Once Jesus had completed this final exhortation, He takes a moment and tenderly prays for Himself, these eleven men, and well as all the believers who’d come after them. This amazing prayer is recorded for us in John 17. Picking up where we left off… John 18:1-2, “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered. And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples.”
Again, likely exiting the city from the west through what was known as the East Gate, John recalls how Jesus and His disciple cross “over the Brook Kidron” and enter “a garden.” Both Matthew and Mark tell us this “garden” was specifically the “Garden of Gethsemane” which was located at the base of the Mount of Olives. Note: This garden is still in existence.
Today, the “Brook Kidron” is simply known as the Kidron Valley. Though the river bed is currently dry, in Jesus’ day a stream of water flowed through the basin. In fact, aqueducts had been built to divert water into the Temple then out into this particular brook because it was located on the eastern side of the city and in close proximity to the Temple itself.
The reason for this particular design had a direct relation to the Feast of Passover and the incredible number of sacrifices that would occur this week. With more than 200,000 lambs being slaughtered by the priests to atone for sin, the water was used to wash the blood out of the Temple and into this valley so that it would flow away from the city.
As Jesus and the disciples make their way from the Temple crossing the Kidron, by this point the brook was a torrent of blood from the sacrifices mixed with water. Case in point, the word “Kidron” literally means black for the underlying limestone was stained by the blood.
Imagine the sight of so much blood, the sound of the massacre, and more specifically the smell! The process of offering a sacrifice for sin was a filthy, grotesque business.
In regards to the Garden of Gethsemane, John adds that “Jesus often met” there “with His disciples.” In fact, according to Luke’s Gospel we’re told Jesus “came to the place.” Within the Garden it appears there was a particular “place” Jesus loved to spend time.
I’ve mentioned this before, but anytime Jesus came to Jerusalem He’d lodge in a suburb known as Bethany at the home of His friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Because this small town was situated on the easter slope of the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane was a common place Jesus would stop and hang out with His disciples on their way home.
The word “Gethsemane” literally means “olive press” — which was appropriate considering the Mount of Olives derived its name from the grove of olives tress up and down its banks.
In the Greek this phrase “often met there” signified Jesus retreated to this very location frequently. Gethsemane had been a special place where Jesus would get alone with His disciples and spend time with His Father on the way heading back to Bethany. Though not mentioned by John, the other writers tell us Jesus went to this garden to do just that — pray!
Because John is writing to an audience he assumes were already familiar with the details provided in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22, let me take a moment and provide you with a more complete picture of this particular scene and the movements before us.
(Harmony Account) — “Coming out of the city, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray. Pray yourselves that you may not enter into temptation.’ And Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.’
And Jesus was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He fell on the ground on His face and prayed, saying, ‘Abba, My Father, all things are possible for You. If it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.’
Then Jesus came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘Are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again Jesus went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.
Then an angel appeared to Jesus from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. When Jesus rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them for a third time sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.’”
In his account John adds a fresh detail about this garden. He tells us that “Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place.” A few hours earlier, after being identified and called out by Jesus, Judas had left the Upper Room and joined up with his co-conspirators. While the religious leaders had longed to arrest and execute Jesus, fearing a riot they needed a time and place to seize Him away from the crowds that were always around Him.
Judas had the perfect location in mind. He knew Jesus and He knew how much Jesus loved to spend time in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas knew it was likely Jesus would leave the Upper Room and stop by this garden on his way back to Bethany. The hour would be late. The city asleep and quiet. And Jesus accompanied by only a few of His closest followers.
Before we continue, there is something I find particularly difficult about this detail. Sure, we understand Judas’ “betrayal” of Jesus was a cowardly, dastardly act. It was vindictive and vengeful. Jesus loved Judas, but His love hadn’t been reciprocal. Jesus befriended and confided in Judas, but this evil man would repay kindness with an extreme disloyalty.
And yet, while being betrayed by anyone comes with its own share of pain and grief, what resonates with me the most is the fact Judas betrays Jesus using a personal detail only a trusted friend would know! The only reason Judas knew of Jesus’ fondness for the Garden of Gethsemane — the only way Judas would have known this specific place Jesus was going to visit was because of the intimate nature of their relationship. Judas knew of “the place” for only one reason — Jesus had taken him there!
