Places to Go, Things to Do, People to See … So Leave Me Alone! – John 18:28-40

I again think it would be helpful to repeat this chart about the six trials of Jesus:

#

Trial Type

Presiding Official

Passage

1

Religious

Annas

John 18:12-14

2

Religious

Caiaphas

Matthew 26:57-58

3

Religious

the Sanhedrin

Matthew 27:1-2

4

Civil

Pilate

John 18:28-38

5

Civil

Herod

Luke 23:6-12

6

Civil

Pilate

John 18:39–19:16

So we can see that today’s passage covers the fourth and (beginning of the) sixth trials, as John does not record the intervening appearance before Herod.

Many of you know of my long-term interest and research in Civil War history. I have had a particular topic of inquiry, doing a lot of extensive research on one Union General in particular – Abner Doubleday, the alleged inventor of the game of baseball. Over the years, I have found a lot of Doubleday writings in obscure libraries. One of these includes the following paragraph he wrote about his experiences in the latter half of the Civil War, which he spent mostly in Washington presiding over court martial matters and other U.S. Army affairs. He wrote:

The presumption is that an officer is a gentleman—even when he cannot spell. I had however some doubts upon the point during a court martial I once sat upon. Among my fellow members was a field officer notoriously illiterate. He paid scarcely any attention to the proceedings until it came time for the sentence. Almost invariably he said then: “Oh, Let’s hang the cuss.”

That is the attitude we essentially encounter in our reading today about Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor from A.D. 26-36.  He was not genuinely interested in justice; he simply wanted to be done with this Jewish irritation about this Jesus character as quickly and cleanly as possible. OK, just crucify him if you must!

Pilate actually resided in Caesarea. He came to Jerusalem during feasts in case there was a need to deal with some kind of uprising or insurrection from these perennially unhappy Jews. This had the greatest potentiality to occur during Passover – a feast that celebrated the Jewish nation’s liberation from bondage. Thinking about their past suffering in Egypt tended to annoy and magnify current feelings about bondage under the Romans.

So being in Jerusalem was surely an irritation for Pilate that took him away from his regular routine. He didn’t like the Jews, and they didn’t like him because of his heavy-handed way of dealing with them.

The Jewish rulers had limited powers of authority to enforce their own rules, but that did not include the ability to carry out an execution. So the leaders come to Roman rule for this, wanting the Romans to be ultimately blamed by any of Jesus’ followers for actually performing the execution.

Pilate was certainly not fooled by the scene before him as the religious leadership brings Christ to him. He knew it had to do with their internal squabbling, jealousies and limitless traditions. And in interviewing Jesus, he finds that though this man has a fantastical view of his mission in life, there is nothing worthy of death.

But Pilate really does not want to be bothered with this irritation and any pursuit of justice, and so he seeks for a way to move it off his plate as quickly as possible. Hearing that Jesus is from Galilee, he uses this information to pawn off Christ to King Herod. So Jesus goes before Herod (not recorded in John), only to be sent back to Pilate.

His second ploy was to take the matter to the crowds, offering them Barabbas – a true criminal – or Jesus, whom Pilate presumed to be preferred by the masses. But the crowd surprises him by wanting Jesus crucified instead and Barabbas released.

And thirdly – in the next chapter – he would have Jesus flogged, hoping that a bit of blood would satisfy the people.

But all of this was to fulfill God’s plan that Jesus would die as the sacrificial lamb at Passover – the innocent in place of the guilty. The whole matter was more than Pilate wanted to deal with; after all, he had places to go, things to do, and people to see. Jesus was not worthy of his time or focus.

And that is how it remains with the majority of people to this day. They have no time or interest to focus upon who Jesus really is and what difference that makes for their lives. They’re busy and don’t want to be bothered with these seemingly endless religious details. Their attitude is, “I have places to go, things to do, and people to see. So leave me alone!”

How and where is your focus?

Jesus Before Pilate

28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘The king of the Jews’?”

