How many ideas, proposals and sales pitches do you suppose you are called upon to respond to in a day? It might be literally thousands of times a day. My responses start with the alarm on my phone every morning. Within an hour, I have had my espresso, showered, dressed and looked over the schedule of the day and prayed about things to come. I have checked my email in boxes, and ordered the most priority items for response. I have checked the news in five sources, and then made a quick sweep of Facebook to catch up on any prayer requests and issues that have been sent my way. All this is the first hour. Those responses don’t even take into consideration the choice of colors of clothing or responding to questions on the cereal box – they are just the basic choices of early morning. As the day progresses, I will respond to text messages, phone calls and all kinds of conversation – and so do you. There is little unique about my startup sequence for a modern American who is mid-career. At the same time, I think we all know that how we respond makes a big difference.
If I stay in bed – no work gets done. Since my work involves study and preparation, it is necessary to be self-disciplined, or I will cut corners and cheat you and the Lord in my work. If I decided to shop the internet for a message, rather than carefully take apart the passage and build out what I believe God said in it – you may not know – but Jesus would. If I decided to allow my mind to wander to lust or laziness, it may not be apparent to you, but my Master would know where I have been.
A classic study on response was that performed by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel, called the “marshmallow experiment”. This test was a study of human response in the area of delayed gratification performed in the late 1960s through the 1970s. Wikipedia explained the study this way:
“…In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward (sometimes a marshmallow, but often a cookie or a pretzel, etc.) provided immediately or two small rewards if he or she waited until the experimenter returned (after an absence of approximately 15 minutes) [with a marshmallow, cookie or pretzel in front of them]. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index and other life measures.”
The point of the study was clear – the ability to reason later rewards and delay immediate gratification was a major key to life success. In other words – the ability to control response to stimuli was a key indicator of the heart within.
As Pastor Chuck Swindoll once said, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% of how I react to it.” Those are true words. They should be pondered carefully.
Dear ones, life comes at the modern man or woman very fast. Advertisers cry out a song of constant discontent, designed to show you flaws you may not even have – to entice you buy their product and solve a problem in your life they may have completely made up. This is life today – from the false “free gift” I won in the phone call, to the new drug that will completely solve skin issues I don’t even have – but whose claims have not been verified by the FDA. My life, your life… is about our choices. In an ever more aggressive world – it is about responses. I mention this truth because our lesson today is taken from a text about how people respond.
Just as our response to daily issues shape our days on earth, so our response to Jesus shapes life after this one – our eternity. That is a core truth of God’s Word. We can say it this way…
Key Principle: Your destiny is determined by how you respond to Jesus.
Instead of simply reading the whole passage, let’s read it with the three settings included in the record of the chapter. They are incomplete to the whole story, but are the essential parts of the story expressing the point that John wanted to make. John includes the things that we need to know in order to believe (cp. Jn. 20:30-31).
The first setting is the Garden of Gethsemane – a grove of olive trees at the base of the Kidron Valley on the east side of Jerusalem – where a public olive press poked from the escarpment of the Mt. of Olives. There were camps sites there, and Jesus came to pray with His disciples the night in which He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. That is the setting of John 18:1-12:
In the Garden:
John 18:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples. 2 Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples. 3 Judas then, having received the [Roman] cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am [He].” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. 6 So when He said to them, “I am [He],” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 Therefore He again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am [He]; so if you seek Me, let these go their way,” 9 to fulfill the word which He spoke, “Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.” 10 Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus. 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” 12 So the [Roman] cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him,
If you continue reading in John 18, a second setting in the backdrop of the events is that of the home of Annas and Caiaphas – the family called in Hebrew “Beth Hanan” or the household of Hanan. Eleazar ben Ananus was the Jewish High Priest, 16-17 CE, under under Roman Governor Gratus, and Emperor Tiberius. His son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas did not succeed him directly, but became High Priest after another. Caiaphas continued in office from 26 to 37 CE, until the proconsul Vitellus deposed him. His prestigious family villa was the backdrop of John 18:13-27:
At the Hanan house:
John 18:13 and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people. 15 Simon Peter was following Jesus, and [so] [was] another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in. 17 Then the slave-girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also [one] of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the slaves and the officers were standing [there], having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself. 19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. 21 “Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.” 22 When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” 24 So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You are not also [one] of His disciples, are you?” He denied [it], and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” 27 Peter then denied [it] again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
At the Praetorium:
The third setting of the chapter is found at the Roman Praetorium in Jerusalem. The Latin term praetorium originally meant a general’s tent within a Roman encampment (castrum). It was taken from the name of one of the chief Roman magistrates – a “praetor”- which simply means in Latin “leader” – but in this case denoted a rank just below a consul (one of Rome’s highest positions).
