A Life Given, Not Taken

John 18:1-11

June 9, 2022 | Ray Pritchard

It is now late on Thursday evening.

Jesus has met in the Upper Room with his disciples. There he celebrated Passover, instituted the Lord’s Supper, and announced that one of them would betray him.

After giving final instructions, he prayed for his men.

Now the pace of events quickens.
The river of God’s purpose flows swiftly.

The river of God’s purpose flows swiftly.

They left the Upper Room, went down into the Kidron Valley, crossed the dry stream bed, then went up the Mount of Olives to a place called Gethsemane.

Jesus had been there many times. It was his favorite place to rest and pray.

The word Gethsemane means oil-press. It was the place where the olives were crushed to produce olive oil. It is still there today on the Mount of Olives. If you walk among the ancient olive trees, you can imagine the scene on that fateful night 2000 years ago.

Jesus wrestled with his fate while his disciples slept. After deep agony of soul, he said, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

About midnight, you could make out the flickering lamps of a large group coming from the city along the same path Jesus and the disciples had followed earlier.

These were the Roman soldiers plus the Jewish priests, with Judas acting as their guide. He knew where to go because he knew Jesus very well. In the darkness of this night, Judas knew where to find him.

Judas knew where to find him.

The chief priests told him, “Lead us to Jesus, and we’ll do the rest.” For 30 pieces of silver, he agreed to the deal.

Peter, James and John and the rest have no idea what is about to happen. But none of this surprised our Lord.

John 18:1-11 tells the story of the arrest of Jesus. This midnight encounter sets in motion the events that will lead to the cross on Friday morning.

If you look at this passage from one perspective, you might conclude events have now spun out of control.

But you would be wrong.

This passage shows us that Jesus is in full control. No one can touch him, much less arrest him, apart from his permission.

It is the story of a life given, not taken. In the greatest crisis of his life, Jesus is in charge. We see that in four ways in this passage.

#1: In Charge of the Circumstances (vv. 1-3).

He chose the time and place.

1When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples
      and crossed the Kidron Valley.
On the other side there was a garden,
      and he and his disciples went into it.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, 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 (vv. 1-3).

When John says Judas came leading a “detachment” of soldiers, he used a word that means a Roman cohort, which could mean 200-600 soldiers.

Let’s take the smaller number.

Think about that. The chief priests sent 200 armed soldiers to arrest one man–Jesus of Nazareth.

What were they afraid of?
A riot? A full-on battle?

It’s not a fair fight

On one side you have Jesus plus 11 disciples. Even if they were all armed, which they weren’t, what could those 11 men do against 200 trained Roman soldiers?

It’s not a fair fight.
It would be over in a few seconds.

Our Lord knew this.
Peter didn’t understand what was happening
He was ready to fight.

We’ll get to that in a moment.

Here come the soldiers and the priests. Judas leads the way through the darkness. Verse 3 adds an important detail: “They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.” They were armed and ready for a fight.

When the soldiers show up, they think they are tracking Jesus down. It’s the other way around.

Jesus is leading them in.
He didn’t run from this place.
He boldly walked to it.

The Jews thought Jesus and his men might turn Gethsemane into an ancient Alamo where every man went down fighting.

But they were wrong.

Verse 4 tells us that “Jesus knew everything that was to happen to him.”

James didn’t know.
Matthew didn’t know.
Thomas didn’t know.

Jesus knew–and was not afraid!

Jesus knew!
And he was not afraid.

He did not flinch.
He did not hide.
He did not run away.

Jesus chose the time and place of his arrest. He went to Gethsemane to make it easy for Judas to find him.

You say, “It wasn’t a surprise?”
No, it was planned before the world began.

Whatever else you say about Jesus, don’t call him a helpless victim.

In the end, the soldiers were powerless, though they did not know it. They could not arrest Jesus unless he wanted to be arrested. Judas could not betray him unless he was willing to be betrayed.

Jesus voluntarily laid down his life.

