Pete concludes our series preaching on Jesus' statement "I am He" in John 18:!-14. In this passage Jesus shows himself to be both God and man in his plan of redemption.
Alan Titchmarsh, a celebrity TV gardener, was on the radio this week, and he said, ‘The garden is a saviour.’ He was commenting on the good news that this week garden centres are being reopened. There is also the familiar saying:’ You are nearer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth.’
In the Bible there is a lot of ‘God and garden’ associations. The first meeting of humans with God was in the Garden of Eden. Here we see that God is relational as he walks with Adam and Eve and takes joy in his creativity.
In this passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus is in a garden and he is revealing who he is. In the garden Jesus asks a question, twice: “Who is it you want?” And “Who do you seek?”
What Jesus is actually doing here, is showing who He is and who you need to seek.
So let’s enter the garden of rest where we are going to see this wonderful saviour.
The Scene - the garden itself
John 18 1-3
“When he had finished praying Jesus left and crossed the Kidron valley. On the other side, there was a garden and he and his disciples went into it.”
Now Judas knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So, Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
To give some background, Jesus had finished his private meeting with his disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem. Judas had slipped out to betray Jesus. And we are told that Jesus and the other disciples had got up, at night, and crossed the Kidron valley.
The Kidron Valley is a deep ravine between the temple wall in Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Jesus and his disciples crossed this ravine, to the garden in the Mount of Olives. The other Gospel writers tell us that the garden is called the Garden of Gethsemane, meaning oil press- because that is where they would have pressed the olives.
Kidron means dusky and gloomy, because the water in the stream in that ravine was often stained with the blood that came from the temple animal sacrifices. Since this scene took place at the time of Passover, there would have been many animal sacrifices, producing a lot of blood flowing into the Kidron valley.
It is dark night. We’re told that the people arresting Jesus, had torches and lanterns. It was cold. Peter, later, warmed himself by a fire. Judas, the betrayer, was leading the way before a very large group of people. [According to most experts, the term ‘detachment’, means at least 200 Roman soldiers].
When you add to that the number of officials who were present, namely the chief priests, and the pharisees, clearly a great crowd of both religious and secular officials were coming together against Jesus to arrest him.
This is a scary scene: a dark, cold night, the smell of blood and oil in the air, 200 Roman soldiers plus the other officials, all coming with torches and lanterns up this ravine, to this garden, with weapons; and led by the traitor Judas. All of this, to arrest one carpenter and his rag-tag bunch of followers, the eleven disciples.
Yet, when you read the scene, you can’t help but see that it’s Jesus who is in control, even though he is the one being arrested. In verse 1 and 2 we learn that Jesus went to a known location. Judas knew this location. Jesus was not hiding.
In verse 4 we are told that Jesus knew what was going to happen to him, and He spoke out, and said. “Who are you looking for?”
In verse 8 he confronted his captors and demanded the release of his disciples:
“If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”
And then we’re told, that he was intentionally following a script prepared earlier in the book of John:
“This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled. I have not lost one of those you gave me.” [v9]
So, as horrific as this scene is, Jesus is in control! He is the main character, the main fulfiller of the plan of God.
All these powerful men climbed up this ravine, thinking that they were in control, and that this would be an easy job. Little did they realise that they were just minor actors, and the main character was Jesus. They felt so big, but they were, in truth, so very small. At best they were supporting actors in the mighty play of God.
It’s here in this garden in the dark, during his arrest, that Jesus tells us who he is.
It’s interesting that, when we’re hard pressed, or in danger, our real character is often revealed. Jesus, on the point of arrest, was under extreme duress, and this is when he clearly identified himself.
In verse 3 we are told: “So Judas came to the garden guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priest and pharisees, and they were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him went out and asked them. ‘Who is it you want?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘I am He,’ Jesus said.
So his identity is summed up in this simple phrase: ‘I am he,’ and it is said three times in this passage.
Jesus actually stepped forward, out of the darkness and into the frail light of these people with their weapons and lanterns and he said ‘I am’.