The later buildings that took the name “Praetorium” simply meant the official place where Roman officials could conduct business in the name of the Emperor. Everyone would have been expected to know where the local Praetorium was located in the city. Archaeologists have found the remains of a number of them in places around the Roman world. The buildings were profoundly important in Roman society, for on the outside they would normally display information regarding the sportulae (a schedule of official gifts of benevolence, as well as fees and taxes) of its region carved directly onto tablets and placed on the walls of this important public building. This was the setting for John 18:28-40:
John 18:28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. 29 Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” 30 They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.” 31 So Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.” The Jews said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death,” 32 to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die. 33 Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say [correctly] that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him. 39 “But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” 40 So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.
That may satisfy the WHERE of the STORY, but that isn’t the point of the narrative.
As we have read the story, you may have noticed that there were six named individuals in the text, and two groups that linger in the background. Here is where the real story is told. The people reflect the truth we mentioned before – that response to Jesus determines the destiny of each person – then – as now.
Break the list of people down, and you will find they respond to Jesus the same way people do today. There are two responses:
First, there are the Floundering Cynics:
We all have friends like these. Perhaps they even represent some who took the time to listen to this message. If you are one of them – thank you for giving our message a few minutes of your time! I don’t mean to be rude, but it could be that some of us will see ourselves in these five portraits:
First, there is Judas:
His life reflects a startling truth: “You can be close to the message of Jesus, but reject the Person of Jesus – and you will betray His mastery over your life” (18:2-3).
How many times have we seen this truth clearly? Some of those most deeply critical of the church were those raised in it. They heard, over and over, the message about Jesus – but for some reason did not bring themselves to the position of surrender to Jesus. The fact is that being next to the message doesn’t count if the message does not go within. One can agree in theory that Jesus is Lord of the universe while entirely missing the point that we are PART of the universe that He is Lord over. We can THINK that His claim seems reasonable for a time, without subverting our will to His.
Judas had every opportunity to see Jesus up close. He had the display of confidence that came from being given the purse. He had the constant affirmation of being considered a confidant of Jesus in a ministry that prized that above all else. He had sincerity enough to take time off to walk with the Master for three years, listening, observing, and hearing. He was not unlike that child of a solid Christian home who heard the Word, but also saw it in action. How could he not believe that Jesus was EXACTLY Who He claimed to be? How could he turn his heart to such coldness, when Jesus had helped him put life together?
The answer is both simple and horrifying. Judas didn’t surrender to Jesus the only thing Jesus wanted him to give. Judas stayed on the throne of his own heart, while learning the outward behaviors, the expressions, the songs and the actions of godliness. He had a “form of godliness” – an external etching over a hardened heart. He didn’t have Jesus, because He didn’t want Jesus – he wanted something else.
Behind Judas, the story continues with some more famous players – the elderly Annas, Caiaphas and their surrounding entourage of Jewish leadership.
These men formed a collective model of another truth: ‘You can build your own understanding of God, and reject Jesus because He doesn’t affirm your model’ (18:27). Years of study in the Torah and the Prophets were tucked into the men’s hearts of which we are speaking. They carefully constructed a theology based on their best understanding of texts and arguments of the sages. They were characterized as serious men who sought the truth. Sadly, the Truth stood before them, and they smacked it around without reverence or fear. The Bible says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” They sought to KNOW without the requisite REVERENCE for the Holy One of Israel – who stood now before them.
It is possible to so construct your theology, that you miss God. I have seen it many times. Some construct a theology in which God only does things that make their lives easier. They evaluate GOOD as that which makes their lives more materially prosperous and physically easy. They identify BENEVOLENCE is what makes their lives more enjoyable here on earth. Armed with this false view of God – the genie of Heaven – they miss some of the richest experiences of God that are found in times of trouble that God has deliberately orchestrated for them. They cannot understand the God of Joseph of Nazareth – the God that deliberately planned their road to blessing to pass through the shadow of uncertainty and betrayal. That God makes no sense to them. When they meet Him at the crossroads, they offer Him no reverent bow, because He isn’t the God they expected.
Next, long with the Leadership, we find the Soldiers of the Temple Guard.
