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The moon was full and the sky was dark. The moon is always full on Passover, the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Passover is always on the 15th day of Nissan on the Jewish calendar and begins a seven-day festival of celebration remembering the Exodus and how Jehovah God delivered his people out of bondage in Egypt. It's a victory celebration!
And Jesus wanted to celebrate the Passover with his disciples. He knew it would be his last Passover, but they didn't. They were preparing themselves for a coronation after the Triumphal Entry less than a week ago. They were ready to crown Jesus King and watch him use his miraculous power to vanquish the Roman Empire. Their hopes were high!
But Jesus wasn't preparing for a coronation. He was preparing for a crucifixion, a crucifixion that would take everybody by surprise. The only crown he was going to wear was a crown woven of thorns.
It had already been a full night. Jesus had washed their dirty feet. Given them much needed instruction. Ate and drank the Passover meal. Initiated what we call the Lord's Supper that we'll observe today. Prayed with them. Prayed for them. Sang a hymn and now it was time to go.
And we pick up the story in John 18:1, When 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.
Jesus and his disciples left the Upper Room in downtown Jerusalem and wove their way through the narrow city streets. They passed through the eastern gate and down the steep Kidron Valley.
The Kidron Valley separated Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. The Hebrew word "Kidron" means dark or black. The dark valley was literally black from the blood of sacrifices that were offered on the Temple Mount directly above.
There was a drain under the altar and the blood of countless bulls, sheep, goats and doves slaughtered over the years flowed through that drain and emptied out into the Kidron Valley below.
Thousands of lambs had been sacrificed just that day. It was dark. It was filthy. It smelled like death. Jesus had crossed that valley many times, but this would be the last time he'd cross before he'd become the sacrificial Lamb of God. It was the valley of the shadow of death if there ever was one.
And on the other side of the valley at the base of the Mount of Olives was an olive grove, a garden, the Garden of Gethsemane. The word Gethsemane is also pregnant with meaning. It literally means "olive press."
It was the place where olives were harvested from trees on the Mount of Olives and taken to be crushed under a heavy stone. And out of those olives would flow oil for lamps and cooking, cosmetics and medication. It was olive oil that was used for light and beauty, nourishment and healing.
Gethsemane was the place where Jesus would be crushed under the weight of his mission to save the world. He's the one full of light and beauty, nourishment and healing. Look at verse 2, Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
Jesus loved to go to the garden of Gethsemane. It was a familiar place, a beautiful place, a safe place, a quiet place. It was a place where Jesus would often go and get alone with his disciples. And because of that Judas knows exactly where to find him. And when he does the other gospel writers tell us that in the darkness he signals the mob by giving Jesus a kiss on the check which will later give rise to the phrase "the kiss of death."
Jesus is in Gethsemane, the olive press, going through hell. Matthew tells us that his soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Mark records that he can't even stand up, but keeps falling on his face, rolling around on the ground. Dr. Luke tells us that he's sweating drops of blood, a rare condition that today is called hematidrosis caused by extreme physical, emotional, and mental stress.
It happens when the body pushes back on itself leaving a person extremely weak, dehydrated, with skin that's so tissue-thin and tender that even touching it is excruciating. And yet in the next twelve hours Jesus' tissue thin skin will be more than touched. It will be beaten and scourged and mutilated.
But it's in the garden where Jesus gains the victory. It's in the garden where he crosses what I call the "bridge of nevertheless," a bridge that we all need to cross at some point when we're overwhelmed with sorrow and fear and stress.
Three times Jesus prays, "Abba Father, take this cup from me. Take this cup from me. Take this cup from me. Yet nevertheless, not my will be done, but your will be done."
Do you need to pray that prayer right now? What cup, what struggle, what situation are you in that you want God to take away? You pray and you pray and you pray and nothing changes. Maybe it's time you crossed the bridge of nevertheless. "God, this is what I want. This is what I hope happens. Yet, nevertheless, not my will, but thy will be done."
Jesus crosses that bridge in the garden. And his decision to stay up on the cross was not made at Golgotha. It was made in Gethsemane. He comes to terms with the cross in the garden. And that's significant because it was in a garden that we got into this mess in the first place. It was in a garden where Adam and Eve first sinned.
So Jesus returns to the scene of the crime as it were, a garden, and begins to reverse the curse brought on by Adam's disobedience. Jesus, described in Scripture as the second Adam, succeeds in the garden where the first Adam failed. He will submit to his father's will, not rebel against it.
And what are his disciples doing while all this life and death struggle is unfolding? Sleeping. Checked out. Worthless. Not a whole lot of support right now for Jesus. He's feeling very much alone and it's not good to be alone we remember from the first Adam's experience, especially when going through a faith crisis. But thank God there was an angel in the garden who strengthened him. Just like there was an angel stationed in that first garden. There are so many parallels here and paradoxes too. And now the Jesus paradox begins.