#2: In Charge of His Captors (vv. 4-7).

They bow before his glory.

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.

 (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 

 When Jesus said, “I am he,”
      they drew back and fell to the ground.

 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”
      “Jesus of Nazareth,” they said (vv. 4-7).

His captors come for him, but he is in charge of them. As the soldiers approached, Jesus stepped out to meet them.

No fear!

Think about that for a second. A man who is afraid runs away. But Jesus steps toward the soldiers, not away from them.

Write over this story these words:

No fear.
No doubt.
No retreat.

He meets them before they meet him.

Jesus said, “I am”

“Who are you looking for?” he asked.
“Jesus of Nazareth,” the soldiers replied.

“I am he,” comes the answer from our Lord. In Greek there is no word corresponding to “he.”

Jesus said, “I am.”

That wouldn’t mean anything to the Romans, but the Jewish priests knew exactly what he meant. To say “I am” goes back to Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3. On that occasion, God revealed his name to be “I AM that I AM.” He told Moses to tell the Jews, “I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14).

But what does the phrase “I AM” mean when applied to God? It means he is the personal, eternal, self-existent God of the universe.

He always was, he always is, he always will be.

He is above all things, beneath all things, behind all things, and in front of all things.

What does that mean for you and me? It means God is sufficient for whatever we need:

I am your strength.
I am your courage.
I am your health.
I am your hope.
I am your supply.
I am your defender.
I am your deliverer.
I am your forgiveness.
I am your joy.
I am your future.

God is saying to you and me, “I am whatever you need  whenever you need it.”

He is the all-sufficient God for every crisis.

He is the all-sufficient God for every crisis.

Jesus had power that was not of this world. That’s why his power knocked them to the ground.

J. Vernon McGee comments on the significance of the soldiers falling backward, not forward. You fall forward to worship, but you fall backward in fear. It is a fulfillment of Psalm 40:14,

“Let them be ashamed
      and brought to confusion
who seek to destroy my life;

Let them be driven backward
      And brought to dishonor
Who wish me evil!”

Jesus could have escaped when they fell down, and they could not have stopped him.

But he would run from nothing.
His hour had finally come.

Jesus died of his own free will

Don’t miss the deeper meaning here.
Jesus died of his own free will.
He did not die because he could not help it.
He did not suffer because he could not escape.

Before we go on, note one other detail. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Judas stood among them.

Few people knew Jesus as well as Judas. If we start at the beginning, we find a remarkable series of facts about Judas:

  • He was personally chosen to be an apostle by Jesus Christ.
  • He spent 3 1/2 years traveling the length and breadth of Israel with Christ.
  • He saw all the miracles of Christ in person.
  • He heard Christ give all his famous sermons.
  • He watched as Christ healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out demons.
  • Along with the other apostles, he was sent out to preach the gospel.
  • He was one of the leaders of the apostolic band.
  • No one ever suspected him of treason.

Tonight he stands on the other side.

It shows how far a religious person can fall. Two hours earlier, he was with Jesus in the Upper Room. At midnight he stands with the soldiers. He has betrayed the Son of God for 30 pieces of silver—the price of a slave.

How far a religious person can fall!

Judas was an insider, and he used his insider’s knowledge to lead the soldiers to Jesus. It is a short step from cheering Jesus as he feeds the 5000 to standing with his enemies.

Let me remind you of what J. C. Ryle said,

“We may know all doctrinal truth and be able to teach others, and yet prove rotten at heart, and go down to the pit with Judas.”

#3: In Charge of His Companions (vv. 8-9).

He protects them from danger.

Jesus answered,
     “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” (vv. 8-9).

He is not only in charge of the circumstances and of his captors. He is also in charge of his companions.

His only concern is for them.
He knew they were not ready to face what he must face.

Christ takes the punishment for his people.

Mark 14:50 says that after his arrest, all the disciples fled. But they got away because Jesus gave himself up.

He took care of his men in the moment of crisis.

