Protected by the Name

Maundy Thursday, John 18:1-12

Vicar Matt Huckel

1 Having said these things, Jesus came out with his disciples to the other side of the winter stream of Kidron. There was a garden to which Jesus and his disciples entered. 2 Judas, who was betraying Jesus, knew the place because Jesus often gathered there with his disciples. 3 Having accepted a Roman cohort, and officers from the Chief Priests and Pharisees, Judas came there with lanterns, torches and weapons. 4 Knowing everything that was about to come upon him, Jesus came out and said to them: Who is it that you want? 5 They answered him: ‘Jesus, the Nazarene’. Jesus said to them: ‘I AM’. Judas the one who was betraying Jesus, also had been standing in their midst. 6 When Jesus said ‘I AM’ they withdrew backwards and fell to the ground. 7 Again, Jesus questioned them: ‘Who is it that you want?’ and they said: ‘Jesus the Nazarene’. 8 Jesus answered them: ‘I have already told you, I AM’. If it is me you are looking for, then allow these to go on their way’. 9 This was to fulfil the Word that he had spoken: ‘Of those you have given me, not one of them has perished, not one’. 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword drew it out of its sheath and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear; the servant’s name was Malchus. 11 Jesus said to Peter: ‘Put the sword back into its sheath! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given to me?’ 12 Then the cohort and its tribune, and the Jewish officers, seized hold of Jesus and bound him.

The Gospel writer John gives us this astonishing scene in a dark garden near the winter stream of Kidron of Jesus protecting his disciples. For me it easily conjures up scenes from old Star Trek films. Whenever Captain Kirk and the star ship Enterprise were in a tough corner with an evil villain he usually would say: ‘If it’s me you want, I’ll have myself beamed aboard; spare my crew!’ This sacrifice of a leader for his followers is a classic theme in many films but in reality defending your family or loved ones is often something done by instinct. We don’t think first before grabbing our child from a car that’s about to hit them on the road, we just do it and we are prepared to be hit by the car instead. This reaction to danger is something we are going to see in Peter, but Jesus protects his disciples in a most remarkable way.

Now Jesus’ arrest is a very dark and dramatic part of the story we can think about on Maundy Thursday. We hear in John’s Gospel just before Passover, Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, predicting his betrayal, teaching, and saying long prayers for his disciples. Then, strangely they all leave the comfort of the room and become exposed in the dark garden near the Kidron stream. The move is deliberate. Jesus knows what Judas has arranged and allows himself to be found. What’s interesting is that Jesus is not ambushed. Jesus, knowing that Judas and the soldiers are coming close, goes out and takes them all on, all by himself. Now at this point you may be picturing Judas with a small crowd armed with clubs, swords and torches to arrest Jesus. The other Gospel writers certainly give us this picture. But not John. He absolutely goes for it in terms of scale. John is talking about an entire Roman cohort. That is one thousand armed soldiers as well as officers from the chief Priests and Pharisees. We know is a cohort because John mentions a Tribune (an officer of a thousand) in the text. It’s sounds a bit of an overkill in terms of scale, but just remember that Passover was a tricky time for the Romans. They were expecting riots and rebellion and a cohort would have been at the ready to respond to any problems that arose.

John not only magnifies the scale of opposition he also magnifies Jesus. I love this part of the story because here Jesus has real muscle. He is not meek and mild, he is strong and powerful. Jesus confronts them and says ‘Who is it that you want?’ When they reply ‘Jesus the Nazarene’, it is then we hear those same words that God the Father spoke to Moses: ‘I AM’. The translation in our Bibles of ‘I am he’ just doesn’t convey the fact that this is God himself standing there. The effect of these words is astonishing. Judas and all of the soldiers fall back and fall to the ground. The words are like a nuclear bomb. Jesus asks the question again, and we can imagine a rather sheepish reply of the same ‘Jesus the Nazarene’. His reply is strong again ‘I told you, I AM’. Once Jesus shows that he is allowing his arrest he does the same as Captain Kirk ‘If it’s me you want, then let them go’.

Now cue, good old Peter, who launches in again without thinking. I don’t think he is saying ‘I’ve got this Lord, leave this to me’. No Peter is more like the person who is terrified about losing a loved one and instinctually goes into fight mode. To an entire Roman cohort, cutting off an ear is pretty futile and less than a pin prick.

