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Sermon: Jesus’ Journey to the Cross: Difficult, Lonely, Necessary: John 18:12-27


Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 50:4-11

[This is the third of four Servant Songs, which anticipate the Messiah… This song focuses on the servant as a rejected prophet. (ESV Study Bible)]

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.” (Isaiah 50:4–11, ESV)

New Testament Reading: John 18:12-27

“So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people. Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, ‘You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?’ Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.” (John 18:12–27, ESV)

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8, ESV)

Introduction

Today is Palm Sunday, isn’t it? On it we mark the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This Friday is Good Friday. It is on that day that we remember the death of our Lord. And next Sunday is resurrection Sunday. On it we remember the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Put it all together and we have, what some call, a holy week. I am not opposed to giving attention to these days. And I am not even opposed to calling this week a “holy week”. But we should take care to remember that, according to the scriptures, it is not a holy week that we are to observe, but a holy day, also known as the Lord’s Day, or the Christian Sabbath. And is not once per year that we are to remember the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord, but weekly as we gather together in fellowship and give ourselves to the word, to prayers, to singing, and to the breaking of the bread. These are the things that Lord has ordained.

This is why I do not feel obligated to preach a traditional Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday sermon every year. The culture expects it, I know. But it is not mandated by scripture. And notice that where we are in our study of the gospel of John makes it difficult to preach a Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday message. The problem is that we are very near to each one of these events in John’s gospel, but we are not completely aligned. Jesus’ triumphal entry was communicated to us in John 12:12. From there we have encountered Jesus’ interaction, primarily with his disciples, in the week leading up to his crucifixion. He will be crucified in chapter 19, and we will hear of his resurrection in chapter 20. And so we are in the thick of it, aren’t we? And yet things are not perfectly aligned. If we were in, let’s say, chapter 5, I might consider breaking from John to preach three sermons on the events that transpired in the week of Jesus’ suffering. But because we are in the thick of it, I have decided to simply press on through John’s gospel.

In chapter 18 we encounter Jesus on the way to the cross. I suppose it could be said that Jesus was always on the way to the cross. The cross was always his goal. He came to die for those given to him by the Father from all the world. This we know well. But it is here in John 18 that things accelerate. He is not walking to the cross, but being dragged to it. At least that it how it looks from a human perspective. We know that he was not in fact dragged to the cross. He went willingly in full submission to the will of the Father. The point is that things progress quickly from here. Jesus will be in the grave less than 24 hours from the events narrated in John 18.

And what can we say about Jesus’ journey to the cross? Three observations seem import to me.

Jesus’ Journey to the Cross was Difficult

First of all, it should be acknowledge that Jesus’ journey the cross was difficult. This might seem so obvious that it is hardly worth saying, but I think it is good that we consider carefully the difficulty of Jesus’ journey.

I suppose it can be said that the whole of Jesus’ life was difficult. He was born in poverty. He was constantly opposed. Members of his own family did not at first believe in him. He was often a man on the run. The whole of Jesus’ life was characterized by difficulty. But here I wish to emphasize that Jesus’ final journey to the cross was exceptionally difficult.

We speak often of the fact that Jesus came to die for sinners. But notice that the death he died was not, what we would call, a natural death. He did not die of natural causes. He did not grow old for us. He did not succumb to illness for us. His life was not ended by way of, what we would call, an accident. No, he was put to death by sinful men.

There is a great deal of irony in John 18 and 19, and it is good that we recognize it.

Isn’t it ironic, for example, that it is was the Jews who pushed for the crucifixion of Christ? Later we will see that it was the Romans who carried it out. The Romans were certainly involved in the false trial, mistreatment, and the unjust killing of Jesus. In the end we must admit that all of humanity is represented here. Jew and gentile alike were involved in the killing of the Christ. But it was the Jewish people who pushed for it. And it is ironic, for Jesus was their Messiah. Of course he is the Savior of all people. Salvation is found in him, and in him alone. But he was the Messiah that the Jews had long been looking for. He came, and they put him to death.

John began his Gospel by making note of this irony. John 1:9 says, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (John 1:9–12, ESV)

As we consider Jesus’ journey to the cross – the false trial, the brutality, the crucifixion itself – we should be struck by the irony. Here is Jesus, the eternal Word of God come in the flesh, the one through whom and for whom the universe was made, the giver and sustainer of life. He comes to man, not to judge, mind you, but to accomplish salvation. And what does man do with him? Their natural impulse is to kill him. Oh, how dark we are apart from the grace of God!

Isn’t it also ironic that it was the high priest who condemned Jesus to death? Jesus was first brought before Annas. Verse 13 says, “….for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.” (John 18:13, ESV) Annas was actually the high priest before Caiaphas was. Some passages in the New Testament suggest that both Annas and Caiaphas were high priest at the same time (see Luke 3:2 and Acts 4:6). The reason for this is that Annas was high priest first and then Caiaphas, but Annas was still called by that title, though he no longer officially held the position. Why Jesus was first sent to Annas we do not know for sure. But the point is that Jesus stood before the man who had been high priest and who was still honored as such. From there he was sent to stand before Caiaphas who was in fact the high priest.

