Relying on the Supernatural Power of Christ for Life and Strength

Below is a sermon I preached this past week on John 18:1-27.  It is the story of Peter’s three denials, and the power of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The weakness of man contrasted so clearly against the backdrop of Christ’s majestic power is hard to miss.  I hope you find the notes enjoyable!

Impotency and Sufficiency: Relying on the Supernatural Power of Christ for Life and Strength

Chapter 18:1-27

Introduction/Overview

The more I read this section of Scripture, and the more I prayed about this message, the heavier the burden became to examine with you a few very simple, yet profound truths this morning.

First, the hopeless, helpless condition of Peter and all humanity who might try and save themselves – and indeed there is a need of saving.

Second, the majestic power of Jesus displayed in the saving power of His gospel. His very name brings men to their knees, and His triumph is through tragedy – and so also can yours be if you trust in His power and not your own.

Background

Now in the lead up to the events we’ve just read about that transpired the morning that Jesus Christ was captured and taken prisoner have been enumerated in chapters 13-17.  It has been a few months since you studied these passages, so let me just remind you that Jesus had come into Jerusalem riding on a colt – people triumphantly praising His arrival, which John details in chapter 12.

Then, John records an extraordinary series of teachings from Jesus to His disciples in the final hours of His life before the early morning events we read about in chapter 18.  These final chapters (13-17) are called his “farewell discourses”, though chapter 17 is really just a prayer between Him and the Father. This prayer is typically called ‘The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus.’

And having spent time on this already, I will not review all that was said, except to remind you that in that prayer Jesus explicitly prayed for His disciples, and not for the “world.”  He makes special mention of those who He came to save, and makes intercession on their behalf.  You really get the feeling from chapter 17 that there is a plan that is unfolding hour by hour here, that the Father and the Son who is filled with the Spirit are working in complete coordination on the unfolding of their glory in a way that will seem terrible and confusing to any bystander unacquainted with Jesus’ teaching.

The main thing to realize coming into this chapter is that Jesus is in complete control over that plan, and over every hour and indeed every moment of His life. As Jesus has already told us in chapter 10:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. [18] No one takes it 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 Father.” (John 10:17-18 ESV)

Now, let’s get into the text before us…

18:1-5 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. [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. [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.

The Context

The brook “Kidron” is the Hebrew name for “Cedron” and means “dark waters”, and as A.W. Pink says is “emblematic of that black stream through which He was about to pass.”  The brook was on the east side of the city and eventually flows into the Dead Sea.  It runs between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives some 200 feet below the base of the outer court of the Temple – it was on the west side of the city that Jesus was crucified (Pink/Josephus/Carson).

Pink notes the fulfillment of a few OT types:

…in crossing the brook Cedron, accompanied by His disciples, another Old Testament type was most strikingly fulfilled. In 2 Samuel 15 (note particularly verses 23, 3-, 31) we read of David, at the time of his shameful betrayal by his familiar friend Ahithophel, crossing the same brook; crossing it in tears, accompanied by his faithful followers. So David’s Son and Lord, crossed the Cedron while Judas was betraying Him to His foes.

So Jesus, having retired to a garden for prayer, to commune with the Father, is approached by a band of men led by Judas the betrayer. John doesn’t give all the details that the other gospel writers do here, and I think James Boice is right that he doesn’t do this because his goal is not to focus (as with Luke) on the humanity of Christ (sweating blood for instance), but rather on the power of the Son of God.

The number of men here is likely to be around 200 or so.  From the Greek text the word “cohort” usually is meant 1,000 men including cavalry, but the noun used here is speira which “can refer to a ‘maniple’ of only 200 men, and it is not necessary to assume that an entire maniple was present” (Carson/MacArthur).  The size of the group is an indication of the caution the Romans had during feast days when they would consolidate their troops in Jerusalem and garrison them at Antonia (Carson) in order to control any uprisings among the Jews.

In any case, the way that John has laid out the text here is to show that Jesus is in control of all of these events. Note that He picks the place where He will be found.  He doesn’t try to run to a new secret location knowing that Judas is on the loose etc.  No.  He goes to a familiar place, and knows full well that Judas will certainly find Him and fulfill a plan laid long before the foundation of the world.

Notice also that Jesus is the one who begins the confrontation with the soldiers. He initiates the conversation.  Though the scene must have been frightening, a mob of men with torches and weapons in the middle of the night, Jesus isn’t caught off guard or surprised by the arrival of this band of men.

John’s point about the knowledge and planning of the Son couldn’t be made more clear, “knowing all that would happen to Him,” John tells us that Jesus was in the drivers seat.

As John MacArthur says, “The apostle skillfully demonstrates that the shameful, debasing things done to Christ failed to detract from His person, but rather offered decisive proof of His glory.”