Look at verse 3, So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. 4Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?" 5"Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "I am he," Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6When Jesus said, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground.
Here's the first paradox. The paradox of control. Who's in control here? Judas? The soldiers with their assault weapons? The officials? The chief priests? The Pharisees? The Devil? Or Jesus? Jesus is in control. He knows exactly what's going to happen to him. And unlike the first Adam who turned and ran and hid himself in the bushes, Jesus, the Second Adam, boldly steps forward and says, "Who do you want?"
And when he says, "I am he," they're literally knocked off their feet. That phrase I am he, is just two words in Greek "Ego. Eimi," literally "I Am" which is the Hebrew name for God. It's the name revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14 when God says, "I Am who I Am."
"I Am" is the name of God. And when Jesus drops God's name they are blown away. Jesus is God come in the flesh and his weapons are greater than the weapons of any human kingdom. The unarmed Jesus is calling the shots here. He's in control. And if he wanted, he could have walked right out of that garden free and clear. But he doesn't. Instead, he's going to submit himself to the will of God and allow himself to be arrested. The first paradox is the paradox of control. Jesus has everything under control. The second paradox is the paradox of power.
Look at verse 7, Again he asked them, "Who is it you want?" "Jesus of Nazareth," they said. 8Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go." 9This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: "I have not lost one of those you gave me."
Jesus not only uses his power to exert his control. He uses his power to protect his friends. "You looking for me?" Jesus says. "Here I am. Let these guys go."
He's doing exactly what he said he would do just a few hours before in the Upper Room when he said these words recorded in John 15:12-13, My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.
Jesus is laying down his life for his friends. "Let these guys go." And again in John 17:12, While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
Church, this is our Jesus! This is who Valley View is all about. This is why we love him so much. In his hour of greatest need Jesus is using his power to protect his friends by laying down his life for them.
That's how much Jesus loved them. And that's how much Jesus loves you and me. And that's the paradox. When he could have used his power to save himself, to protect himself, Jesus uses it to save and protect his friends who had just let him down when he needed them most. Sound familiar? How often do we let him down? Yet he keeps on loving us. "Let these men go."
And one other paradox in verse 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.) 11Jesus commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" Dr. Luke adds in Luke 22:51, But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him.
The paradox of control. The paradox of power. And now the paradox of love. Can you believe this!? Jesus who just a moment ago was sweating drops of blood through tissue thin skin, collapsing on the ground, crying out in his own physical anguish, heals, not himself, not himself, but an enemy, part of the posse that wants to kill him. A man named Malchus gets his right ear cut off by Peter. Who cares about his severed ear, right? Jesus does. So he screws it back on his head.
The Greek name Malchus literally means "king." So you have the face off of two kings here, Malchus, a symbol of earthly kings who wield the power of the sword and Jesus the heavenly King who wields the power of love. This is Jesus' last recorded miracle before his resurrection and it's a miracle of restoration, healing an enemy. That's a paradox of love.
The world's kingdom displays its power in might and muscle. God's kingdom displays its power in sacrificial, healing love. Jesus, in his hour of greatest need, when he could have powered up and called an army of angels chooses the power of love and healing and submission in the face of threats and violence.
"Am I leading a rebellion that you've come out with swords and clubs to capture me?" he says in Matthew 26. "Put your sword away? Those who live by the sword will die by the sword."
Can I ask you a question? Are you with Jesus or are you with Malchus? Where do you need to put your sword away right now? Where do you need to drop your weapons and stop the fight? Where do you need to move towards someone with healing and forgiveness and restoration, not anger, hatred and violence? That's the way of Jesus. Two sets of values collide in the Garden of Gethsemane, God's kingdom and the world's kingdom. Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. Love begets love. Put your sword away.
Am I leading a rebellion? Jesus said. Jesus didn't come to lead a rebellion. He came to start a revolution and that's very different. A rebellion keeps the same values of power, might, and intimidation in place with just a different set of names on top. A revolution, at least the revolution that Jesus brings, completely turns the kingdom upside down.
Jesus never commands us to kill for him. But he does invite to die for him, to lay down our life for him and one another. And every one of his followers in the garden that night, except John who wrote this gospel, will die for Jesus and the revolution that he started.
John 18:12, Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus.
Jesus came to start a revolution, a whole other way to see reality. But it came at price. Within 24 hours Jesus would be dead and all his disciples would run away and hide for fear that they would be next. And that brings us to the Lord's Table, the table that Jesus has set for us so that we never forget his love for us and his power to forgive our sins. Jesus drank the cup of God's judgment so we could drink this cup of God's blessing.