Dark Days and Sovereign Grace – John 18:1-11

Dark Days and Sovereign Grace

Nick Esch, 9/9/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

This Tuesday marks the 17th anniversary of the September 11thterrorist’s attacks… This is, by far, one of the darkest days in recent history… We all have dark days, but something like 9-11 really shakes us… It reminds us how much evil is really in the world; and if we’re honest, for some of us, it leads us to question God’s good sovereignty… But God is most definitely good and sovereign, even in the darkest days… As we’ll see in our passage, we know this to be true because of the cross… The day Jesus was crucified was the darkest day in history, yet it was also a day filled with sovereign grace… There we see God’s good sovereignty over everything, the reality of evil, and how He feels about evil in and through the cross; and there we see amazing grace… Dark days come, but even the darkest days are filled with grace… So with that in mind, look with me at John 18:1-11…

John 18:1-11

Our passage begins in verse one with John telling us that, “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.” The words John is referring to that Jesus just finished speaking is not only His High Priestly Prayer, but the whole of His Upper Room Discourse. Jesus had the Last Supper with His disciples, Judas left to betray Him, and then He spent the rest of the time, up until this point, equipping and encouraging His disciples, getting them ready for the cross, and for life after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension… So after pouring His heart out to His people, He’s now ready to pour His life out for His people; so they head across the brook Kidron to the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives…

In verse two we’re told that, “Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples.” And notice in verse four John tells us that Jesus knew all that would happen to Him… So, here in verse two we see that Judas knew where Jesus liked to hangout with His disciples, and that Jesus knew full well that Judas would betray Him, yet Jesus still goes to the garden… Jesus knew that Judas would know exactly where to find Him; yet, instead of avoiding Judas, He goes straight to the place where He knew Judas would look… Jesus went to where He knew He would be found… In His actions here, Jesus is proclaiming the same thing He did in John 10:17-18; that no one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down of His own accord… You can’t ambush the God of the universe… Jesus is sovereign over all, especially over this situation…

Now, in verse three we read, “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.” Here we see Judas leading this crew of Romans and Jews to Jesus… And in one sentence we see the scope of total depravity; Jews, Gentiles, and even someone who has claimed to be a disciple of Christ, is here raised up against Him… And that’s what we see in depravity: that the whole worldis by nature against Christ… And this is still the case today; Jews and Gentiles both deny Christ, and even many who appear to be a part of the church live in active rebellion against Jesus… Judas, had spent three years in the best seminary in the world; he had spent three years with Jesus Himself, and yet his selfish pride led him to sell Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver… Let that be a warning to us all; it doesn’t matter where we’re from or what we look like, or even if on some level we appear to be a part of the church… What matters is that we truly know, love, trust, and follow Christ… Pride is deadly… When sin and self lead our lives instead of Jesus, we are exactly the same as Judas and this crew. And in showing us this crew, it’s as if God’s Word is saying the the world was against Jesus… And indeed, in and of itself, the world is against Jesus; outside of God’s grace we all are…

Now, look at this crew; it says Judas had a band of soldiers with him… The Greek being translated band of soldiers here refers to a Roman military cohort. This was typically 1,000 rough, war-harden soldiers; usually 760 foot soldiers, and 240 cavalry… Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how many soldiers were with Judas; that’s just what the term typically refers to; it could have be as few as 200 war-harden soldiers… But, that’s still a lot of soldiers for just Jesus and the 11 disciples… No doubt, with the soldiers and Jewish officers and Pharisees (the Temple Police), they clearly expected, at worst, a mob and for Jesus not to go quietly into that good night, and at best, they expected Jesus and a group of His followers who may or may not resist arrest… So either way, they were coming to arrest Jesus and His followers; and they were armed and ready for battle…

Now look at how Jesus responds to all of this. In verse four we read, “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’” So again, Jesus knew exactly what was going on and what was going to happen; and yet He doesn’t hide, and He doesn’t back down, but steps forward… Now again, He knew why they were there… John says He knows all… And this goes right along with what John has been telling us over and over again in his Gospel: that Jesus is God… He is the all-knowing God of the universe… And here He steps forward boldly, knowing what’s coming, and says, “Whom do you seek?”

