A Miracle in the Garden of Gethsemane

On the night Jesus was arrested, Gethsemane was a place of intimidation. A sword-and-club-wielding crowd entered the garden with Judas leading the way. Then Judas gave the kiss of betrayal, cuing the arresting party to make their move.

But when they seized Jesus, things took a violent turn. Peter drew his sword and swung at the high priest’s servant Malchus, cutting off the man’s ear (Matt. 26:51; John 18:10). All Four Gospels report this physical intervention. And all four also report Jesus’ instructions to Peter: “Put away your sword.”

Only Luke’s Gospel tells us what Jesus did next for the high priest’s servant. He turned to the wounded man and “touched his ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51). A miracle, right there in the Garden of Gethsemane. A miracle, right in the middle of the armed crowd’s efforts to seize Jesus. A miracle, right there for the opposition to see and remember.

Did anyone in the crowd second-guess what they’d come to do? What was Malchus thinking after he left the garden that night?

Jesus was certainly no threat. In the face of hostility, he showed compassion when the opposite might have been expected. Surrounded by his enemies and accompanied by his wavering disciples, Jesus displayed strength and restraint, power and humility, authority and mercy.

Jesus the Last Adam: Temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane

jesus finding the three disciples sleepingAt the Mount of Olives was a place called Gethsemane. It was where Jesus took his disciples, where he pulled aside Peter and James and John, where he fell on his face in fervent prayer, and where his sorrowful soul communed with his Father. John 18:1 calls Gethsemane a “garden,” which is where the name “Garden of Gethsemane” comes from.

This garden was not just a place of sorrow and prayer. It was a place of temptation. The hour of God’s wrath was nearer than it had ever been, and this prospect was an enormous weight on the soul of Jesus. As our Lord prayed about the “cup” he was facing, he resolved to do his Father’s will no matter what (see Matt. 26:39, 42, 44).

When Jesus found Peter, James, and John asleep, he told them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41a). They should’ve been doing what he was doing. Earlier he had said “remain here, and watch with me” (26:38), but more was in view than serving as lookouts. His words “watch and pray” (26:41a) expanded on what it meant for them to “watch with me” (26:38). He wanted their Gethsemane experience to be prayerful and Godward. After all, they would face their own temptations to fall away from him (see 26:31).

So by telling his disciples to watch (and pray) “with him” (Matt. 26:38, 41a), they would be battling against temptation (26:41a). But the disciples slept, while Jesus prayed. He faced temptation alone.

This temptation in a garden should make us think of temptation another garden–the Garden of Eden. Both Adam and Jesus faced temptation, but only one was faithful. Adam disobeyed God’s will, whereas Jesus submitted to it. In a garden, Jesus, the Last Adam, overcame temptation.

Did Judas Receive the Bread and the Cup?

jesus gives morsel of bread to judasWhen Matthew narrates the scene of the last supper, Jesus was dining with his twelve disciples (Matt. 26:20). So Judas was present–at first.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (Matt. 26:21). The disciples replied, one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” (26:22). Matthew doesn’t focus on any individual yet. Then after Jesus said it would have been better if the betrayer had never been born (26:24), Judas speaks. “Is it I, Rabbi?” (26:25).

The narrative continues in Matthew 26:26-28 with the dispensing of the bread and the passing of the cup, and the impression is that all twelve disciples receive the bread and cup from Jesus. Matthew doesn’t report anyone missing.

But the Fourth Gospel sheds some light on this table. When Jesus said “one of you will betray me” (John 13:21), the disciples were uncertain of the betrayer’s identity (13:22). The beloved disciple (probably John?) was sitting beside Jesus (13:25). He asked, “Lord, who is it?” (13:25). Jesus responded, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it,” and then Jesus dipped a morsel and handed it to Judas, who must have been sitting next to him on the other side (13:26). Despite what a moment this was, the rest of the group seemed oblivious (13:28). But Judas knew that Jesus knew.