As we’ve seen in this series, Jesus is taking the name of God. If you go right back to Exodus Chapter 4:13-14, you will read the incident where God appeared to Moses in the ‘Burning Bush’. God spoke out of the bush: ‘Go to Pharaoh, [the reigning power of the day], and tell him to let my people go’, And Moses said, ‘If I’m going to the Pharaoh, who shall I say has sent me? God replied, from the bush, ‘I AM. Say I AM sent you’.
This name is showing that God is God. There is no beginning and no ending. He is not dependent on anything or anyone. Everyone else is dependent on Him for their existence. He is just ‘I AM’.
This sermon is the last in a series on the ‘I AMs’ of Jesus, found in John’s Gospel, and we’ve been seeing that when Jesus uses that phrase, ‘I AM’, he hasn’t come to teach us how to find God, He is God who has come to find us; and that is totally different from everything else in the world.
He’s not just a prophet who has words of God. He is the word of God himself. He is the I AM, and we need to listen to these claims of Jesus in the rest of the series.
So God is in the garden
Verse 4 tells us: “Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’
‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied.
“‘I am he,’ [and Judas the traitor was standing there with them]. When Jesus said ‘I am he’, they drew back and fell to the ground.”
That is amazing! Over 200 trained men from one of the best, if not the best army in the history of the world, fell back. They had come to arrest him, a carpenter from Nazareth, and his eleven followers, but before they could arrest him they were surrendering to him.
This event is extraordinary. If you’re in a battle and you lose your footing you’ll probably die. That’s why the Roman soldiers were clad in very good shoes. Their footwear marked them out as Roman soldiers. They had nails or metal pieces in the bottom of their sandals to enable them to hold their ground and stand firm. But here, before Jesus, this whole Roman detachment fell over. They were in the position of surrender, needing mercy. These were Imperial troops; battle-hardened, tough blokes, and here was Jesus, the meek and mild carpenter from Nazareth; a rabbi; a teacher of God, and they couldn’t even stand before him when he said, ‘I AM’.
This entire Roman detachment is knocked back. But do you notice that Judas, too, the man who had been with Jesus for three years and who had betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver, even he fell back. Everyone was on their face.
When you look through the Bible, there are frequent scenes, such as this, where people fall before the presence of God. Think of Ezekiel, who fell on his face when God called him; Saul [who later became Paul] fell to the ground, Peter, the disciple, fell down saying, ‘I am a sinful man.’ John, another of the disciples ‘fell at his feet as though dead’.
What else is there to do when you understand who Jesus is? Isaiah sums all of this up in chapter 6. He suddenly sees who he is. He is not just a nobody, but a sinful, failing nobody. His plans are rotten to the core. He says, ‘Woe to me. I am ruined for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’
When people come into the presence of God they realise they are not the centre of everything. They are the sinful ones and they are undone. It is traumatic to be in the presence of the living God. Your plans are seen for what they are. Selfish, little, mean, sinful plans. When you’re in the presence of the infinite one, infinitely bigger and grander than you, you lose your footing, because the world doesn’t revolve around you. Jesus flexes his muscle with this little word ‘I AM’, and everyone is on the floor.
Here we see that this God whom everyone falls down before, is in fact the God who has come for us. Look at verse 8.
“Jesus answered: ‘I told you that I am he. If you were looking for me then let these men go. This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled. I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
What is clear is that he is saying that, yes, he is Jesus of Nazareth, but, yes, he is the I AM. That’s the Christian teaching: Jesus is fully God and fully man.
Jesus is saying, ‘I have come to do a work’. He could easily have just walked away, because he’d won hadn’t he? He was the last man standing! Who surrenders before an army that has just surrendered to you?
But Jesus did. He let himself be arrested because he knew if he didn’t surrender to them, he wouldn’t actually fulfil the plan of God and therefore he wouldn’t save his people. In a Moses-like fashion he says, ‘I am he. Let my people go!’
