I want to invite you to John chapter 18. John 18’s where we’re going to be today, and we’re going to discuss… We’ve talked about Jesus’s time in the upper room with His disciples, teaching some of the most beautiful sections in all of scripture, and now we’re getting to the sacred part of our faith, which establishes everything that we are. The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 put the whole foundation of Christianity on the backdrop of this event that we’re about to read together, in Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection, as we look toward the end of the Gospel of John, this last section that we’ll be entering into.
Apostle Paul said, “If Jesus was not resurrected from the grave, you of all people on the earth should be the most pitied.” So he put on the back of Christianity the whole event that we’re about to read here, this death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and John chapter 8 starts that journey for us. And John 18 is a beautiful passage of scripture, rich in imagery, powerful in its theological claim, and important for some application to our lives. So, that’s what we’re going to look at today in those three sections: this beautiful historical imagery that the author starts with, this powerful theological claim that Jesus makes, and then what does it mean for you and for me?
So, in John chapter 18, in verse 1, let me just kick it off here, read this first verse. “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went away with His disciples across the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden which He entered with His disciples.” I think when the author, the apostle John is starting off this Gospel, he is painting for us this beautiful moment, rich in imagery, creating this parallel to the Old Testament by identifying Jesus’s journey in the final moments of His life. We know He’s heading to the garden where He will be captured and taken to the… put on trial, and then taken to the cross. But His journey began as He left with His disciples, spending that moment with them, and He’s crossing the ravine of the Kidron.
Now, the ravine of the Kidron, if you were to walk east of the Temple, you would see just east of the Temple this deep valley, and on the other side of this valley would be the Mount of Olives, and at the base of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane. This is Jesus’s journey in these moments, that He’s walking through the valley. But the beauty of identifying for us this journey is the parallel of Jesus’s life to King David. King David in a lot of ways, when you read the Old Testament, becomes a type or a shadow of Jesus’s life. King David comes into Israel as this warrior king who was this great deliverer, who was previously a shepherd, who was at one point betrayed.
And in fact, when King David was betrayed in 2 Samuel 15, if you read from verse 23 to 31, you’ll see when King David’s betrayed, he chooses to leave his castle, his kingdom. He leaves from Jerusalem, and he journeys across this Kidron ravine. This ravine in the wintertime will sometimes fill up with a riverbed, or a creek will flow through it, but most of the time, it’s dry, it’s barren, but it becomes this torrent at certain points of the year, where water will shoot down into this valley.
And David walks from his dwelling place down this ravine, just as Jesus’s journey, and the reason that King David has done this is King David, in 2 Samuel chapter 15, verse 23 to 31, he is betrayed by his son Absalom, and being betrayed, he chooses to leave in order to restore the peace. He ultimately comes back victorious, and he brings peace back to his kingdom, and his son is killed. And Jesus, in many ways, in this moment, He’s paralleling David, only as a greater King. Jesus is being betrayed by Judas, and Jesus takes this similar journey where He goes down into the valley, and He heads towards the garden. And what is Jesus seeking for us? Peace. Jesus is pursuing peace.
Now, when we read a story like this, that Jesus crossed this ravine of the Kidron, well, we might read it and just think, “Well, okay, I’m glad He took this journey. Why would the Gospel writers even say this?” Well, if you understand the Old Testament, you see the rich imagery. David did this. David made this journey of betrayal, and David brought peace. And Jesus is doing this; He’s making this journey of betrayal, and Jesus’s desire is to restore peace, this warrior king who is a shepherd and a deliverer for you and for me.
And it goes on in verse 2. “Now Judas, who was betraying Him, also knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with His disciples.” It tells us in the Gospel of Luke chapter 21 that Jesus and His disciples, verse 37, Jesus and His disciples spent the nights during this Passover week in the Mount of Olives. Jesus most likely with His disciples slept out in the open, in this garden area where Judas leads the cohort and the Roman and Jewish officials to find Christ.
This was typically most likely a common place that Jesus had spent with His disciples, and probably custom for them was just to sleep out in the open night in the middle of this garden, which sounds a little bit weird, it sounds like Jesus is walking the life of some sort of bum, right? But when you think about what’s happening in this story, what the events that are culminating right now is Jesus has gone into Jerusalem during Passover, and Jerusalem would be packed with people. And most likely, Jesus and His band of followers are probably not the only ones choosing to spend the night in the midst of this garden. It’s likely there’s probably several people that might’ve chosen this. They may not have slept in the open stars, maybe they brought tents, who knows, but Jerusalem would’ve been full with people, and people would’ve just been camping in various ways like this, and this would’ve been more of an ideal place where that could’ve happened.