Now comes John 13:30: “So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.”

Here’s how the events may have unfolded at the last supper. Jesus prophesies a betrayer from the twelve, and the disciples respond with uncertainty (Matt. 26:20-25). With this conversation still hanging in the air, the beloved disciple asks the identity of the betrayer, Jesus says he will give a dipped morsel to the betrayer, Jesus then gives the dipped morsel to Judas, and after receiving the morsel Judas immediately left (John 13:25-30).

Only then does the meal transition to the breaking of the bread and the passing of the cup (Matt. 26:26-28). While Jesus began the meal in 26:20 with all twelve disciples present, by the time he interpreted the bread as his body and the cup as his blood, Judas had already left (John 13:30).

Did Jesus Do Miracles as a Child?

A second-century document known as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas claims Jesus did miracles as a child. In it, Jesus makes clay birds and brings them to life, he causes a child’s body to wither, he strikes some neighbors with blindness, he resurrects a friend who died, and he heals his brother from a snake bite.

But when we look into the Four Gospels of the New Testament, we see reports about Jesus’ birth, a later visit by Magi, an escape to Egypt, a move to Nazareth, and an episode of his teaching in the temple when he was twelve (Matt 1-2; Luke 1-2). No childhood miracles are reported at all. Not one healing, not one extraordinary feat.

At least two excerpts from the New Testament can be bolstered to argue that Jesus was not a wonder-working child.

  1. The miracle of turning water to wine. In Cana, Jesus attended a wedding where the wine ran out. After he made jars of water to become wine, the narrator said, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory” (John 2:11). The miracle was called his first. A reasonable implication from this is that working miracles was not a part of Jesus’ childhood.
  2. The visit to his hometown synagogue. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he made a visit to Nazareth and entered the town synagogue (see Matt 13:53-54). The response of the people included a reference to the miracles they’d heard about: “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Matt 13:54-56). Their response expressed surprise. Nazareth was a small town with a synagogue, and they all knew Joseph and Mary and Jesus and Jesus’ siblings. And when Jesus was growing up, apparently the attitude in the synagogue wasn’t “This kid who works miracles is really going to be someone someday. Let’s see what happens with him!” Jesus seemed like every other kid, with parents and siblings, and from a small town as well. The questions from those in the Nazarene synagogue suggests that Jesus’ miracles (“these mighty works”) were unexpected and unprecedented. When the Nazarenes thought of the Jesus they knew, there was nothing extraordinary to say at all.

The Four Gospels do not reveal much about Jesus’ childhood. Luke tells us that as Jesus grew up, he “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (2:52). Wisdom, yes. Jesus demonstrated it as a twelve-year-old in the temple, which he called “my Father’s house” (2:47, 49). He also displayed obedience to his parents (2:51). But was he known as a miracle-working child growing up in Nazareth? No.

During his earthly ministry, when Jesus began performing miracles, they served as kingdom signs and signals. Prior to his public ministry, Jesus did not perform these mighty deeds. He was no wonder-working child. And this isn’t bad news, for the purpose of his miracles was never for amusement, convenience, boredom, or shock.

At the appointed time, however, Jesus would do and say all that the Father gave him to do and say (see John 5:19-20). Lepers would be cleansed, the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the lame would leap, the mute would speak, and the dead would live. Demons would be overcome, stormy wind would be stilled, crashing waves would fall flat, fish and bread would be multiplied, and a fig tree would wither. And then, when the appointed Hour arrived, sin would be atoned for, justice would be satisfied, the earth would quake, the temple veil would split, and graves would send back their dead.

Six Reflections on John 3:16

John 3:16 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Clear, concise, powerful. Gospel. News worth shouting and celebrating! Here are six reflections that I hope will help us love it more.

