Preach on John 18: 1-14 // The Kingdom Contrast
(Preached at TRINITY Lewes: South Malling 25/9/16 & Southover/St John’s 9/10/16)
Series in John’s gospel
Jesus has been praying, for himself, the disciples, then for all believers – we have looked at over the last few weeks. and now they head out to the olive grove.
This is a key moment. This arrest is really the point of no return. Jesus is in total submission to his Father’s will. And it puts into play the beginning of the biggest turning point ever in history.
Can we begin to imagine what was going on?
Jesus leaving the security and safety of that upper room, taking with him his faithful followers, the disciples. He knows he is going to his death. I mean I wonder how much strength did it take him to leave then. He is fully divine but also fully human – did he feel the fear? What thoughts were going through his mind? Was his heart racing?
And the disciples – what were they thinking? Were they mulling over what Jesus had just said and prayed? And then, the soldiers arrive – was there confusion among the disciples then? Did they wonder what was going on?
You know, this scene reminds me of those high drama movies where you get to a point when feel like everything is lost, nothing can save the day, all the plans and hopes have gone, and yet there is still half an hour to go in the movie. Something has to happen to change this right?
Wasn’t Jesus supposed to win the day? Like some ancient James Bond? Wasn’t he supposed to overcome the forces of evil, defeat his arch enemy?
It’s that point we are at.
Well of course we know that he did, he does. But back then, I think the disciples would have been in turmoil, in confusion, anger, disappointment, and many more emotions flying around.
This is not what they expected.
And in fact, this is a passage full of that – of opposites, or contrasts. And I think it truly highlights for us the difference between kingdom living- living for the kingdom of God, seeing things as God does,
and earthly living – seeing things through our own eyes.
We aim for one, but often fall to the other.
And living between those two extremes is a tough place to be. At the end of the day, that is why we need Jesus, because we can’t live in those extremes in our own strength, we need his grace to get us through.
So we are going to look at the contrasts in this passage – The kingdom contrasts and what they mean for us.
Main passage //
So, I’m going to highlight 3 areas:
1) Judas vs Jesus – what we do for love and what tips us over the edge.
2) A Loving response – Jesus’ actions here, filled with love and compassion, even in the face of such anger and hate.
3) And finally redemption. A great contrast between what we deserve and what we get…
1) Judas vs Jesus – what we do for love and what tips us over the edge.
The fine line between love and hate
So the villain of this piece is clearly Judas isn’t it? And we are going to be looking at him a bit this morning. And I don’t know about you but I have to admit I feel a bit sorry for Judas. And I will tell you why.
Did you know historically, particularly in the middle ages and renaissance art, Judas has been portrayed in artwork with red hair.
During the Victorian era, red hair was viewed with almost as much repugnance as sex, vice, and those who worked in trade. The colour was thought to signify ferocity, excessive passion, cruelty and treachery, and any ginger-headed character appearing in a novel could immediately be understood to be a ne’er-do-well.
Hmmm… well, sorry, your new Curate may not be as good as you had hoped…
But seriously…. I do actually feel a bit sorry for Judas, (red hair or not, which is unlikely in the Middle East 2000 years ago.) Knowing that Jesus had to die, didn’t someone have to do this? Didn’t someone have to do the dirty work?
Because actually a bit earlier and we heard this a few weeks ago in John 17:12, John’s gospel says this:
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…
except the one doomed to destruction? And so that scripture could be fulfilled?
Didn’t someone have to do this?
Or we could also ask – why did he do it – as I am sure people over the centuries have done?
Well in John 13 and in Luke 22 the scripture says that Satan entered Judas.
I don’t know I think that sounds like an easy answer – Satan made him do it. Whilst I believe the enemy can influence us and our behaviour, we usually do have a choice.
And I think here it was Judas’ own emotions and feelings that led him down this path of betrayal.
And actually it’s a perfect example of humanity. That, I think we can all be led to places we might not think we can go –
in frustration, in anger, in disappointment perhaps. Surely we can all think of times where we have behaved in a way that we would rather forget?
And that behaviour was probably provoked in some way, by our own emotions or experiences.
Well have you heard the saying:
“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” It’s attributed to Shakespeare, although what he actually said was:
“Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises.”,
it’s from All’s Well That Ends Well William Shakespeare
Is that what happened to Judas? Did he feel that his expectations were not met, did he feel let down?
In Matthew 26 we see the potential origins of this. This is where a woman comes and pours very expensive perfume over Jesus.
The text tells us that the disciples were indignant, why this waste?