Some Practical Takeaways on Suffering

As we see Christ face the cross with utter certainty that the Father is with Him (John 17), we can take with us the promise that He is always with us no matter where we go, or what we go through (Matt. 28). Come what may, be it the loss of a loved one, or of a job, or whatever, He is with us, guiding our life with meticulous sovereignty (Ware).  Do you think God is taken by surprise by any of this?

He knows the details of your life because He ordained the details of your life. Even the sickness and the death. Even the loss and the letdown. God planned it all from before the world began.  And if you are not a Christian then you have no lens to properly view these events. They are foggy, and disheartening, and potentially even devastating. Without the eyes of Christ you are driving 80 mph through dense fog all the while hoping for the best and yet still surprised when you hit a pole.

Death and sickness and tragedy will come – we are promised they will come. But we who have Christ must view these events in their proper perspective – not simply as allowed by God but ordained by Him for our good and His glory. That is another sermon altogether! But needless to say that the God whose hand was in the suffering and death of His Son is also in your life – not just to make you appreciate the good times, but to fashion you after His Son in order that you might have true joy both now and forever in heaven.

18:6-11 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.” [8] Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” [9] This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” [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?”

PART 1: The Power of the Son of God

Now we come to passage that is so majestic and so profound in its display of Christ’s power that I can hardly find the right words to describe what we read here.

The mob is looking for the man Jesus. They obviously don’t know which one He is.  But Jesus readily identifies Himself as who they are looking for.  And He does this by stating “I am he.” This phrase is ego eimiand it is undoubtedly the open declaration of Jesus as Jehovah.

Throughout Scripture, the revelation of the name of God and the glory of God has had a similar affect on men. It is the beautiful glory of His holiness which confounds men.

In Isaiah 6 the response of Isaiah to the holiness of God is similar:

[4] And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. [5] And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  (Isaiah 6:4-5 ESV)

Isaiah cowered in fear. When Isaiah behold the glory of God he was exposed and saw, perhaps for the first time, not just who God is, but who he was (Sproul).

The revelation of the name of Christ is the revelation of who He is. He isn’t just saying, “I’m the dude you’re looking for”, He’s saying, “I AM who I AM”, He is disclosing to them the personal name of YHWY.

What happened here is hard to explain, but I believe it’s a preview of what Paul says will happen when Jesus returns:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV)

In that day men will either voluntarily bow in humble joy, or they will hit the dirt simply out of necessity.  This is what happens here.  The overpowering presence and revelation of the Son of God brings them to their knees. There are no choices here. All those who boldly proclaimed headship over their lives will suddenly realize the oxygen they suck has been a precious gift from the one who upholds all the planets by the power of His word (Heb. 1:1-3).

Such is the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what we need to take away from this passage.  He is supreme. His power is so exacting, so overwhelming that at the mere mention of His name soldiers, criminals, and traitors eat the dirt their bones were fashioned from.

When they enter his airspace (so to speak) in that garden, they are on holy ground. They have dared to come before the burning bush without taking off the sandals, and in their ignorance and impudence they’ve come to apprehend the One who fashioned the cells of their existence. So we see here that the character and majestic holiness of Jesus is bound up in the name, and the revelation of this is too much for the finite soul to really process. It’s like a lightening storm that overwhelms your home’s circuits. The power is invisible to you but for a flash of light and then the power surges through all your electronic gear until your stuff is completely fried by the magnitude of that power.

Jesus, who has dwelt with the Father in unapproachable light from eternity past has cracked open a smidgen of His glory and it’s enough to level a mob.

Simply incredible.

Remember this in the coming weeks because when you think of the power of Jesus leveling a mob simply by the revelation of His name, you will begin to realize the obvious: He could easily have skipped the whole dying on the cross thing if He so desired.  And that’s the key word, is it not?  DESIRE.  Oh how different His are from ours!  Oh the infinite power, infinite knowledge bound up in the person of Jesus. Yet He allowed Himself to be taken as a lamb to the slaughter …for us! That’s His mission. He wields His power and knowledge with wisdom and His plans are never foiled.

Therefore, it was the purpose of Christ to surrender in order that He might conquer for our sakes.  Which leads me to my next point…

The Purpose of His Command

In the midst of this whole confusing scene, Jesus is obviously still in complete control, to the point where He issues and a command that the mob let His disciples go.  And, they do! Of course they do – for it is obvious who is controlling this situation…the man without a club, sword or staff.

But why?  In order to find the answer we need to flip back to chapter 17 where Jesus says this:

[12] While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:12 ESV)

Here He is speaking of the disciples. But He goes on:

[20] “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, [21] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 ESV)

That’s us!  That’s you, that’s me!

The purpose is so that his prayer and plan might come to pass for us. Even in the midst of all this seeming chaos, Jesus is getting everything He wants. There’s no coloring outside the lines here.  The picture is coming together just as He has foreordained, and that includes the gracious provision to allow His disciples to make it to safety, and bring us safely home to heaven.

