Close Encounters with Jesus – John 18 – 12.2.18
This morning I want you to ponder one of the most common questions we get asked in life-especially when you’re young-what do you want to be when you grow up? How did you used to answer this question when you were in school? What did you dream of becoming? Is it what you’re doing today-or is it the polar opposite from what you’re doing? Or maybe you’re still trying to figure this out as a student in school or someone between jobs-but turn to the person next to you and answer this question-what do you-or did you-want to be when you grew up? So who’s doing what they dreamed of? Who’s doing something completely different? As kid, I had a few things I dreamed of becoming-(1) aerospace engineer-this was my grandfather’s career and I think the hours I spent building spaceships out of Legos made me dream of this career, (2) astronaut-if I didn’t build the ships at least I could fly in them-what kid doesn’t dream of being an astronaut? (3) author-I loved books and reading-so maybe one day I’ll still write the great American novel. And maybe you’ll still end up doing something you dreamed of too. It’s never too late! I always think of Moses who was 80 years old when God called him to Egypt to free the Israelites and cross the Red Sea. As a shepherd hanging out in the wilderness, Moses probably thought he was coasting into retirement. But that wasn’t the case at a all. Moses was 80 before he reached the pinnacle of his career and found his purpose in life. So maybe 80 will be the magic number when you reach your purpose too. But that’s the word I want to talk about this morning-purpose. What you’re doing in life-your career or your job, or what you want to do reveals your purpose-why you’re here and how you’re going to impact the world. We all have a different purpose in life-and that’s great. Each of our purposes are unique based on the unique skills and gifting and talents God’s given us. Your purpose isn’t mine and mine isn’t yours-but discovering our purpose is important. Sometimes it’s frustrating and challenging to figure out exactly what it is-or if we’ve somehow missed our purpose and gone down a wrong road-why am I doing this job-this was not what I dreamed about or the purpose I intended in life! Almost as if we just sort of landed here. But this morning I want us to look at someone who did know His purpose, who knew exactly why He was here on planet earth and what He had come to do-and that’s Jesus.
Turn to John 18 as we’re going to wrap up our series Close Encounters with Jesus. And this is going to bring us right into the Christmas season this morning and prepare us for the weeks to come-so it fits perfectly this time of year. But John 18 is where the action picks up from where we left off. If you remember two weeks ago we looked at John 13 where Jesus was washing the disciples feet-and after He does that there’s 4 chapters where Jesus speaks to His disciples and prays for them. This is His last night with them-it’s basically His last moments with them so He’s giving them some final instructions, final encouragements before He faces the cross. So when we come to chapter 18 it says-John 18:1-3. This is so crazy-these guys are ready to do battle against Jesus. They’re set to face off and sword fight with Him as if a war is going to break out. Which is so ironic because we just saw Jesus washing the disciples feet as He’s talking to them about loving others and yet the religious leaders of the day-the chief priests and Pharisees are literally ready to go down fighting in order to take Jesus out. But we know that Jesus’ fight isn’t against this band of soldiers but against sin and death. He’s waging a much greater war than with this group-so v. 4-6. And this is such an awesome moment-because in our English translations it adds the pronoun he-I am he-Jesus of Nazareth-but in Greek Jesus is saying I Am. And of course that’s the OT name God gives of Himself to Moses at the burning bush. God is the great I Am and throughout John’s gospel Jesus has intentionally been using that phrase I am the light of the world, I am the good shepherd, I am the bread of life, I am the resurrection and the life-and so now here when Judas and his mercenaries show up and say we’re seeking Jesus. He says I Am-meaning I am Jesus and I am God and these guys are literally blown away, falling to the ground in the presence of God standing before them. They can’t even help themselves. He utters his identity and it’s their gut reaction. This isn’t like some superhero-like Captain America or Superman showing up to face off with the enemy-this is God in the flesh, the One who made all things, who holds the keys to life and death, who’s always existed from eternity past but took on human flesh to enter our world-and now this puny group of soldiers is thinking they can capture and arrest Him-and yet with two words from His mouth they can’t even stand on their feet but stagger and fall. It just shows us the great and magnificent power of God-that none of us can stand in His presence. Jesus could have nuked these guys right here-end of story. But He doesn’t-as the verse said-knowing all that would happen to him-Jesus exercises the greatest power under the greatest restraint and self-control by allowing this to happen-v. 7-10.