40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

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Peter Denying Christ: What a Total Loser! (John 18)

The old saying goes, “With friends like this, who needs enemies?” If anyone could have uttered those words, it is Jesus Christ.

Today’s passage in John 18 takes us quickly through the trial of Jesus before Annas, along with the three denials of Peter.

So Jesus is arrested and taken first to Annas – the former high priest. He was followed in office by five of his sons and ultimately his son-in-law Caiaphas – who was at this very moment the officially serving High Priest.

12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.

These trials of Jesus can be a bit confusing. Putting together the six total trials of Jesus and the corresponding passages, it looks like this:

#

Trial Type

Presiding Official

Passage

1

Religious

Annas

John 18:12-14

2

Religious

Caiaphas

Matthew 26:57-58

3

Religious

the Sanhedrin

Matthew 27:1-2

4

Civil

Pilate

John 18:28-38

5

Civil

Herod

Luke 23:6-12

6

Civil

Pilate

John 18:39–19:16

So this first trial is before Annas – who is at this point a sort of “high priest emeritus.”  We will see that out of the 12 disciples, two are present here, one has betrayed Christ, and the other nine are nowhere to be seen!

Peter’s First Denial

15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.

He replied, “I am not.”

18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

The unnamed “other disciple” in our author, John … who was somehow sufficiently known in the circles of Jewish leadership to get inside and to have Peter also allowed through the gates and into the courtyard. A servant girl allows this, and ponders with a question if Peter is one of Christ’s disciples – the question asked apparently with the tone of “You’re not one of the whackos who follow this nut-job Galilean preacher dude, are you?”  Luke’s gospel adds that she had seen him with Jesus.

He replied, “I am not.”  And we get the picture that on this chilly evening in Jerusalem in the middle of the night there is a group of standers-by who are warming themselves around a fire. And Peter is there, attempting desperately to blend in.

Annas Questions Jesus

19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.

23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

An interesting element we tend to overlook is that Annas is here presented as asking first about Jesus’ disciples – probably not referencing the 12 specifically, but rather the mass of people who accepted his teaching. Nonetheless, this must have been a creepy moment for both John and Peter standing within earshot of this exchange.

And of course Annas is interested in hearing about the teaching itself – seeking to evaluate the nature of this man’s message and what substance there may be to any feared insurrection.

Jesus affirms he has spoken the truth publically, and refers the question to the masses of the people and what they understood. The trials of Jesus were filled with a great number of illegalities. Here is a wrongful attempt at getting an accused person to self-incriminate.

Peter’s Second and Third Denials

25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”

He denied it, saying, “I am not.”

26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

A second time an individual begins to recognize that Peter was previously with Jesus. Peter’s cover was cracking. Surely his Galilean accent was giving him away as well.

The third accusation is from a relative of Malchus – the fellow whose ear had been sliced off his head. Surely the perpetrator of such a deed would be recognized and remembered. From the other gospels we know that Peter on this occasion very vehemently denied knowing Christ. The rooster crows as Jesus had predicted, and a synoptic account reveals that Jesus looked through the crowd and made eye contact at this very moment. Wow!

Peter – what a loser!  Or is he?  Surely not any one of us would have done the same thing in the same situation!  Or would we?  Would we even be there close enough to make a denial?

This was a failure on Peter’s part – without doubt. He had earlier proclaimed he would die for Christ (and ultimately he would). But recall this – though ill-conceived and foolish, it was Peter who was willing to swing a sword when a cohort of about 60 soldiers and others came to arrest Jesus.rooster-crowing-300x291

And while the bulk of the disciples were slinking about in the darkness on the other side of the Kidron Valley while Jesus is being put on trial, Peter is risking being nearby. Does close only count in horseshoes and hand grenades?

How close are you identified with Jesus? At work? On Facebook? At the Thanksgiving table? At the soccer club? In biology class? At your Rotarian luncheon? In the Board Room?

Do you hear the crowing of a rooster?