This might be something that you recall from the final discourses as well, but in the hours leading up to Jesus’ arrest and betrayal, He is not focused whatsoever on His own impending pain, but on taking care that He imparts all the knowledge necessary to His disciples. He cares more about comforting them and keeping them from harm than saving His own skin. John perhaps encapsulates this best early in chapter 13 when he states:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

The Powerlessness and Futility of Our Efforts…

As we continue on, remember the power He displayed here, and marvel at His obedience. All of this when compared to Peter’s feeble efforts at saving his master surely puts our own human strength into focus does it not?  Peter’s rush to “do something” in the moment turns out to be the wrong thing. It is not that Peter is not valiant, or courageous, for perhaps he is…though I suspect he acted out of fear.

But what John is highlighting here by leaving this part in about Peter is to say that humanly speaking we try so very hard to be in control.  We lash out against the breakers as they come crashing down on our beachhead, as if we can stop them by our own power.  The futility of man and the power of God stand in contrast to each other, as we’ll see further in this next section, but the antithetical parallels with man in our fallen state are striking.

A.W. Pink notes some of the differences between Adam in the Garden of Eden, and Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane…

    • In Eden, Adam and Eve parleyed with Satan; in Gethsemane, the last Adam sought the face of His Father.
    • In Eden, Adam fell; in Gethsemane, the Redeemer conquered.
    • In the one Adam fell before Satan; in the other, the soldiers fell before Christ.
    • In Eden, Adam took the fruit from Eve’s hand; in Gethsemane, Christ received the cup from His Father’s hand.
    • In Eden, Adam hid himself; in Gethsemane Christ boldly showed Himself.
    • In Eden, God sought Adam; in Gethsemane, the last Adam sought God!

18:12-27 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. [13] First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. [14] It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.

[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. [17] The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” [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.

[19] The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. [20] Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. [21] Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” [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?” [23] 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?” [24] Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

[25] Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” [26] One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” [27] Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

A Mockery of Justice

Jesus has been taken away and in this passage of Scripture is brought before Annas and then before his son in law Caiaphas. Annas is not currently the high priest, but has been in the past, and is so powerful that he is actively involved in the affairs of temple and his son in law’s administration of things.

In his commentary on the book of Acts, Martyn Llyod-Jones gives some great background on these men:

Caiaphas, the high priest, was just a Sadducee write large.  It was his job to preside over the Sanhedrin. Annas, the father in law of Caiaphas, had been high priest but had been deposed by the Romans. The Jews, however, still regarded him as high priest. Both Annas and Caiaphas were well in with one another. Also present were john and Alexander, but we know nothing about them.

There were two trials – one from the Jews, and one from the Romans. John’s narrative isn’t as concerned with the trials as it is with Christ – who is He, and what is His mission.

There were two trials, one Jewish and one Roman. The former began with informal examination by Annas (18:12-14, 19-23), possibly while members of the Sanhedrin were being hurriedly summoned. A session of the Sanhedrin (Mt. 26:57-68; Mk. 14:53-65) with frank consensus was followed by a formal decision at dawn and dispatch to Pilate (Mt. 27:1-2; Luke 22:66-71). The Roman trial began with a first examination before Pilate (Mt. 27:11-14; Jn. 18:28-38a), which was followed by Herod’s interrogation (Lk. 23:6-12) and Jesus’ final appearance before Pilate (Mt. 27:15-31; Jn. 18:38b – 19:16). (Carson)

It has been said by many who are experts in the Jewish law that these trials of Jesus were a sham.  They were actually illegal trials meant to ram through a decision based upon fear and hatred of Jesus.  The man Jesus was a threat to the socio-political stability of the Jewish state, and he needed to be dealt with.  That was the reality, and in the minds of these worldly priests, the ends justified the means.

PART II: The Weakness of Peter and Mankind

The way that John tells the story is really interesting. He weaves the denials of Peter in with the first part of the Jewish trial of Jesus.  So that the reader sees the paths of each man side by side, as it were. And Peter’s denial is set off against the meekness of the Lamb, sent to the slaughter.

While Peter is sinning, Jesus is obeying. While Peter is denying, Jesus is embracing who He is and why He came.

What should we take away from this?

Primarily this, that the good intentions of men are not enough when everything is on the line.

Remember who Peter is now…this is the man who became the boldest proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the early church. Look at what we read in Acts 4:

[12] And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

[13] Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:12-13 ESV)

The power of God was with Peter, look at what Luke tells us in the next chapter (Acts 5):

[12] Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. [13] None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. [14] And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, [15] so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. (Acts 5:12-15 ESV)

Yet…in his flesh Peter cannot own Jesus. When push comes to shove, he cannot and will not embrace or associate himself with Jesus at this point.  WHY? Well, we know enough about Peter to know that it isn’t simply because of a weak disposition within Peter.

Peter cannot and will not embrace Christ when the rubber meets the road because he is a fallen man and does not have the restorative power of the Holy Spirit working actively in his life.

Remember what side of the cross Peter is on. The difference between Peter after Pentecost and before is manifested in a big way here in John 18.  Peter is given the chance to identify with Christ, with His Lord, and instead of doing so He cowers.