Tough day for Malchus (although Luke’s gospel does say that Jesus healed his ear) but Peter’s ready to do battle. I just picture him with that sword, having drawn first blood, itching for a fight. Come on-you think you guys can take us-we’ve got Jesus-we’ll show you who’s boss. But notice Jesus’ response-v. 11. This isn’t my fight Peter. I’m not here to take on these guys-I’m here to fight a much stronger enemy-one that’s plagued everybody since the moment sin entered the world. And we no that’s no easy cup to swallow because it’s the cup of God’s wrath that our sins deserve-v. 12. And this is where His trial and crucifixion begins. But we’ve got to notice that Jesus wasn’t taken by force-but willingly submitted to what God the Father had called Him to do. This wasn’t an ambush or a surprise attack on Jesus, this was obedience. And we’ve heard Him say this-John 10:17-18. And so here He is doing exactly that-Jesus is obeying God the Father’s perfect-but painful-plan to lay down His life.
So first they send Him off to see Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest who held a lot of power over the Jews. He’d previously been high priest so he was quite influential in his opinion having held the office before. And this was the Jewish phase of Jesus’ trial-but then He was eventually sent to Pilate for the Roman phase of His trial-v. 28-and that’s such an ironic statement because here they are so worried about maintaining the Law by not entering the house of a Gentile so that they can eat the Passover-and yet the true Passover lamb-the One to whom the whole Passover feast was foreshadowing stood in their midst and they’re treating Him shamefully and unjustly! So focused on religion they missed Jesus-and of course that hasn’t changed in our day either. We can easily get caught up in the rules and the rituals and our religious practices that we miss Jesus, the very one who’s come to establish a saving relationship with us. So v. 29-32-because if the Jews were going to put Jesus to death it would have been by stoning-but since the death sentence came from the Romans it was crucifixion as Jesus had been telling the disciples-you will see the Son of Man lifted up-and of course that meant the cross.
So we’ve got to recognize that Jesus fully knows what’s going to happen, He’s fully in control of these circumstances, and fully willing to follow through. Despite what he thinks-Pilate doesn’t have the upper hand. It reminds me of that tv show Undercover Boss. Have you seen it before? It’s where the high level corporate executive leaves the comfort of the corner office and takes a low-level job within the company-like the CEO cleaning toilets. The shift manager thinks he has the upper hand by bossing this new employee around, telling him what to do-when meanwhile this “new employee” is the one with the actual upper hand because he’s the real boss-the CEO. This shift manager wouldn’t even have his job if it wasn’t for the undercover boss keeping him around-and that’s exactly what Jesus will say to Pilate-19:11. You’re not in charge here Pilate-this plan is far bigger than you. But none of that makes sense to Pilate-all he thinks is that he’s got some misguided Jewish guy with delusions of grandeur; someone who thinks He’s a lot greater than He is. So look at how this conversation unfolds-v. 33-34. I love how Jesus just flips the conversation on Pilate and puts him on the hot seat-Is this your question or are you asking me what other people are saying? And this is the same question every single person who’s ever lived has to wrestle with-Is Jesus King? And Pilate tries really hard to avoid answering it-v. 35. This has nothing to do with me-why do I care who you are Jesus? I’m a Roman citizen, I’m trying to climb the political ladder as governor and keep everyone happy. Who you are isn’t relevant to my life-but somehow here we are face to face. And how many other people try hard to dismiss Jesus as irrelevant or unnecessary, like Pilate, and yet find themselves confronted with Jesus, having to determine the truth of who He is. Maybe that’s where you’re at right now. It’s a question none of us can avoid. It’s the ultimate close encounter with Jesus-and that’s what Pilate is experiencing-an encounter with Jesus that he didn’t anticipate-but now must deal with.
