In this season of Coronavirus we’re getting a crash course in our immune system. What is dangerous about COVID-19 is it’s novel–it is a totally new virus.
Your immune system doesn’t have an answer to it, with the flu, it has some idea but with COVID-19, it takes one look, shrugs it’s shoulders and says: ‘never seen this before’, ‘I don’t know where to start’ And so we pray for a vaccine! to teach our immune systems how to fight against it.
The immune systems are funny things. Mine decided about 14 years ago to fight the wrong things. Living in Thailand at the time, I developed allergies to good things like wheat, soy and peanuts. Perfectly good foods like bread and Pad Thai, delicious things that should be doing my body good! My immune system is busy fighting a friend.
This chapter of John is similar, it is full of people fighting a friend. God sends His Son into the world to do us good, to bring life eternal and humanity has an immune reaction to Him. Again and again!
Jew, Gentile, followers, foes. It is not a pretty picture of us humans. We fight a friend, it is so dumb, no stronger than that. So wrong and so evil. I want us to focus in on the passage that was read for us, that we might see this Friend for who He is:
Jesus is completely in control of the events here. He doesn’t dodge arrest one bit. Verse 1.
When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it. (NIV)
Left where? Left the city of Jerusalem. The Last Supper in the upper room was done a few chapters back. The betrayer was dismissed and went out. Then Jesus stole a few precious hours with his disciples somewhere else, hidden in the city, teaching them, praying with them, ending in those beautiful prayers for us that Ray taught us about last week. But now, He very deliberately heads back to known territory. To the garden that we know from the other Gospels as the Garden of Gethsemane, a private orchard that had been opened for their use, but a place that, verse 2 tells us, was well known to His betrayer:
Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. (NIV)
Jesus chooses the ground for His arrest. There is no evasion here.
Last week there was a big drug bust outside our house. A car was clearly trying to evade the police by turning into a quiet street. Their crime was pretty serious judging by the bags of white powder lined up on the roof of the car, and that 6 Police cars attended! They were cuffed and taken away by force!
In verse 4 Jesus walks out to meet the Jewish temple guards and Roman soldiers that are there to back them up. He just walks out to a heavily armed enemy.
Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” (NIV)
He is totally on the front foot! And in control, purposeful, deliberate. And why is He that? Jesus is going into bat for us.
Jesus is not only determined but, He is God! Verses 4.
“Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. (NIV)
and then comes some of the most stunning words in verse 5.
…“I am he,” Jesus said (NIV)
That is a perfectly ok translation, but there is a more literal and more likely translation: “I AM” and again in verse 6
“When Jesus said, “I AM,” they drew back and fell to the ground.” (NIV)
I’m imagining the Jewish temple guards are at the front of the pack here because they’re the ones wanting the arrest. But two tiny words “I AM” have such power over them. They were Jews, and “I AM” are words that only God speaks! Remember Moses, way back in time? God spoke to Moses at the burning bush about leading Israel out of Egypt and slavery. And Moses replied: ‘God, what do I say if the Israelites ask your Name, what shall I tell them?’ God's answer is in Exodus 3:14
God said to Moses “I AM who I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (NIV)
Imagine you have to describe yourself to someone you have never met before, you’re on a speed date, you have 30 seconds to impress! What you would say? God doesn’t need 30seconds, He simply says “I AM”.I AM reality, I AM from eternity to eternity. This is like the opening line of the Bible: ‘In the beginning God’. He is the great ‘I AM’ Beyond definition, transcending description and they drew back and fell to the ground. Just like in John 8:58-59
Jesus said: “before Abraham was born, I AM!” At this, they (the Jews) picked up stones to stone him. (NIV)
They thought it blasphemy, making Himself out to be God and therefore deserving death! John 18 describes the dumbest and darkest mistake in all history. People, convinced they were doing the right thing, arresting God. It is hard to find anything to compare.
This is sort of like crash tackling Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, patting her down, slapping her around, handcuffing her and throwing her in the back of a police car. But the Queen may be royal, but she is not divine. Arresting God! This is as evil as evil comes.
In Acts chapter 3:15 Peter would say to the Jews
“You killed the author of life” (NIV)
1 Corinthians 2:8 says the rulers of this age
“crucified the Lord of glory.” (NIV)
And it is not just a ‘them’ problem, it is a ‘we’ problem. Do you think you would have done better if you were there? Just as we all would have been Adam or Eve in the first garden of tears, so we must see ourselves in this garden. Even Jesus’ most loyal friend Peter denied him that night!
The band U2 said it well:
I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I've seen love conquer the great divide
How could love possibly conquer that sin? It can, because Jesus was determined to suffer and save us. When Peter leaps forward with a sword to protect him (trying to be like a secret service agent protecting the president!), in verse 11 Jesus waves him off:
“Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (NIV)
The wheels must turn. The other Gospels record His earlier prayer: “not my will, but Yours be done” For those of you who love Lord of the Rings, this is Frodo walking to Mt Doom to win salvation for Middle Earth. Steely determination.
Finally, the Roman soldiers are sick of the temple guards delaying. They surge forward it seems, arrest Jesus and lead Him away, minus any of the disciples, they remain free, fulfilling Jesus’ words in verse 9,
…“I have not lost one of those you gave me.” (NIV)
He is still very much in control. Verse 14 marks the end of this section and finishes with the accidentally prophetic words of the Jewish high priest,
…it would be good if one man died for the people (NIV)
Jesus was determined to go through with this to conquer the great divide. He knew it would be very good if one man died for the people. For the Jews, the Romans, the Peters of this world, and for YOU. He was so determined to save you. You, comfortable on your lounge, sitting on your back veranda, at the kitchen table. For you.
That cup he spoke of drinking, that is the cup of God’s anger (God’s wrath) spoken of in Scripture. Israel had to drink the cup of God’s anger when they sinned, they had to drink down judgment through war. But here is God drinking it Himself, for Israel, for us. It is picture language for what Jesus would shortly do on the cross. Taking our sin upon Himself, dying to take the penalty (the anger) due for it. Rising again to show us the cup was fully drained, anger fully spent, salvation fully available to you and me.
it would be good if one man died for the people
What an incredible Saviour we have! A plain old man could not have pulled that off, but Jesus, the I AM, the God-man nailed it.
I wonder if you’ve ever watched the TV show Ambulance Australia or Paramedics? They are a really good watch. One thing that stands out is what our Ambos have to put up with sometimes, yet how well they deal with it. You get see an Ice addict – and they just don’t want any help. Or someone having a really bad psychotic episode and they are a terrible danger to themselves. Someone has called 000, the Ambos turn up, but they fight them off as a danger! Fighting a friend.
Humanity has that immune reaction to God. In our madness we are busy fighting a friend.
In these chapters we’re arresting God! But here is Jesus: Deliberate, Divine and Determined to conquer the great divide.
Imagine the day when a nurse is standing by your side with a needle of COVID-19 vaccine in hand. That is our prayer isn’t it. I hate needles but I’m going to like that one. Jesus is the vaccine to the worst virus there is–sin and the destruction it brings.
Wouldn’t it be appalling to refuse Him? The temple guards were confronted with the “I AM” and fell back, then got up and continued with their evil. They refused the vaccine.
Every knee will bow to Jesus, (the Bible says) every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord.
I pray you would do that willingly now. To stop the fight! To do that unwillingly after you die is unthinkable… to drink the cup of God’s anger yourself!
This is a passage about arresting God – but my prayer is for God to capture your heart today.