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No sooner had our dear Lord ended his divine prayer, recorded in the foregoing chapter, but he goes forth to meet his sufferings with a willing cheerfulness. He retires with his disciples into a garden, not to hide and shelter himself from his enemies; for, if so, it had been the most improper place he could have chosen; it being the accustomed place where he was wont to pray, and a place well known to Judas, who was now coming to seek him. Judas which betrayed him knew the place; for Jesus oft-times resorted thither with his disciples; so that Christ repaired to this garden, not to shun but to meet the enemy, to offer himself a prey to the wolves, which in the garden hunted him, and laid hold upon him; he also resorted to this garden now for privacy, that he might freely pour out his soul to God.
Learn hence, that the Lord Jesus Christ was praying to his Father in the garden, when Judas with his black guard came to apprehend him.
As the sin of the first Adam, which brought destruction upon his posterity, was committed in a garden, so the salutary passion of the second Adam, which was to rescue us from that destruction, did begin in a garden also.
Observe here, 1. How our Lord's sufferings were all foreknown to himself, before they came upon himself, before they came upon him, and yet how willingly and cheerfully did he go forth to meet them.
Should our sufferings be known unto us before they come upon us, how would it disquiet and disturb us! yea, not only discompose us, but distract us! In great wisdom, therefore, and in tender mercy, has God concealed future events from us.
But it was otherwise with Christ; he had an exact knowledge of those bitter sufferings which he was to undergo, and yet with a composed mind he goes forth to meet them: Jesus knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth.
Lord! how endearing are our obligations to thyself, that when thou knewest before-hand the bitterness of that cup, which the justice of God was about to put into thy hand, thou didst not decline to drink it off for our sakes!
Observe, 2. That it was not man's power, but Christ's own permission, which brought his sufferings upon him. How easily could Christ have delivered himself out of his enemies' hands, who with a word from his mouth caused them to go backward and fall to the ground!
Christ in speaking those words did let out a little ray or beam of his deity, and this struck them down. Mark what a strange power was here in the word of Christ, and that not an angry word neither. He did not chide them, and say, "You wretches, how dare you lay hands on me, and carry me to judgment who shall one day be your judge!" Christ only said, I am he, and down they fell.
O what fear will Christ send out when he cometh to judge the world, who could send forth such a fear when he yielded up himself to be judged and condemned in the world! If there was so much majesty in the voice of Christ, in one of the lowest acts of his humiliation, what will the voice of a glorified Christ be to sinners, when he shall come as a judge to condemn the world.
Here note, 1. How voluntarily and freely Christ laid down his life! When his enemies were fallen to the ground, he suffered them to rise again, and offers himself to them to take him and carry him away.
Note, 2. How the sight of this glorious miracle of the soldiers falling to the ground did not deter or discourage them from their wicked purpose; they get up again, and go on with their bloody design.
Learn hence, that obstinate and obduraate sinners will not be reclaimed by the most evident and convincing, by the most miraculous and surprising, appearances of God against them.
Note, 3. How mindful, in the midst of his sufferings, Christ was of his dear disciples, to secure them, at this time, from death and danger; If ye seek me, let these go their way: that is, my disciples, against whom ye have no warrant at this time.
Learn hence, that Christ is so tender of his followers, that he will not put them upon trials, or call them forth to sufferings, till they are ripe and ready, fitted and prepared for them.
The disciples yet were weak and feeble, timorous and fearful, and Christ had much work and service for them to do in the world; namely, to plant and propagate the gospel in foreign countries; he therefore resolves not to lose any one of them by persecution at this time. And thus was his word fulfilled, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.
Observe here, St. Peter's love unto, and zeal for, his Lord and Master, in defence of whom he now draws his sword: but why did he not rather draw upon Judas than upon Malchus?
Possibly, because though Judas was most faulty, yet Malchus might be most forward to carry off our Saviour. O, how doth a pious breast swell with indignation, at the sight of an affront offered unto its Saviour!
Observe farther, the rebuke which Christ gave St. Peter for what he did: though his heart was sincere, yet his hand was rash; good intentions are no warrant for irregular actions: Christ will thank no man for drawing a sword in defence of him, without a warrant and commission from him. To resist a lawful magistrate, even in Christ's own defence, is rash zeal, and discountenanced by the gospel.
Here observe, 1. A metaphorical description of Christ's sufferings: they are a cup put into his hand top drink off, and that by his own Father. They are a cup, and but a cup: God will not over-charge his people; and this cup is from the hand of a Father, yea, from the hand of our Father: The cup which our Father hath given me.