We should pause for a moment to think about the significance of the high priestly office. Why did that office exist? What role did the hight priest play within Old Covenant Israel?

Much could be said about this. For now I would simply draw your attention to the fact that the high priest was to serve as a kind of mediator between God and man. The high priest was to pray to God on behalf of the people, and to offer up sacrifices to God for the people. It was the high priest who would go once a year into the Holy of Holies to make atonement for his sins and for the sins of the people. And the thing to remember and not forget is that the priesthood of the Old Covenant was temporary and typological. By temporary I mean that the priesthood would continue in it’s Old Covenant form only until the high priest would come. And who is that high priest? He is Christ Jesus our Lord! By typological I mean that the priesthood, along with the sacrifices that they administered, were intended to serve as types, shadows, pictures, or symbols, which pointed forward to the priest who would make the sacrifice which would actually, really, and fully atone for sins. Again, this is Christ Jesus our Lord.

Listen to the book of Hebrews in 3:1: “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house.” (Hebrews 3:1–2, ESV) Listen to 4:14: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:14–15, ESV) If I had the time I would read to you Hebrews chapter 5 on through to the end of chapter 13, for that is theme! Jesus is the true high priest who has made true atonement for sins! Listen to Hebrews 9:11-12, and then we will move on.“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:11–12, ESV)

So picture Caiaphas the high priest of Israel and Jesus standing before him. Don’t you find it ironic that, though the office he held was intended to serve as a kind of placeholder until the true high priest would come – and though the work he did was packed with typological and symbolic significance which pointed forward to the true lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world – when the true high priest, who is also the true lamb of God, stood before him, he did not recognize him. Caiaphas didn’t get it. Not even close. He was arrogant, unjust, and ignorant. He was ignorant as to the true significance of the position he held. He was ignorant as to the significance of the man who stood before him. And he was ignorant as to the significance of the moment.

And so how did Caiaphas handle Jesus? It’s interesting that John does not provide us with as much detail as Matthew does concerning Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas. John simply reminds us of something that had been mentioned earlier in his Gospel, namely that “it was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.” (John 18:14, ESV)

This is to remind us of what was said in John 11. Remember that at this point people were taking notice of Jesus because of the signs he was preforming. The religious authorities were troubled by this, so they gather together to discuss how to deal with Jesus. Their fear was that, “If [they] let him go on like this, everyone [would] believe in him, and the Romans [would] come and take away both [their] place and [their] nation.” (John 11:48, ESV) We were told that “one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”” (John 11:49–50, ESV) In other words, it is better that we put this Jesus to death rather than risk the Romans growing upset with us and coming down hard on the nation. How did John interpret these words of Caiaphas? He tells us in 11:51 saying, “[Caiaphas] did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.” (John 11:51–53, ESV)

So here is the irony. Caiaphas was high priest. One of his responsibilities was to offer up sacrifices to God on behalf of the people for the forgiveness of sins. This he in fact did. He offered up Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins, not only of the Jews, but of all the peoples of the earth. He did so in ignorance and in sin. But he did it according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.

Jesus’ journey was a difficult one, that is the point. He was falsely accused, falsely tried, and mistreated. By the way, can you imagine being the guy who slapped Jesus when he answered back to Caiaphas? Imagine being that guy! He slapped Jesus! And for what? Jesus simply replied to Caiaphas’ questions about his teaching saying, “‘I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’” (John 18:20–22, ESV) How blind these men were to the reality of things.

Jesus’ journey to the cross was indeed a difficult one. We tend to emphasize the physical suffering he endured (and it is true that he suffered in the flesh) but consider the emotional, the psychological, the spiritual aspect of all this. Think of the humility, the restraint, the submission to the Father that Jesus maintained in order to accomplish the Father’s will. He suffered for you and me and for all who believe. Thanks be to God.

Jesus’ Journey to the Cross was Lonely

Consider also the loneliness of Jesus’ journey. His journey to the cross was a lonely one.

Here I wish only to emphasize the fact that Jesus walked this difficult road alone.

Judas had already betrayed him. This we have seen.

And where are the majority of the eleven who remained? Most of them have all scattered, haven’t they? What Jesus predicted came true. He said to them in John 16:32, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone.” (John 16:32, ESV) This is what happened.

Notice that Peter followed Jesus. I suppose he should be commended for this. He did have the courage to follow Jesus. But do you remember the conversation that Jesus had with Peter in the upper room after he washed the disciples feet? “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’” (John 13:36–37, ESV) Peter claimed to be willing to follow Jesus to the point of death. And his actions revealed that he was serious about that. What did he do when Judas let that band of soldiers into the garden? He drew his sword and started swinging! He displayed courage, did he not? But it was an ignorant courage – a misguided courage. He insisted on walking the road with Jesus when Jesus had already made it clear that he could not. When Jesus was dragged before Annas and Caiaphas, Peter was there. This was risky, wasn’t it? He was putting his life at risk. He was courageous. But again, it was an ignorant courage.