And so, this is not just bizarre for just Jesus’s group to do, and it’s not unfamiliar to Judas to know that Jesus would’ve been here; this is where they had spent their time while they were in this city for this Passover celebration, and it’s probably something that Jesus and His followers had done repeatedly. So, Judas knew exactly where to go to lead the people in order to find Christ.
And then in verse 3, it tells us, “So Judas, having obtained the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.” And so, he’s identifying for us here a few things about the people coming to grab Jesus. It’s a representation, really, of the known world. Both Rome, who had conquered the known world, and the Jewish people that live in this area have now come come together against Jesus, all of the world now uniting against Christ in order to capture Him.
And when they come for Jesus, it tells us that not only do they take the officers and the religious leaders, a part of the Jewish sect, that they also take the cohort of Roman soldiers, which usually means about 600 soldiers. Guesstimates are at least hundreds of people are expected to have made this journey in order to arrest Jesus. They’re coming rolling deep, right, in order to find Christ. This is a large group, and it’s a large group, I think, for a couple of reasons. One, because it’s the Passover, Jesus has a following, and they’re afraid of the uprising. Two, not too long previous to this, in John 7 and verse 44, Jesus had raised a ruckus previous to this, and the Jewish officers had come to arrest Jesus, but Jesus was able to get away from them.
And this time, they wanted to make certain when they came for Christ, that they received Christ. And they come in the middle of the night in order, most likely, to not stir up the crowds, and they come with torches as if they’re going to try to chase after someone who might escape. But then it tells us in verse 7, here’s Jesus’s posture to this moment, he says, “Jesus therefore, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, came out into the open and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking?'”
This is a very bold moment for Christ. I mean, Jesus’s life was bold, but even to the point where He knows His death is imminent, He chooses to stand as a warrior King. Jesus had already told His disciples in John chapter 13 that the moments of His life were coming to an end, and that’s on the backdrop of that statement when Jesus told Judas to go, go and do what he must do. And so Jesus doesn’t cower in this moment, He doesn’t try to run in this moment. Though the Roman officials and the Jewish leaders may have sent hundreds of people to arrest Him, Jesus boldly takes a step forward and identifies Himself as this leader and asks the question, “Whom are you seeking?”
And I love how John gives us this question from Christ, because if you go back all the way to the first chapter of John and you look at the very first words Jesus says, it’s the similar question: “Whom are you seeking?” Jesus in John chapter 1, verse 38, when He first started to call His disciples, the question He asks: “Who are you seeking?” Beautiful question, John chapter 1, and a beautiful question in this chapter. Even those that are coming to oppose Christ, Jesus asking the same question, which was a calling in chapter 1 to follow after Him: “Who are you seeking?” And for us this morning, it’s a good reflective thought in our hearts. What are you really after? Who are you seeking?
It’s on the backdrop of that question that they begin to respond, and Jesus gives us a powerful theological declaration to His identity, because they answered Him, and they said in verse 5, “‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said to them, ‘I am He.’ And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. So, when He said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground. Therefore, He again asked them, ‘Who do you seek?’ And they said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am He.'”
This is kind of an odd response to a statement that Christ is making. Like, “Who are you seeking?” They tell him, “We’re seeking Jesus the Nazarene”; “I am He,” and then they fall back and drop to their knees. Like, is there some sort of magic behind these words that I am unfamiliar with? I tried this on my wife this week; I tried it in different ways. I tried saying it loud, I tried saying it lightly. “I am he. I am he.” She never bowed, right? Why in the world is this the response? This is not an impressive phrase, right? “Who are you seeking?” “I am he.” Right? Who bows to that? But it’s not until you understand the phrase that Jesus is truly communicating and the power behind that phrase that you see that the response of the people could’ve been nothing but to bow before the presence of Christ.
In the Greek text, which is how the New Testament was written, when you read the Greek text, what you discover is this phrase “I am He,” which is actually the blank in your notes… The first blank, I should’ve told you at the top, was “Kidron”; the second was “cohort.” This one is “I am He.” When Jesus gives this phrase, if you look at it in the Greek text, what you’ll actually see is this word “He” is not even there. This word “He” is put there for you and I to make sense of what the passage is saying. Like, if you and I just read it in English, say, it would just say “I am.” “Who are you seeking?” “Jesus the Nazarene,” and Jesus steps forth and says, “I am.” I am what? I am not Him, I am Him? What is… Who tells incomplete sentences, Jesus? “I am…” Right?
