Friday, April 04, 2008

John 18:28-32

28Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29So 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." 31Pilate said, "Take Him yourselves and judge Him by your own law." 32"But we have no right to execute anyone," the Jews objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death He was going to die would be fulfilled.

Jesus had been tried before Annas and Caiaphas, and now He is taken to Pontius Pilate, who alone had the authority in this region to have a criminal executed. This is early in the morning on Good Friday. Jesus and His disciples had eaten the Passover meal the previous night, but Jewish leaders had yet to eat the meal. They would plan to eat their meal prior to the beginning of the Sabbath, which occurred Friday evening. Tradition allowed for the Passover meal to be celebrated anytime during the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Roman Palace, called the Praetorium, was a Gentile place of ceremonial uncleanliness, so the leaders refused to enter, thinking they were being pleasing to God – but they had no problem subjecting a fellow Jew, Jesus, to this unclean place, which was truly cleaner than their bodies and souls by far.

Pilate asked the reason for their early morning visit, and they had no real crime against Jesus. Yet they show their own pride or arrogance in judgment of Pilate by claiming that the crime of Jesus need not be revealed, for surely they always do what is just and right. Shame on Pilate for failing to realize that! Offended by their comment, Pilate offends them by telling them to judge Jesus under their own religious laws; he mocks the laws of God, since they consider them to be superior to Roman law. And since they did not have the right to execute criminals under Roman law, they appealed to Pilate by demanding that he do his job; thus he would have to hear the case. John tells his audience, as He often points out throughout his gospel, that the events described, in this case, this entire exchange, happened according to God’s will, here that Jesus would be crucified according to the Scriptures (Matthew 20:19). How ironic that the infallible Judge of all humanity is here subjected to a wicked and unjust human judge!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

John 18:25-27

25As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, "You are not one of His disciples, are you?" He denied it, saying, "I am not." 26One 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 olive grove?" 27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

The synoptic gospels record Peter’s denials getting more and more harsh each time, even leading to his swearing that he didn’t know Jesus. John doesn’t go there, but it’s appropriate to see how that downward spiral or slippery slope comes on quickly and is hard to avoid after that first slip.

Peter lost his joy and fellowship with the Lord. He wasn’t cast out nor did he cease to be a child of God, but he lost the victory of discipleship. And more than that, I think Peter thought that his Christian life was over. You don’t hear anymore of Peter for awhile. The next time you see Peter he’s back up in Galilee. And what is he doing? He’s fishing. All night he’s fishing and catches nothing. As though Peter is saying, “I’ve miserably failed as a disciple, and I’m going back to do something I know something about.” And God doesn’t even give him one solitary fish, because He’s not done with teaching Peter this lesson—because there’s no way back. Notice three things:

First, Peter fell even though he had been warned beforehand. It is one thing to fall, but it’s another to fall when you’ve been told beforehand that it is going to happen. And not that it’s going to happen three years from now and you’ve forgotten about it; it’s going to happen that night. That’s the wickedness of our hearts; that’s the measure of our unbelief. Second, notice how far Christians can fall. Christians are capable of committing the most heinous of sins. I’m not trying to make light of Christian profession. I’m not advocating an easy-believism, but Noah can be drunk and David can commit adultery, and Peter can deny his Lord three times within Jesus’ hearing, and, according to Luke, within Jesus’ sight. And there go I, but for the grace of God. And thirdly, notice the difference between Judas and Peter. There is no difference. There will come a difference, but it’s not recorded here. At this point, there is no difference between what Judas did and what Peter did. Do you see what John is saying? He’s saying that the assurance of our salvation does not lie in our sin; it lies in our repentance. Although we are capable of committing the most heinous of sins – and God, for His own purpose, allows us to fall into those sins – the assurance of our salvation lies in repentance. Every morning when Peter awoke and heard the rooster crow, it would remind him of the grace of God and the love of Jesus and the unrelenting determination of God not to lose any of His own.

In the midst of this unjust trial and undeserved shame and mockery, Jesus is likewise dealt the bitter blow of denial from His own beloved disciple, one of those for whom He was suffering this reproach. Oh, how deep is Jesus’ love! Knowing how we would turn our backs on Him, in our weakness, even after having known the depths of His love and free favor, He was still resolute to die in our place. When we denied Him, He still loved us, and gave Himself for us – for we too, just as Peter, have at times trusted in our own strength and turned our back on our Lord. But Jesus, unchanging forever, loves us nonetheless, but rather hastens to restore us and bring us back to Him. How faithful is our Great Shepherd, and how safe in His care may we foolish sheep rest!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

John 18:15-24

15Simon 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, 16but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in. 17"You are not one of his disciples, are you?" the girl at the door asked Peter.
He replied, "I am not." 18It 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. 19Meanwhile, 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. 21Why question Me? Ask those who heard Me. Surely they know what I said." 22When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck 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?" 24Then Annas sent Him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest [Or Now, having sent Him, still bound, to Caiaphas...].

First here, the other disciple is often thought to be John himself, but John was a mere fisherman, not a man with political connections, so in all likelihood, this disciple is not one of the Twelve, but rather a more secret follower of Jesus (Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus?). Anyway, that unnamed disciple realizes that Peter didn’t get in with him, so he goes back and gets the servant girl to let Peter in as well. And as Peter walks through the door, the girl asks him (but not the unnamed disciple) the question that makes his heart drop. He was hoping to avoid trouble, but he wanted to see what happened to Jesus. Isn’t it interesting that as soon as Peter denies Jesus for the first time, John recalls that it was cold? And Peter tried to get warm, but his trial was just beginning. He would remain miserably cold for a time.

