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The DEEP

Moonlight, Cold Steel and a Kiss

Jesus in the place of crushing

John 18:1-6

 

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. 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?”

They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

 

Have you ever been arrested? I have not. Oh, I have received my share of citations from law enforcement related to speeding or being parked incorrectly and I am sure I have paid a small mint in various civic fines. In my young, wild college days I was once lectured by the chief of police in the one-stoplight town where I went to school–because I had thoughtlessly pedaled my bike past a stop sign on a backstreet one night after class. I have been yelled at, chewed out and grumbled over by annoyed authorities–but in my efforts to live the quiet, vanilla life prized by western culture, I have never been incarcerated. 

Maybe you have been arrested. Maybe your past is scarred by encounters with police or military authorities. The more I get to know other believers, the more I come to understand that the experience of many christians around the world can be far more traumatic. The haunting words of Russian dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn describe the complete disruption of a life that can come when the hammer of worldly authority comes down on a citizen who has violated the edicts of a totalitarian state:


“That's what arrest is: it's a blinding flash and a blow which shifts the present instantly into the past and the impossible into omnipotent actuality.
That's all. And neither for the first hour nor for the first day will you be able to grasp anything else.


Except that in your desperation the fake circus moon will blink at you: "It's a mistake! They'll set things right!”


And everything which is by now comprised in the traditional, even literary, image of an arrest will pile up and take shape, not in your own disordered memory, but in what your family and your neighbors in your apartment remember: The sharp nighttime ring or the rude knock at the door…The insolent entrance of the unwiped jackboots of the unsleeping State Security operatives…– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Throughout history–and even as we speak–Christians have often found themselves on the wrong side of the law of men and the state, simply for their faith. 

Here in John 18 we find Jesus and His disciples facing the cold specter of arrest. After three years of earthly ministry, walking the dusty roads Galilee and Judea as the Father’s living Word in His obedient journey to the cross, the forces of darkness are closing in. As Jesus and His disciples seek one last quiet place of refuge in the night, men with swords, chains and torches are making their way to them. 

In order to keep the peace, soldiers and will seek to arrest the Prince of Peace–and the world will never be the same.

The passover ended and the events of what will come to be called the “Last Supper” have concluded. Jesus has prayed for Himself, for His disciples–and for you and me. And now this small band, walking in the night, has come to the garden gate:

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.–John 18:1

Jesus and His disciples have left the city proper. In the moonlight they descend into the two-hundred foot ravine that courses the eastern side of the old city and cross a dry stream bed. This is the Kidron Valley, a seasonal brook that lies dry most of the year–like a wadi of the Near East or an arroyo of the American southwest. 

The path leads to the Mount of Olives and the garden of Gethsemane, meaning “place of pressing” or “crushing” in reference to the olive press where agribusiness has been established. Over the course of His ministry it has become a refuge for the young rabbi and His followers. 

Do you have a place of peace where you can escape from the strife and pressures of this world? A local park, a shady path, a quiet room in your house or even the drive to work can offer a place to pray or study the Word. A place where people know to give you some time alone, some space to think or gather your thoughts.

Jesus is seeking this now. In the “place of crushing” He will be crushed in a sense as a new step in His humiliation is realized. Gethsemane is mentioned in all four gospels–Mark recalls that Jesus’s disciples fell asleep (Mark 14) while He prayed and Luke records that Jesus’s sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Luke 22:44). 

That night, Jesus’s place of refuge became a place of agony–because this is exactly where Judas knew where to find him:

And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples.–John 18:2

Judas Iscariot. Judas “the Knife.” The sicario. Jesus had sent him away during the meal because He knew the betrayal was coming–that His friend would sell Him for 30 pieces of silver. Judas, who had spent three years in ministry with Jesus and shared the difficult life of the traveling teacher, nevertheless came to hate his rabbi as he sank deeper into his sinful selfishness. 