So, in our language, it wouldn’t make sense. “I am He,” so that’s added there for us to understand what Jesus is identifying for us, but Jesus is saying something far richer than just simply “I am He.” Jesus is taking the name of God in the Old Testament, and He’s identifying Himself not just as the person they’re seeking, but as very God, the One that they’ve come for. “I am.” “Who are you seeking?” Who are you seeking? John chapter 1, that was the question He asked, verse 38. “Who are you seeking?” And He wants them to understand exactly who He is, that while they are looking for Jesus the Nazarene and He is that person, at the same time, He is God.
“I am,” that’s the proclamation Jesus is making. He’s saying in the Greek text, “[Greek 00:13:43],” “I am,” the great I AM, the name given of God in the Old Testament in Exodus chapter 3, verse 14 when Moses asks, “Who do I say has sent me to come before Pharaoh and say, ‘Let my people go?'” And Jesus says, “I AM has sent you,” the great I AM. It’s the phrase which means the self-existent one, containing within that statement that God is dependent upon nothing. Everything created in this world is dependent on something outside of itself, but it is God who is only dependent within Himself for everything that He needs, the I AM. It’s a proclamation of deity.
This really leaves us two choices with Jesus. I know sometimes people look at the teachings of Jesus and think, “Man, He was a great, intelligent, wise teacher,” but Jesus did not leave us room for that kind of conclusion over His identity. Jesus here gives us at least two conclusions to make of Him. One is He is nuttier than a fruitcake, or He is who He says He is. Those are the options you have with Jesus. You are insane and absurd, or you are who you say you are. You don’t make the kind of statements that Jesus has made throughout the Gospels without coming to one of those two conclusions.
I mean, if you just think of the phrases that we’ve looked together as we’ve studied this book, Jesus in John 3, “No one has ascended to the heaven, except He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.” Who says that? Right? Chapter 6, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” “Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” That’s not typically how I communicate to my family, right? “Drink from me, I am a stream of living water.”
Jesus in John 10, the Jews answered Jesus, “We are not stoning You for a good work, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” John 14:9, “The one who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Or even Jesus’s “I am” statements in the Gospel of John, this is in all of them, but this is some of them. Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” “I am the light of the world.” “Before Abraham was, I am.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me.” Arrogant, insane, or God?
Jesus in these moments declares His identity so there is no mistake as to who He is. Jesus didn’t come to offer religion. Jesus came to offer Himself. That’s what this statement is. “Who do you seek? I am.” Religion will attempt to give you answers; Jesus is saying in this phrase that He is the answer. Religion will invite you to discover a way to God; Jesus is saying that He is God who has come to us. “I am.”
If He is God, the only response we should expect is exactly how these Roman soldiers responded and the Jewish leaders: to fall before Him. No one can simply stand on their feet in the presence of God. Not even a great Roman warrior can stand before Jesus. When we get before something greater in life, it humbles us, and nothing is grander than God. Biblically, when you look throughout scripture, when those who come before a holy, fearful God, the only response you find in the Bible is to fall before Him as if you were dead.
What does this mean for us? If He is God, if He is God, come offering Himself to you, what does this mean for us? Because when I think about the importance of this moment and recognizing that it’s not just for the first century but for all of us to see the beauty of Jesus, I think one of the important things it communicates is, when it comes to life, we may not always know what to do, but in Jesus, we know to whom we should go.
Because when I think about gathering to worship, you know, I know sometimes we walk into a room like this, and we know the Bible has answers, and we want answers. We want to know what it means to live a life successfully and with purpose and meaning, and to find our worth. And we want to know what it means to honor our marriage and find the best that we could discover and how God created marriage and the purpose behind it. And we want the best for our families, and we want the Bible to provide those answers and how to love our kids and nurture them in a godly home, and we want to make a difference in our community around us and with our church family. We want all those things, right?
And sometimes we come and we ask those questions. “How do I do this for me, or for my marriage, or for my family, or for my community, or the church?” And I think those are important questions to ask and good answers to get. But I want us to know that the goal isn’t simply to get the answer, because if you get an answer of how to respond in your action, without getting Jesus, you miss the entire point.