So how does Jesus respond-v. 36a. Jesus is saying-we totally would have won that sword fight earlier-just for the record!-v. 36b. He’s saying that His kingdom is something totally different-it’s not won by force or fighting or even political maneuvering-it operates on a completely different level with completely different principles. Of course, Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God which will one day fill the earth and be the only kingdom that exists. But all Pilate can see is the kingdom of Rome. So he responds rather nonchalantly-v. 37a. You’re talking about some strange kingdom that’s not of this world-I don’t know what that means-but here you stand telling me you’re a king which is why you’re on trial. So are you a king? Because in Pilate’s mind this Jesus is some random anomaly, as we said-some misguided Jewish guy with delusions of kingly grandeur because he serves the real king who is Caesar. I don’t know who this is-but I answer to the true king-so you can keep going with your little fantasy here-but Caesar is the one with the power. And yet how ironic that Pilate’s totally missed it. Jesus is the king with the true power and authority-not Caesar. And so this is the answer we must hear-v. 37. Jesus is saying that the very reason He was born, the very reason He’s come is to be king. That’s his purpose-did you see the word-v. 37b. And this lines up with the famous Christmas verses-Isa 9:6-7 NIV. So that moves the idea from just the historical, national kingdom of David to something eternal and forever-meaning the kingdom of God that Jesus is talking about. Or what did the Wise Men say when they showed up-Matt 2:1-2. We’re here for the king-we want to see Him! They understood it right from the start-and they were Gentile Eastern mystics and wizards from Arabia. But they knew this baby was born to be king. And here we are now 33 years later, on the last day of Jesus’ life as He’s standing before Pilate confirming that very truth. So Pt1:What did Jesus say? His purpose-born to be our King. That’s why He’s here. That’s what Christmas celebrates. Jesus wasn’t born just so that we could admire a cute little nativity scene to celebrate the holidays-or think of Mary and Joseph and no room at the inn. He was born in Bethlehem to be our King. That’s His purpose-and that’s the truth we all must recognize. Did you catch how Jesus is making this connection? Back in the verse He said He’s come to bear witness to the truth-and everyone who is of the truth listens to His voice. So what is His voice saying-Pt1. This isn’t a truth that’s debatable or questionable or open to opinion. This is the truth that the Son of God is saying-I’ve come to be King-and if you’re a part of Me you’ll hear that and believe that.
And yet Pilate responds like so many people in our world-he questions it, dismisses it and can’t really be bothered to consider it. Look at v. 38. Let’s get this trial over with. He seems like a harmless enough guy-clearly He’s confused on who He is, thinking He’s some sort of king. But let’s finish up here. Pilate’s focused on getting his job done, expediency is what he’s after-the practical things of life. He’s not at all willing to even contemplate or consider whether Jesus is actually speaking the truth. So Pt2:How did Pilate respond? Dismissing the truth as irrelevant. That’s what’s happening here. Jesus’ claim to be king has no bearing on Pilate’s life. He just shrugs it off-what is truth-and then goes to do his job. In his encounter with Jesus he misses it. He considers truth something subjective and changing-much like in our day and age. What is truth? Your truth is different from my truth. Find whatever works for you and go with that. As if truth is some fluctuating thing that changes like the seasons or the stock market. And if that’s what truth is-then Pilate concludes the truth about Jesus isn’t relevant, important truth for him. But that’s not how truth is defined. Believe it or not-truth is defined by whether it’s true. It’s not rocket science-if it’s true, it’s true! Our opinions or what we deem relevant has no bearing on the issue. If it’s true-then we have to accept it.
For example, who uses a weather app on their phone? Probably a lot of us. I’m often checking the weather to see if it’s warm enough to go outside for a run-and I could look at the what the app is saying-20 degrees and windy with driving rain. And I could respond-no it’s not, that’s irrelevant, that’s not how I feel the weather is-to me it’s sunny and 60 out there without a cloud in the sky. I’ve been there-trying to will the weather to get better. So I could put on some shorts and a t-shirt and running shoes-but when I step outside and it’s 20 and windy and rainy it becomes very relevant as I’m freezing and getting soaked. Forget it-run’s over! The truth about the weather is the truth no matter how we feel or think about it-and there’s nothing we can do to change it. And even if we want to consider it irrelevant or unimportant-the moment we step outside and get drenched it’s relevant. The outdoor plans we made that day will have to change when it’s pouring rain-no matter how much want it to be different. It’s the same thing spiritually-the truth isn’t what I feel or what I want or what seems important or relevant to me. The truth is the truth-and it means that Jesus is King. That the purpose of His birth, the purpose for coming to our planet was to become King. That’s what Christmas celebrates-and it’s very relevant and very important to our lives. So Pt3:What’s our response? Believing the truth and surrendering to Jesus as our King. This is a fact that none of us can avoid dealing with. If we do try to dismiss it or ignore it or shrug it off like Pilate then we’re saying He’s not our king. That someone else is our king. But what did Jesus say? v. 37b. So if you want to align yourself with the truth that has entered our world, with the truth that will always stand and always be true then you have to listen to Jesus’ voice and believe that He’s your King. Ask yourself-does the truth matter to me? And if it does, you have no other option but surrendering to Jesus.