This is not a profound point, but human relationships in a fallen world are messy! And tragically, because of sin, betrayal is part of the typical order. I’m confident everyone in this room, those with us on the Livestream, watching later via the recording, or listening on the radio or podcast bears the scars of betrayal by someone you loved and trusted.
We all know there is nothing worse in the human experience than the moment you’re stabbed in the back by someone you entrusted to have your back — when someone uses the vulnerability necessary for friendship — when something revealed in confidence ends up being used against you. These moments are terribly painful — awful even!
I have found that when this happens our natural tendency is to isolate from people. In order to protect from the pain of betrayal and limit the possibility of experiencing it ever again we immediately tighten our circle and even restrict our friends insight into our personal lives. We erect relational walls around our hearts as a matter of pure self-preservation.
Sadly, while you may indeed limit your risk or exposure, what ends up being yielded from such an approach is loneliness and a lack of real community. You see there is no escaping the reality vulnerability and therefore the possibility of betrayal is the only way you can really have an intimate relationship with another person. A real, genuine friend can only exist if they have the ability to betray and hurt you deeply if they so decide.
Jesus opened up His life to Judas completely and Judas used this to hurt and betray him. If you’ve shared such an experience, my challenge this morning is for you to take your pain and disappointment to Jesus for He can sympathize. Friend, isolation not only robs you of the relationships you need, but in limits Jesus’ ability to provide you healing.
The other quick point I want to make before we move on is the fact that Jesus is clearly orchestrating the events of this evening. Jesus knew what Judas was planning and He knew the Garden of Gethsemane would be the logical place for His betrayal to occur. And so, knowing these things, Jesus intentionally decides to go to the garden to wait for Judas.
John 18:3-4, “Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking?’”
As you imagine the scene I want you to picture a quiet, tranquil evening. The light from the full moon is working its way down through the canopy of olive trees filling the garden with dancing shadows. There is a nip in the air coupled with a strange and ominous tension. You can feel an evil presence and therefore your senses are heightened and on edge.
From the vantage-point of being in this garden at the base of the Mount of Olives, Jesus and His disciples can see a commotion heading their way long before their arrival. John tells us that — aside from the sanctioned Temple “officers” commissioned to the “chief priest and Pharisees” — “Judas had received a detachment of troops” from the Roman governor.
In the Greek this word “detachment” referenced a tenth part of a Roman legion. Since we know a legion was 6000 men, Judas is coming to the garden with at least 600 soldiers.
As this large cohort march their way out the same East Gate Jesus had existed the city just an hour or so earlier, imagine the scene as this group crosses the Kidron and approach the garden with their “lanterns, torches, and weapons.” Matthew adds these “weapons” included both “clubs and swords.” There is no question this was quite an incredible show of force.
Right from the bat this display reveals the fact Jesus’ enemies had no idea who they were really dealing with. First, the shear number of trained soldiers coming to arrest Jesus demonstrated a false belief that He would fight. As if Jesus was going initiate a resistance.
Secondly, the fact they send any soldiers at all reveals a total misunderstanding concerning Jesus’ power. As if any human army had the ability to arrest the Creator of the universe! If Jesus refused to go with them, there was nothing they could do about it!
Recounting these events with the benefits of hindsight, John tells us that Jesus “knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking?’” While Judas believed He’d caught Jesus in a moment of unintended vulnerability, Jesus wasn’t caught off-guard in the slightest. He knew everything that was happening and why.
In 50 days from this moment, Peter would make this observation in Acts 2:22-24, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know — Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.”
According to Peter, Jesus wasn’t arrest by anyone. He was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.” As this posse drew close, John remembers how Jesus “went forth” — Jesus went out to met them and ask who they were looking for. He didn’t hide Himself. He didn’t run away. Instead, Jesus yielded Himself. He submits to His destiny.
