134. A lonely man, a dark night.

[John 18]

Everything that takes place in the dark is different from anything in daylight. People getting together during the day are working or visiting for a quick word or two. Lunch parties are so essentially unlike dinner parties. The evening brings a certain relaxation, a time frame that could be stretched. These days dressing for occasions like lunch and dinner parties might not be so contrasting, but true evening wear is never right for middle of the day events. Activities of the light, taking place in the dark, like feasts for the celebration of love and life are full of joy and merriment with a delightful spread of good food and drink to indulge the participants.

Then there is another kind of activity reserved for darkness; more for the cover and camouflage that darkness gives. Robberies, housebreaking and other criminal activities generally take place in the night. Nighttime can be used in positive and negative ways. Darkness is often a metaphor for dark deeds and dark thoughts. God is usually not associated with darkness, although we have to know that God is everywhere, even in the thickest darkness where one would expect only the most evil presence.

 And the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.(Exodus 20:21)

Praise God that He is everywhere. He will never leave us, even if our night is darker and more evil than ever. Jesus also had a very dark night when the authorities arrested Him and took Him to face the leaders of His beloved people for whom He came to earth. Most of the disciples fled when the soldiers recovered from their powerful meeting with Jesus and grabbed Him to deliver Him to Annas and Caiaphas as they were ordered to do.

PETER ‘s role in this night of darkness, which is metaphoric as it should have been a night with a full moon close to the Passover, is discussed in two passages. (18:15-18 and 18:25-27)

 Peter did not flee with the other disciples. He followed Jesus even after the arrest. He followed to the house of Caiaphas in the company of another disciple. It was an extremely brave thing to do.

Many speculations exist about the “other” disciple. The most likely possibility is that it is John himself. How could an ordinary fisherman be known to the High Priest?

It is possible that because John’s father had a flourishing fishing business, he could afford to employ hired servants (Mark 1:20). One of the great Galilean industries was salt fish. It was almost impossible to transport fresh fish in the heat. Salted fish was a staple article in the diet of the time. It has been suggested that John’s father was in the salted fish industry and that he was the supplier to the High Priest. John could have been well known to the household of the High Priest as he often carried the supplies. So it could have been through John that Peter got access into the courtyard where he could observe Jesus from a distance.

It is here in this courtyard that Peter is confronted and associated with Jesus. It was casual confrontations because of his accent, one from a slave girl, not even from anyone in authority. He denies that he even knows Jesus – three times. (Luke 22:55-60)

According to Jewish ritual law it was unlawful to keep cocks in Jerusalem, although it is not certain whether this law has been upheld at this stage. The Romans had a military practice. The night was divided into four watches of three hours each. After the third watch the guard was changed and to mark this, the trumpet was sound at 3am. The sounding of the trumpet was called the cockcrow. Everyone in Jerusalem heard that, and when Peter heard, he remembered the words of Jesus.

Peter’s denial has been the subject of many sermons and comments over the years. Peter’s desire to support Jesus is undeniable. He drew his sword in the garden and he was present in a situation where he could have been dragged off and imprisoned just for being where he was. Yes, he failed in courage, but only because he was in a situation which the others did not even face.

Peter loved Jesus – that is a fact. He was in that courtyard because of love and loyalty.

Peter was redeemed. One must realize that the story of his denial would get around and he would suffer great humiliation with a sense of profound failure. But Peter did not flee from his family in Jesus, the other disciples. He found refuge in their company and somehow found his way back behind the closed doors where the disciples waited in fear after the crucifixion.

Jesus saw his courage, his loyalty, his love. Jesus looked at him there across the courtyard, not in reproach, but in love. The eyes of Jesus that night preserved Peter’s soul. Jesus saw his dear friend buckle under the pressure of vicious judgment and the overwhelming odds of heartless and brutal authority. He communicated His love and redemption to Peter and that preserved Peter in a night of bitter regret and breakdown.

Jesus loves us in spite of what we do. Jesus keeps us safe even in our defeat. He restores our hearts. He forgives our sins – always.

In our darkest hour of defeat, we can look up and find the eyes of Jesus. It will preserve our souls. Peter turned to look at Jesus expecting to find the “I told you so”- stare of censure, but in stead he looked into the Source of love that saved him.

Here is one interesting lesson that stays with me as an encouragement in overwhelming situations. Jesus warned Peter that this is going to happen. Don’t we often feel that a situation in which we have reacted so shoddily would have been better if it were not so unexpected? We might think that a little warning could have alerted us to the circumstances and helped us to prepare and consequently respond more faithful and wise.

Peter had ample warning just shortly before the event. He brushed it off in his zeal and loyalty towards Jesus. All the warning that Jesus felt necessary did not enable Peter to avoid the situation. He stepped into the words in mindless alarm and answered in the fear and panic that engulfed the moment.

Sing the old song:

 Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace

Keep in mind that Peter had the revelation from the Father that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:13-20). Revelation knowledge conserved him to overcome his lowest moment. His courage is amazing; his defeat diminishes in the light of his leadership in the church later on.