Observe, 2. Our Lord's resolution to drink off this cup, how bitter soever, being put to his mouth by his Father's hand: Shall I not drink it? that is, I will drink it.
Learn hence, 1. That oft-times the wisdom of God is pleased to put a cup, a very bitter cup, of affliction into the hand of those to drink whom he doth most sincerely love.
2. That when God doth so, it is their duty to drink it with silence and submission: Shall I not drink it? That is, I will certainly drink it with cheerfulness and resignation.
Judas having made good his promise to the chief priests, and delivered Jesus a prisoner bound into their hands, those evening wolves no sooner seize the Lamb of God, but they thirst and long to suck his innocent blood; yet, lest it should look like a downright murder, they allow him a mock-trial, and abuse the law by perverting it to injustice and bloodshed. How impossible is it for the greatest innocence and virtue to protect from slander and false accusation! and no person can be so innocent or good, whom false witnesses may not condemn.
All the four evangelists give us an account of Peter's fall in denying his Master.
And therein we have observable, 1. The sin itself which he fell into, the denial of Christ, and this backed with an oath; he sware that he knew not the man.
Lord! how may the slavish fear of suffering drive the holiest and best of me to commit the foulest and worst of sins!
Observe, 2. The occasion of his fall.
1. His presumptuous confidence of his own strength and standing: Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I.
Lord! to presume upon ourselves, is the ready way to provoke thee to leave us to ourselves. If ever we stand in the day of trial, 'tis the fear of falling must enable us to stand; we soon fall, if we believe it impossible to fall.
2. His being in bad company, amongst Christ's enemies: Peter had better have been acold by himself alone, than warming himself at a fire which was compassed in with the blasphemies of the soldiers, where his conscience, though not seared, was yet made hard.
Observe, 3. The reiteration or repetition of this sin: he denied Christ again and again; he denied him first with a lie, then with an oath and curse.
O, how dangerous is it not to resist the beginnings of sin! If we yield to one temptation, Satan will assault us with more and stronger.
Observe, 4. The heinous and aggravating circumstances of Peter's sin.
1. From the character of his person; a disciple, an apostle, a chief apostle, yet he denies Christ.
2. From the person whom he denies: his Master, his Saviour.
3. The time when he denied him: soon after Christ had washed his feet; yea, soon after he had received the sacrament from Christ's own hand.
How unreasonable then is their objection against coming to the Lord's table, that some who go to it dishonour Christ as soon as they come from it!
Such examples ought not to discourage us from coming to the ordinance, but should excite and increase our watchfulness after we have been there, that out after-deportment may be suitable to the solemnity of a sacramental table.
Our Saviour being brought before Caiaphas the high-priest, he examines him concerning his doctrine, and his disciples, pretending him to be guilty of heresy in doctrine, and sedition in gathering disciples and followers.
Our Saviour answers, that as to his doctrine, he had not delivered it in holes and corners, but had taught publicly in the temple and synagogues; and that in secret he had said nothing, that is, nothing contrary to what he had delivered in public. Christ never willingly affected corners; he taught openly, and propounded his doctrine publicly and plainly in the world. A convincing evidence, that both he and his doctrine were of God.
Learn hence, 1. That it is not unusual for the best of doctrines to pass under the odious name and imputation of error and heresy. Christ's own doctrine is here charges: The high-priest asked Jesus of his doctrine.
2. That the ministers of Christ who have truth on their side, may and ought to speak boldly and openly: I spake openly unto the world. "Veritas nihil erubescit, praeterquam abscondi." Truth blushes at nothing, except at its being concealed; In secret, says Christ, have I said nothing.
Observe here, 1. How insolently and injuriously an officer strikes our Saviour in this court of judiacature: One of the officers struck Jesus with the palm of his hand.
What had the holy and innocent Jesus done, to deserve these buffetings?
He only made use of the liberty which their law did allow him, which was not to accuse himself, but to put them upon the proof of those accusations which were brought against him.
But from this instance of our Saviour's sufferings, we learn, that Christ did endure painful buffetings, ignominious and contemptuous usage, even from inferior servants: giving his cheek to the smiters, to testify that shame and reproachful usage which was deserved by us, and to sanctify that condition to us, whenever it is allotted for us.
Observe, 2. The meek and gentle reproof which the Lord Jesus gives to this rude officer: he doth not strike him dead upon the place, nor cause that arm to wither which was stretched forth against the Lord's Anointed; but only lets him know, that there was no reason for his striking of him.
Where note, that though our Saviour doth not revenge himself, yet he vindicates himself, and defends himself both with law and reason: If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?
Hence we learn, 1. That we are not literally to understand the command, Matthew 5:39 of turning the cheek to him that smites us. For Christ himself did not this, but defends the innocency of his words.