If you want to know if God is for you then look at this flower in this dark garden. Jesus answered in verse 8:
“I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me then let these men go. This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled. I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
Here Jesus is deliberately saying, ‘Take me, and let them go.’ ‘Let them go’, has the same meaning, here, as the word forgiveness. That is extraordinary! Jesus is saying: ‘Take me and forgive them’. This really is the teaching of substitution. Jesus is saying, ‘I will go to my death so that they can be forgiven.’
In verses 10 and 11 we read: Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
11 Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’
Here Jesus is talking about the cross, and the cup the Father has given him is the cup of wrath. It’s the cup with poison in it. It is the cup from which he will drink the judgment against sin on our behalf. It’s a cup that I am very happy for him to take from me and drink for me. It is the cup of the wrath of God so that I can be forgiven.
That is what he is going to do on the cross. He is deliberately and voluntarily going to be crushed like an olive in the wine press of Gethsemane, or like a grape in the wine press. Blood is going to flow. It is a symbol of the judgment of God. He is going to be the Passover lamb, the blood that will flow in the Kidron valley. Right there in Christ you will smell judgment and blood and if you follow this analogy through, olive oil is seen as a blessing that comes out of the crushing. Why? So that not one of those that God had given him will be lost. He will save them. They will be forgiven.
In verse 14 when Jesus is finally arrested, we are reminded about Caiaphas. He was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good that one man died for the people. And this is what we witness: one man dying for his people, taking the cup, being crushed in the winepress, his blood flowing under the judgment, so that no one would be lost of those who are his people. It’s all about the cross.
It's Over to You
You’ve come into the night garden, you’ve seen thorns and thistles and wild plants in all the different people in the garden, but in the middle is Jesus, this beautiful life-giving flower, unique in its beauty. Be careful! If you’ve seen something of who Jesus is, don’t step on it and crush it in your life. Let him bloom.
When I was in Florida on holiday, we went a Botanical Garden, and outside there was a beautiful flowering tree called The Queen of the Night. This flower produces an amazing bloom just once a year, for only one night, between 8pm and 10am, and at 10 am all the flowers are gone. We got there just before 10am. We just took our opportunity and saw this amazing flower in bloom.
Here is an opportunity for you to see this incredible flower in this garden. How will you leave? Will you have bowed down to the majestic beauty of Jesus, recognising that he is the King, bringing in God’s kingdom so that you can be forgiven and be part of his great plan? Will you give up your little plans and surrender to the King of Kings? The Roman soldiers, the chief priests, the pharisees, and Judas were blown away and fell to the ground when they saw something of the majesty of Christ. But they missed their opportunity. They got up and arrested him.
Now they still thought they were the ones in power and fulfilling their plans. They were, indeed, fulfilling the plan of God, but they had missed this opportunity. Jesus is the I AM. He is God come into this world. Will you surrender to him and stay surrendered to him? Will you let God be God? Will you let him come into all the compartments of your life as the life bringer? Will you allow the beautiful presence of the living God, a majestic flower, grow in every area of your life?
Or will you trample on the evidence you have, and walk away for a few pennies like Judas did, favouring your own plan and power, like the religious and the secular people did. God isn’t just a neighbour that you can occasionally wink at. He isn’t the NHS that you clap for every Thursday. He isn’t someone on a Sunday that you nod to.
Will you bow to Jesus? Will you surrender your life to him and know him as the king in your life? Judas and the rest saw who he was, but would not accept the truth. They denied it, and the opportunity was gone.
Will you stand? On the day of judgement you can stand because Jesus has stood for you.
Will you praise him? Will you thank him for this? Will you worship him and say: You are the King who has a magnificent plan not to lose me. You are the king of everything; the king of lockdown; the king that I will worship in the garden, at night, when I’m feeling crushed, because you were crushed for me.
I can stand and I can praise a bigger plan than my little plans.
Jesus says I AM.
John 18:1 - 18:14
18:1 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. 6 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?”
12 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.