Poor Peter. His leaping to Jesus’ defence with violence begins a very bad chain of events for him. Just as the words ‘I AM’ are stated three times in this story, so also does Peter deny that he knows Jesus’ three times when Jesus is taken to the High priest. Simon Peter, the one who answered correctly to Jesus’ question: ‘Who do you say I AM?’

We are just like Peter in many ways. As Christians we happily confess that Jesus is the Christ the great I AM. And yet, we are also like Peter rushing into defending Jesus when it is often not necessary. In Adelaide 2 years ago for the annual Fringe Festival, a controversial stage act called ‘Come Heckle Christ’ attracted much attention and complaints from ordinary Christians. The central part of the stage show was a man dressed up as Jesus who invited audience participation by inviting them to heckle him with all their questions, hurts, and of course anger. Many Christians wrote letters of angry complaint attacking the show and saying that it insulted Christianity arguing that it was right to stand up for Jesus and defend him. Those Christians who went to the show actually reported hearing mostly decent and respectful conversations and comments from the audience, as people seemed relieved to be able to talk about Jesus without fear of offending anyone.

Christians these days are mostly using a pen (or a keyboard) instead of a sword. But we often confuse standing firm in our beliefs with attack. Somehow, we feel our feet washing Jesus needs protecting but we must also remember that there is a massive difference between standing firm in what we believe and attacking to defend what we believe. Friends, Jesus is quite capable looking after himself and he says to us as he said to Peter: ‘Put your sword away!’

You know despite Peter’s mistakes, and all of his disciples faults, Jesus protects them. But he protects them and also us with the most powerful of things in the universe: his Name. The Name, the great I AM. Listen to the prayer of Jesus to his disciples in chapter 17:

11Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 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 (John 17:11-12).

I’m sure many of you have heard stories of the name of Jesus protecting people from danger; the scene of the attempted mugging in the film ‘War room’ is a good example. But the Name has real power; it is Jesus who protects us and the Name is not meant to be used as a magic word. The Name, the I AM, is a person. We see the initials on the top of the cross I-N-R-I. Abbreviated Latin for ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’. The Name which was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek was nailed to the cross just as Jesus body was, and Jesus did the ultimate protection for all of us through the shedding of his blood. We can go confidently into tomorrow, the entire Easter weekend and beyond knowing that the love and the blood of the great I AM, washes us, protects us and keeps us safe from harm. Friends, put away your pens and your swords, and open your hands to someone new in the next few days. Show them who Jesus is, and invite them to the safety of the cross; the most assured protection in the whole universe.

Amen.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

John 18:1-12

1 Having said these things, Jesus came out with his disciples to the other side of the winter stream of Kidron. There was a garden to which Jesus and his disciples entered. 2 Judas, who was betraying Jesus, knew the place because Jesus often gathered there with his disciples. 3 Having accepted a Roman cohort, and officers from the Chief Priests and Pharisees, Judas came there with lanterns, torches and weapons. 4 Knowing everything that was about to come upon him, Jesus came out and said to them: Who is it that you want? 5 They answered him: ‘Jesus, the Nazarene’. Jesus said to them: ‘I AM’. Judas the one who was betraying Jesus, also had been standing in their midst. 6 When Jesus said ‘I AM’ they withdrew backwards and fell to the ground. 7 Again, Jesus questioned them: ‘Who is it that you want?’ and they said: ‘Jesus the Nazarene’. 8 Jesus answered them: ‘I have already told you, I AM’. If it is me you are looking for, then allow these to go on their way’. 9 This was to fulfil the Word that he had spoken: ‘Of those you have given me, not one of them has perished, not one’. 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword drew it out of its sheath and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear; the servant’s name was Malchus. 11 Jesus said to Peter: ‘Put the sword back into its sheath! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given to me?’ 12 Then the cohort and its tribune, and the Jewish officers, seized hold of Jesus and bound him.

Discussion questions:

  1. John 18:1-12 is a story that teaches us that Jesus protects us and we don’t need to resort to violence to defend Jesus or our faith. Peter rushes in to attack and defend Jesus. Can you think of any times when you have felt tempted to do the same? What circumstances have perhaps contributed to those reactions?

  2. The Name of Jesus has power to protect us and keep us safe. But it is not a magic word, but a person. Can you think of a time when you’ve used the Name of Jesus in a particular circumstance? What effects (if any) did that have on the circumstances or even on yourself?

#Iam #John18112 #maundythursday #name

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