person. God is personal. And he has taken on a personal name and invited us to call him by it. And that name is I AM.

And even though there are plenty of things that you can point to that explain why Jesus was arrested and executed, at the end of the day, more than anything, what John points us to is the fact that Jesus went by this name.

They said, “We are looking for Jesus of Nazareth,” and he used the same expression that God used in Exodus 3:14. He said, “I am he.” /

And this isn’t just a one-off thing. Jesus didn’t just misspeak, here. He didn’t just awkwardly blurt something out that didn’t quite mean what he meant for it to mean. That’s what I do most of the time. Looking through the Gospel of John, this is Jesus’s M.O. When people wonder who this man is, Jesus tells them, “I AM.”

If you’ve been here for most of these sermons, you could probably think of a handful of them in your head right now.

Like John 6:35, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Or John 8:12, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” And John 10:9, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” Or John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

And as we move through John’s gospel, those “I am” statements of Jesus just keep getting more intense, as Jesus turns the heat up with each consecutive one.

Like John 11:25, “Jesus say, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Or John 15:1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” Or John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Or maybe most famously, and most controversially, John 8:58, when “Jesus said to the religious leaders, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Reading this today, it might not be at all obvious to us what Jesus was saying when he said these things. But his audience didn’t have that problem.

In John 8, it says that the crowds immediately started picking up stones to execute Jesus for blasphemy. Why? We see exactly why in John 10:33. They say, “We are going to stone you for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

When Jesus quotes Exodus 3:14 in reference to himself, they knew what he meant. When he claimed “I am,” as his name, they knew what he meant. When Jesus took the name of God as his own name, they knew plenty well what he was talking about. And so should we.

Jesus means that he is the God that the Bible is about.

That’s our first point. Jesus is the God that the Bible is about./

And our second point flows pretty neatly from our first point. And that is that because Jesus is the God the that Bible is about, nothing can ever happen that is out of his control.

I’m gonna say that again: Nothing can ever happen that is out of Christ’s control.

We see that, beginning in verse 7. It says, “Jesus asked them again, “Who is it you’re looking for?” “Jesus the Nazarene,” they said. “I told you I am He,” Jesus replied. “So if you’re looking for Me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the words He had said: “I have not lost one of those You have given Me.”/

Those few sentences actually tell us a lot.

The religious leaders and the temple police came to the garden to arrest someone that they thought of as a potentially dangerous cult leader. He wasn’t a cult leader, but they treated him like one. Back in the day, when you wanted to put a stop to a potentially dangerous cult, you didn’t just off the cult leader. You snuffed out everybody in the leadership. Sometimes more than that.

There were plenty of very good things about Ancient Rome, but even-handedness was not always one of them. Remember the illegal siege of the Branch Davidians? The Branch Davidians were bad – no doubt about that – but the siege on their compound was infamously built on what have now been demonstrated to be falsehoods and corruption. That is a gigantic blot on our history as a nation, but that would have been, like, a regular Tuesday in the Roman Empire. When they saw a potentially violent or seditious group forming they crushed it mercilessly.

That’s what Rome told themselves they were doing when they arrested and crucified Jesus. Like I said, Jesus wasn’t a cult leader. He wasn’t an insurrectionist. He very specifically refused to stir up a violent revolution. But the religious leaders and the Roman government punished him as though he was. And what that means is that they probably entered the garden with every intention of mowing down every single one of the people that was with Jesus.

And yet, Jesus wasn’t having any of that. He says, “If you’re looking for me, let these men go.” /

That was not actually something Jesus had any earthly authority to ask them.

Like, from the standpoint of the authorities, Jesus isn’t even a Roman citizen. He has almost no civil rights under the law in general, and as somebody who is suspected of being a David Koresh style cult leader, he has absolutely no right or grounds to ask them to do anything.

That would be kind of like if a police officer pulled me over because I was doing 90 in a 45 zone in a stolen vehicle while cooking meth in the backseat of my car and also performing a kidney transplant without a medical license. Perfectly believable situation, right? And when the cop started to handcuff me, I said, “Hey, officer, what if, instead of arresting me, you just let me go, and gave me $20 from your wallet.”

That gonna fly?

Of course not.

Now multiply that by 1000x, and you can maybe get into the same headspace as the temple police who are here to arrest Jesus. Under normal circumstances they’re not going to do anything he asks. They’re going to arrest him, and they’re gonna take him off to be tried and then executed. That’s it.

