Monthly Archives: October 2017

Jesus’ trial and Peter’s denial (John 18.12-40)

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As we face Jesus’ trial and then the actual crucifixion, the overarching word is Caiaphas’ unwitting prophecy that it is “good if one man dies for the people” (18.14). In undergoing extreme suffering and humiliation Jesus was evidently keenly aware of the Father’s purpose that he should die so that all who believe in him might enjoy life in his name (20.31). When facing suffering, it is always deeply strengthening if we can see how God uses our sufferings and has loving purposes through it all.

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John subtly underlines the contrast between the unreliable Peter and Jesus with his unswerving faith by interweaving Peter’s threefold denial between the different stages of Jesus’ trial. This contrast is highlighted by the words Peter uses. As we saw in our last blog, Jesus once more asserted his divine claim in these final ‘I am’ (ego eimi) sayings (c.f.18.5, 6). In 18.17 and 25 Peter, on the other hand, denies Jesus with the words “I am not” (ouk eimi). Jesus’ glory shines so brilliantly in comparison with Peter’s and our human weakness and fear.

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It is noteworthy that no-one during the ministry of Jesus had particularly noticed “the other disciple” (18.16. Was this John himself?). But Peter was an outstanding personality and so was recognised by the girl at the door and by others (18.17 and 26). Of course his rash use of the sword to cut off Malchus’ ear had made him even more noticeable. It is dangerous to stand out so strongly from the run-of-the-mill crowd, but Peter and others like him throughout church history have been tremendously used by the Lord. We need to pray that God would give us more such outstanding Christians in our churches –  gifted for wonderfully fruitful service, although sadly capable of serious sin that may deny the Lord.

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The ignorance and lack of justice in Jesus’ trial shocks us to the core. It must have been agonising for Jesus to have to undergo such blatant injustice together with loneliness and rejection in his time of fearful need. An incorrupt justice system and one that is free of political or mob power is vital for any healthy society. Sadly in many countries today wide-spread corruption, unrestrained political power and the threat of violence by antagonistic mobs is robbing so many people of true justice. Let us beseech the God of justice and righteousness to have mercy on our world!

In talking with Pilate Jesus affirms that his kingdom is “not of this world” and, as the Greek says, ‘not from here’ (18.36). Because this is so, Jesus’ followers must not fight to prevent his arrest. We notice again the importance of Jesus’ rebuke when Peter cuts off Malchus’ ear. Occasionally in history Christians have failed to follow the Lord’s rejection of such violence to defend his cause, but Jesus’ teaching on this subject is abundantly clear.

Jesus openly talks of his kingdom (18.36), but he carefully avoids answering Pilate’s question: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (18.33) and again “You are a king then?” (18.37). In answer to the first time Pilate asks, Jesus counters it with another question. He asks Pilate where he got the idea from (18.34). When Pilate repeats the question, Jesus merely answers: “You say I am a king” (18.37 – NIV wrongly adds “You are right in saying . . .” ). Pilate was not Jewish (c.f.18.35) and could only have misunderstood if Jesus had said that he is King. So in 18.37 Jesus changes the topic and declares that he “came into the world to testify to the truth”. In the presence of the high-priest Jesus had already emphasised that he was speaking the truth (18.23). Once again therefore we need to note how John constantly underlines truth. Pilate’s consequent question could easily have come from the post-modern non-Christian Britain of our day. “What is truth?” What a challenge to us as Christians living in our contemporary society!

P.S. This Monday Oct. 16th I fly to Singapore, Sarawak and Java for three weeks. I am invited and my programme is arranged by a large church in Singapore. There will be no more blogs therefore until after I get back on Nov. 3rd. Elizabeth will sadly not be coming with me, but will spend most of that time staying with our three children in Greenwich and Chichester. Please pray for us. Thank you so much.

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‘I am’ will drink the Cup (John 18.1-11)

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John’s Gospel is famous for its ‘I am’ statements, revealing just who Jesus is and what he does for his followers – the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the light of the world, the way, the truth and the life etc. But it is less commonly noted that the final ‘I am’ statement comes here in chapter 18 in the context of Jesus’ betrayal and the start of the Gospel’s climax in the suffering, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Between the two references to ‘I am’ in verses 5 and 6 John makes specific mention of Judas who traitorously betrayed Jesus.
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Jesus’ clear declaration that he is the Lord God himself comes with his ignominious suffering. His glory in the resurrection and ascension back to the right hand of the Father can only come through the terrible ‘cup which the Father has given him’ (18.11). What an amazing truth that YHWH/‘I am’ (see Exodus 3.14) is a suffering God. He does not sit in splendid divinity above the squalor of our human sufferings and strivings. He suffers with us and for us. The Japanese theologian K. Kitamori has written a major book on the Suffering God. He refers to Jeremiah 31.20 as the gospel in a nutshell. God’s strong compassionate love for his people causes his heart to “yearn” (a violent word of extreme suffering) for his people Ephraim. For God love and pain go hand in hand together.
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When Judas and his accompanying mob say that it is Jesus of Nazareth they are looking for, Jesus unequivocally answers “I am”. In so doing he clearly claims that he is not only the expected Messiah, but that he is the Lord God himself. When the soldiers and officials hear this, they retreated and fell in awe to the ground (18.6). Normally a Jew will never dare to utter the divinely revealed name YHWH; it is too holy to pass mere human lips. But Jesus unhesitatingly uses the name with reference to himself. In his human weakness as he is betrayed and captured he does not reflect our picture of the Lord God incarnate, the one whom the Father has sent to this world to redeem his people. But perhaps our concept of God is inadequate. He is not only the Lord of glory, but also at the same time the suffering God. So when we suffer, God himself shares that bitter experience with us. When the pain of redundancy, broken relationships or cancer hits us, Jesus walks with us in it. People ask, “where was God in the Holocaust?” The answer is clear – he was in the gas chambers suffering and dying with us in our agony.
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Malchus’ ear (18.10,11)

In these days of Islamist terrorism in the name of God it is good that we remember this event. We need to preach on this more often! Not many things are recorded in all four Gospels, but Jesus’ rejection of Peter’s use of the sword to defend him is found in all four. What a contrast with Islamist use of violence! Peter draws his sword to defend the Lord and cuts off Malchus’ right ear. For followers of Jesus there is here a clear lesson. Violence in the name of God or in attempting to defend the honour of the Lord is definitely forbidden.  This event remained so vividly in the evangelists’ memories that they even record which ear was cut off! But Jesus rejects all use of such violence. He therefore heals Malchus’ ear (Luke 22.51). Having ordered Peter to put his sword away, in John’s account Jesus proceeds immediately to assert that he must drink the cup which the Father has given him. Jesus is determined to go through with the horrors of his trial and his crucifixion. Nothing can deter him from following the path the Father has set him. The Gethsemane prayer that he might be spared from this cup of suffering  has now been replaced with the definite purpose that he should follow the will of the Father, not his own will.
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Matthew’s account of this incident leads into the strong principle that violence just breeds more violence. And Jesus points out that he doesn’t need such militant defence, for he could so easily call on the Father and he would send twelve legions of angels to fight for him (Matt.26.53). In typical fashion then Matthew records Jesus’ concern that “the Scriptures be fulfilled” (26.54). John does not record any of this. Why not? Perhaps because he is more concerned with Jesus himself – who he is and what he does. So he leaves out human principles and only records Jesus’ determination to fulfil the Father’s purposes for him. As he had finally prayed in Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22.42) – a model prayer for us all as we follow Jesus.
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