Before we look at what happens next I want to explain why Jesus will handle this situation the way He does — and there seems to be two motivations: First, Jesus wanted to keep any violence from taking place. And secondly, Jesus acts to deliberately protect His disciples.
John 18:5, “They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’” (Since “Jesus” or literally “Joshua” in the Hebrew was a common name, they specify they were looking for “Jesus of Nazareth.”)
Keep in mind, it’s very dark and difficult to know who’s who. Beyond this, it’s not at though they had a wanted poster with Jesus’ face printed on it. They are here for Jesus, but they didn’t specifically know what He looked like. According to Matthew 26:48 we’re actually told Judas “had given them a sign, saying, ‘Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him.’”
On a related note… This particular reality should put to rest many of the misconceptions Christians have developed about the physical appearance of Jesus… He was not a foot and a half taller than everyone else, He wasn’t Swedish, and He didn’t glow in the dark!
John 18:5-6, “They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’ And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when Jesus said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (Note: “He” is in the italicized.)
What an incredible moment! Here we have more than 600 men armed to the teeth with torches in their hands seeking Jesus. In response to their question, Jesus replies, “I am!” using the holy name for God and BOOM! — everyone “drew back and fell to the ground!” In the Greek this word “fell” literally means to be thrust down in a forceful manner.
These men come asking for “Jesus of Nazareth,” but Jesus wants them to know right from the beginning His real identity. “You are not coming to arrest a normal man — a man from Nazareth. You are coming to arrest the great I AM!” To substantiate this truth, the declaration itself sent a shockwave throughout the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus said, “I am!” and those two words knocked everyone to the ground! The power of God was on display.
Again, imagine the scene… Jesus says, “I am” and all the bodies hit the floor! The sound of swords and armor clang loudly as these men of war are knocked to the ground — the chaos of these men desperately trying to keep their torches upright — the trepidation and fear as they all slowly begin rising to their feet with Jesus still standing over them.
John 18:7-9, “Then Jesus asked them again, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ (I’m sure based on what just happened the Roman soldiers are now on high alert. Because of this Jesus remains cool knowing panic would lead to someone getting hurt.) Jesus answered, ‘I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way,’ (John adds) that the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, ‘Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.’” (Reference to His prayer in John 17:12.)
Jesus acknowledges that He is the man they were looking for, but adds that “if you seek Me, let these go their way.” Jesus is wanting to insure His disciples are allowed to leave and are left unharmed. And after what’s just happened who’s really going to argue with Him?
Matthew 26:49-50 tells us it was likely in this moment that Judas “went up to Jesus and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him. But Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, why have you come?’ Then they came and laid hands on Jesus…” Now in response to this activity…
John 18:10-11, “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. So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?’” Matthew 26:52-54 adds… “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than 12 legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?’”
It’s interesting, but while every Gospel writer records this event only John identifies the perpetrator as being Peter and the victim as being Malchus! Though some use this to substantiate a beef between John and Peter, I think there is a more simplistic explanation.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke record this event during a time in which Peter was still alive. That being said, by the time the Gospel of John was completed, Peter had already been martyred for his faith. While leaving out Peter’s name intended to avoid causing him any embarrassment, John can now add this detail to the historical record free of this dynamic.
As you consider this particular moment you must first unpack Peter’s motivation. Earlier this evening and in the context of the coming betrayal, Peter had made a bold declaration… (John 13:37), “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.”
There is no question as these men laid hold of Jesus Peter felt an obligation to jump into the fray. The plot had become clear. The rat had been exposed. In fact, Peter wasn’t the only one who’s first compulsion was to fight. In Luke 22:49 we read, “When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Jesus, ‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’”
According to Luke, Peter didn’t wait for Jesus to muster a response. “Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant Malchus, and cut off his right ear.” We don’t know if Peter always carried a sword or whether he procured one that evening sensing a potential need would arise. Maybe in the chaos of Jesus’ word knocking everyone down Peter picked one off a disoriented soldier? Either way, one thing is clear — Peter was not a swordsman!
While he was willing to go on the attack to defend Jesus, it does look good that big, bad, brave Peter didn’t go after one of the 600 trained Roman soldiers or for that matter one of the Temple guards. Instead, he “struck the high priest’s servant” who’s name was Malchus!