In any other circumstance, if the Romans were arresting somebody, and that somebody said, “If you are here to arrest me, let these men go.” They would have beaten him to a bloody pulp and told him to watch his mouth.

But that is not what happens. It’s not even close to what happens. He says, “You’re here to arrest me, let these men go.”

And they do.

Think hard about that. There were 10 military aged men, who are well known for traveling around with Jesus, who are commonly known to be part of the leadership of this movement that Jesus is forming, who could absolutely carry the movement on even if he dies, and they let them go home. They let them go. From Rome’s point of view, that would be negligent to the point of treason.

It would be like catching Osama bin Laden and then purposefully letting his entire gang walk free. You haven’t actually accomplished much. Are you going to get decorated with honors for that kind of negligence?

Jesus calmly tells the police to let his people go, and they do.

What does that tell us?

It tells us that Jesus is absolutely in control of this situation.

It tells us that nobody got the drop on Jesus. Jesus didn’t get got, here. The clock didn’t just run out. It didn’t “catch up” with him.

He allowed them to arrest him.

He allowed them to mistreat him.

He allowed them to take him in on bogus charges.

He allowed them to convict him in a kangaroo court that made a mockery of genuine justice.

He allowed them to lash him nearly to the point of death.

He allowed them to mock him by putting a Crown of thorns on his head.

He allowed them to nail him up to a cross.

He allowed them to torture him until his lungs filled up with fluids and he drowned.

Jesus allowed every single aspect of his own merciless torment.

He subjected himself to it willingly. Because nothing can happen that is outside his control.

And I mean nothing. Absolutely nothing that happens can happen outside of Christ’s control.

I’m not saying he’s a puppet master who makes everything happen. I’m not saying that when terrible things happen to you God pulled the trigger. But I’m saying that absolutely nothing gets past him. Absolutely nothing can happen unless he allows it to happen.

Even the deep, prolonged, and profound suffering that he willingly embraced to redeem us.

Once you realize just how glorious Christ is, you start to recognize just how beautiful the gospel is. Absolutely nothing can happen that is outside of Christ’s control. Not even his own arrest and crucifixion.

And that means at least two things.

Firstly, it means that no matter what you are going through, you can rest in the fact that the Lord is in control of it.

Now, maybe you hate that saying.

Maybe you absolutely hate it when people tell you, “God is in control.” Like, if you break my arm, or you get really sick, or something like that, and someone says, “Hey, don’t worry, God is in control.” Or, “Hey, don’t worry, God has a plan.” Maybe you know in your head that those are good things, but they really do not resonate emotionally when you’re having a bad day. Right?

It’s like, if something terrible happens to you, and someone says, basically, “Don’t worry, God let that happen on purpose.” And you’re like, “Uh, thanks. I guess. Not sure how that helps me.”

On the face of it, “God is in control” sounds like the least comforting thing on planet earth when things are going absolutely terrible for you.

And I get that. So I want to slightly rephrase how we put this. It’s going to mean exactly the same thing, but I want to put it to you in a way that, at least, I find much more comforting, personally.

And that is that every time you get beaten to a bloody pulp by the universe – maybe you lose your job, or you’re in a car crash, or one of your loved ones dies, or you get really badly sick, or somebody betrays you, the list goes on – You’re in Gethsemane. You’re in the garden where Jesus was arrested. You’re at that part. You’re having a Gethsemane Experience.

What does it mean to be in Gethsemane?

It means that you are suffering immensely. You’ve been wronged. Something terrible is happening. And it sucks. It’s bad. You don’t need to try to spin it to make it seem positive. You don’t need to try to tell yourself something that will soothe you or numb you or comfort you immediately, because the reality is that it’s terrible. We don’t have to say anything else to feel deep or spiritual, or anything. When you’re suffering, you’re suffering.

But it also means that your suffering is like the suffering we see Jesus suffering, here.

You are suffering, but you are very much still in the hand of God.

You are suffering, but you are still very much in the will of God.

You’re suffering, but you are still very much in the plan of God.

You are suffering, but you are still very much in the mission of God.

Your suffering is real, and it is terrible, and it is unjust, and it is something you need to be rescued from, not opiated out of feeling in its fullness, but your suffering is part of a story it ends in redemption.

Your suffering is part of a story that ultimately ends in a crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and then glorious return at the end of everything that undoes all the terribleness you underwent in this life.