In verse five they answer Him and say, “Jesus of Nazareth.” And Jesus says to them, “I am he.” So Jesus steps up and confronts them, asking them who they’re after… They tell Him, and the way He responds is remarkable… Unfortunately, you can’t see how remarkable this is in English, but in the Greek you can… You see, Jesus doesn’t actually say, “I am He…” He says, “Ἐγώ εἰμι.” Which means, I, I AM, or I AM, I AM… And what He’s doing is identifying Himself as the same God who told Moses that His name is, “I AM…” Knowing full well that this crew is there to arrest Him, partially because of His claims to be God in the flesh, He still boldly responds by telling them that He is the Great I AM… He is indeed God in the flesh… This was the covenant name that God gave Himself in the Old Testament, and here Jesus claims that same name for Himself… So, He isn’t merely telling them that He is indeed Jesus of Nazareth, but that He is indeed God

And look at what happens as Jesus proclaims who He is. In verse six it says, “When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ (or I AM) they drew back and fell to the ground.” Jews and Gentiles; Judas, the Temple Police, and at least 200 of the toughest Roman soldiers there were draw back and fall to the ground at the sound of this great name… Now, why would they do that? What’s going on here?

Because Jesus is the holy God of the universe this army has no power over Him, but on the contrary, He has power over them… As Jesus says elsewhere to Peter, He could call down a legion of angels to deliver Him, and they would… But, more amazing than that, at the power of His Word and His name, their knees buckle… God’s name is powerful… God’s Word is powerful… And the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Himself is powerful… He is the sovereign God in the flesh… He merely looks at them and says, “I AM…” and they cannot stand… He’s that powerful… He’s that sovereign…

What we see here, as a whole army falls before the Lord, is that sinful man cannot stand before a holy God in and of themselves…  Again, Jews and Gentiles; Judas, the Temple Police, and at least 200 of the toughest Roman soldiers there were draw back and fall to the ground when Jesus proclaims, “I AM”… And this is a common reaction when the Holy God of the universe confronts sinful man. In Acts when Paul is stopped on the road to Damascus by Jesus, he and all who were with him fell to the ground (Acts 26:14)… In Revelation 1:17 when John sees the risen Lord, he says he fell at His feet as though he were dead…

I fear that the church today doesn’t think of Jesus this way… Book after book is written, and movie after movie is made that portrays God as warm and fuzzy, and somehow just like us… It makes me think of what Tim Keller once said; he said, “If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshipping an idealized version of yourself…” We don’t see Jesus as God; we see Him as ourselves… Or as a warm and fuzzy god, who never pushes us out of our comfort zones, or calls us to repent… But that’s not the way the Bible describes Him… He is God almighty… He speaks and armies fall… John tells us elsewhere that the God that Isaiah saw in Isaiah 6 was in fact Jesus… And do you remember what Isaiah said when he saw Him? He 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” (Isaiah 6:5)… In the KJV Isaiah says that he’s undone… He recognized God’s holiness and his sinfulness, and he was undone… He didn’t just fall down, he was falling apart… That’s what happens when sinners stand before a holy God in and of themselves… They can’t… They fall to the ground… And that’s why, here in our passage, not even the fiercest army can stand before our Lord…

I can only imagine what these soldiers were thinking as they fell before Him… In Jesus’ day, if a soldier fell to the ground in battle he knew he was as good as dead; it was a sign of defeat… So, I’m sure they were expecting the worst… But look at what happens next… In verses seven and eight, John tells us that Jesus, “asked them again, ‘Whom do you seek?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.’” Even after, in His holy-glory, and might and power He has knocked them to the ground, He steps forward and tells them that He is who they seek… That would have, no doubt, been amazing to these soldiers; instead of finishing them off, causing them to drop dead where they are, Jesus steps forward and offers Himselfup to die… He knew this would lead to the cross. He knows all… But He freely offers Himself; not in fear, but in gospel-boldness… Instead of killing them, He offers up His own life… He just tells them, “I’m the one you want…” It’s like He’s sticking out his arms and saying arrest me… Everything about Him is proclaiming that no one takes His life from Him, but He offers it up of His own accord…