Walking Toward the Barking Dog – John 18:1-14

There is a saying that is used sometimes in leadership circles – that the good and healthy leader is one who “walks toward the barking dog.”  By this, it is most often referring to the inevitability of conflict in any leadership endeavor, and that the wise leader is one who does not ignore problems or hope they will solve themselves. Rather, the good leader moves wisely and deftly toward the issue to deal with it in a resolute way.

It is difficult to walk toward barking dogs – literally or figuratively. It is fearful. It might not go well, and the chained anger and barking is most likely more tolerable than the risk of being bitten and mauled – literally or figuratively.

But what does it take to walk forward toward some situation when you know for a fact that it is going to end painfully and poorly?  I have previously in devotionals written about my admiration for Civil War soldiers who walked straight into the face of a cannon – seeing the enemy double-charge it with canister shot – knowing life will end in the next 30 to 60 seconds … yet walking toward that gun.

This is the situation we see in the passage today in John 18. Jesus has turned the corner and is walking irretrievably toward the cross … not by lack of knowledge, but rather with a full understanding of what awaits him there. This time, there will be no “escape through the crowd.” Jesus will be arrested and sacrificed for the sins of mankind. The path is set and the road established; Jesus is walking into it – face forward.

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.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.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 garden spoken of here is the Mount of Olives, located across a valley from the city of Jerusalem and opposite the temple mount. It was a gathering place for the disciples when in Jerusalem for feasts, and of course Judas was privy to this information.

Here Judas arrives with a detachment of soldiers (probably about 60, according to the word used in the Greek language) and some muckety-mucks of Jewish religious leadership. These leaders, who had become tired of this Jesus character and were now committed to his disposal, had gotten the Romans to go along with the arrest of an insurrectionist fellow who threatened the peace.

It is interesting that it was in a garden that Satan came to the first Adam and tempted him to fall into sin and death, and in another garden the “second Adam” begins the journey that will lead him to a death that will bring life.

Another interesting element in this story is that this very location was where King David was betrayed by his friend Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15), even now as Jesus was being betrayed by his friend Judas.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

In verse four, we see the clear statement of John that Jesus knew everything that was going to happen, and yet he willingly submitted himself to it in obedience to the father.

The answer to their question of seeking Jesus of Nazareth – “I am he,” – causes the whole gang to apparently get knocked backward onto their tuchuses!  I confess to forgetting about this entire part of the story, but it is pretty amazing. Yet it does not seem to faze them a bit, and they must have just picked themselves up and continued as it nothing happened (oops, we all fell over an olive root at the same time!).

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”

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.)

11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Here is another part of the story that always amazes me – in that it did not amaze them! Actually, we need the additional information supplied by Luke’s Gospel for me to make this point about the ear of Malchus – where Jesus picks up the bloody thing and puts it back on the guy’s head! I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a detached body part put back on someone’s frame – and if I did, I think I’d be a bit impressed.

And again we see in the story that Jesus is walking toward the barking dog. He has “a cup to drink” that has been given him, and as the perfect Lamb of God, he is going to drink it fully and willingly.

12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.

So Jesus is arrested and taken first to Annas. These trials of Jesus can be a bit confusing. Annas was appointed as the High Priest in A.D. 6 and served through A.D. 15.  According to Jewish law, this was supposed to be a position for life. But the Romans would never allow a single person to have such a position; and so he was followed in office by five of his sons and ultimately his son-in-law Caiaphas – who was at this very moment the officially serving High Priest.

John gives another of his “explanations” as to what was happening, reminding the reader that Caiaphas had made the statement that it would be better for one person to die than to have the Romans come in and bust up the place because of an insurrectionist and his mob. He had no idea how prophetic and prescient were his words.

There are times in life and service to the Lord when we are called to walk toward barking dogs – to do something that is difficult, maybe even painful. We may be called to break off a bad relationship, or perhaps to confront a sinful situation. The Lord may lead us to speak the message of the Gospel to people who will not likely receive it well. We may have to stand for righteousness and truth in a work setting where doing so is going cause us to have to pay a personal price. But Jesus walked toward the dog – toward a hill while carrying a cross … and we are admonished as his followers to take up our cross and follow him.