To be so close to the Lamb of God, to break bread with Jesus and to share the miles, the miracles and mystery of the Christ–and yet give him over to the authorities for a pittance. We see a shadow of Judas in William Shakespeare's “Macbeth,” where a once-loyal warrior betrayed and murdered his king for an empty promise:


But 'tis strange. 
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, 
The instruments of darkness tell us truths, 
Win us with honest trifles, to betray's 
In deepest consequence.”–Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3

Judas has come to the garden, but he does not come alone:

Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.–John 18:3

The gospels all mention that Judas was accompanied by soldiers, doubtless temple police, but John recalls that the betrayer also received a detachment of Roman soldiers. These were troops from Fortress Antonia who were on guard in the city during the festive Passover week when Jewish nationalism ran high and rebellion was on the breeze.

On a moonlit night, Judas, the Jews and even Romans came armed to the teeth–to arrest a teacher and His eleven weary and confused followers. 

For John and the disciples have yet to probably figure out what is really going on. They are continually bewildered at Jesus’s words as He prepared them for the cross, for His arrest, for this night. Now, as they struggle to stay awake, and aware that something is up, the rattling noise of a great company approaches them through the olive trees. 

As one commentator muses over how John may have responded:

Then all at once I saw Judas at the head of the throng. “It’s all right,” I said to the others, “Judas is with them.” But it was not all right. –Michael Card, Parable of Joy

Through the trees a figure boldly approaches the mass of armed men who halt. Eyes darting, hands fidgeting with sword hilts, torchlight flickering against the deep green of the olive leaves:

 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”–John 18:4 

Judas, at about this time, steps close to Jesus and kisses him. A kiss of bitter deceit.

What would you do if you suddenly faced this? The quiet night is suddenly disrupted, your quiet gathering crashed by law enforcement–but not one or two helpful sheriffs deputies responding to complaints from the neighbors of people loitering in the woods. No, this is like a company of Marines, battle hardened and riot wary who know that trouble is brewing.

Jesus boldly walks out to them not just that He us unafraid, He knows that this is what His Father has intended for Him to do. D.A. Carson puts it well:

Jesus offers up His life in obedience to His Father, not as a pathetic martyr buffeted by the ill winds of cruel fate. In full knowledge of what was to befall Him, Jesus went out and asked his question.–D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John

Jesus is not a victim. The Son of Man has come to do just what He is doing now–facing cruel arrest, torture and death for those whom He has just been praying. He strides boldly through the garden gate and tells them to speak up:

They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.–John 18:5

Jesus does not just say “It is I,” when He identifies Himself. He says I AM. The ego emi (ἐγώ εἰμι) is the name from the burning bush, the name from the fire of Mount Sinai–the name of God. 

Early in 2021, an Italian artist auctioned off an ‘Invisible Sculpture’ titled lo sono (which translates to “I am”). He had simply drawn a white square on the ground and declared it to be a “space for the imagination.” The art world clapped–and he sold this space of air for a stunning $18,300. 

However, Jesus’s words were not mere air to the temple officials and the soldiers who came for Him: 

Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.–John 18:6

As Martin Luther penned of Satan in “A Mighty Fortress,” One little word shall fell him–and that word is the name of Jesus.

The priests hit the dirt, the temple officials scrambled and the Roman soldiers, perhaps fearing that this was a signal for ambush drew swords and backed up. Blades flashed, men whimpered and prayers were muttered.

In the midst of it all quietly stood the Lamb of God.

Jesus is the I AM. 


I am the Bread of Life.
I am the Light of the World.
I am the Good Shepherd.
I am The Way.

In the words of Thomas à Kempis:

Follow thou me. I am the way and the truth and the life. Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living. I am the way which thou must follow; the truth which thou must believe; the life for which thou must hope. I am the inviolable way; the infallible truth, the never-ending life. I am the straightest way; the sovereign truth; life true, life blessed, life uncreated.–Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Jesus has prayed that you would see His glory and follow Him. As He faced the soldiers and confronted His accusers–and his former friend, now betrayer–He was thinking of you. If Jesus can do this, how can you not boldly face your own fears, failings and besetting sins? Jesus goes before you into the torchlight–all you can do is follow Him.

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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