I mean, that’s the beauty of what this Christian life is. It’s not simply about just getting an answer; it’s about getting Jesus. Because if all you get is an answer, without Jesus, you’ve been completely robbed of the purpose of your existence. You were created for relationship, and the most important relationship you can have is Christ. And you may not always specifically know what you need to do in every situation, but you know to whom you should go. And you get to walk with Jesus to discover how to best glorify Him and the circumstances for which you discover yourself.
The beauty of this statement, it becomes an incredibly powerful statement for us, because it communicates a God who cares, who’s willing to walk through the valley to go to this garden, so that you and I can discover Him. He is the I AM for you, not an invitation to religion but an invitation to relationship that you can enjoy a journey with Jesus no matter the circumstance you’re in. Who are you seeking?
A. W. Tozer said it like this. He said, “What comes to mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” And the reason is, what you believe will determine how you behave. Your life is an illustration of what you truly value in your heart, and if your reverence is ultimately to God, then your life will demonstrate a journey with Him.
It’s one of the reasons that I find it important in this world to, especially, I would say, engage people that don’t believe in God, people that are atheists. What I’ll often find when I have conversations with people that don’t believe in God or people that claim to be an atheist is, quite honestly, they really do believe in a god; they just don’t like the version of the god that they think exists.
And so, what I mean by that is, oftentimes when I engage people in this world that claim that they don’t believe in God, I’ll ask them a question. “Oh really? What is it that you don’t like about the god that you don’t believe in?” And they’ll begin to describe something about God that’s just awful, and I typically can respond in that instance, then, with “Oh, that’s good, because if I thought that was what God was like, I wouldn’t believe in Him either, so thank God I don’t believe in that god, because that’s not who God is, and it’s important you understand the God of the Bible, the I AM that’s come for you and has pursued you and given His life for you because He sees your life as important, because He’s made your life in His image and He’s made you for relationship with Him. He has offered everything that you could know Him. He’s an incredible God that has called you on a journey.”
I love how John’s painting this picture of this Jesus, through the valley, in pursuit of me and of you. And then let’s look at this, the meaningful application, right, the end of this in verse 8 to 11. “And then Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way,’ to fulfill the word which He spoke, ‘Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.'” Your blank here in the notes is Jesus’s statement here, “Let these go.” The reason I want you to see this is it relates to just some application of the story. What you see here is Jesus is the innocent one. Out of everyone that’s present, that’s ever existed in life, but especially in this story, if anyone is innocent, it’s Jesus. But what you see is that the innocent protects the guilty.
Here, the great irony is the ultimate Judge is about to be judged. And He steps forward in order to protect His followers so that He could fulfill what He told us He would fulfill, that none of them would be lost. In John chapter 17, verse 12, He comforted the disciples with that thought: “None of you will be lost. Look, I’m going to go to the cross, my life’s about to end, you feel like your life is over, but I want you to know this is not the end of the story. This is only the beginning. Greater works than these you’re going to do. None of you will be lost.”
So, I think physically in the first century, He related to the disciples this mattered for them, but ultimately, metaphorically, for all of us, this matters for all of us, that in Jesus, none of us will be lost. And this is what Jesus is saying in this story, that He is, as the innocent, is protecting the guilty, saying to us, as hard moments, they’ll come; just like for the disciples in the first century, hard moments, they came. But we rest in the hands of a King who fought for us, was able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or thank Him, and He loves you, and He is for you.
And the way that we see that, I think, best is just the end of this story, these last couple of verses before they take Jesus away. Jesus gives us a beautiful picture, He says, “Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it,” always great Peter here, “and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear.” Peter’s into ear-cutting and nose-biting, I guess; when he fights, he’s a dirty fighter. He cuts off the right ear, “and the slave’s name was Malchus. So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put the sword in the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?'”
Don’t you think, in this moment, in this garden, hundreds of people coming for Jesus, and the one that they tell us the name of is the slave. I don’t think John is unintentionally wanting us to identify the slave’s name. He’s not thinking, “You know, hundreds of people, the only one I could remember is this guy named Malchus,” and just tossing it in there for us. I don’t think that that’s John’s intention here. I think, just like John wants us to draw some illustration from Kidron, I think John is also bringing up Malchus for the same purpose.