In this early scene of the crucifixion story, Christ takes the punishment for his people. While the soldiers lead him away, his friends go free.

#4: In Charge of the Chaos (vv. 10-11).

He willingly drinks the cup.

10 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?” (vv. 10-11).

It would be easy to criticize Peter, but we must not. He and he alone was ready to fight and die. He’s the only one who drew his sword.

Peter knows he has to do something to protect his Master. Grabbing his sword, he takes a wild swing, aiming at no one in particular. The sword finds its mark, but not as Peter intended.

Peter was ready to fight for Jesus!

If he hoped to scare off the soldiers, it didn’t work. If he hoped to inspire the other disciples, that might have worked had not Jesus stepped in.

He lopped off the ear of the high priest’s servant, an unfortunate target. Later that night, his rash act will lead to his identification around the fire in Caiaphas’ courtyard (John 18:26).

No doubt Malchus fell to the ground, screaming in pain. Blood must have come spurting out of the hole where his ear had been. The soldiers would have drawn their swords, ready to kill Peter.

It was a mistake to whack off that ear

But before things get out of hand, Jesus touches the servant’s ear, healing it instantly (Luke 22:51).

And just like that, the crisis is over.

Jesus Can Take Care of Himself

Say this much for Peter. If he misunderstood Jesus that night, at least he knew which side he was on. If they were going to kill Jesus, they would have to go through Peter to get to him.

He was ready to charge hundreds of men to protect his Master. Give him all his due. Peter would soon deny Christ, but right now he is ready to die for him.

I don’t blame Peter for what he did.

It’s after midnight, and he is tired, distraught, confused, angry, worn out, upset, and in his despair, he wants to do something, anything, that will rescue Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t need our help

But Jesus doesn’t need his help.
He doesn’t want to be rescued.

Jesus can take care of himself.

What seems to be the cluttered rush of events turns out to be the plan of God unfolding to bring salvation to the world. When evil seems to be winning, Christ calmly submits, knowing that God’s will must be done in the end.

That Bitter Cup, Love Drank It Up

That brings us to the final words of Jesus before he was arrested. 

 “Put your sword away!
Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (v. 11).

Jesus was always in charge, even in the garden, in the midnight darkness, surrounded by the soldiers who came to take him away.

He came to drink the cup of suffering, and drink it he must.

Jesus can take care of himself

In 1876 Anne Ross Cousin wrote a poem that became a famous hymn we hardly ever sing nowadays. It perfectly captures what it meant for Christ to drink the cup of suffering.

O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy Head!
Our load was laid on Thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead–
Didst bear all ill for me:
A victim led, Thy blood was shed!
Now there’s no load for me.

Death and the curse were in our cup–
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee!
But Thou hast drain’d the last dark drop:
’Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup, love drank it up,
Now blessings flow for me.

As we come to the end of our story, Jesus is in complete control. Out of the chaos, God’s plan is moving forward.

He is the great I AM. No one will stop him—not the soldiers or the priests or even over-eager Peter. All things work together—even in crisis.

Jesus embraces his destiny.
He is the victor who wins by seeming to lose.

Jesus wins by seeming to lose

He refuses to use violence to achieve his goal. He willingly goes with the soldiers, even though he knows what is ahead.

This story shows two things in bright relief:

The sinfulness of men.
The submission of the Savior.

They come with evil intent.
He submits to gain their salvation.

The Great I AM is led like a sheep to the slaughter

The great I AM is now led away like a sheep to the slaughter. Every detail is under divine control. Out of the darkness of this hour, God’s will is done.

Judas is now exposed as a traitor.
Jesus stands as the Supreme Savior.
Peter does wrong but from an honest heart.

Evildoers are satisfied because they have their man.
The disciples scatter into the darkness.
His hands bound, King Jesus is taken away.

All unfolds as the Father planned.

The Verdict Is In Before The Trial Begins

Jesus is now under arrest. He will endure six trials before sunrise. The outcome has been foreordained.