But there’s one more part of that truth you have to accept. And this is what I find to be so incredible-look at how the scene concludes-v. 39. Which in Pilate’s mind is a no-brainer. Again, he thinks Jesus is innocent, a bit misguided, but innocent. Other than claiming to the be the king of some out of this world kingdom, He’s not really a threat to anybody-let the guy go. This is why Pilate’s giving them this option. He can be the prisoner you release. But what does the crowd say-v. 40. What a short but deeply insightful sentence. We want Jesus to die so the robber, who is a threat to society, can live! As if that makes any sense! And when you look at Luke’s gospel Barabbas is further described as a murderer and insurrectionist. It’s not just petty theft, he’s someone who rebelled against the authorities, someone who wouldn’t surrender to the king or to the government and now has blood on his hands. That’s Barabbas-and so what this scene is describing for us is a king who dies so the robber can be set free. Don’t miss the depth of that visual! It’s there for a reason-because that’s the very heart of the gospel. The innocent dies so the guilty can live, those deserving of death are spared because someone else took their place. So Pt4:What do we see? Our King dies for robbers like us. Because this is where you and I have to take our stand with Barabbas. We have to put ourselves in his shoes because we also rebelled against God and been insurrectionists to His law-I’m doing my own thing God, you can’t tell me what to do. We’ve robbed God of the glory that was due to Him in order to elevate and promote ourselves. We’ve hurt and offended and “murdered” others by our words, our bitterness, our anger. We’re no different from Barabbas and stand just as guilty. Look at Isa 53:6. That’s Jesus’ purpose-to not only be our King, but to die for robbers and insurrectionists like us! What does it say in the NT-Rom 5:7-8. We didn’t clean ourselves up first or make the necessary changes in life before Jesus died for us, just like Barabbas didn’t make any changes in his life before Jesus took his place and died. But that’s what Jesus has come to do. Listen to John MacArthur, 115.
What king does that? Normally it’s everyone else-the soldiers, the bodyguards, the protectors who die for the king. What king dies for his subjects? What king gives himself up for the people? But if you look at how this unfolds in John-that’s exactly what our King does-19:1-3; 14-16. What an incredible scene! Back to Pt4. And He does so in order to pay for our sins and set us free.
We never get to hear any more about Barabbas and what became of his life-but I wonder what he thought or how he felt the next day as he saw Jesus on the cross. Did Barabbas think-that could have been me, that should have been me. I’m a guilty murderer, no question about it, I deserved death-and yet here I am a free man with a new lease on life. I’m no longer bound in chains, I’m no longer guilty or staring at a death sentence-because this man died in my place. I’m alive and free because of Him. I’d love to know his reaction-but we have no idea if any of that went through Barabbas’ mind-but it needs to go through our minds because our situation isn’t any different. You and I are set free, we have a new lease on life, we’re no longer under a guilty sentence or even a death sentence, because Jesus, our King, died for us. He took our place on the cross, He suffered the punishment for our sins, He gave up His life so we could be forgiven and saved and have the hope of eternal life when we trust in Him. Do you see that when you look to Jesus? Do you see the King who dies for all of your sins and mistakes and bad choices? Do you see the one who sets you free and says you’re no longer guilty? That was His purpose-that’s why He came to this earth and was born as a little baby on Christmas. And that’s what brings us to the communion table this morning.
Close Encounters with Jesus – John 18 – 12.2.18