Evidently Peter was still struggling to understand Christ’s mission, wouldn’t you agree? He could not, at this time, understand the way of the cross. He could not comprehend that victory would come to Jesus by way of suffering and death.

He walk with Jesus for a while, didn’t he? But eventually he hit a will. Peter, being questioned three times, denied our Lord three times. This was to fulfill what Christ had predicted. In John 13 “Jesus answered [Peter], ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.’” (John 13:38, ESV) This is what happened.

I’d like to show you something interesting about the story of Peter’s denial in John 18, if you are willing to listen. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of Peter’s denial. But, as is often the case, they provide more detail than does John. They tell us more about what was asked of Peter by his accusers. They also tell us more about what Peter said when he denied Jesus. Mark, in particular,  suggests that Peter grew more and more adamant in his denial with each question asked to the point of “[invoking] a curse on himself [saying], ‘I do not know this man of whom you speak.’” (Mark 14:71, ESV)

But what does John emphasize? How does he portray Jesus’ denial? He tells us that Peter denied  Christ three times with the simple words, “I am not”. Verse 17: “The servant girl at the door said to Peter, ‘You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’” (John 18:17, ESV) Verse 25, “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself…” (By the way, notice the repetition of this theme. Twice it is mentioned that Peter was warming himself by the fire. This may suggest that Peter was concerned about his own comfort in contrast to Christ’s selfless suffering. But it might also be an allusion to the Isaiah 50 passage that I read at the beginning, especially verse 11. I’ll leave that to you to ponder) But as they stood around the fire “they said to [Peter], ‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’” (John 18:25, ESV) This happened a third time, and then the roster crowed.

So why is it significant that John’s simply uses the words “I am not” to describe Peter’s denial of Jesus, whereas the other Gospels tell us more? Think with me for a moment. How has Jesus identified himself throughout the Gospel of John? Has he not consistently referred to himself by the words “I am”? “I am the door”; “I am the bread of life”. “I am the light of the world”. “Before Abraham was, I am”, and so on. And even in the immediate context we see that when Judas and the soldiers came to find Jesus in the garden and said that it was Jesus of Nazareth that they were seeking, how did he respond except with the words “I am”? In the english it is “I am he”, but in the greek it is simply ἐγώ εἰμι – “I am”.

So that is the pattern in John. Jesus consistently reveals himself as the “I am”. Clearly this alludes to the divine name given to Moses at the burning bush, but it also communicates that Jesus is the one. He is the anointed one, the long awaited Messiah. He alone is the one who can atone for sins.

Tell me this, church. How has Peter been acting up to this point? He has been acting as if he is. He has been acting as if he could contribute to Christ’s work – as if he could walk with Christ, and even die with Christ. He at first would not let Jesus wash his feet. He claimed to be willing to die with Jesus. He drew his sword and began to fight. And he followed Jesus to Caiaphas’ headquarters. Courages? Indeed! But oh so misguided.

It is here that Peter finally comes to an end of himself. His flesh could take him so far, but he could go no further. He finally admits “I am not.”

Jesus’ Journey to the Cross was Necessary

Brothers and sisters, Jesus’ journey to the cross was indeed difficult and lonely (he was abandoned by men, but the Father was with him), but it was necessary. Only he could make the journey. Only he could walk that road and drink the cup that the Father had given him to drink. He was uniquely called, uniquely anointed, and uniquely qualified to suffer and die and rise again on the third day for your sins and mine, and for all who trust in him in every age, and in every place.

There is one other figure in this passage that we have not talked about yet and we should do so briefly before we conclude. Look at verse 15. It says, “Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest…” (John 18:15, ESV) Who do you think this other disciples is? Certainly this is John! He never names himself in his Gospel, but he appears in the narrative from time to time. Here he is called “another disciple”. In John 20 he is called “the other disciple”. He is the one who outruns Peter to the tomb. In John 21 he is “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. He is always appearing anonymously and as a kind of contrast to Peter.

Why? It seems to me that John, though he, like Peter, was willing to follow Jesus (he did not deny like Judas nor run away like the other nine) he followed in the right way. He followed, not in an attempt to rescue Jesus, and not in an attempt add anything to the work of Christ, as if that were possible. No, he simply followed and observed. He watched Jesus do the work that only Jesus could do. John, unlike Peter at this point in his life, was willing to be served by Jesus. He was willing to be loved by Jesus. That was his boast! Not that he loved Jesus, but that Jesus loved him, and gave himself up for him through his death on the cross.

 Conclusion

This seems to me to be the most crucial question of all. Will you have Jesus as your crucified Lord? Will you allow Jesus to serve you? Will you confess that you are needy – not able to add a thing to the work of Christ, but only able to receive that which he has graciously provided for you through his death, burial, and resurrection?

This is how we must come to Christ. We must repent and believe upon Jesus. We must come to terms with our need and cast ourselves complexly at the feet of Jesus, trusting in him alone for the forgiveness of sins. And brothers and sisters, this is what we must do throughout the Christian life in every circumstance. We must confess our need – confess our brokenness – and run to Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

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