C.H. Spurgeon explains the phenomenon:

Why is it that Christ Jesus is so little beloved? Why are even his professed followers so cold in their affections to him? Whence arise these things? Assuredly, dear brethren, we can trace them to no other source than this, the corruption and vitiation of the affections. We love that which we ought to hate, and we hate that which we ought to love. It is but human nature, fallen human nature, that man should love this present life better than the life to come. It is but the effect of the fall, that man should love sin better than righteousness, and the ways of this world better than the ways of God. And again, we repeat it, until these affections be renewed, and turned into a fresh channel by the gracious drawings of the Father, it is not possible for any man to love the Lord Jesus Christ. (‘Human Inability’, 1858)

This is where we find Peter, and this is where we find ourselves apart from the grace of Christ.

We are fallen men and women.  Sin is not simply what we do, it’s who we are – we are sinners. And to be a sinner, part of Adam’s fallen race, is to be without hope apart from the saving power of Jesus Christ.

Paul tells us of these truths in Romans 5:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin and so death spread to all men because all sinned – for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. (Romans 5:12-15)

But the power of Christ, endued to rebels, aliens, and blasphemers transforms by the Spirit of God, and conforms (us) from a product of the first Adam into the image of the Second. As Paul says:

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. [17] Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [18] And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18 ESV)

Jonathan Edwards put it this way:

…it is the discovery of this divine excellency of Christ that makes them constant to Him: for it makes so deep an impression upon their minds that they cannot forget Him; they will follow Him whithersoever He goes, and it is in vain for any endeavor to draw them away from Him.

What Would You Have Done?

So because of the fall our natural state is one of deadness spiritually, and we naturally hate the light of the Gospel (John 3:19-21). Yet, there are many people who read of the fall in Genesis, and they think, “If I were there I would have done better!”  But that’s just the thing – you wouldn’t have done better.  Likewise you might think that if you were in the courtyard that night you wouldn’t have betrayed Jesus.

Well let me tell you, without the Spirit of God strengthening you, you would certainly have failed, just like Peter did.

Adam represented the very height of creation in the garden, yet he still sinned.  Peter was the most courageous man in the band of 12 – heck, he just cut off the ear of a guard! But his false courage was exposed when the rubber met the road, and yours would have as well.

Apart from Christ we are all lost.  We are blind men boldly marching in midnight toward a fiery grave. Ignorant of our fate we relish and proclaim a fool’s independence.  We affectionately treasure our world while spitting on the One who created it for us. This is our condition apart from Christ (Romans 5:10).  What a horrific state of affairs!

These realities are expressed in Peter and in the lives of millions of lost people around the world.  They’re in our neighborhoods, they’re in the grocery stores, they’re not just in India they’re in your Bible study!

***Chapter 18 ought to remind us how much Christ prized us and how little we prized Him. If Adam represented us in the garden, Peter represented us in the courtyard: Liars.  Frauds. Cowards.  Apart from Christ in the dark night of his soul, he flees into the darkness of night leaving the Prince of Light to single-handedly parry with the heaviest concentration of evil ever seen on this earth. And parry He does…much more than this He overcomes! …but that’s for future Sunday mornings!

Our Need and His Love

Our need is now obvious. If you were in the garden, in the courtyard, at the temple, you would also have betrayed Christ.  So our need for salvation cannot be met by our own efforts to cling to Christ. We don’t have the strength – when it comes down to it, we don’t even have the desire!

In these parallel accounts we see first the power of Christ, and also the weakness and failure of Peter.  But we know how the story ends, do we not? Jesus restores Peter, forgives Peter. And that same arm of restoration has been extended to us, as Paul says in Romans 5, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

Theologian R.C. Sproul says “The passage also teaches us, especially in light of Peter’s later restoration, what kind of people Jesus died to save. He had no need to die for people who are sinless, for there are no such people. Have gave Himself for people who have it in them to betray Him, people like you and me. However, He will never betray those on whom He sets His love, but will love them faithfully for all time.”

Surely if this passage shows us anything it is the contrast between our Lord’s power and our power, our Lord’s disposition and our natural disposition, our natural desires and His heavenly desires.  Surely His love looks greater and greater the more we look at Peter and our own souls.

This is where He finds us.  Praise God He has not passed us over, but has shed His grace and mercy upon us, the underserving, the helpless, the hopeless in order that we may be given a hope that will never fail.

What is Our Response to These Things? 

Therefore, how do we rightly respond to these truths?

If you have not come to know Christ personally as your savior, if you have not been made alive from the spiritual death to which you were born into this world, then today is the day of salvation. Now is the time to bow to the ground and kiss the Son, submit to His Lordship.

