This is Day Thirty-Four of Christ Church Manchester’s lent devotionals, where we are breaking down the book of John. Written by Lia Williams.
John 18: 25 – 40:
How many times will it take for us to refuse comfort above Jesus? Simon Peter stands warming himself amongst those who challenged and provoked him to question. If Peter’s affiliation had been more concerned with Jesus, would he have been stood by the door where they had taken Him rather than by the fire which betrayed him? What drove his denial? Was it seeing his King arrested? Was it fear? He wasn’t afraid of a fight, so was it for the sake of peace and acceptance?
The pondering of Peter’s denial must have been something which plagued him for the days which followed, tormenting him to sleepless nights, as he remembers what Jesus had spoken and how he had so fiercely announced his devotion. Regardless of the reasons, regrettably some of us can relate so clearly to Peter’s choices; often so close to Jesus but so far with our lips.
The passage lifts from Peter, and we are brought back to Jesus where the twistedness of legalism and religiosity is communicated. For the sake of image and being able to enjoy the festivities after shedding the blood of an innocent man, the leaders do not enter the house of the Gentile governor lest they become unclean. Being early in the morning they would not have time to cleanse themselves adequately in time for the feast.
This whole affair is hidden, beginning at night and continuing till early morning, perhaps for fear of a raucous at the arrest. The bloodthirsty rage and disgust of the Jewish leaders at Jesus are communicated at their disrespect to Pilate as he questions their motives. Perhaps fear of unveiling their hidden jealousy and envy drove their anger in their backbiting response.
The intense culture of driving out and eradicating all that seemed unholy, and that could endanger their white robes and respectability is far from us. We cannot quite imagine in our British culture of honing in the offense and staying away from conflict, the concept of taking a man who appeared to destroy all they had built to a bloody cross.
Yet backwards as it may seem, it was the acute desire to be holy that made Jesus so distasteful to the Jewish leaders. These were men who lived their lives doing all that they could to avoid the unholy, and Jesus who claimed to be a Rabbi and even the Messiah Himself appeared to plunge Himself into the company of what they deemed to be the unholiest and lowliest. Such an example and teaching was terrifying for them, afraid that this influence would erupt like a plague and disrupt all that they had cultivated.
The difference between the two then was not their pursuit of God or of holiness, but their understanding and perception of what holiness meant. See, Jesus knew that it was because He was holy that He could enter the most unholy place and encounter and touch the most unholy people and make them clean. He knew that His holiness overcame all unholiness; unholiness could not even touch His cloak and be left unchanged (Luke 8:43-48); so He actively pursued the unholy.
Whereas, the Pharisees failed to see that they could never make themselves holy enough before God and that it is in surrender and by recognition of our unholiness that we can be made holy. It is when the emphasis for holiness is shifted from ourselves and onto God that we can truly live a life which reflects being set apart. ‘You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.’ (Leviticus 20:26) God’s call for us is never beyond our reach, and if the Pharisees had seen where God’s focus lay in this command and the rest of the law, if faith had surpassed their understanding, they too could have finally attained what they so exasperatedly lived for.
Therefore, these men were desperate. They had tried to test Jesus. They had tried to destroy his reputation by rumours. They had tried to let him be. They had sent the most knowledgeable among them to try and make Him stumble, but all their exhausted options had failed, except that is to destroy the man Himself. They were God-fearing men and would not have murdered Jesus ‘unlawfully’, and so had brought Him to the courts of him who could ordain the act by the law.
Jesus’ responses to Pilate, him who could decree his execution, are profound. Jesus gives no clear answer, but no trickery or deception pass His lips. He leaves the judgement entirely to Pilate himself. He gives no room for evidence, either way, He does not support or plead His cause, He merely replies with what Pilate has already spoken from his own lips. Despite being completely transparent, it appears that Jesus gives nothing away and deems no reason for favour. Such is Jesus’ commitment to the decree and will of His Father in heaven, far above any man.
Even in this life defying moment that ordains life or death, Jesus conveys the truth. Even now, He faithfully portrays the Kingdom He has come to establish on earth to His judge, Pilate. Even as He now stands alone in the face of judgement, by a bloodstained, guilty and undeserving world, He remains steadfast to His purpose.
How many of us can identify with that feeling of being utterly alone in our convictions? As we sit around the dinner table with our families, or dance sober in a nightclub, or are accused wrongfully and choose to stay silent, or faithfully pay for a TV license, or sacrifice sport on a Sunday for a church service? They may seem shallow or even cowardly in comparison, but any such stand for holiness, for living set apart as God has called us is pleasing to our Father in heaven. He beams silently as sees our choices echo the choices of His Son. It is moments like these which declare to a broken world, that we are the children of God.
Jesus declares that His reason for living is to testify to truth, and that all who are in truth listen to Him. Jesus is the truth. His flawless life reflects the countenance of God. ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:48), emanates His life. We need not search any further, Jesus was not a madman who raved incomprehensible riches for the intellect and made stories of the miraculous for parents to relate to their children; no, Jesus is the truth.
We cannot afford to miss it, Jesus is the truth. Jesus announces that He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6), and if we miss any of these we miss out on life. Surely we can agree that to forfeit life itself is a matter to be taken seriously? Pilate is said to retort ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:38), but plainly Jesus has already answered him. It is Himself.
The crowds ensue that to release a violent and rebellious murderer is better than to receive Jesus back. But what about us?
This passage highlights a flurry of men for one reason or another reject Jesus in various capacities, whether it is Peter or the Jewish leaders or Pilate or the crowds, they all rejected Him. Their reasons might vary, the outcome of their rejection may be different, but ultimately they all rejected Him who claimed to be the truth and bring the kingdom. Jesus never once diverted from the call of His Father upon His life, He never once compromised the truth.
We sometimes cower and justify our fears or insecurities about Jesus in the deception that His life was as it is because He was God. But who are we to attain such holiness and truth? As the call was clear in the Old Testament, so the New Testament resounds the same ripple, ‘But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy”’ (1 Peter 1:15-16).
This call is not an impossible task declared by God for our mockery, self-defeat and scrounging, but a gracious and merciful act of generosity as He bestows a call upon our lives, setting us apart from the world for Himself. His grace is that in Jesus we have the truth, and by His death, we can have confidence in the throne room (Hebrews 4:14-16). God believes in us or He would not have commanded us with such direct intention.
We are His children and holiness is a natural result of having a holy Father in heaven, who has released us from sin and death into life. Paul writes that ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The Word of God cradles everything we need, and the Spirit of revelation promises to reveal unto us all truth (John 16:13, Ephesians 1:17); we are made for holy living, we can be like Christ. May we all confidently stand before our Judge and declare our reason for living, never compromising the truth, never diluting the kingdom, never denying Jesus.
Written by:Andy Dowdeswell