Feel that shiver creeping along your spine? We’ve arrived at Bran Castle in Romania—the inspiration behind Stoker’s Dracula legend. In the story, an insatiable evil roams the shadows, stalking his prey at liberty, but only until daybreak. The eighteenth chapter of John likewise portrays an enemy out for blood while the moon is high. Friends scatter and darkness stretches its fingers toward the ultimate sacrifice. But beware: this is no myth. Stay close.
Scripture writing: My favorite passage to copy using The Message was verses 3-5:
So Judas led the way to the garden, and the Roman soldiers and police sent by the high priests and Pharisees followed. They arrived there with lanterns and torches and swords. Jesus, knowing by now everything that was imploding on Him, went out and met them. He said, “Who are you after?” They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said, “That’s Me.” The soldiers recoiled, totally taken aback. Judas, His betrayer, stood out like a sore thumb.
I get tickled by the picture of hundreds of Roman soldiers, trained in brutality and armed to the teeth, being thrown into confusion by this calm, homeless Rabbi. Of course they can’t keep their cool—in the original language, Jesus answers, “I AM,” and whenever God reveals His name in Scripture, people tend to fall all over themselves. If the King of the cosmos wants to put a bit of His powerful glory on display, that poor battalion doesn’t stand a chance of maintaining their composure. It’s a vivid reminder that Jesus wasn’t taken by force but by love.
Studying: There’s a great note over verse 36 in The Gospel Transformation Study Bible. It says,
When Jesus declared, “My kingdom is not of this world,” He wasn’t implying that His kingdom has no implications for the earth and the world we now live in. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather He was saying, “My kingdom is on another plane than the kingdoms erected in the fallen ways of humanity.” For in fact, Jesus’ kingdom is simultaneously over this world and very much in this world. He has come to make all things new.
So many believers relegate faith to a weekly worship event, affirming that Sunday morning is “the Lord’s,” while protecting the rest of life as “theirs”—essentially building their own kingdoms in all but two hours a week. According to Abraham Kuyper, however, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'” We are the kingdom, right here, right now, and Jesus has the right to run His territory as He pleases. If He’s out to make all things new, dynamic flourishing should follow wherever we go, making a very real difference in a very real world.
Commentaries: While pondering the security Jesus provides believers from unnecessary harm, Matthew Henry offers this hope:
Christ gives us a great encouragement to follow Him; for, though He has allotted us sufferings, yet He considers our frame, will wisely time the cross, and proportion it to our strength, and will deliver the godly out of temptation, either from it or through it … The safety and preservation of the saints are owing, not only to the divine grace in proportioning the strength to the trial, but to the divine providence in proportioning the trial to the strength.
What help those words hold for the weak and weary heart!
D.A. Carson highlights verses 22-23, a text I had previously overlooked, in which Jesus objects to being slapped for alleged insubordination to the high priest:
[Christ was not] refusing to ‘turn the other cheek’: that ought to be clear from the cross itself. But turning the other cheek without bearing witness to the truth is not the fruit of moral resolution but the terrorized cowardice of the wimp.
As an all-or-nothing thinker, I assumed I had to choose between grace (turning the other cheek) and truth (speaking against injustice), that somehow godly patience excluded the possibility of godly honesty. I find the fact that the two can function in partnership empowering. Carson’s point is well stated and well taken.
Sermons: Pastor Mark says in ‘People Like Peter’ that
Your testimony is telling the truth about who you are and then revealing what God has done. This is the difference between a biography and a testimony: In a biography, “Here’s what I did, how I overcame.” A testimony is, “Here’s who I really was, and this is how God is the hero.”
Isn’t it natural to want to push the worst of who we were out of sight, only allowing certain filtered pieces of our story, told from the most flattering angle, to show up? Western culture thrives on glittering images. Beauty over accuracy, all day long. But it’s just one more way the kingdom offers a better path: I can own the worst of myself because Christ owns, and redeems, all of me—even the ugly parts.
Keeping the same character in mind, Pastor John’s best statement is short and sweet:
Peter is trapped between his fear and his love.
Raise your hand if you feel that like I do. While we’re not surrounded by enemies as we await the verdict on Jesus, our basic struggle remains the same. Every conversation with the Walmart checkout lady, every loaded social media interaction, every chat with that family member who shakes a fist at God—is an invitation to operate by love rather than by fear. Both exist in the human heart, but we get to decide which to feed and which to starve.
Journaling: Judgment is a major theme in this chapter. Jesus stands before the high priests, Pilate, and a massive crowd, while Peter has a less formal hearing in the courtyard. As I inspected my own life, it became apparent that
I spend much more time and energy defending myself than announcing the kingdom. It’s time to stop living on trial and start living on mission.
A single court date should mark my soul: the day Jesus was pronounced guilty so that I could be pronounced innocent. This would be the sane path, the road that best aligns with reality. But for whatever reason, I enter each day as though court were back in session all over again. Will this person find me worthy of her time? Will that achievement prove I’m not a waste of space? Meanwhile, the only verdict that ultimately matters stands unchanged, but also untapped. If the truth that God speaks over my case is granted exclusive authority, I’m set free to forget myself and to joyfully share the great news with anyone who will listen.
Meditation: Verse 4 goes like this in the ESV: “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”” I pondered this passage for weeks. The Spirit nudged me into realizing,
Yes, this is Christ’s unique story as the Son of God, but I too am called to bravely and wholeheartedly face the story written for me, to go out to meet it. As always, accept, embrace, engage.
To be honest, I’ve spent the past three years rejecting the story written for me—the one where a slow death seeps into little lungs and grief lines the edges of my mothering. I’ve denied this life, raged against it, run from it, been swallowed by it. And then here comes Jesus, opening His arms to absorb the worst so that it wouldn’t obliterate me. If His strength courses through my veins, I can genuinely accept this story of beauty and brokenness, embrace it as my new home within the Father’s loving care, and engage every heart I encounter along the way for the glory of God.
Is everybody back on the bus? Buckle up, friends. We’re leaving the fierce beauty of Romania behind us, and just in time. Our next stop on this journey with John: Calvary.
*Following the study schedule right along, my binder has thickened up with doodles, prayers, and tons of background information on the text. This summary is just the condensed version, the highlights of each approach—you can find my full binder notes for John 18 here.
Tugged at my heart strings at this part…
To be honest, I’ve spent the past three years rejecting the story written for me—the one where a slow death seeps into little lungs and grief lines the edges of my mothering
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