I love the Gospel of John. I think it might be my favorite. John, one of Jesus’ beloved disciples, wrote his gospel much later than the other the other three gospels (probably around AD90). John was an insider, and he writes his gospel with the intent of showing that Jesus is the God. He orders stories and teachings together to lead to a decision point: will you believe that Jesus is God and Messiah and so find life in His name (John 20:30-31)? There are some scholars that believe John wrote his gospel after reading the other three (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and wanting to give a different perspective. He focuses heavily on the deity of Jesus. I don’t know that this is true, but it’s an interesting thought given certain details within his verses.
One of my favorites (and possibly one that has completely changed the way I see the Garden of Gethsemane) is found in John 18. Matthew, Mark, and Luke appear to paint a picture of a reluctant Savior, one in so much anguish over what’s to come that He begs God to take it away. “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” We tend to interpret with a focus on Jesus’ humanity. Even Jesus asked to get out of the hard things. He suffered, so He gets us. Hebrews 4 reminds us that Jesus does understand and sympathize with our weakness.
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.
Jesus suffered greatly on our behalf that night two thousand years ago. He took on all of the sin that had ever been committed and all of the sin that would ever be committed and paid the price once and for all. But I do not think Jesus was in the garden that night asking God if it would be possible to skip the whole dying for us part. I’m speculating here, and there’s much that is veiled in our understanding of the Trinity. But I do not think Jesus was asking to get out of this situation. Here’s why: because Jesus is God and the entire story of the Bible is one of a God who longs to dwell with His people and His people with Him. The plan, from Genesis to Revelation, was Jesus. This is why I love John’s account of Jesus’ arrest. John includes some details the other gospel writers don’t, and I think they give us one of most incredible pictures of Jesus.
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
There are three key truths here that point to Jesus, not as a reluctant but good human Savior, but the God who came to save us. First, in verse 4, John points to the omniscience of Jesus: Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him. John mentions Jesus’ omniscience a great deal through the book, and omniscience is a characteristic that only belongs to God. So, saying Jesus is all-knowing means that Jesus is God. Jesus knew what was coming. He was fully aware of the death He was about to die.
The second truth is found in the next two words of verse 4: came forward. Jesus stepped forward to meet those who came to capture Him. He didn’t shrink back; he didn’t hide. He didn’t even wait for them to come to Him. He stepped out. He moved toward death on His own. There are several stories in John where Jesus, knowing His time had not come, evades the crowd trying to kill Him. He disappears. He escapes. He withdraws. But here, at the designated time, He came forward to fulfill all God had prophesied.
Lastly, (and I think this is something we easily miss in English), when Jesus asks whom they seek, the soldiers and religious leaders reply “Jesus of Nazareth.” They use his earthly, human designation. They want the Jesus who was from the town of Nazareth. But Jesus responds, “I am he.” In Greek, it is simply “I AM.” It’s a reference to the personal name of God. It meant that He was not from Nazareth but from heaven. It meant that He always had been and always would be. It meant that He was eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, Creator, sovereign, the Alpha and Omega. And y’all. The response at the revelation! They drew back and fell to the ground. This was not our buddy Jesus, from a poor, small town, cowering in a garden, not wanting to go to a cross. This is God, come down from heaven, His glory veiled in human flesh. And the religious leaders and soldiers could not even stand in His presence.
I hear a lot these days about Jesus’ humanity, that He understands us or that He “gets” us. Yes, He does, but that is meaningless unless we recognize the absolutely shocking truth that He is fully God. Buddy Jesus, a Jesus that understands me, is no help to me unless He is also God, the Son. His life and teacings net us nothing if He is merely human. Yes, he sympathizes with us, but we cannot stop at Hebrews 4:15. We have to keep reading.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus wasn’t merely a good man who said some great things and died on a cross so we didn’t have to go to hell. Jesus is on the throne of heaven. He is the King over all the heavens and the earth. But His throne is not one that is unapproachable. His throne is one of accessible grace. Grace is not merely getting what we don’t deserve. His grace is not a “get out of hell free” card. The picture of grace in the Greek language is one of a God bending down to His people. His grace is that we get access to a relationship with God Himself… right here, right now. Our sin no longer separates us from a relationship with God. Despite the fact that we make mistakes and sin daily, our Great God, Yahweh, I AM, dwells with and in us. Because of the blood of Jesus spilt for us and His resurrection from the dead and His ascension to the right hand of the Father, we are able to approach God with confidence.
Here’s why I think Jesus prayed that “not my will, but your will be done” in the garden that night. Because His disciples were watching. Jesus knew all that they would face. He knew the hardship that you and I would have to endure. He knew weight of what His death would mean. I think He wanted us to watch and learn what it means to suffer well, to submit to God’s ways over our own. Whatever we walk here, whatever hardships we face, we have help because we have Jesus. He doesn’t excuse our sin. Instead, He gives us Himself, as a comfort in life’s storms.
The Greek word for help in Hebrews 4:16 is a nautical term. The only other place we find that word in Scripture is in Acts 27:17 “After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship (emphasis mine).” Paul is headed for Rome on a ship, and they encounter a hurricane like storm. In an effort to save the ship, they pass ropes and chains around the ship to hold it together. The word support is the same word used for help. That is the picture of what Jesus does for us. Our Savior, Christ Jesus, Son of God, left heaven, came near, stepped out, knowing that everything we need to face this life would only be found in the mercy and grace He can provide. His presence in our lives is what literally holds us together in life’s storms. Not because He was Jesus of Nazareth, but because He is I AM.