Jesus’ gospel is simple and life changing. In verse 11 we read that He was going to drink of the “cup” that the Father had for Him.  That cup was filled with the wrath that rests on your soul right now if you aren’t a Christian.  John says earlier in chapter 3:

[36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)

There is everlasting life and peace with Jesus. There is joy and eternal bliss that has been reserved for those who trust in Him now.  Jesus doesn’t promise an easy road, but He promises life instead of death. You aren’t guaranteed another day or another hour of life. I pray that you will submit to His love and His lordship today.

For those of us who are children of God, saved from the wrath of the Father because of the work of Christ on the cross, we must not miss the importance of this text.

Today let us remember the beautiful thing about the gospel – Jesus does all the work. The same power that leveled an angry mob upholds us through the darkness and pain of life, and vanquishes our enemies. You no doubt have difficulties you’re battling today.  Are you leaning on your own strength?  Or are you resting in the name of the Son of God.

Peter thought he had it together, he thought he had the stuff to succeed.  But he learned the hard way that leaning on Christ is the only way to make it through this life.

For those of you who are believers, we must cling to the promises of God, and abide in His truth, knowing that He is faithful. In order to do that, we must be knowledge about what He says in His Word. Therefore, let me give you four things to take away from this passage:

  1. We must trust in His promises as Jesus trusted in the Father until the final breath of His life. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says it best:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

  1. We must fill our minds with His word. Speak it when you lie down, and when you are out running errands. And as you meditate on and memorize the word of God, pray to the Lord and ask for His help to understand it and deeply engrain it in your mind so that when you face a “Peter Moment” you will have the sword ready to go.  As Paul says:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. [14] Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, [15] and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. [16] In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; [17] and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, [18] praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:13-18 ESV)

  1. Put your mind and efforts into serving Him and others in obedience and with love through thick and thin. Those who are selflessly serving others bear those “Peter moments” better because they are grounded in the reality that others are more important, and that their citizenship is in heaven. Peter was so wrapped up in his own welfare that when it came to dying for Christ he was far from ready. Remember the words of Paul in Philippians:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, (Philippians 2:4-5 ESV)

  1. Lastly, when the crisis comes, do not lean on your own understanding as Peter did here (Prov. 3:5), but trust in the Lord even when you can’t see for the night that is closing in around you.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. [6] In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

Samuel Rutherford said, “My shallow and ebb thoughts are not the compass Christ saileth by. I leave his ways to himself, for they are far, far above me…There are windings and to’s and fro’s in his ways, which blind bodies like us cannot see.”

We must therefore look to the power of the Man in the garden, and realize that we can trust that He is who He says He is. Make yourself weak in your own eyes, and trust in His strength – the strength of the great I AM who sustains you and the whole world. Lean on His promises and trust that He is who He says He is.

Let’s close by examining the great words of Paul in Romans 8:31-39:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [32] He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? [33] Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. [34] Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. [35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? [36] As it is written,

            “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

            we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

[37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [38] For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

 

Artorius and Lucius

In the telling of the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD), in ‘the Jewish Wars’, renown Jewish historian Flavius Jospehus recounts a situation in which several Roman soldiers, having already made their way into certain breaches within the outer wall of the temple complex became surrounded by fire and by the Jews to the point where the only escape would be to jump off the precipice to safety.

One solider, named Longus, while thinking of jumping, was urged by his brother Cornellius (also a solider) not to do such a thing and thereby bring disgrace upon himself and his army. The young solider agrees, and instead of surrendering or jumping slays himself rather than give into the Jews.

Meanwhile, another soldier named Artorius, facing a similar predicament, called to a fellow soldier, Lucius, a close friend of his, promising that if he could catch him from the jump Artorius would give Lucius his entire inheritance and land etc. So Lucius rushed over to catch him, and upon doing so hit the ground so hard that he ends up dying while Artorius walks away unharmed.

Now this horrific story awoke within me a great many thoughts about the nature of friendship and rescue. Sometimes we rush to help people who are jumping off cliffs and simply want to use us to break their fall. Sometimes we are the ones who call upon friends to help us out of a jam, only to use them for a time and forget all they did for us. We are selfish people by nature. We want to preserve our own lives and use others to our own benefit but rarely think to repay them for their kindness.

But no matter how we treat others or how good or self-sacrificing our friends are, they can never really solve our deepest needs. In fact, some of our needs are so profound that we’d only crush them under their weight.

As I pondered this passage this morning, what really struck me was the need we all have to be rescued, and how Christ’s rescue is so much better than that of our best friends, and even our spouses. Through the fire and war Artorius jumped into the arms of his friend, a human savior, promising him everything he could think to promise him. Christ’s rescue is not simply more successful, it is carried out of his own strength and grace and initiative. For he is able to bear the weight of our burdens our sin with perfect poise.

So there are two ways in which Christ perfectly bears my burdens. First, Christ carried the weight of my sin upon Himself on the cross, bearing in His own body the stripes that were due me for my sinfulness. The weights of our sins do not overpower His strength, and that is a wonderful truth – he has “overcome the world” (John 16). He has risen victorious over these burdens and crushed death to death.

