The Eternal Foundation
March 16, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. The scene that we read in today's gospel reading is the one where Jesus was arrested. Each of the four gospels speak in regard to this scene, but today I would like for us to take note of several points about which only The Gospel According To John speaks. The first point is that Judas, who had betrayed [Jesus], guided and brought the [posse of] men along, and that among them was included "a company of soldiers." The second point is that when Jesus had asked them the question, "For whom are you searching?" and they said, "Jesus of Nazareth," Jesus gave the reply, "It is me," and they stepped back and fell to the earth. The third point is that as Jesus said "Since you are searching for me, let these others go," he was wanting to protect his disciples. I would like for us to prepare for passion week which begins as of today and to listen to the Word of God given to us through these depictions, which only John relates.
The Battle With Satan
2. First, Judas brought along with him "a company of soldiers." This doesn't exactly ring a bell for us as we read it in Japanese, but it is stating something preposterous. I say that because the expression "a company of soldiers" literally means a military unit that could consist of six hundred Roman soldiers. Thus, John is emphasizing, to the point that it seems somewhat extreme, that such a great number of soldiers with weapons had come just to arrest one man. Why [does he do that]? He is expressing that Jesus was doing battle with a power as enormous as this.
3. So the important thing it is telling us is something about this enormous power with which Jesus was doing battle. As seen from the surface, you might say the ones who directly stood against Jesus were the religious world of the Jews as represented by the chief priests and the scholars of the law. On a direct level, the priests devised the plan to make Jesus a dead man and then put the plan into execution. They were the ones who issued the order to "report the whereabouts of Jesus if known," and who put out the search for Jesus as a named suspect, and they were the ones who bribed one of the disciples for Jesus' arrest. Or else we can also make the claim that the power of the state of Rome was also joined in it. As seen in this scene, the Roman soldiers had already begun to move. Afterwards, the governor Pilate, appointed by the Roman emperor, would appear on the scene. Under his sentence of judgment, the death penalty by crucifixion would be enforced. Going by what that means, we could also say that the powers of the state authority were also at enmity with Jesus.
4. But, the gospel record, again and again, refers to "the true enemy" with which Jesus was at war, which was neither a religious nor a political authority. That enemy is called "the satan." Or else it is called "the devil." In that sense, it was an extremely symbolical event that happened in Judas' having stood at the lead and bringing those men [against Jesus] because this gospel already states that "The devil already had put the thought into Judas Iscariot the son of Simon to betray Jesus," (13:2), and during the last supper, it states that "When Judas had taken the piece of bread, Satan entered into him," (13:27). Also, that true enemy is repeatedly called "the ruler of this world." It is not the Roman emperor. It is Satan. While seated at the last supper Jesus spoke as follows. "I will not speak much more with you because the ruler of the world comes. But, he cannot do anything to me," (14:30). In this manner then, a company of soldiers as led under Judas symbolizes Satan, and his minions, and the enormous power of the devil who would destroy humankind. Jesus held his own against this true enemy and stood face to face against him.
5. Whether a religious or political power, if one's opponent is human, if one's enemy is human, then one can do battle with weaponry. Jesus just as well could have done a lot of things like going so far as to organize armed insurgents. Crowds of thousands were following right behind Jesus. And they did so because they were ready to make Jesus king. But, Jesus did not go down that path because he knew who the true enemy was. He knew that the true enemy was Satan, who was trying to destroy humankind by separating people from God, binding them in sin, and getting them to bite at and devour one another. In the scene we read today, Jesus comes face to face with this power of darkness.
Ego Eimi (I Am)
6. Let's drill down on the second point. When Jesus said, "It is me," the men who had come to arrest him stepped back and fell to the ground. If Jesus had that forceful feeling about him and they were only overwhelmed, you would expect that the part where he asked once again, "For whom do you seek?," would be unnecessary. As they understood it by hearing it once, his words would become overly repetitious. So, what remained in their hearing was the words, "It is me." This phrase is repeated numbers of times. In fact, this [phrase] is not repeatedly given in only this scene. In the original text, it says, "Ego eimi [I am]," and you could say that it is a key phrase for understanding this gospel account, where it appears a number of times through this gospel.
7. If we go over just one impressive scene, for example, in chapter six when the disciples encountered a storm upon the Sea of Galilee, there is a marvelous story of when Jesus had walked upon the lake and went up to the boat, (6:16 ff). Jesus said to the disciples at that time when they were being tossed by the stormy waves, "It's me. Do not be afraid," (6:20). That "It's me" that he said is the same "Ego eimi [I am]."
8. In this way then, the words of Jesus of either "It is me," or "It's me," can both be translated also as "I am." But to say "I am" makes for some strange Japanese. Yet, there is also a passage where it is translated as "I am" in just that strange Japanese. (As it is found in chapter eight and such, please find it.) It has a reason for it there; because the strange expression of "I am" is found in a very important scene in the Old Testament. It is the scene where God appeared to Moses. At that place God had called his own name "I am." "God said to Moses, 'I am. I am who I am,' and so 'You should speak this way to the Israelites, saying, The one named I am has sent me to you.'," (Exodus 3:14).