Before Herod can put on his robes,
Before Caiaphas questions Jesus,
Before Pilate can wash his hands,
Before the mob chooses Barabbas,
Before the devil entered Judas,
Before the Upper Room,
Before the Triumphal Entry,
Before Christ was born in Bethlehem,
Before Isaiah prophesied of Messiah’s death,
Before Abraham saw a ram in the thicket,
Before Adam’s sin in the garden,
Before the earth was created,

In eternity past,
The verdict was in before the trial began.
Jesus will die for the sins of the world.

Evil seemed to win the day

It seems violent and random. That night the disciples ran away in terror. Evil seems to have won the day.

The Jews gloat.
The Roman soldiers have their man.
Judas wonders what he has done.
Peter follows afar off.

All is silent in Gethsemane.
Silent and empty.
The excitement is over.

As the passage closes, we see the soldiers taking Jesus to stand before Annas. Before this night is over, he will be beaten, mocked, scourged, and falsely accused.

He drinks the cup to the very last drop

Later he will wear a crown of thorns and carry his cross until he can carry it no more.

When Friday comes to an end, his body will lie in the Garden Tomb.

He takes the cup and drinks it down to the very last drop.

When evil men do their worst, God does his best.
When the world mocks, Jesus cries out,
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

 He Could Have Called 10,000 Angels

The rope that binds his hands cannot hold him.
The rope has no power against the Son of God.

He who could walk on water and raise the dead could easily defeat 10,000 Roman soldiers. He had but to say the word and legions of angels would come to his aid.

Yet here he is, bound like a common criminal, walking in the darkness, surrounded by the soldiers, on his way to the cross.

Jesus is taken that we might go free

Do not miss one final point.

Before he is taken away, Jesus remembers his disciples.

“Take me, but let these go free.”

The whole gospel is in that statement.

Jesus is taken that we might go free.
He dies that we might live.
He bears the cross that we might be forgiven.
He suffers that we might have eternal life.

“He was wounded for our transgressions.
      He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace
      was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

These words from the hymn O Sacred Head, Now Wounded are attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux:

What thou, my Lord, hast suffered
     was all for sinners’ gain.
Mine, mine was the transgression,
     but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
     ’Tis I deserve thy place
Look on me with thy favor,
     and grant to me thy grace.

In this story we see how Jesus treats his enemies. When they come for him, he does not resist. When they are hurt, he heals them.

Mine, mine was the transgression,
     but thine the deadly pain.

He receives their attacks and then is led away to die for the very men who are putting him to death. He will not use his divine power to escape their clutches.

Do You Know Him?

On him was laid the sin of us all. If we are not saved, we cannot blame Jesus. The fault is all our own.

Do you know him?
This is the question of the ages.

When you stand at the gate of heaven and God says, “Why should I let you in?” what answer will you give?

“I was a member of Village Bible Church.” That’s not good enough.

“I was an elder at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.” You’ll be in big trouble.

“My father built the church.” That’s good, but it’s not the right answer.

“I lived a good life.” We’re happy for you, but you weren’t good enough.

Do you know him?

“I gave to feed the orphans in Namibia.” That’s truly wonderful, but that won’t open the doors of heaven.

“I was baptized by Father O’Reilly.” I’m sure he was a good man, but that’s not enough.

If you want to go to heaven, you must trust in Jesus Christ and him alone. You must go “all in” on the Son of God who loved you and died for you.

Do you know him?

I’m not asking if you are Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Charismatic, Brethren, Lutheran, Bible church, Church of Christ, or Episcopalian.

Do you know him?
He died that you might go free.

Do you know him?
That is the one question you must answer.

We have a Savior who was far more willing to save us than we are willing to be saved.

Run to the cross!

Come to Jesus.
Run to the Cross.

He was arrested—for you!
He was tried—for you!
He was treated like a criminal—for you!
He died on the cross—for you!

Do you know him?

What a Christ!
What a salvation he brings!

Glory to his name forever. Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?