Your suffering is part of a story in which your sorrow is ultimately turned into joy, Psalm 126. Where your mourning is ultimately turned into dancing. Where your weeping is ultimately turned into laughing. Because God is still carrying you – bruised faces and black eyes and all – to the finish line. /

That’s the thing that is actually comforting about the fact that even in our suffering, God is still at the helm./

Once you realize that everything that happens is under Christ’s control, you can rest in a way that you probably couldn’t rest beforehand. You can rest amidst your suffering, you can rest amidst your fear, you can rest through the storms and trials and difficulties and uncertainties of your life./

But it also means that you can stop trying to babysit Jesus.

You know what I’m talking about? Once you realize that everything that happens is under Christ’s control, you can stop trying to babysit him.

We would never own up to this, but at some level, most of us really want to babysit the God of the universe. We want to babysit Jesus. We want to put him in a stroller and push him around the sidewalks of a brightly-lit suburb. We want to drop him off at daycare and then pick him back up and then take him home and make him Spaghettios and then here-comes-the-train it to him. Not literally, obviously, but I am dead serious. I think most of us, no matter what we say, have something deep down within us that is really convinced that God is weak and powerless and defenseless and absolutely incapable of doing anything at all unless we take him by the hand and walk him across the street like he’s a fragile old lady in downtown Louisburg. But that is just not true.

Like, look at what happens when the Roman guards and the Temple police tried to arrest him by force, here. Looking at verse 6, it says “When Jesus told them, “I am He,” they stepped back and fell to the ground.”

Just to clarify: Jesus said his name, and a regiment of soldiers and police officers – the toughest guys in town – fell back involuntarily. They couldn’t even stand up on their own in his presence.

Jesus didn’t have to beat his chest. He didn’t have to say anything aggressive. He didn’t have to do that thing that we do, where we make our backs real straight and kind of puff our chests out and lower our voices a couple octaves to sound tough. All he did was say his name when they asked and it knocked them over.

Why? Because they couldn’t even stand without his permission.

Literally. You cannot even stand on your two feet without the express permission of Jesus. The fact that you are breathing right now has everything in the world to do with the fact that Jesus continues, moment by moment, to allow you to breathe. The fact that you woke up this morning has everything in the world to do with the fact that Jesus allowed you to wake up this morning.

This is a theme that runs all throughout the Bible. We see it in Acts 17, when the Lord drops a massive Reality Check on us. He says, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”

We also see it Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, and all who live in it.”

And James 1:17, which reminds us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Everything we have came from Jesus in the first place.

So there is nothing we can give him. There is nothing we can offer him. There is nothing we can do to pay him back or put him in our debt.

God says in Job 41:11, “Who has ever given me anything, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is already mine.”

You cannot feed him. You cannot protect him. You cannot strengthen him. He does not need your anything. You absolutely need him, but he absolutely does not need you.

And we see that, maybe more clearly than anywhere, in our passage this morning, when Peter tries very hard to babysit Jesus and he gets chewed out for it something fierce.

Looking at verses 10 and 11, it says, “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. (The slave’s name was Malchus.) 11 At that, Jesus said to Peter, “Sheathe your sword! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?”

Matthew 26 records even more of what happens, here. He says, “They took hold of Jesus, and arrested Him. 51 At that moment one of those with Jesus reached out his hand and drew his sword. He struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus told him, “Put your sword back in its place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot call on My Father, and He will provide Me at once with more than 12 legions of angels? 54 How, then, would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?”

Peter tries to “babysit Jesus,” and Jesus does not like that one bit.

Because the God who could call 10,000 angels to annihilate his enemies if he wanted to does not need you to draw your sword and strike the folks arresting him.

The God who sustains the life of everyone, everywhere, all the time, who keeps the air flowing in everyone’s lungs and the blood flowing in everyone’s veins does not need you to draw your sword against somebody else in his name.

This is actually one of the reasons that we are Baptist. Literally. For a very long time, one of the great shames of Christian history, is that the “Established church,” both the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, and many of the Protestant churches that broke off from them believed that they could serve the Kingdom of God with violence. They thought that they could conquer the surrounding territories and then force them all to become Christian.

That did not work. Because you can’t do that. I didn’t say you shouldn’t do that – even though you obviously shouldn’t – I said you can’t. You cannot conquer someone into faith in Jesus Christ. You cannot conquer a society into Godliness. You literally just can’t.

And so when the earliest known Baptists rejected Catholicism or rejected Eastern Orthodoxy or rejected the state churches established by early Protestants, a very large part of why we broke off from them was because we understood, from the scriptures, that you cannot serve the Kingdom of God by force.