But, you know, John doesn’t really tell us why he discusses Malchus here; I mean, he does get his ear chopped off, but I think there’s more to it than simply the fact that he gets his ear chopped off. John’s identifying this name, I think for a particular reason, but not stating what it is. He leaves it up to speculation a little bit. Let me just throw a couple out there. Malchus’s name means king or kingdom. I think part of what John could be doing is identifying for us the irony of this moment, that this King who’s walked through Kidron is giving His life, that it’s the slave who’s coming to arrest the King, and the King is willing to surrender Himself to the slave.
It could be that, or perhaps, sometimes when you read these New Testament stories, they have a way of identifying specific names because it’s the way that, in the first century, you could go back and validate the authenticity of the story. It’s as if John’s saying here, “If you don’t believe what I’m saying, Malchus is still living up the street; go ask Malchus. You can even look at his ear if you want; he’ll tell you the story.” It could be likely that Malchus ends up becoming a believer, and this is the beginning of his encounter with Jesus, and John knows Malchus because Malchus became a Christian. So, out of all the people that came to capture Jesus in the middle of the night, John probably couldn’t identify any of them, but the reason he knew that Malchus was the one is because John worshiped with Malchus in the church.
Or maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s both. Maybe the King surrendered to the slave so that Malchus, who was bowing before this King, could have reason to stand. Guys, this is the beauty of the Gospel story. I mean, when you read in the first century, Jesus gave identity to those who the first century did not care about. Women were property. Children oftentimes weren’t even named until they got to two or three years old. Slaves, property. But Jesus? Jesus comes along, gives value to all of them. Women discover Jesus at the empty tomb. Women, followers, close followers of Christ, elevated in the scripture. Slaves find value and meaning. Jesus said, “Let the children come to Me.”
Jesus is showing us that through His identity, though we bow before the King, by His grace He gives us reason to stand, and Malchus becomes that example. And not only does Malchus find reason to stand, even idiots like Peter find a reason to stand. I find oftentimes in the Bible that I feel like there are times where I come to Jesus like a Malchus, but also come to Jesus like a Peter. You think in this story, Peter’s doing what he does best, shooting off at the mouth, always thinking with his emotions before he uses his head, and it gets him in trouble. He’s the one that made this great declaration, “Jesus, before you ever are taken and going to the cross, we’re going to fight for you to our death,” right? It’s Peter that says that, and Peter draws the sword and he goes lopping off people’s ears.
Do you know why Peter does that? Maybe it could be a little bit of fear because of what he thinks he’s about to lose. But I think more importantly, it’s his pride. He still sees himself as the hero of the story. He still thinks it’s up to him to do the rescue. And so, Peter trusts in what Peter has trusted in; he’s a zealot, he’s a fighter. And so, Peter draws his sword. But what does Jesus remind Peter? It’s when you try to become the hero of your own story that you fall on your face, but it’s Jesus who comes into the moment, and rather than give up on Peter, He heals what’s broken, and He restores Malchus’s ear, and He offers Peter forgiveness.
Guys, when I think about this story, I feel like I’ve given Jesus a million excuses to give up on me. And He could’ve done this with Peter; Jesus could’ve said, “All of these that you brought to Me, I didn’t lose any of them so that scripture would be fulfilled,” and then Peter draws out a sword and he’s like, “Hi-yah!” and He’s like, “Except for Peter, man. I am done. Take him, all right? Take me, take Peter. The rest of these, let them go.” But that’s not what Jesus does. Jesus shows up again and again in the brokenness of Peter when he’s led by his own pride and the emotion of his moment, and He heals, and He restores, and He gives Peter the grace to stand too.
Guys, we may lack the wisdom on what to do, but this story beautifully tells us where to go. Jesus in these moments, the final moments of His life, He bravely steps forward, and He takes the stand, the innocent for the guilty, so that we by His grace could stand in Him. When we see the glory of who He is for what it is, it calls us to bow before such a great King, but when we see the extent of His love and His grace, it also gives us a place to be embraced by His great love for us, and in His grace, take a stand.
Maybe if I looked at this passage, the prayer for us could be, “Thank you. Thank you, Jesus, for walking through this valley to offer us hope in the garden, ultimately through the cross on which you would die.” I mean, that’s how this story ends, isn’t it? Verse 11, that’s where He stops Peter. “Your pride, Peter. Your pride is what ruins the opportunity you have to walk with Me.” And then He says this: “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
Guys, that’s for us. When it comes to your walk with God and the battle you might be thinking you need to fight, that’s Jesus’s call. Just put the sword up. Put the sword up, because the cup that needs to be partaken of, He’s doing it on the cross for you.