Here we have manly Peter assaulting an unarmed servant boy — and to add further injury to insult he ends up missing his head and “cuts off his right ear.” One commentator I respect makes this interesting observation, “In a society where most everyone was right-handed the fact Peter cut off Malchus’ “right ear” implies he “struck” him from behind!”
Though John and Matthew immediately center their focus on Jesus’ swift rebuke of Peter (“Put your sword into the sheath”), Luke provides a fascinating detail… In Luke 22:50-51 we read, “And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, ‘Permit even this.’ And He touched his ear and healed him.”
What a moment! Beyond Jesus sensing an obligation to literally clean up Peter’s mess by healing Malchus in the midst of being arrested, what made Peter’s actions all the more egregious was the fact he’d just given this mob a justifiable reason to arrest him as well.
Here Jesus has gone above and beyond to insure His disciples were allowed to leave only to have Peter try to kill a servant boy in front of everyone! I believe Jesus heals Malchus by reattaching his ear because it’s hard to arrest someone with no evidence of a crime!
When you boil it all down Peter’s fundamental problem centered upon the fact his actions were getting in the way of God’s plan. Sure, he was noble in his motivations, but there was no escaping the reality his actions were making a mess of things in the process.
As we will continue to see next Sunday Peter’s core issue was this compulsion or belief that He needed to prove himself worthy and able to Jesus. Peter wanted to help Jesus, but Jesus had been clear He didn’t need Peter’s help! Friend, always keep in mind, when it comes to things only Jesus can accomplish it’s best for you to stay out of His way!
In Peter’s case this rebuke in the garden was simply the first in a series of difficult lessons he would learn over the coming hours. Peter need to realize Jesus didn’t need his help to accomplish His will. Additionally, Peter need to learn he wasn’t able nor worthy, and that neither were important to Jesus. Peter is now on a highway towards brokenness.
John 18:12, “Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him.”
According to Mark and Matthew it was at this point “all the disciples forsook Jesus and fled” while Peter and John end up circling back around to follow behind Jesus at a distance.
This detail that they “bound Him” presents a strange picture to say the least. The word in the Greek means to tie or fasten with chains. In light of the fact Jesus has just knocked them all down by uttering two words just a few minutes before this, the entire exercise seems silly. As if the Almighty God of heaven and earth could be “bound” by sinful man! And yet, He was…
You see as I read this verse what I find most incredible is not the fact sinful men were able to bind the God of the universe, but the fact God would actually allow Himself to be “bound!”
It blows my mind, but Jesus willing allowed Himself to be placed under the restraints of sinful men. He didn’t fight them or resist. Instead, Jesus submitted to the wishes of sinners who “bound Him” limiting what He could then do as well as restricting where He could go!
Do you realize you actually have the ability to place restraints on the work Jesus can accomplish in your life? You can tie His hands! It’s not that Jesus is powerless. He’s more than powerful! And yet, if you want to bind Him and limit what He can, Jesus will not fight against your will and will instead submit to your wishes. Have you bound Jesus?
This morning I encourage you to set Jesus free! Take off the shackles! Remove any and all restrictions. Loose Him whom you’ve “bound” so that He can accomplish His will in your life.
In closing I do want to place this scene into the macro-perspective of Scripture for it’s not an accident Jesus’ arrest occurred in a garden. Back in Genesis 3 the first sinless man stood toe-to-toe with Satan and chose to rebel against the will of God. And when his name was called out in that garden by the Father, in response Adam ran and hid himself in shame. In the end this dead man was escorted from Eden by God to live separated from his Creator.
In this garden we find the second sinless man standing toe-to-toe with Satan. And yet, in this case Jesus chose to surrender Himself to the will of the Father. When His name was called out by His enemies Jesus hid not Himself and decided to answer the call in power. In the end this righteous Man was also escorted from Gethsemane by sinners to be separated from God. But unlike the sinful Adam, the sinless Jesus left a garden to die so that every Adam previously separated might be reconciled with their Creator and live.
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