They understood that you will never accomplish anything for the kingdom by taking up a sword where Christ has called you to take up a cross. They understood that we are called to win over the world, not to conquer it. They understood that we are called to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” not to “Go, therefore, and conquer them.” They understood that we are called to “Baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” not to “Drown them if they won’t accept our way of thinking.” They understood that we are called to “Teach everyone to obey the things that Christ has told us to do,” not to coerce everyone into doing what we tell them.

That’s a large part of what it has always meant to be Baptist.

Maybe this seems like a bizarre sermon point, because I strongly doubt anyone listening to this was planning on starting the crusades back up or overthrowing the government and turning the U.S. into the Holy Roman Empire 2.0., but I bring this up because it’s a perfect example of what happens when we ignore the scriptures and chase our own desires instead. When we ignore the calling Christ has placed on us and chase after power instead. Terrible things happen when you forget that Jesus called you to take up your cross to die with him, not take up your sword to kill for him.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that the Bible teaches pacifism. I don’t think it does. This is not about to turn into some kind of weird 1960s hippie diatribe. I think Paul makes it perfectly clear in Romans 13 that, if nothing else, the government is sometimes called to use the sword, because every nation needs a military. Every nation needs police. Every nation needs to be able to punish crime, and in some extreme cases that might require the death penalty. In the same way, if someone breaks into your home or attacks you, I think self-defense is perfectly warranted.

I don’t think Jesus snapped at Peter because he wanted Peter to act more like Ghandi, I think he snapped at Peter because Peter was trying to babysit him. Peter had it all wrong. He snapped at Peter because Peter was trying to “fight for Jesus” at all costs, even when it ran against the mission that Jesus came for.

That’s where the problem is. After all these years with Jesus, Peter still fundamentally thought that god was small, and the because God was small, he needed Peter to jump in and protect him.

But God is not small. One of the things that I hope that people have picked up during the time that I have been here at Mount Zion, and that I hope people will continue to pick up during the rest of my time here is that God is really big. That;s a goofy sounding point to make, but bear with me. God is strong. God is not like the well-groomed pictures of the soft, longhaired Jesus that you see in most illustrated Bibles or Thomas Kinkade paintings.

God is powerful. God is overwhelmingly vast, and strong, and irresistible, and authoritative, and he will win out in the end.

He will not be deposed.

He will not be defeated.

He will not be overcome.

The devil will not win.

The forces of darkness will not win.

Evildoers will not get away with their evil-doing.

The people who have abused you will not get away with it.

The terrible things that you have been through will not be the end of the story.

Because you serve a gloriously big God.

And because you serve a gloriously big God, you can throw yourself into carrying out the mission that he’s given you without worrying about how it will turn out. You can rest, even in the midst of unbelievably difficult sufferings and trials knowing that justice will ultimately prevail.

You can endure the darkness of the crucifixion and the burial knowing that all of this is all leading towards resurrection. /

It means that you can put your hand to the plow with confidence, to steal a turn of phrase from Jesus. You can throw yourself into everything that Christ has called you to with absolutely zero worries about whether you are up to the task or whether things will go smoothly or whether You are smart enough or strong enough or prepared enough or clever enough because you don’t have to be any of those things. You just have to be faithful.

You can dive faithfully into the work the Lord has given you in the confidence that Christ is holding you together through every single moment of it and that he is carrying you by the collar over every single hurdle and obstacle that you face.

As a father. Or a mother. Or a teacher. Or a mechanic. Or a nurse. Or a cashier.

Or a witness.

An evangelist.

Somebody that Christ has sent out into the world to share his good news with your neighbors. That’s you, no matter what else you are. You are a witness. You are an evangelist. You have been sent out into the world to share the good news.

Does that scare you?

It probably should. I’ve been doing this for years, and it still scares me. Every single time.

And yet.

I don’t have to be smarter than the person that I’m witnessing to.

I don’t have to be more clever than the person that I’m witnessing to.

I don’t have to have a smart response to every objection that a person that I’m witnessing to can bring to me.

All I have to do is commit myself to witnessing to them with perseverance, patience, graciousness, and clarity, and the Lord who holds both of us in his hands will empower me through it.

The same is true about you.

The great glory of the fact that everything that happens is within Christ’s control is that it means that we can count on Christ through everything. Like I said just a moment ago, we can struggle through the darkness of the crucifixion and the burial knowing that all of this is all leading towards resurrection.

Let’s pray.

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