If this had happened to a young believer, we, in our own away-from-the-battle-courage, might be able to understand it. But Peter had been a disciple of Jesus for 3 years; he had heard all the words that Jesus had preached and taught and words that aren’t even recorded in the Scriptures. He’d sat and listened to the Sermon on the Mount. Peter had seen Jesus perform mighty miracles – healing the sick, the blind, and the lame. He sees, on one occasion, where they break through the roof of the house and lower someone down for Jesus to heal. He’d seen a dead man come to life again after being dead for 3 or 4 days. He’d been taken up to a mountain with two other disciples, including John, and there he had seen things that we can’t imagine. These are Peter’s own words, “We were eye witnesses of His majesty.” He’d seen Jesus’ glory. And yet it happens. Would it happen to us? Really?

The high priest questions Jesus in regard to His doctrinal teaching. The reality was that Jesus had said nothing that remained secretive or conspiring. Jesus spoke the same words to everyone – words of repentance and justice and mercy. Thus Jesus responds, claiming that His own defense is unnecessary and that a better testimony, for the purposes of this mock trial, would come from those who heard Him teach. And then we read that a nearby official, apparently disgusted with Jesus’ reply, struck Him in the face. This event, notably with no recorded rebuke from the high priest, shows how brutishly the trial was conducted.

Jesus responds appropriately to being struck by claiming innocence and demanding evidence against Him. No one is able to testify of any evil that Jesus has done, even though all people know the words He has said and the works He has performed, for He has taught openly, and has not changed any of His doctrine since the beginning of His public ministry. But without any legitimate reason, and, no doubt, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 69:4, “They hated Me without a cause,” the court dealt an unwarranted blow to an uncondemned Man (a similar thing happened to Paul). Then, having previously (note the verb tense) sent Him to Caiaphas, the assembly now sends Him to Pilate (John 18:28-40; 19:1-16), the Roman Proconsul, so that they can gain for Him the death sentence. A cursory reading of the synoptic gospels reveals a multitude of further ways in which Jesus’ trial was against the law and certainly against justice – but so it had to be, for, if He would be a spotless Lamb and a satisfactory sacrifice, there must be no cause of death found in Him; rather, every cause for His death should be sought in us sinners, even as every cause of our life is found in this unjustly condemned man alone!

Monday, March 31, 2008

John 18:10-14

10Then 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?" 12Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound Him 13and brought Him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.

I love what Calvin says here: “Boldly and courageously, indeed, Peter incurs great risk on Christ’s account; but as he does not consider what his calling demands, and what God permits, his action is so far from deserving praise, that he is severely blamed by Christ. But let us learn that, in the person of Peter, Christ condemns every thing that men dare to attempt out of their own fancy. This doctrine is eminently worthy of attention; for nothing is more common than to defend, under the cloak of zeal, every thing that we do, as if it were of no importance whether God approved, or not, what men suppose to be right, whose prudence is nothing else than mere vanity… Warned by so striking an example, let us learn to keep our zeal within proper bounds; and as the wantonness of our flesh is always eager to attempt more than God commands, let us learn that our zeal will succeed ill, whenever we venture to undertake any thing contrary to the word of God. It will sometimes happen that the commencement gives us flattering promises, but we shall at length be punished for our rashness. Let obedience, therefore, be the foundation of all that we undertake. We are also reminded, that those who have resolved to plead the cause of Christ do not always conduct themselves so skilfully as not to commit some fault; and, therefore, we ought the more earnestly to entreat the Lord to guide us in every action by the spirit of prudence.”

Jesus healed this man, as another Gospel declares, but the focus is on Jesus’ words to Peter. This is not the place to fight, for “he who strikes with the sword shall die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). The time has come for the Son of Man to be delivered over to His enemies for death. Nothing will stand in the way of that coming to pass, as it is the cup the Father has given Jesus to drink. See Isaiah 51, which notably comes right before chapters 52-53. Jesus is determined to die in this way.

Now, Jesus, who beforehand had slain these men with His word and now yields to their heinous will, is taken to Annas, the father-in-law to Caiaphas, the high priest. It is interesting to note that Annas was “the peoples’” high priest. Rome had come down and replaced him with Caiaphas, who was not overly popular with the people. There were also sons and relatives who had taken turns in the high priestly role, but in the minds and hearts of the people, Annas was still the authority in religious matters. Caiaphas was merely the Roman-appointed high priest. Thus Annas gets to see Jesus first, as this is a religious trial before it turns into a civil trial. And as we’ll see, the issue is one of truth. Jesus spoke the truth, and the Jews denied it, thinking they had a grasp on the truth that Jesus could not have obtained.

And then, once again, we are reminded that, as wicked and ill-motivated as the actions of these men were, they were still carrying out God’s purpose; for this Caiaphas is the one who unwittingly prophesied that Jesus would give His life for the sins of the people (John 11:49-53). John sees the doctrine of substitution. John sees the very heart of the gospel itself; that it is necessary for one man to die in the place of you and me, and he sees it as we do, in a way that unbelievers cannot comprehend (1 Corinthians 2:14).