But what is more, Christ Himself calls us to cast our daily burdens on Him. He doesn’t simply come when we call, but calls us to Himself and enables us to jump. Such is the gift of faith that He imparts to us (Eph. 2); such is the love of our rescuer. This faith was given us at our salvation point, but is also dispensed to us every day and is free for the asking. He wants us to lay our burdens upon Him.

Samuel Rutherford said, “Lay all your loads and your weights by faith upon Christ. Ease yourself, and let Him bear all. He can, He does, He will bear you.”

This is the image I want to carry with me through troubles and snares and difficulties: My savior standing ready to catch me, calling me to Himself, fully able to break my fall if I will only but resign myself to His arms. I only need look to the millions He’s safely caught; His track record is perfect, and His love beckons me on.

Study Notes 9-16-12

Chapter 7

Introduction and First thoughts on Chapter 7

Chapter seven begins a new section of the book of John.  In fact, chapters 7-8 could easily be lumped in together under one heading ‘Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles’ as Carson says.  John is now wrapping up the portion of Christ’s life and ministry that contains many of his miracles, and the work He did in Galilee.  This is the portion of His ministry that the synoptics spend the most time on.

A.W. Pink introduces the chapter in this way, “Our Lord’s ministry in Galilee was now over, though He still remained there, because the Judeans sought to kill Him. The annual Feast of tabernacles was at hand, and His brethren were anxious for Christ to go up to Jerusalem, and there give a public display of His miraculous powers. To this request the Savior made a reply which at first glance appears enigmatical. He bids His brethren go up to the Feast, but excuses Himself on the ground that His time was not yet fully come. After their departure, He abode still in Galilee. But very shortly after, He, too, goes up to the Feast; as it were in secret.”

The feast itself was one of the most popular feasts (the most popular of the three major feasts according to Josephus cf. Carson), and people would have been flocking to Jerusalem.  Carson explains, “The institution of the Feast was associated in the Old Testament with the ingathering of harvest (Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:33-36, 39-43; Deut. 16:13-15; not grain, which was reaped between April and June, but grapes and olives).”

“People living in rural areas built makeshift structures of light branches and leaves to live in for the week; town dwellers put up similar structures on their flat roofs or in their courtyards” says Carson.

I think that it’s worth noting here that what has just occurred in 6:66 (many of His disciples leaving Him) precipitates some of the events in chapter seven.  There’s no doubt in my mind that the ministry of Christ, at this point, is about to reach some very great heights of influence, and create a tension within Judaism that leads to His death on a cross.  John spends a lot of time on the final week of Christ’s time here on earth, and the lead up to that final week is relatively short by comparison to the other gospels.  The tension will reach its ultimate heights at the end of chapter 11, and beginning in chapter 12 we have the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the final week of Christ’s ministry here on earth.

Finally, since there is at least a six-month span of time between chapter six and chapter seven (one taking place around Passover and the other just before the feast of the Tabernacles), I think its worth while to consider how Christ spent this time.

John MacArthur notes that during this span of time, the synoptics spend many chapters covering His healings, the Transfiguration, the feeding of the 4000, and many other things He says and does.  But John is writing from another perspective.  John’s goal is to show us the Messiah, and as such he spends the most time of any of the gospel writers on the final week of Christ’s life.  We’re not hopping forward, as it were, through some of the most important miracles He did in order to get to the teaching.  Not that John is unconcerned with miracles – but he obviously puts them below the teaching of Christ in their importance, even labeling them “signs.”

Another point that MacArthur asks us to ponder is how Christ spent His time leading up to this seventh chapter.  Certainly He was healing and performing miracles, but most of His time (it could easily be argued) was spent teaching and pouring His life into His disciples.  He invested so much time into 12 men (one of whom He knew would fall away) that one wonders how Christianity ever got off the ground.  But God was pleased to use these men, from diverse backgrounds and varying education, to proclaim His word to the world.

We each of us have groups of people that God has been pleased to surround us with.  We each of us might also wonder from time to time “why doesn’t God use me in a way that He uses other highly prominent people?”  “Surely” we erroneously conclude “my impact for the kingdom will not be very significant.”  But there we fail to consider Christ’s own methodology.  It is His method to use seemingly insignificant people to invest in others for the glory of God.  He took from “the least of these” and created a kingdom.  Christ ushered in a kingdom that has included tens (if not hundreds) of millions of people throughout the past 2000 years.

Therefore, we ought not to despair of our influence for the kingdom.  Look at your children, look at your friends.  Pour your life and love into those whom God Almighty has surrounded you with, for the glory and expansion of His kingdom.

7:1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.

So when the text says “after these things” or “after this” it is probably not necessarily referring to an immediate event, but rather simply stating a matter of chronology.

Until now, Christ had been going back and forth between Judea and Galilee in His ministry, and now was about to leave Galilee for Jerusalem – not for the final time (Matt. 19:1; Mark 9:30), but His ministry there seems to have reached a conclusion.