Is that what Judas was angry about? Was this the last straw? as he straight away heads off to find the Pharisees. Is he angry? Frustrated. Disillusioned maybe?
Something has taken him from following Jesus, having given up all, to follow him, to betraying him. A massive contrast in behaviour. So why?
Well we know that often the disciples just didn’t get what Jesus was saying, they thought he was going to overthrow the Romans and be rightful king of Israel. Was Judas following him on this basis? Did he think he was going to bring about a new kingdom, politically, there and then?
Perhaps he had a moment of realisation that this was not was Jesus would do? In the prayer Jesus’ just prayed it was pretty obvious he was about to leave them, even if they didn’t understand why or how. Was Judas overcome with frustration? Did he feel let down by someone he had trusted so completely?
>> I wonder, if you have ever felt let down by someone you trusted so completely? Have you found yourself so frustrated when someone’s actions have not been what you thought they would? How did you feel? How did you react?
Often there are 2 types of people in that kind of scenario. One responds vocally, rants raves, gets angry, confronts the situation and it comes to a head. The other silently seethes, inwardly processing before, often, those emotions take over and they do something they might later regret.
I have faced both of those and neither is a nice place to be. In the first I was let down by someone who I loved and who I thought would do anything for me. When a tough situation came along, I found that actually I wasn’t their priority and that hurt. And I let it hurt me, for a long time, before repenting and seeking healing. That relationship is healed, spiritually, and I even go so far as to call them a friend, but it’s not the same and never will be.
In another, I was promised a lot in a work context and was let down, those promises apparently based on nothing. I found myself going down the slope to bitterness and brooding, until Jesus got involved! And instead I addressed the situation, angrily it’s true, but with some grace, and it enabled it to be sorted out.
I think Judas was the brooding type. I think his actions were the final straw in his frustration. He snapped and did something he would clearly later regret.
There is I think, a very fine line between love and hate.
I have seen it for myself and been surprised by my own actions. I have seen it in others, in relationships that have fallen apart, where 2 people once loved each other with passion and devotion, only to have that crumble and they instead turn that passion to anger and to destroying each other.
We are in fact all capable of it.
In fact, pretty much all of the disciples let Jesus down that night in one way or another. They all deserted him in his hour of need. Peter turns into some kind of crazy sword wielder and later denies Jesus 3 times. These are people who spent their lives with Jesus, learning straight from him, and still in the moment, their kingdom living ideals went out the window…
We are all capable of it.
Because the simple fact is we are not yet in eternity, not yet fully living in the kingdom, we don’t always act as we should.
2) A Loving response –
So, in the face of this behaviour what does Jesus do here? In the face of Judas betraying him, turning his back on him, reacting in fact out of love?
He is the absolute contrast to Judas, as we would expect, if Judas is the example of Satan here then of course Jesus is the opposite. The symbol of love, of hope, of patience, compassion… Just as he is to us, whatever our situation.
Just looking at Judas, let’s just highlight that he was one of Jesus’ followers, right up until this moment he was a disciple. He had given up all to follow Jesus, been with him, seen him do healings, had probably been part of doing some himself. He was not just like a movie villain, evil to the core!
And in fact we have seen this as they have all gathered round the table for the last supper just a few hours earlier, they have shared bread and wine together, even Judas. And Jesus knows what he is going to do, in Matthew 26 we see Jesus and Judas converse, that they both know what is going to happen.
And yet it is after this moment that they share the bread and wine, and Jesus says again in Matt 26:
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
He knows what is to happen and yet he still shares the bread and wine with them all Judas included, talking about forgiveness. Jesus does not respond as one might expect, he responds from a fully kingdom perspective.
Now of course John actually paints Judas in a worse light, referring to him in chapter 12 as a thief.
And suggests that Jesus identifies Judas to another disciple by handing him some bread, rather than to his face, in John 13.
I feel sure that despite knowing what Jesus did about what Judas was going to do he would have loved him as much as anyone else. He may have been filled with sorrow, disappointment even, but I don’t think he stopped loving him.
In fact in the face of Judas’ anger and frustration we see Jesus acting with complete calm and grace.
There is such contrast here, if we can imagine the scene, Jesus and his disciples, having had a wonderful meal together and prayed and shared together, then go to the garden, a place they have gathered many times before, perhaps in quiet contemplation, perhaps in fellowship, chatting with one another, perhaps praying, we don’t know except that they were a group of friends together.
Then comes the starkness of the contrast in vs 3:
‘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.’