2. That to stand up in defence of our own innocency, is not contrary either to the duties of patience and forgiveness, or to the practice and example of our Lord Jesus.
Note, 3. That when the soldier had struck Christ upon one cheek, he did not turn to him the other also, according to Matthew 5:39. Which evidently shows, that that precept, If they smite thee on one cheek, turn the other also, commands only this, that rather than take revenge, we should bear a second injury.
Christians ought rather to suffer a double wrong, than to seek a private revenge: Christianity obliges us to bear many injuries patiently, rather than avenge one privately.
But though it binds up our hands from private revenge, yet it doth not shut our mouths from complaining to public authority. Christ's own practice here expounds the precept elsewhere, Matthew 5:39. For he complains here of the officer's injustice in smiting him before the judicatory, and challenges the man to bear witness of the evil.
Observe, lastly, how our Lord was not only buffeted, but bound, and sent bound from Annas to Caiaphas, from Caiaphas to Pilate, from Pilate to Herod, and from Herod to Pilate again: and all this on foot through the streets of Jerusalem, from one end of the city to the other; partly to render his passion more public, being made a gazing-stock to the world, and a spectacle both to angels and men.
And his condescending to go bound from one tribunal to another, teaches his people what delinquents they were before the tribunal of God, and what they deserved by reason of sin; even a sentence of eternal condemnation at the tribunal of the just and holy God.
There were two courts of judicature which our blessed Saviour was brought before, and condemned by.
1. The ecclesiastical court or sanhedrin, in which the high-priest sat as judge; here he was condemned to death for blasphemy.
2. The civil court or judgment-hall, where Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, sat judge, who, because he was a Gentile, they would not go into his house, lest they should be defiled; for they accounted it a legal pollution to come into the house of a Gentile.
Where observe, the notorious hypocrisy of these Jews: they scruple the defiling of themselves by coming near the judgment-hall, where Pilate sat, but make no scruple at all to defile themselves with the guilt of that innocent blood which Pilate shed.
When persons are over zealous for ceremonial observations, they are oftentimes too remiss with refernce to moral duties: They brought him to the judgment-hall; but they themselves went not in, lest they should be defiled.
Observe here, 1. How Pilate humours these Jews in their superstition.
They scruple to go into the judgment-hall to him; he therefore goes out to them,and demands what accusation they had against Christ.
They charge him here only for being a malefactor, or an evil-doer in the general; but elsewhere ( Luke 23:1) they particularly accuse him,
1. "For perverting the nation."
2. "For forbidding to pay tribute to Caesar."
3. "For saying that he himself was Christ a king."
All which was filthy calumny, yet Christ underwent the reproach of it without opening his mouth; teaching us, when we lie under calumny, and unjust imputation, to imitate him who opened not his mouth, but committed his cause to him that judgeth uprightly.
The Jews being now under the power of the Romans, though they had a power of judging and censuring criminals in smaller matters, yet not in capital cases; they could not pronounce a sentence of death upon any person, say some; they might, and did, say others, punish blasphemers by stoning them to death; but then their sentence is to be ratified by the Roman power. Accordingly, here they had in their ecclessiastical court condemned Christ for blasphemy, now they bring him to Pilate the Roman governor, to confirm the sentence of death.
From hence it appears, that Christ was the true Messias, being sent into the world when the sceptre was departed from Judah, according to that ancient prophecy of Jacob, The sceptre shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh come Genesis 49:10.
The Jews had no power absolutely to condemn any man, or put him to death; but his power the Roman emperor reserved to his own deputy. This contributed towards the fulfilling of our Saviour's words, That he should be delivered to the Gentiles, and should be crucified Matthew 20:19: which was not a Jewish, but a Roman punishment.
Had the Jews put him to death, they had stoned him. But Christ was to be made a curse for us by hanging upon a tree; and accordingly the Jews execute the counsel of God, though they knew it not, by refusing to put him to death themselves.
Learn hence, how willing Christ was to undergo a shameful, painful, and accursed death, that he might testify his love unto, and procure a blessing for, his people. Thus the saying of Jesus was fulfilled; when he spake, signifying what death he should die.
Observe here, 1. Pilate's ensnaring question, Art thou the King of the Jews? How jealous are great men of Jesus Christ, and how afraid are they of his kingdom, power, and authority, as if it would be prejudicial to their authority and power in the world; which was far enough from Christ's thoughts!
Observe, 2. The wisdom and caution of our Saviour's answer: he neither affirms nor denies. Though whenever we speak, we are bound to speak the truth, yet we are not bound at all times to speak the whole truth.