(1) John 3:16 explains a previous statement. The verse doesn’t begin with “God” but with “for.” John 3:16 doesn’t stand alone but explains 3:14-15, where Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” If someone asks why looking with faith to Jesus will bring life, John 3:16 gives the answer: for God loved the world by giving his Son so that sinners might believe and live. John 3:16 is part of a chapter, part of an unfolding scene where Jesus had spoken to Nicodemus about being born again and entering the kingdom of God. So when we read John 3:16, it is helpful to keep in mind what comes before it.

(2) God is God the Father. The verse talks about “God” at the beginning and “the Son” later on. This separation doesn’t deny the deity of the Son. Rather, in the New Testament, whenever Jesus is distinguished from God in a verse, God should be understood as God the Father. This understanding of “God” in John 3:16 is confirmed by the later use of “Son,” for a son has a father. Most accurately, then, God the Father loved the world and gave his Son. This truth prevents any absurd notion of a sympathetic Savior who rescues sinners from an unloving Father. The Father loved the world.

(3) The “so” is about manner not degree. When I gush over something I love, I might say, “I love it soooooo much!” And when readers see that “God so loved the world,” they might imagine God’s gushing love. But “so” doesn’t mean that here. It means something like “thus” or “in this manner.” People use “so” this way too, like when they’re instructing someone to do a craft: “Take these strings and tie them like so.” The glorious news of John 3:16 is telling us how God loved the world. He loved the world like so, or in this manner, or thus: he gave his only Son. Paul wrote about the same idea: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

(4) The Son must have preexisted the incarnation. The Father can’t give what he doesn’t have. If the Father sent the Son into the world (see John 3:17), then the Son already was. The Son, like the Father and Spirit, is eternal. The incarnation was not the beginning of the Son but was when the eternal Word became flesh. God the Father loved the world and gave his Son, the Son who existed before there ever was a world.

(5) The phrase “his only Son” may recall Genesis 22. In John 3:16, the Father “gave his only Son,” which may allude to Genesis 22:2, where God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Yet Isaac was spared from being sacrificed (22:11-13). His near-death experience and deliverance foreshadowed the one who would truly be sacrificed and resurrected. Jesus is the true and greater Isaac. He’s the Father’s Son who would not be spared.

(6) John 3:16 answers who, what, how, and why. One way to think about this famous verse is in four parts that each ask a question. Who? God. What? Loved the world. How? He gave his only Son. Why? That whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

In his new book Gospel Formed, Jeff Medders wrote this about John 3:16: “However many times you’ve read, heard, or said that verse, it’s safe for you to hear it again and again. Familiarity shouldn’t breed apathy: this verse sparks fire! Let your heart hang on each word; there is enough to chew on for fours, years, a lifetime–even eternity” (p. 66).

Praise be to God for the merciful gift of his Son, his only Son, that sinners might live forever.

Jesus: The Light that Shows Us God

In John 12:44-46, Jesus said, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.  When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.  I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”

It will be helpful to view 12:44-45 as parallel statements of the same thought:

“a man believes in me, he…believe[s]…in the one who sent me”
“he        looks       at me, he    sees                the one who sent me”

We are able to draw four obvious conclusions here.  First, “a man” is parallel to “he.”  Second, “believing in” Jesus is synonymous with “looking at” him. Third, “believing in” the Father is the same as “seeing” the Father.  Fourth, “the one who sent me” in both verses refers to the Father.

With those parallel ideas in mind, let’s turn our attention to the verse that is the reason for this blog’s title: v. 46.

The first phrase of v. 46, “I have come into the world as a light,” isn’t the first occurrence of such an idea.  Previously, John 1:5, 9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5 have advocated Jesus as the Light of the world.

While one might offer several ideas of what it means for Jesus to be the Light of the world, here in 12:46 Jesus gives us perhaps the primary reason for his claim to be Light: “so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”

Now let’s view some phrases in v. 46 in parallel form with vv. 44-45:

“believes in me,                   he…believe[s]…in the one who sent me”
“looks at me,                         he sees the one who sent me”
“no one who believes in me should stay in darkness”

Notice that, in vv. 45-46, “seeing the one who sent me” (the Father) is parallel to not “staying in darkness.”  One might summarize in the parallels this way:

Believing in the Father=Seeing the Father=Not Staying in Darkness.

