First Sermon for Holy Week 2011
The Evidence of Jesus – John 18:1-13
The evidence of Jesus, not the evidence for Jesus, but the evidence Jesus presents that challenges us and challenges our lives. The evidence that makes us ask serious questions about being a Christian in our world.
These coming days, Christians believe, were the most important in the history of the world. The events in Jerusalem meant that human life would never ever be the same again. These were days of crisis. Crisis means judgment and these were days of judgment. The events which began today changed the lives of those who witnessed them, these events in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago have changed our lives.
We begin to follow the story today and, as we read the story of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, we ask ‘what has all of this to do with me?’
We begin with the story of the arrest of Jesus, which is told in John 18:1-13.
The drama of the final hours began on very familiar ground. Jesus and his disciples go to a place where they had often rested, a quiet, shady place away from the dust and noise of the city. It is dark, but this is Passover. There would have been a full moon and it would have been easy to see around.
Into this quiet seclusion comes Judas with a huge contingent of armed men. It is the tactic of a police raid, to try to catch someone unawares, to spring on them when they are relaxing.
No-one knew Judas’ real motives. Some say he was a petty crook who was simply interested in the money he could get. Some say he wanted to advance himself with the religious authorities. Some even say that this was a misguided attempt by Judas to try to get Jesus to use his full powers for whatever cause it was that Judas supported. We don’t know what went theough Judas’ mind. We do know that when Judas realises what he has done, he throws the money back at those who paid him and he hangs himself.
If we read through John’s Gospel we see that John makes a great deal of the contrast between light and darkness. Remember the words of John Chapter 1, which are always read at Christmas? In John, Christ is light and his enemies are darkness, so if Christ is to be betrayed, we would expect the betrayal to take place during the hours of darkness.
In John 1 it says, ‘The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it’. The powers of darkness simply cannot understand the light; evil people simply cannot understand Jesus. This explains this ridiculous force which Judas Iscariot brings with him to arrest Jesus. The word which John uses, steiran, commonly meant 600 men. Judas comes with officials and a huge force of soldiers to arrest an unarmed carpenter from Nazareth.
We see how clearly evil assumes everyone to be like itself. Haven’t we seen this in court cases in modern times? People who have committed the most hideous crimes have assumed that these things could be done because other people shared their views. Evil tries to bring everything down to its level. It believes everyone to be as low as itself.
Judas is a man who chooses the ways of violence and he assumes everyone is like him. When he leads Jesus’ enemies to the olive grove, he assumes that Jesus will resist, so he goes with hundreds of armed men.
Evil can sometimes be incredibly stupid. It is Passover; it is a full moon. They could see the way, but they come carrying torches. In the stillness of the night, marching through the streets with 600 men carrying torches is not the most obvious way to spring a surprise!
Judas need not have worried about Jesus escaping. It is Jesus himself who takes the initiative. It his enemies who are taken by surprise.
‘Who do you want?’ asks Jesus. They are so astonished that, when he answers that he is Jesus of Nazareth, they are terrified and move backwards and some of them fall to the ground.
If we look at the verses, verse 4 to verse 8 of John 18, we see something very important. ‘I am he’, says Jesus three times, ‘I am he’. ‘I AM’, is the name of God in the book Exodus. If we recall the story of Moses and the burning bush in Exodus Chapter 3, we will remember that Moses says to God, ‘who shall I say sent me?’ and God says, ‘tell them, I AM has sent you’.
I AM is God’s name for himself. When the people of Israel talked about God they naturally talked about him in the third person. They called him YHWH, meaning ‘He Is’. A word we usually translate as Jehovah or, more commonly, as the LORD. If you look at the Bible, as we have noted before, and see ‘LORD’ written in capital letters, you know it is a translation of the special name for God, we see it in Exodus Chapter 3, this special name, He Is, I AM.
‘I am he’, says Jesus—and this meeting in the olive grove is not a meeting between a wandering preacher and a group of soldiers; it is a meeting between God and the powers of darkness. ‘I am he’, says Jesus and the very name of God is enough to strike terror into the heart of Jesus’ enemies.
When you read this account of the arrest of Jesus, there is no mistake about who is in control of the situation. With words alone Jesus can knock evil to the ground. It is clear that as Jesus goes to meet his fate, he does so willingly, in full control of what is happening.
Jesus is so much in control that he give the orders. He commands that his disciples be allowed to go, when the instinct of the enemies would have been to round up everyone associated with Jesus, for fear they would cause trouble.
Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is part of the battle with evil. But then Jesus is betrayed by one of his own side in a stupid and pointless act of violence.
Peter takes his sword and takes a swipe at the high priest’s servant, cutting off poor Malchus’ right ear. We can only assume Peter was attempting to split Malchus’ head open.
Peter has not had the perception to see what is going on. Jesus doesn’t need protection; he can knock them over by speaking but he chooses not to do so. Peter hasn’t fully understood that Jesus’ cause will not be advanced by aggression and violence. Peter has only succeeded in injuring a defenceless man who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We know from Jesus’ conversations with Peter that Peter was qualified to be leader of the church, but Peter’s attack on Malchus shows what can happen when a church leader loses touch with Christ.
It is not the business of the church to cause hurt and pain to people who have little understanding of what is going on. Peter thought that the cause of Jesus could be advanced by aggression and there are still many who make a similar mistake. There are church leaders who lash out and cause hurt to people who just happen to be there.
The church today doesn’t lash out with swords, but it does cause hurt in other ways by enforcing rules and disciplines that ordinary people just can’t understand. It does cause hurt by its treatment of those who don’t fit in with its particular viewpoint. When the church loses touch with Jesus it becomes a dangerous sect.
Jesus will tolerate no aggression. ‘Put away your sword’, he says to Peter, ‘shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’ and Jesus strides off to face his future.
Thinking about the evidence of Jesus this evening, the person and the claims that confront us in the story of his arrest, we are left with two questions:
When we meet with God, the I AM, how do we respond?
And when we think about the church, how do we take the story of Jesus to a hostile world?
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