Monday, March 17, 2008

I Am He - John 18:5

It is Monday in Holy Week, and I'm going to try to blog something from the Gospel reading of each night this week. Wednesday's will be longer as I'm preaching in Magheralin. Thursday's will be done at some point as I won't be at church - I'm going under the hammer knife. Just minor operation, nothing too serious.

Tonight's reading was John 18:1-14, 19-24. Here we find John's account of the arrest of Jesus in the garden across the Kidron Valley (Gethsemane). It was a place that Jesus knew well, for he had often taken his disciples there. Could this have been a regular place of prayer while in Jerusalem, away from the crowds? It appears that it was also familiar to Judas, who hadn't went with Jesus that night - having departed from the meal early 'and it was night.'

As Judas brings the band of soldiers and the officers up the Kidron Valley, in darkness, with them carrying torches, lanterns and weapons, Jesus takes the initiative. Notice how Jesus is in control. While John doesn't record the anguish in the garden, there is space for it to have happened. Consider verse 4 - 'Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them...'

Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, knows all that will happen to him. But he doesn't shrink back from it. He is committed to the Father's will, to fulfilling the scripture (verse 9). So he comes forward to them and addresses them directly. 'Whom do you seek?'

Their answer could not be more earthy. They are seeking Jesus of Nazareth. The man from Nazareth. But look at the answer Jesus gives them, and their response.

'Jesus said to them "I am he" ... they drew back and fell to the ground.'

εγω ειμι - 'I am' says Jesus, and we see just a spark of his divine glory and power. You may know already that seven times in John's Gospel Jesus speaks of himself saying 'I am ...' the bread of life; the light of the world; the door of the sheep; the good shepherd; the way, the truth and the life; the resurrection and the life; the true vine. In all these 'I am' statements, but more especially here, he reveals himself as God incarnate. 'I am' is the divine name of Yahweh, Jehovah, 'I AM WHO I AM' (Exodus 3:14).

Just as Philippians 2 tells us that every name will bow at the name of Jesus, so here we see the burly soldiers literally falling back to the ground as Jesus speaks and reveals a glimpse of his glory. How great is our God!

At this point the soldiers are on the ground, so Jesus calmly asks them again who they are looking. Again, they respond by saying his name, and again he tells them who he is. Can you see again how Jesus is in control? He ensures that the disciples will not be arrested, but will be free to escape, fulfilling scripture.

And then, in steps Peter. Peter the impetuous. Peter the one who speaks or acts, then thinks about it a week or so later. Out comes the sword, and off comes the ear of Malchus, the high priest's servant. Notice again that Jesus is concerned with fulfilling the Father's will, as he commits himself to drink the cup that the Father has given him.

Even in the midst of arrest and trial, Jesus is in control, knowing what the future holds for him, yet willingly going to the cross, suffering the shame. All in order for us to be reconciled to God, so that not one of those the Father has given him may be lost (see John 6:37, 39, 40, 44; John 10:28-29)

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