Just as light illuminates that on which it shines, Jesus as the Light of the world came to show us the Father.  Yes, his light exposes the deeds of darkness (3:19-20).  Yes, his light shows the way of salvation (8:12).

BUT, if Jesus did not also faithfully represent and show us the Father, the tragedy of 3:19-20 and the promise of 8:12 have no ultimate meaning.  It’s wrong for people to love the darkness because such a sinful love is tantamount to rejecting the Father.  And people who follow Jesus will have the light of life because Jesus is the Way to life in the Father (14:6).

Seeing John 12:44-46 in parallel form also shows what it means for people to remain in darkness.  If believing in Jesus means to also believe in the Father (12:44), and if looking at Jesus also means to see the Father, then “staying in the darkness” would mean not seeing/believing in the Father.

Essentially, what sinners need is to believe in and see the Father!  But our sinful minds and hearts cannot perceive who the Father is.  As the Light of the world, Jesus shows us the Father (14:9-10) and is the Way to the Father (14:6).  Believing in the Father happens when we believe in Jesus.  Seeing the Father happens when we look to Jesus in faith.  The reason people who believe in Jesus don’t remain in darkness is because they now believe in and see the Father–and not knowing the Father is the plight of being in the dark.

Praise be to the Father who sent his Son as the Light of perfect revelation.

Jesus Draws All Men to Himself, Not All Individuals

In John 12:32, Jesus says that his death on the cross will have an astounding saving effect: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

This verse is sometimes mistakenly interpreted to mean that Jesus draws all individuals to himself.  John’s Gospel, however, will not permit that interpretation.  In John 6, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (6:37), and also, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (6:44).

In John 6:37 and 6:44, both verses describe people “coming” to Jesus, which is synonymous with “believing” in him (see the parallelism in 6:35 that shows how “coming” to Jesus and “believing” in him are equivalent phrases).

Also in both verses, Jesus speaks about the same people with the phrases “all that the Father gives me” and “the Father who sent me draws him.”  Those who are given are those who are drawn.  Since John 6:37 implies that not every individual is given, we can confidently say that not every individual is drawn.

In John 6, those who are “drawn” are saved.  If 12:32 means that every individual is drawn, then we must affirm universalism (the teaching that every individual will eventually be saved by God).  But since Scripture does not teach the salvation of every individual, we must reject an individualistic interpretation of 12:32.

If not every individual is drawn to Jesus, though, then what does he mean in 12:32, “I…will draw all men to myself”?

Interpreting “all men” in an individualistic way is not the correct, or the only, way to view those two words.  The words should be interpreted this way: “Jesus draws people to him regardless of ethnic distinction.”

This interpretation is strengthened and supported in three places:

(1) In John 12:9 and 12:12, Jews approach Jesus with interest in him as the Messiah, mainly because of his recent miracle in raising Lazarus (11:43, 45; 12:9-11, 17-18).  And in 12:20, some Gentiles go to Jesus as well.  John 12, then, portrays both Jews and Gentiles going to Jesus.

(2) In John 10:16, Jesus promised that he would have one flock, comprised of Jews and Gentiles.  The Gentiles are those “other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.”  Jesus, the Good Shepherd (10:11), would call both Jews and Gentiles to salvation.

(3) In John 11:51-52, the narrator says that “Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.”  The “scattered children of God” are the elect Gentiles who will be part of the people of God through faith in Jesus.

John 10, 11, and 12 all prepare us for Jesus’ statement in 12:32: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth [=death on a cross], will draw [=save] all men [=people who are Jews and Gentiles] to myself.”

Jesus indeed draws “all men,” not because every individual is drawn but because sinners are drawn without bias to their ethnic distinction.  Jesus not only came for Jews, he came for Gentiles.  He not only came for the Jewish nation, he came to give himself for every nation!

