John 18.1-11. Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest. Judas leads a group of Roman soldiers (200-600) to arrest Jesus. The soldiers are in for more than they bargained for as Jesus asks, “Whom do you seek?” The soldiers respond, “Jesus the Nazarene.” Jesus comes back with, “I AM.” With that the soldiers fall back to the ground. I AM is the divine name with which God identified Himself to Moses in the burning bush way back in Exodus 3. You are probably more familiar with the Hebrew pronunciation, “Yahweh”. John has used I AM statements throughout his Gospel to reinforce both Jesus’ Messianic and Divine roles (7 I AM’s: Bread of Life; Light of World; Gate; Good Shepherd; Resurrection and Life, Way, Truth and Life; and Vine; not to mention John 8.58). And I believe he’s doing the same thing here. This is confirmed by the soldiers’ reaction: they draw back and fall to the ground. The Word made flesh, the One who spoke creation into existence, and the One from whom the sharp sword will come out of His mouth to slay His enemies at His return, now speaks a word and the bravest of men fall back. Now we see the crux of the difference between John’s account of the betrayal and the Synoptics: the Synoptics highlight Jesus’ humanity and focus on the betrayal, whereas John highlights Jesus’ deity and focuses on the Betrayed. It shouldn’t surprise us because John’s Gospel is the most theological of the four Gospel narratives. In the early church, when controversy swirled around the question of Jesus, the early church fathers looked to the Gospel of John for support for their argument that Jesus was both fully God and fully Man. The purpose statement of John’s Gospel is: “these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” Everything John includes and excludes goes to that purpose. The soldiers had come out looking for a man, an insurrectionist, a rogue, want-to-be king, but they came face-to-face with the Son of God. Jesus is constantly challenging folks’ perceptions and expectations of who He is. Belief is used over 90 times in the book of John, but there is an evolution of belief as the book progresses as Jesus reveals more of who He is. At one point, He even asks the 12 if they also wanted to leave…constantly challenging and expanding their category of who and what Messiah would be.
As I reflected on the passage, I was struck by Jesus’ question: “Whom do you seek?” And I began to think about how different folks viewed Jesus in John’s Gospel. Peter’s view of/response to Jesus was one of action. This final scene where he cuts off Malchus’ ear is a great illustration. He’s constantly looking for Jesus to lead His followers into battle and establish the kingdom. He’s not a fan of the Lamb-before-the-Lion approach to the kingdom. Some of us are like Peter and can’t understand why God doesn’t act sooner or in some cases doesn’t seem to act at all, especially with the injustices in the world that threaten to overwhelm us.
Judas’ view of/response to Jesus was: what’s in it for me? Judas always seemed to be working an angle and was willing to follow Jesus as long as there was a perceived benefit for himself. A good example is his rebuke of the woman who poured costly perfume on Jesus’ feet, not because he cared about the poor (as John tells us), but because he was a thief. And if we are honest with our selves, some of us are like Judas. We are willing to follow Jesus as long as there is a perceived immediate benefit for ourselves…better life (job, marriage, kids, etc.). But should that perceived benefit fail to materialize and actual suffering become the reality of life, we are quick to fall away.
The Pharisees’ view of/response to Jesus was: what about us? We are told that the Pharisees wanted to silence Jesus because they were afraid that they would lose their status in the community. Some of us are like the Pharisees and are more concerned about status and appearances and the favor of men, so following Jesus will only work if it doesn’t cost me social capital with my peers.
The crowd’s view of/response to Jesus was: show us something new. The crowd who followed Jesus was extremely fickle. At one point they seemingly hang on every word, and then suddenly are abandoning Him when the miracles cease to amaze or the teaching becomes too hard. Some of us are like the crowd. We follow Jesus when it’s popular to do so, but when the tides of public opinion change, we are quick to abandon Him.
Reflecting on these responses, I realized that each of them was not so different than that of the soldiers response to Jesus…you see Jesus the Nazarene is the prototypical Jesus of our imagination. He’s who we have made Jesus out to be based on our own expectations and desires. And when He doesn’t live up to our expectations, we walk away. We want to come to Jesus on our terms and to make Him in our image. But Jesus’ answer is irrefutable: I AM. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and the Rescuer of our souls. And He bids us come and follow Him…not the Jesus we have made up in our own minds, not Jesus the Nazarene, but the I AM. He wants us to follow Him, but we must come to Him on His terms and not ours. We must be conformed to His image, and not He to ours.
So how do we work on our view of Jesus? How do we go about seeing Him as He really is? How do we conform? How do we submit? How do we walk in His footsteps? I really believe that happens best in the context of community. God is in the process of redeeming a people…sure He calls us individually, but He calls us into a body…into the body of Christ. And it’s to the people of God, to a body of believers that the Scriptures are written. There is no effective lone ranger Christianity. “It’s not about you, your Bible, and a cup of coffee” – but it’s about discovering and living out the truths of the Bible with other believers. That’s what discipleship is all about. It’s easy for me to become self-deceived, but when my life is bumping up against others who are also looking to follow Jesus, it’s harder to hide my sin and thereby deceive myself. The truth of the Scriptures are then able to penetrate at a deep level, so that when you are asked, “Whom do you seek?” you can confidently say, “I’m seeking Jesus.”
Until next time…stay salty.