They have learned religion, and they do what they are told. They offer us the lesson: ‘You can follow the leaders and the pack, and even learn the religious expressions but never really consider the claims of Jesus’ (18:3-6). These men gave orders to Jesus, but they never listened to Him. Their idea of religion was about control – as it is for so many. They wanted to keep a position. They wanted to preserve a way of life. They wanted to keep others from ruining the status quo. They knew how to fall before a blasphemer, and then get up and slap Him around. They knew by rank and insignia the hierarchy of the important, but they missed God standing in front of them, as they tied Him up and led Him away.
You cannot get far into the story without seeing the *Prefect named Pontius Pilate:
[*The Gospels called Him a Procurator, and college professors in secular settings make a big deal that this indicates later date for the Gospels – into the second century, because this was a LATER TITLE for the office. Yet, Josephus, the best known historian of the end of the First Century used the term Procurator for Prefect (cp. Antiquities of the Jews Book XX, titled: “From Fadus The Procurator To Florus.” Josephus wrote this book before 90 CE at a time contemporary with the early Gospel circulations.]
Pilate clearly modeled another truth: “You can get caught up testing philosophies and theories, and never come to really grasp the truth (18:29-38).” How often I have seen young people twisted in knots by psychology and philosophy studies, or crushed by the questions of their unlearned explorations of the INTERNET, where they encounter millions of entries designed to question every detail of their faith. I read yesterday a “extimony” (a testimony) of an ex-born again Christian. It was thoughtful, well-written and warm. It was not harsh, but showed a young man who grew up with many questions that could not find Christians who would offer any more than “pray about it and God will show you”. He saw intelligence on one side, and blind belief on the other and couldn’t reconcile how he could know truth.
Our cynical modern educational system is designed to underscore the danger of certainty, and the truly educated nature of skepticism. There is value in it – but at the core it HATES any moral certainty derived from faith. In our day, faith is sentimental; science is fact – even if scientists must admit to very significant gaps in what science cannot yet explain. Remove the white lab coat cover and you will see the danger of our time: we have surrendered the very idea of education to those who find moral constraints inherently repugnant. Our society ahs not moved there with both feet, but we are well on our way. The halls of our universities are filled with men and women that are being trained in a vibrant humanism, with all truth being explained from the perspective of a physical world, and an underlying extreme aversion to any metaphysical explanation. When we have reached the goal of modern education, man will be a well-versed godless achiever – a pagan with a benevolent view of human behavior. The fatal flaw in this training will be its inability to accept the deeply broken heart of man. His fallen nature will again exert itself to gain control. The same system that accuses religion of being the “opiate of the masses” will use humanism to gain control of the same body.
Let me make this simple point: Our state university classrooms aren’t playing fair. Our children are being deliberately shaped by some who want to teach our children to apologize for a true faith life – a living relationship with the Jesus of Calvary. They are unashamed to proclaim our message untrue – so I return the favor by making it clear they have an agenda as well. Be careful: you can spend your life in intelligent circles that leave you an empty pagan – just like Pilate was.
Finally there was the criminal Barabbas.
He was saved the physical despair of facing a cross he deserved. When he heard of Yeshua – the name that means RESCUE – that is EXACTLY what happened to him. He got “saved” by Jesus from physical crushing – but passed by his Savior with nothing but a pitied look and a grin. Here is the truth: ‘You can be rescued physically by Jesus, but never listen to the spiritual truth of His message’ (18:39-40) – just like Barabbas did.
The story has some interesting unbelieving cynics, but it also has some pretty clueless believers. In fact, the disciples don’t come off particularly well in the text of the Passion of Christ…
The story also reveals two Failing Christians (with others in the background hiding!):
Like all good stories of the disciples, we must begin with Simon Peter:
As a follower, we can see how well he reveals several truths. One of them is profoundly demonstrated when Pete tried swinging a sword in the garden that night: “You can react to attacks on Jesus with zeal and anger – but not seek Jesus about the plan.” (18:10-11). Peter was the action figure that usually swung the wrong way. He was a danger to himself and others. In point of fact, the other disciples were in as much danger as the soldiers when Peter started flailing that sword. His ZEAL wasn’t his problem. His AIM wasn’t his real issue. The truth of his problem came down to this: Peter REACTED rather than seeking Jesus about what to do.
Too many believers today are doing the same. They are attacking with swords those who have come to shut down the work of Jesus. Let me get straight to the point: Prayer will help, punches will not. Practical love to people who are in the town will help, protesting Washington probably won’t. Grass roots action to keep values intact will help – obnoxious web posts probably won’t. We have to reserve our strength and fight from the tall position of our knees before we try any other strategy. Pete should have asked Jesus before he drew his sword.