The quiet, peaceful, prayerful, friendly atmosphere is shattered in an instant. Did they hear the soldiers approaching? It is likely. Were they a mob shouting or calling out? Were they angry? I imagine the Pharisees must have been feeling some sense of triumph that finally Jesus was going to be arrested. Was there hostility in their actions and words? Of course we don’t know but we know they were carrying weapons, this was not a peaceful deposition, that’s for sure! We cannot underestimate this scene. So often we read things in the bible and it’s not a novel, it doesn’t describe for us every detail, but this is not a nice scene even as it may seem calm and peaceful. Tensions would have been high amongst the soldiers and priests, weapons drawn, at the ready. Which makes Jesus behaviour all the more of a contrast:
he doesn’t respond with anger, retaliation, fear or defence. No he calmly asks who they are looking for.
And again we see his love and compassion as he asks for the others to be left alone, our passage telling us that:
This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.
(Except possibly Judas…)
His concern is for his disciples even in this hour of darkness. Even with an angry mob facing him.
And above all Jesus strength of love, against the hatred, or anger of Judas and his accusers stands out.
3) And finally let’s look at redemption. The great contrast between what we deserve and what we get…
Jesus is all about redemption. All about bringing us back from a place of brokenness, of sin, to relationship with God.
So Judas, what happened to him? Was he really the movie villain who got his come uppance, got what he deserved? Well biblical reports differ, and they aren’t exactly pleasant reading either. But we do know that Judas died.
… (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out…)
Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.
But I want to focus on this – that according to Matthew, Judas felt remorse and returned the money. He is basically repenting of what he did, he is saying he made a mistake and he is trying to some extent put it right.
Judas repented and declared Jesus innocent and confessed his sin.
Was he really then condemned to a life of hell? Now I think we need to be clear that not everyone goes to heaven, there is a lot of liberal theology around on that, and we need to know that Jesus is the only way to the Father.
And of course we don’t know what happened to Judas, but I think that he was in this moment, feeling complete despair. An absolute lack of hope. He’s thinking he’s committed a terrible sin, an innocent man has been arrested. Not only that but perhaps the only hope to bring about change in their political system, in their nation and he’s the one who got rid of him. He has in the process probably lost all his friends, he might as well have sold them out too. And he finds himself alone with these dark thoughts with no hope, and with no hope, comes despair.
But like everything else in this passage there is another way of looking at it, a contrast, the kingdom view.
For centuries the church has taught that Judas was the ultimate sinner, that not only did he sell out Jesus, God, I mean there’s not much worse that that right? But then he kills himself too… suicide has always been taught as an unforgivable sin. But I don’t think it’s anywhere near as simple as that.
Because, does God, in seeing someone in their darkest hour, their absolute moment of need, suddenly become uncompassionate and turn away? Really? When a person might be the most in need of some love in their entire life? I don’t think that sounds like our God does it?
And really, do we think that’s what happened to Judas? Or to anyone else?
Our God is about redemption, about taking people out of brokenness, of healing, of wholeness with God. Mercy and grace are all about us getting what we don’t deserve. The punishments we do deserve – Jesus has taken them away. The good things we never earned – we get them anyway.
So often we become bogged down with just one view, our own view, our own earthly experience, but Jesus shows us another way to see things, a kingdom view… that is the kingdom contrast.
So, was Judas the villain? Well, I am not sure but I think we can learn a lot from him and I am sure that is why he is there in scripture.
Perhaps we can see a bit of ourselves in Judas? Do we carry that capability to betray or to make the wrong decision?
Or perhaps we can see the bitterness or despair that he carried, in ourselves?
Well I think what is demonstrated at the very heart of this passage is all about love. The absolute purity of Jesus’ love contrasted with the incomplete, failing human version. Jesus in his darkest hour, not just fulfilling his calling, one of love, for humanity, going to die for us,
but acting it out in his every action.
And yet there is Judas, one of the chosen ones, friend of Jesus, loved by him, and I am sure Judas loved Jesus too, and yet his passion that once was for the Lord, following him everywhere, now turns to disillusionment, disappointment reigns, and he betrays him.
At the end of the day, this is why we all need Jesus, why we all need salvation. Because we cannot ever come close to this purity, his love. We need redemption, we need to be set free from our mistakes, our wrong doing, and we get it through him, that’s the only way.
The kingdom of God is both now and not yet – we live in the knowledge that Jesus has won the battle over death and as a result we get to live in relationship with God. We live in that new covenant, but we also know that something so much greater is coming, when all earthly pain and suffering will be gone and we get to be in the presence of the living God for eternity.