 

 

Here begins the trial of Jesus. Here in John is a most dramatic account of these events. It runs from John 18:28-40 through 19:1-16.

 

 

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112. Free to face the world.

But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head. (Psalms 3:3)

The story of the woman caught in adultery is one of my favourite illustrations of grace, mercy and judgment and how it all works together in our favour when the world turns against us in all its cruelty and prejudice. It is a remarkable story of probably the most dramatic street encounter in the history of mankind. There near the steps of the Temple matters of life and death are determined in the dust of Old Jerusalem.

The issue described in the first twelve verses of John 8, is a dilemma either way. The leaders thought they could trip Jesus up on this one. There was no way out. Adultery was a serious crime, punishable by death. There were differences in the way the death penalty had to be carried out.

In Leviticus 20:10 both the man and the woman should be put to death. No method is specified. Deuteronomy 22:13-24 lays down the penalty for a girl who is already betrothed. She and the man, who seduced her, should be stoned outside the city gates. The Mishna (commentary on the Talmud) prescribed strangulation, something the Old Testament never ever even mentioned. From a legal point of view, the woman caught in the act, should be stoned. The absence of the man in this instance is glaring and a sign of the times – the woman took all the blame.

The dilemma for Jesus was this:

If He said she should be stoned and upholds the law of Moses, His message of love and mercy would suffer greatly and He could never again be called the friend of sinners. He would also be in collision with the Roman law that prohibited any execution by the Jews. If He said she should be pardoned, He would be breaking the law of Moses and therefore condoning people committing adultery. It was a theological, moral and political trap.

He stooped to write with His finger in the ground. The various commentaries name as many reasons as they can think up. Here are a few:

He may have given the people and the accusers the chance to repeat the charges and hear the cruelty of their words.

It could have been that the desperate fear of the woman, the cruel lust in the faces of the accusers, the unsympathetic stares of the crowd all combined, filled Jesus with shame for these people who      were supposed to be the children of God and He hid His eyes from them.

There is another interesting suggestion. One commentary writes that Jesus wrote the sins of the accusers with the finger from heaven on the stones they were holding or in the sand as each one peered over His shoulder. The Greek word for write that is used here is not graphein, that means write, rather katagraphein, which means record against someone.

Nevertheless, they insisted on an answer and He gave it: Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.

The words without sin, was so emphasized that it also meant without sinful desire.

Jesus was left alone with the woman and asked here where her accusers were. Remember men did not speak to women in public.

Her first and only words in the trial of her life, was her answer to this question.

Jesus sends here away with His words of a fresh start. He did not send her into the local church to brush up on the law of Moses, or into community. How could He just send her into the world of chaos and sin without the modern tools that we would like to set up around people to help them with their sinful nature and desires?

Jesus knew that He would be dying on the cross for her sin, very soon.

He also knew and fully trusted His father to keep her safe and teach her His ways by the Holy Spirit. We should also trust the Holy Spirit fully. As soon as the church wants to build walls around people to “help” them please God, corruption and legalism set in.

The Pharisees and scribes were convinced that they were in a position to judge as the legal experts at the time. Their authority brought them to the place of condemnation, criticism and censorship and they were quite comfortable in that role. Sympathy and love to reclaim the sinner were long lost. They did not feel any obligation to “cure” sin, only to descend in judgment and punish. They never thought that they too might be in a position to be judged.

Think of the difficulty the world has to redeem sinners. Rehabilitation of criminals in prisons is a burning issue, with little success. If anything, punishment brings bitterness and often descent into worse crimes.

The woman, as a human being and a child of God, had no place in the application and teaching of the Pharisees and scribes. They used her as an instrument to get to Jesus, their own purpose.

She is a nothing without a name.

People are never just a thing to be used. God uses our names. There are pages and pages of names in the Bible. The Bible has people first and foremost in focus.

God said to Moses: I know you by name (Exodus 33:17). He says to Cyrus: I the God of Israel, call you by name (Isaiah 45:3).

When people are things – Christianity is dead.

Do you think the Pharisees in this instance knew her name? How did this woman feel? One is told so little about her. Has she heard of Jesus? Did she see Him as part of church leadership and was dragged into His presence with fear and desperation?

Only the perfect man can pass judgment onto others. The Pharisees lived so meticulously that they considered themselves perfect to judge. Jesus warns that we should not judge (Matthew 7:1). When we judge we see the speck of dust in somebody else’s eye and not the plank in our own. (7:3-5). We might condemn somebody’s faults while missing the glaring faults in our own lives. No man can judge another.

Our first emotion towards a mistake should be pity. We bring relief, consolation and healing. Revulsion disappears in the desire to help.

Jesus did not condone her sin. He postponed judgment for after the opportunity of redemption. He gave her a second chance to give her hope of a new life. He wished to forgive and therefore felt pity towards her, born of love.

He gave her a challenge. He said that she should go out and do not wrong anymore. It was probably not easy, but her life was saved and given to her to make new decisions.

He believed she could do it, because He knew His father and how much His father loved her. The Father’s love will keep us from the snares of sin and the world.