Now, if we stop and take in this scene we can see some amazing grace… As we’ve see, the world, and all of us by nature are rebels against Jesus… We’re naturally depraved… We are sinners… And as sinners we cannot stand before a holy God…  We need a Mediator… We need a Savior… Because there’s no way we can save ourselves… I mean, that doesn’t stop us from trying; but when we try to be the savior all we do is make things worse and make a fool of ourselves…

That’s what Peter does in verse ten. God’s Word says that, “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.)” John gives us the name of the servant because he wants his readers to know that he had eyewitness testimony, beside just himself… No doubt, when he first wrote this, people could have asked Malchus about what happened… And what happened, is that Peter tried to be the hero… He pulled out a sword and tried to cut this guy’s head off, but just got his ear instead… But even if he would’ve killed the guy, there were hundreds of hardcore soldiers all around him; was he going to defeat them all? No… There’s no way…

Peter clearly didn’t think his actions through, and he obviously didn’t understand fully what was happening… Instead of seeing God’s sovereign grace in what was transpiring, all he saw was how dark the day was… You see, he was so focused on the evil, on the darkness, and all the problems around him, that he didn’t see what Jesus was doing… He certainly wasn’t looking to Jesus to save him; he just took matters into his own hands… But Jesus is right there proclaiming Himself to be the good and sovereign God of the universe, and is even showing it as He causes this army to fall to the ground… But Peter was too focused on his circumstances, on the world, and on himself to see Jesus… And he did something stupid… It makes me think of Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death…” And it’s the same way when we try to do what only Jesus can… Or when we try to do something outside of His will…

Friends, we are guilty of the very same thing that Peter is here… How often do we try to fix things in our own strength, instead of looking to Jesus and entrusting ourselves to Him? Typically our first reaction when things get hard, when suffering comes, or our days get dark is to try to find a way out—to try and find our own way out, instead of looking to Jesus… Now, I’m not saying that we don’t ever do anything to fix whatever situation we’re in… But,perhaps first we should try to see Jesus in it, and seek to know Him, love Him, to live for Him, and to trust Him all the more in and through it… He’s good and sovereign… In all things He’s teaching us, growing us, accomplishing His will in and through us, and conforming us more and more into His image… So, we need to trust Him, no matter how dark the day gets… And we need to understand that sometimes He is the only one who can fix our problems… He is the only one who can save us… He’s the only one who can save our children, save our grandchildren, save our friends and family… He’s the only one who can transform our lives and save our marriages and our friendships… Jesus and His sovereign grace is our only hope… More often than not, when we attempt things on our own, or seek to do things our way instead of God’s way, we just make things worse

All Peter does in this act is sign his own death warrant… Again, this isn’t just Judas and a few Jews confronting Him, but some hardcore soldiers… They’ve come as a brigade to take down and arrest Jesus and all of His followers… And now one of His followers is swinging a sword… But, look at what Jesus does; He displays His sovereignty again, and this time with great grace… Luke 22:51 tells us that Jesus heals the man’s ear; and then here He tells Peter to put away his sword… And look back at what Jesus says in verse eight; with no fear, He tells them, “if you seek me, let these men go.” And this again, is something that is all the more beautiful in the original Greek… The words translated let these men gocould also be translated, forgive them or pardon them…  

In verse nine we’re told that, “This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken (in John 17:12): ‘Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.’” And this is true… Somehow, they only arrest Jesus; even Peter goes free… But this wasn’t only speaking of what was happening then and there physically; the physical symbolizes the spiritual… This applied then, but it also applies for all eternity…

Again, none of us can stand before a holy God… We are all sinners and we deserve the wrath of God… And as Peter demonstrates, none of us can save ourselves; we need a Savior… And here, Jesus steps forward, even after showing Himself to be God in the flesh, and offers Himself, and says, “forgive them…” Is this not exactly what He does for us on the cross?… Out of everyone in the garden in this scene, and everyone who’s ever lived for that matter, Jesus is the only one who is truly innocent… But instead of pleading His innocence, He takes our guilt upon Himself… He says, “Punish me… Forgive them…” In obedience and love, Jesus offers Himself as a substitutionary sacrifice… He says, “Take me… Not them…” This is amazing grace…