Christ tells him therefore, that, upon the supposition that he was a king, yet his kingdom was no earthly, but a spiritual kingdom; he was no temporal king, to rule over his subjects with temporal power and worldly pomp; but a spiritual king, in and over his church only, to order the affairs and look after the government thereof.
Learn hence, that Christ as God hath an universal kingdom of power and providence even over the highest of men, and as a Mediator hath a spritual kingdom in and over his church.
2. That it is a clear evidence that Christ's kingdom is spiritual inasmuch as it is not carried on by violence and force of arms, as worldly kingdoms are, but by spiritual means and methods: If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight for me: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
Pilate asks him again directly and expressly, Art thou a king or not?
Our Saviour answers, " Thou sayest that I am a king, and so it is indeed as thou sayest, I am a king, and the king of the Jews too; but not a temporal king, to rule over them after the manner of earthly kings with temporal power, and worldly pomp and splendour: but I am a spiritual king, to rule and govern, not only the Jews, but my whole church, consisting both of Jews and Gentiles, after a spiritual manner."
Observe here, 1. The dominion and sovereignty of Jesus Christ; he has a kingdom: My kingdom.
Observe, 2. The condition and qualification of this kingdom, negatively expressed: My kingdom is not of this world.
Observe, 3. The use and end of this kingdom: that the truth may have place among the children of men for their salvation: To this end was I born, and came into the world, to bear witness unto the truth.
Observe, 4. The subjects of Christ's kingdom declared: Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice; that is, every one who is by divine grace disposed to believe and love the truth, will hear and obey Christ's doctrine.
Observe here, 1. The question Pilate put to Christ, What is truth? A most noble and important question, had it been put forth with an honest heart, with a mind fairly disposed for information and satisfaction: but it is evident, Pilate's enquiry was not serious; nay, it is generally thought, that Pilate asked this question in scorn, contempt and derision: for he stays not for our Lord's answer but as soon as he started this query, went off the bench in haste.
Learn hence, that this question, what is truth? or how may we come to the knowledge of the truth? is of unspeakable use and importance, and a question, whereon the whole frame and constitution of religion depends: because truth is claimed by all parties of men, by all professors of religion.
Ask the different parties from the old gentleman at Rome to the poorest Quaker and Muggletonian, Where is truth? and they will all tell you.
They are in the possession of it: Every sect hath thus much of popery with it, that the professors of it think themselves infallible, and every one cries out, Here is truth.
But God has given us a two-fold light to search for truth: namely, the light of reason, and the light of scripture, or divine revelation.
The former Solomon calls the candle of the Lord, set up in our breasts by God, on purpose to discover truth unto us. God allows us, yea, enjoins us, the free and impartial use of our understandings and judgments, in order to the finding out of divine truth; but because nature's light or the light of natural reason is not clear and bright enough to give us a prospect of supernatural truths, (for nature and reason can never dictate those things which depend only upon God's free grace and good pleasure; such as the doctrines of a Saviour and Redeemer, and the method of man's salvation by the sufferings of the Son of God,) it had been blasphemy once to have supposed such things, had not God revealed them in scripture: therefore the second standard of divine truth, is the infallible word of God.
The gospel of Christ is the way, and the truth; Truth came by Jesus Christ. And would men be ruled and conducted by these unalterable standards of truth, namely, right reason and divine revelation, they would easily agree in their judgments what is to be believed, and all duties and controversies would vanish. Right reason and inspired scriptures are the best judges of controversies; they being the fixed standards and measures of divine truth, can best resolve Pilate's question here, and tell us What is truth.
Observe, 2. How unwilling, how very unwilling Pilate was to be the instrument of our Saviour's death: he came forth three several times, and tells the Jews that he finds no fault in him; he bids them take him, and judge him according to their law. Pilate, a Pagan, absolves Christ, whilst the hypocritical Jews, that heard his doctrine, and saw his miracles, do condemn him.
Observe, 3. Pilate having absolved Christ, I find no fault in him, endeavours next to release him, and takes occasion from their custom of having a prisoner released to them at their feast, to insinuate his desire that they should choose Christ: Ye have a custom that I should release unto you one at the passover.
Observe, lastly, how the Jews prefer Barabbas, a robber, before the holy and innocent Jesus: They all cried out, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas.
Learn hence, that no persons, how wicked and vile soever, are so odious in the eyes of the enemies of God, as Christ himself was, and his friends and followers now are: Christ did find it thus in his own person when on earth: Barabbas, a robber, was preferred before him: and now he is in heaven, he suffers in the members, the filth of the world being preferred before them.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on John 18". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29