9. He has already passed away, but my honored Old Testament professor, Dr. Kiyoshi Sacon used to translate the section of "I am. I am who I am," as "I myself am existence, I certainly am." My professor had a real passionate spot for this, I still remember when he spoke on [the phrase] of "I myself am existence, I certainly am," that with an intense passion he made the statement, "I can say with confidence that this means the God who is with [you]. I can say with confidence that the biblical God is the God who is with [you]."
10. Jesus repeatedly used that phraseology. In short, when Jesus said, "I am. (Ego eimi.)," it was equivalent to the pronouncement that "I am the Lord God." If we go further even, it had meant that he was saying that this very person of himself was truly saying "I myself am existence, I certainly am," and that he himself was "the God who is with [you]." Therefore, even upon the raging lake the Lord said, "Ego eimi," and he said, "Do not be afraid." It means that Jesus is truly the very one who can say, "Do not be afraid!"
11. Even in the scene we're reading today, Jesus makes the pronouncement that "I am" right before his disciples. At which time, the numerous soldiers and Judas were knocked down to the ground. This had been written down as a symbolical event that points to the victory of Christ against the demonic forces. It demonstrates the true nature of what would take place afterwards.
12. As seen from the superficial level, it looked as though Christ had been defeated because ultimately Jesus would be arrested, given the judgment of the death penalty by an unfair trial, whipped to shreds, mercilessly crucified, and then killed. It looked exactly as if he had lost both to the religious authorities and the political authorities, and if we go all the way with it, that he had lost to Satan, too. But, that wasn't true. Satan was the one who had been knocked down defeated. Christ beat out Satan without depending on military weapons. But then by what means [did Christ overcome Satan]? It was through works of love. It was through his complete offering up of himself as the sacrifice for the atonement of sin.
13. It came to pass that the atonement for sin was accomplished on the cross. It came to pass that the forgiveness for the sins of humankind and the love from God that sets people free from sin flowed in abundance from the cross. Satan could not stop this work of salvation. Satan could not get the victory over Christ because as God he made the pronouncement "I am. Ego eimi."
Protected By Christ
14. Then third, let's stop and look at the fact the disciples were protected by Jesus. The Lord said, "Since you are searching for me, then let these men go." In a sense, Jesus bore the full brunt of it alone, and blocked the powers of darkness, and thereby protected the disciples who were with him. This event is recorded here. It's not just a story about the disciples not ending up getting killed by the soldiers. As we've already seen, it is a very symbolical event that is being told here in this passage. Therefore, even in verse nine it is explained as follows, that "It was in order to fulfill the words of Jesus in which he had said, 'I did not lose even one person of those whom you gave to me.'," (verse nine).
15. In saying "they were not lost" it means "they were not destroyed." It is not a little story of just being saved from the disaster that time, but is about [none of them] being omitted from eternal salvation. That they were not lost from the hands of Jesus means, if I may put it in extreme terms, that even if the ones who had escaped from the swords of the soldiers at this point had then been murdered in some other way later, they would still, in spite of that or any other [bad thing], "not be lost."
16. It is only Jesus in this scene who is standing as the powerful one. All of the other disciples are powerless. They are not only powerless against the religious and the political authorities, they are powerless against Satan. Of course, they were able to wield a smidgen of courage. Peter opposed them by slashing out with his sword. It was a big thing to do. But, Peter did not overcome Satan even though he grabbed his sword. What do you know it, right after this scene appears the story of when Peter denied Jesus three times! He was simply being knocked around. The other disciples were like that too. When crunch time came, they forsook the very one who had loved them so much, and they let him die without helping him. That's the way they turned out then. Humankind is utterly powerless against the devil.
17. However, Jesus protected these weak disciples by laying his own life on the line. He did this not just in the arrest scene either. What took place there points to what takes place later. Jesus protects for ever those who follow him. It shows this.
18. Jesus overcame the devil by the way he loved us and accomplished the atonement for sin. When we are with this same Jesus, we will never be destroyed as lost persons. Of course, as long as we live on this earth, we will be exposed to demonic powers. The true enemy, who is trying to destroy us by separating us from God, binding us in sin, and getting us to bite at and devour one another, will rage against us from here on out and attack us in various forms. But, Jesus himself, who atoned for [our] sin, blocks out the way of the demonic powers and makes the pronouncement, "Ego eimi." He makes the pronouncement that he is the God who is with us, and he will protect us within [the scope of] eternal life. Therefore, we are not to be afraid. Therefore, we can stand face to face with the devil. It is precisely because of Christ, who has overcome Satan, that there is an eternal foundation for us.