Since Peter is always rich with lessons, look at another…He showed us that: “You can deny your association when endangered by it (18:17-28). One minute a fighter – the next minute a chicken… you have to love the lessons in extreme reaction. Watch Peter too closely and your neck will hurt from watching him switching sides so quickly…
Pete wasn’t alone. John was also there.
John got Peter into the house of the High Priest. He was KNOWN to the High Priest according to the Gospels. KNOWN? How much influence did he exert on the procedings against His Master? Exactly NONE. Here is another illustrated truth: “You can tag along, but try not to stand out for Jesus” (18:15-16) – and your career as an ineffective player will be secure.
Christianity has benches FULL of people who want Heaven when they die and ANONYMITY while they live. They don’t WANT people to know they belong to Jesus. That will imply a loyalty in their actions, and a morality in their lifestyle, They are like the lady who told me that she removed the bumper sticker about Jesus affixed to her bumper by her teen – because she thought the way she drives would bring derision on the name of Jesus. Rather than change her driving – she chooses to remain unknown. That would have made sense to John that night long ago.
What hope is found in studying hapless followers and hardened cynics? Alone, frankly, there is none. Yet they are not the only ones that can be observed with clarity in our story. There is One Who emerges, like bright light from a dark cave. He is none other than…
In the end, the story highlights the Faultless Christ
We didn’t come today to merely examine the dead end arguments of lost men and the weak and defeated actions of flawed brothers – we came to see something ABOVE ALL OF THIS. It would be wrong to leave us with only a picture of other men. When standing in the presence of the King of the Ages, we dare not glance by Him. Look closely at the account and you will see His character coming through…
It is a character that displayed Courage:
When He knew the pain ahead, He walked toward it – not away from it (18:1). Jesus had many opportunities of self preservation – but that wasn’t His purpose. His cousin John said it long before: He was the “Lamb of God that came to take away the sin of the world.”
The plague of sin separated God’s creation from His Father – so Jesus built the bridge back to God by dying in our place. The bridge to God is built on blood-stained wood of a first century devise of human torture – a simple cross.
He showed no fear for man-made religious authority (18:22-23). Religions are the best attempts of good men to reach a Holy God. They don’t work – because that isn’t what the Creator is looking for. In fact, in the face of His gift – religions are a slap of man’s belief in his own sufficiency – rather than the need to fall humbly before God’s Son. Jesus knew what many today do not – that life HERE isn’t real – it is fleeting. Real life is connection to the Living One of history! There is no need to fear the one who can hurt the body if one knows Him who saves man’s soul. We may fear PAIN in the dying –but we need not fear the end. It is that which gave Jesus courage – He knew death would be His elevation back to glory!
He was a man who showed Concern:
When facing His own pain – He thought of His follower’s freedom (18:8). “Let them go!” Jesus cried. My first instinct would be to run fast enough to outrun a sluggish and overweight disciple. Maybe if they caught THEM, we could get away. Remember the old proverb: “In the woods it is not necessary to outrun the bear – it is only necessary to outrun your companion!” Jesus (thankfully) had none of that view. He was fixed on OUR NEEDS – not His!
He was a teacher who offered Clarity:
When confronted with powerful, godless men – He used TRUTH to push them back (18:4-7). He simply said the Truth of Who He is – and that proclamation drew them back. They fell because they thought He was blaspheming – but He was telling the truth!
Whisked away to powerful me – He had no reason to tell them what they wanted to hear. When standing before men who presented themselves as strong – He played no political games with puppets (18:33-34).
He was not confused – but walked in the full Consciousness of His position :
He clearly represented Himself under duress as the King of Heaven (18:36-38). He knew He was a KING, but not of an earthly Kingdom. That part comes later. For now, He was to stand before men – full assured of His place before God.
C. S. Lewis, the late professor at Cambridge University and former agnostic, understood this issue of Jesus’ identity clearly. He wrote: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -‑ on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg ‑- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse.” He added: “…You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
The nineteenth century church historian Philip Schaff once offered these questions: “How, in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an imposter – that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man – have invented, and consistently maintained from the beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality? How could He have conceived and successfully carried out a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sublimity, and sacrificed His own life for it, in the face of the strongest prejudices of His people and age?“
How indeed! Don’t forget the principle that under girds the entire chapter… Your destiny is determined by how you respond to Jesus.