Now, you might be thinking, but how do we really know that this doesn’t just apply to what was happening in the moment? How do we know something spiritual is happening? Well look at verse eleven… After Peter makes a mess, Jesus says to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” In Matthew’s account of this, right before this happens Jesus prays and says to the Father, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (26:39)… The cup He’s speaking of is the cup of God’s judgment, of the suffering that God says He pours out on guilty sinners; it’s the cup of God’s wrath due sinners… In Psalms, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and throughout the Bible, God’s wrath is associated with a cup… And that’s the cup Jesus is speaking of here… Notice He says it’s the cup that the Father gives

So this is more than just a physical reality; He isn’t just going to suffer the wrath of sinful men, but He’s going to suffer the wrath of God that sinful men deserve… The Father is going to give this to Him; He’s going to pour out His wrath upon Him… Jesus is arrested, tried, falsely accused, mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross… And as bad as all of that is, it’s nothing compared to the wrath and fury that the Father pours out on Jesus… The fury of the eternal torment of hell due all of God’s people fell upon Jesus on the cross… That’s the cup that Jesus speaks of here; and He does indeed go to the cross and drinks down that cup to the dregs… He offers up His life of His own accord… He takes our punishment, and He dies our death… And, because He’s God almighty, He fully satisfies God’s wrath for His people, and He takes His life back up again, so that all who would turn from their sin and trust in Him would be saved… Which I encourage you to do now if you never have…

Now, Peter here clearly still didn’t fully understand the gospel; He seeks to take vengeance into his own hands, he tries to be the hero, and he tries to keep Jesus from going to the cross all in one act… And while it would be easy for us to look down upon Peter, as I’ve been saying, it would be far better for us to see ourselves in Peter here… I mean, don’t we do these same things again and again?… As we sing so often, “Prone to wander Lord I feel it… Prone to leave the God I love…” We constantly forget the gospel… We constantly live as though we don’t get it… Well, praise God that Jesus didn’t tell those who came to arrest Him, “Take me, and let all of these men go, except Peter…” No. No… Jesus saves all whom the Father has given Him; none of us, who trust in Jesus, will be lost… So friends, trust in Jesus! You may not understand everything, but if you see that Jesus is the Son of God who is mighty to save, you know enough… Repent and believe and be saved…

Conclusion

What we see here in this passage is man’s problem (sin), and God’s solution (Jesus)… When we turn from our sin and trust in Christ, instead of wrath we get grace, because Jesus stood in our place… He told God, “Take me, but pardon them…” And then He paid it all… He drank down the cup of God’s wrath due us… Is this not amazing grace?… And do you see what this means?… When we begin to see just how amazing this grace really is; when we begin to see just how amazing Jesus really is, then we’ll see that the gospel demands our souls, our lives, our all… If Jesus lays down His life and gives up everything for us, than there’s nothing we can hold back from Him… And if He’s God in the flesh we have no right to hold anything back from Him… But, it isn’t the sovereign might of God that compels us, but His grace… As we see the gospel more and more clearly, we’ll be compelled by His grace to trust and obey God’s Word, to fully embrace God’s good sovereignty, and to live courageously for the glory of God and the good of people in this broken world, come what may… That’s what transformed Peter from a fool with a sword, to an apostle who lay down his life for the cause of the gospel… The sovereign grace of God leads us to live for Jesus with reckless abandon, because if God is for us, who can be against us?… We’re in His sovereign care…

Beloved, God is sovereign and good, even in the darkest days… We see this here in our passage as Jesus, by choice, takes our place and heads to the cross… It was true then, and it’s true now… Beloved, don’t let dark days lead you astray… Keep your eyes on Jesus, and trust in Him… As that old hymn says, “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace… Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face” (William Cowper, God Moves in a Mysterious Way)…