John 12:32 teaches that people from every nation will be saved (Rev 5:9).

The Ripple Effects of Raising Lazarus

John’s Gospel strongly emphasizes the effect that Jesus’ raising of Lazarus had on subsequent events.  In fact, it seems that the raising of Lazarus (in John 11) actually prompted the events at the end of John 11 and the first half of John 12.  We might summarize those subsequent events like this:

(1) Lazarus’ resurrection strengthened the Sanhedrin’s determination to kill Jesus (11:47-57).  Sure, they had wanted to kill Jesus prior to Lazarus being raised (e.g. 10:31, 39), but the people’s faith-response to the raising of Lazarus (11:45) seemed to be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for the leaders.  More resolved than ever, the Sanhedrin wanted Jesus dead.

(2) Lazarus’ resurrection led his family to hold a special dinner in Bethany in Jesus’ honor (12:1-11).  During this dinner, Lazarus’ sister Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair (12:3).

(3) Lazarus’ resurrection seems to have evoked messianic thoughts about Jesus from a “great crowd”–a crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with palm branches and messianic declarations (12:13).  In other words, Jesus’ reception into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday seems to have been occasioned by a crowd that was intrigued and excited about Someone who raised a man from the dead (12:17-18).

In summary, Jesus’ raising of Lazarus did not remain a closed and isolated event in Bethany.  To the contrary, this seventh miracle of Jesus’ earthly ministry caused quite a stir among the people and Jewish leaders.

And if you were one of the witnesses who saw Jesus call a 4-day-old corpse from a tomb, you might be trying to see him, too, and you might even be searching for the nearest palm branch to wave.

Palm Sunday was a Day of Confusion

Two thousand years ago, Palm Sunday was a day of confusion instead of comprehension.  Jesus riding on a donkey threw everyone off balance.

In John 12:12-16, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey to the sound of a chanting crowd.  The people are shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the King of Israel!” (12:13).

Now those shouts were full of messianic overtones.  The “King of Israel” referred to God’s Anointed One (or Messiah) who would come to deliver His people.  The crowd waving palm branches (12:13a) ascribed that messianic title to Jesus.

But then they saw how Jesus was entering the city: on a donkey, not a war horse.  They expected their conquering king (who would overthrow the political oppression caused by the Romans) to ride in valiantly and triumphantly.

But Jesus is on a gentle donkey, an animal representing humility and peace instead of war.  Talk about a disappointed crowd!  This is not what they were expecting from the guy who raised Lazarus from the dead (12:17-18).

The crowd was totally confused.  Palm Sunday was a day of misunderstanding, not only for the crowd, but for the disciples, too: “his disciples did not understand all this” (12:16), with “all this” referring particularly to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey.

What else didn’t they understand?  The disciples didn’t understand that Jesus would give His life on a cross in order to defeat enemies more sinister than Roman authorities and far more oppressive than the current political powers.  Jesus was to overthrow sin and death.  The beginning of His enthronement would be through the cross.  He would be glorified, yes, but through crucifixion.

Yes, Jesus was the king, but the crowd misunderstood the nature of His kingship.  His royal rule would be established through a victory over the power of sin and death.  Though they were not expecting a Messiah who would die, to the cross He went.

So, while Palm Sunday confused everyone, the day that the disciples would see clearer was coming (12:16b).  Not now, but soon, they would understand.  For now, the disciples watched their Teacher ride on a donkey through a confused multitude, and they all wondered, “What’s he doing now?”

In a sense, Jesus was rejecting the misunderstanding of the people.  They wanted a king on a war horse, so He came in on a donkey.  He would not reinforce their wrong ideas about His kingship–but He wasn’t going to pretend like He wasn’t a king either.

Oh, by the way, Jesus will be on a war horse in the future: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.  With justice he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.  He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God…On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-13, 16).

There won’t be confusion about Jesus on that day.  It will be clear who He is.