The fact that Christ knew what His enemies intended for Him, and yet also knew that He was destined to die on a cross for the sins of the world, plays heavily into our thoughts as we see that His timing for all things is in His own hands.  He will not be allowed to die before the time He and the Father have ordained.  We’ll read more about this later, but look at John 10:17-18:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it 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 Father.

Can you imagine spending your life knowing that you were destined to die – not only knowing that you would die, but knowing what kind of death you would die? This was the knowledge that Jesus Christ had to bear alone.  We sometimes think of the stresses and anxieties of waking up on Monday morning with a long list of things to do throughout the week.  We think of the meetings, the presentations, the children, the places we need to be, the things we’ll have to do.  And yet none of this compares with the weighty burden that our Lord faced day in and day out. Surely He can sympathize with our weaknesses.

But He was not going to allow any man’s timing to change the time of His death.  In fact, He didn’t live any part of His life by man’s timing, but by God’s as we’ll see in a few verses.

7:2 Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand.

As I explained above, this was one of the three major feasts that the Jews celebrated.  The three feasts are: the Feast of Weeks, the Passover, and the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths.

The commandment for these festivals is found in Exodus where we read the following:

“Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. [15] You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. [16] You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. [17] Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD.” – Exodus 23:14-17

The feast of the “Unleavened Bread” is Passover and is in April or May in the Jewish month of Nisan (called “Abib” in Scripture).  The feast of the “Harvest” is the Feast of “Weeks” (the English word “weeks” is from the Hebrew “shavuot”) which comes 50 days (or 7 weeks) after Passover and celebrates the giving of the law to Moses at Mt. Sinai.

The Feast of the “Ingathering” comes at the end of the year (in September or October – the Jewish calendar is lunar whereas our western Gregorian calendar is solar, so their holidays can shift accordingly) and is the feast of Tabernacles that we’re discussing in this chapter here.

7:3-5 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. [4] For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him.

A Different Kind of Agenda

His brothers certainly didn’t have a good idea of what Christ came to accomplish on earth.  We learn in verse five that they didn’t believe in Him, and here we see them sort of egging Him on to go up to the feast and perform as if He’s a trained monkey.

Carson comments that it wasn’t as if they didn’t believe He was capable of doing the miracles, but that they just “could not perceive the significance of what they saw.”

Why would they want Him to go to Jerusalem then?  I think Carson’s explanation is spot on here as well:

(In Jerusalem) not only would He enjoy the biggest crowds of His career, but the word would spread very quickly…What better place for a religious leader to parade his wares? If Jesus is interested in religious prominence, His brothers reason, sooner or later He must prove the master of Jerusalem. Otherwise He will always be regarded by the authorities and by the upper echelons of society as no more than a rustic, rural preacher.

It seems obvious here that they have no idea of God’s plan for Jesus – simply look at the way they tell Him to “show yourself to the world” – their minds were not above but here on earth.

The Unbelief of His Brothers

In his commentary on John, R.C. Sproul says that verse five in this chapter is one that really disturbs him. It’s a cautionary verse that we ought to examine a little bit on its own merit for a moment.

It’s obvious that Jesus’ brothers believe that He can do miracles, that He has a sort of following, and that He’s got a destiny of leadership – though their ideas of these things are radically different than God’s plans, as it turns out.

Sproul says this about the brothers, “They were following Jesus for what He could provide…they were rooting for Him to go to Jerusalem to manifest His power. This tells us they were still unbelievers, outside the kingdom of God.”

He then makes an interesting point about these brothers, “If we could have asked Jesus’ brothers, ‘do you believe in your brother?’ they would have said: ‘Of course we believe in Him. Why else would we want Him to go to Jerusalem and make Himself known?  We want the people to know about Him. We want to see His ministry grow and expand. Just like John the Baptist, we want Him to increase.’ Nevertheless, the Word of God says Jesus’ brothers were unbelievers. That is why we have to ask ourselves, ‘Is the Jesus we believe in the real Jesus?’”

What he means, of course, is that we humans have a tendency of making out God to be something different in our minds than He is in reality.  We shape and fashion him in our own image.  When we do this, Sproul says we “become like Jesus’ unbelieving brothers who looked to Him only for what they could get, for worldly power and worldly success.”

The Sovereignty of God in Salvation

The next thing that occurs to me is that His brothers had been with Him growing up.  They had seen the miracles.  They had seen His ministry and heard His words, and yet they were not true believers.

Later on these same unbelieving brothers would become His followers – but not until after the resurrection.  What an amazing proof text to the sovereignty of God in all things – including the timing of when people come to faith in Jesus Christ.  Seeing and hearing Christ is not enough.  There has to be repentance and faith accompany these two things.

As J.C. Ryle says, “That great Scriptural doctrine, man’s need of preventing and converting grace, stands out here, as if written with a sunbeam. It becomes all who question that doctrine to look at this passage and consider. Let them observe that seeing Christ’s miracles, hearing Christ’s teaching, living in Christ’s own company, were not enough to make men believers. There mere possession of spiritual privileges never yet made any one a Christian. All is useless without the effectual and applying work of God the Holy Ghost. No wonder that our Lord said in another place, ‘No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.’”

The Isolation of Christ

I remarked already before how this chapter comes on the heals (not immediately chronologically) of what must have seemed in some ways as a low point in Christ’s ministry.  John 6:66 tells us that He lost a lot of followers, and even though its been some time between that time and the beginning of this chapter, chances are that He has not accrued as many followers as his brothers seem to think necessary to lead a movement (against Rome for example).

Ryle says, “Our blessed Master has truly learned by experience how to sympathize with all his people who stand alone. This is a though full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort. He knows the heart of every isolated believer, and can be touched with the feeling of his trials.”

Isaiah predicted that Christ would be treated in this way, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Is. 53:3).

But because of this, He can identify with our suffering, and He comforts all those who come to Him (Heb. 2:17-18). What a beautiful truth to rest our hopes on.

7:6-9 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. [7] The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

What Kind of Time?

It is an extremely familiar saying for us here to read that Jesus said “my time has not yet come” because we encounter Him saying something like this – or we read different gospel writers saying it – in relation to times where Jesus could have been killed.  In fact Jesus escaped death at the very beginning of His ministry after enduring 40 days in the wilderness and a test by Satan.  The first thing He did was go into the synagogue and proclaim that a certain prophecy had been fulfilled, and for this the people (recognizing His claim to deity) attempted to hill Him.

However, in those instances, the scripture is almost always referring to “His time” as His time to suffer and die – the crucifixion.  The time when He would fulfill the very thing He was born into this world to do – He was born to die.

But this is not what Christ is referring to here.  When He says, “my time has not yet fully come” He is using a different word (kairos) here than in previous instances (hora).  What He is saying, in essence, is that His brothers can go up to the feast any old time they want, but He must tarry a little while longer, for He has not yet been told by the Father to go up to the feast.  He has not yet fully fulfilled His time where He is now.

If we read this in the way that Christ is saying His time to die and fulfill His passion has not yet come, then we must also read the inverse into His statement to His brothers…i.e. their time to die is “always here!”  This would certainly have scandalized them! It would also make verse 10 almost impossible to understand, because we’d think Jesus had either told a lie, or Scripture had contradicted itself.

And so we also see that Christ is saying to His brothers not only something of His own time frame, which is dictated by God, but of theirs, which is dictated by their own whims.  Carson says this; “All appointments that ignore God’s kairos are in the eternal scheme of things equally insignificant.”  In other words, the brothers’ opinions on what Christ ought to do hold absolutely no significance or bearing on the plan that God Almighty has laid out for His Son!

7:10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.

His Timing is Not Our Timing

Now we see that Jesus has left Galilee and gone up to the feast – this time going up not publically but “in private” – the opposite of what His brothers had suggested.

This leads us to consider the nature of how God works in time.  We see His Son, the Timeless Son of God, step from eternity into finitude.  He has marked out a time whereupon He will walk with us and step on the very dirt He breathed into existence.  This is quite something to ponder, is it not?

Often our mindset on the way in which God works timing in our lives is finite at best – and completely ignorant at worst.  Of course we are all of us ignorant of the mystery of God’s mind, but it is wise for us to understand a few principles here that articulate for us not only how He works, but also something of His character in doing so.

The mind of God in eternity is described well by James Boice.  He says, “We can make the same point also by imagining time to be something like a motion picture We view it in a sequence. God views it as though it were millions of individual frames, all seen at once. From His perspective, God sees Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Christ on the cross, you and me, simultaneously.”

Boice points out that this has an effect on how we view God’s interaction with us, and how we view His “decision making.”  He says, “We make decisions constantly, and we do so in an effort to cope with variableness, ignorance, previous indecision, and other things. Our decisions are attempts to deal with problems not previously considered.  God’s decisions are not like this because of the nature of His relationship to time.  There is no variableness or indecision with God. Consequently, His decisions are rather in the nature of eternal decrees, unchanging and unchangeable.”

So from eternity past God had a perfect will and timing for when Christ was going to go up to Jerusalem to die on the cross, but He also had a perfect ordering to every day of Christ’s ministry – just as He has a perfect ordering to every problem and blessing you experience in your life.  Consequently, ordering your life around your own whims rather than the will of God is an exercise in futility.  God has a plan for your life, a beautiful, difficult, worthwhile plan to bring Him glory and pleasure, and bring you joy and an eternity with Him.

Read how James Boice concludes these thoughts by saying, “God does not make decisions because He is suddenly confronted with a problem that He has not foreseen.  He determines both the problems and the solutions in advance. He is never surprised, never caught off balance.  Thus, there is never a problem that baffles Him, or a work that He does not intend to finish. Because of this we can rest in Him, and trust Him for the ordering of our days.