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“Facing the Enemy”

a Lenten Rotation Sermon a

John 18:1-18, 25-27

What do gardens have to do with war? Some of you are giving to me a very strange look, and I don’t blame
you. Gardens are serene, they are beautiful, they are peaceful, places where people like to relax, to meditate (in the
proper sense of the term, that is to study Holy Scripture and to spend time in prayer), to enjoy some quiet time just
drinking in the bounty and beauty of God’s creation. War is the complete opposite of all of those things: certainly
not serene, but dark and frightful, the very opposite of peace, a place of death, a place where no one wants to go,
where no soldier can relax for one moment, where the only thought that is running through the mind is, “How am I
going to get through this day so that I can live to see one more?” A garden and a war = two polar opposite things
conjuring up two very different sets of thoughts and emotions within us, and yet in a strange way, do find an
intersection in something called “war gardens,” also called “victory gardens.”
Here’s a little bit of history for you. During World War I, there was a tremendous amount of pressure put
on the public food supply brought on directly by involvement in the war, especially in Europe. Farmers who would
normally produce food for the public were called to service in the military and as a result, the food supply was
greatly diminished. So, to ease that economic pressure and to boost morale on the home-front, vegetable, fruit and
herb gardens were planted at private residences and in public parks. What that did was the local homeowner would
not be so dependent on the public market for their basic food needs, (they could just eat what they grew at home),
and it gave to the gardeners a sense that they were helping out in the war effort, even though they were not on the
front lines, facing the enemy. Such gardens, which were both beautiful and bountiful, were called “war gardens,”
sometimes also being referred to as “victory gardens,” because they helped to achieve victory by easing pressure on
the economic home-front.
In the Scriptures, there are two famous gardens that every Christian recognizes, which by the way, have a
very close connection to one another,; of course, I’m talking about the Garden of Eden and the Garden of
Gethsemane. Both Eden and Gethsemane were meant to be places of serenity and peace, places of meditation and
prayer. And yet, they were battlefields where the great adversary, the devil, fought to destroy the crown of God’s
creation. What we’ll discover tonight in the continuation of our series, “Jesus of Nazareth is Passing By,” is that,
while the devil was successful in the war garden of Eden, he would not achieve victory in the war garden of
Gethsemane. Jesus would come face to face with his enemies and the great adversary and achieve ultimate victory so
that sinners who fall in spiritual battle to the devil every single day may enjoy everlasting victory through him.
The Garden of Gethsemane was a tranquil place. Jesus had often gathered with his disciples there for
prayer, for meditation and to teach them. It was a familiar place to Jesus and his disciples, known for its solitude.
But on this night, there would be no tranquility, no peace, no solitude, because on the night that Jesus was betrayed
into the hands of sinners, that tranquil garden became a battleground for souls, a battleground which Jesus was in
control of!
“2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas
came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were
carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. 4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them,
“Who is it you want?” 5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there
with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.”
There is no doubt here who has seized control of this garden battlefield! It is the Great “I AM.” With just
the word from Jesus’ mouth, this overstaffed and over-armed group of soldiers, along with Judas the betrayer, fell to
the ground helpless. All their swords, all their torches and all their weapons couldn’t compete with the powerful
Word of the Almighty God. And yet, such exhibitions of power, the word of Christ literally blowing over his
enemies and the miraculous healing of Malchus, such demonstrations of divine power would not be the path
through which Jesus would obtain victory over the great adversary, Satan.
Obviously, Peter didn’t understand! “7 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” And they said, “Jesus of
Nazareth.” 8 “I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9 This happened
so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” 10 Then Simon Peter, who
had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11
Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
Peter didn’t get it! Perhaps he thought that with Jesus and his divine power on his side, he could take out
the entire group of arresting soldiers, that Jesus could just exercise his might as the Son of God, kill all the members
of the rebellious group, including that traitor Judas, and escape safely. But that wasn’t the Father’s will! Earlier that
night, Jesus prayed with perfect earnestness, “Not my will, Father, but your will be done!” This battle against the
great enemy, Satan was not going to be fought and won with swords and with rebellion! No! The battle would
only be won with faithfulness to the Father’s will, with extreme humility and ultimate sacrifice!
That’s why Jesus didn’t back down, not one bit. Even though in the minds of the disciples, and certainly in
the mind of Peter, the primary objective would have been to spare Jesus from death by enabling him to escape, Jesus
himself knew that the only way for sinners to escape hell was through his suffering and death, by fully drinking of
the Father’s cup of wrath over the sins of the world.
That is why the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, so that he could die; so that he could
do what no human being has been able to do since the fall in the Garden of Eden, completely resist the devil’s
temptations and walk perfectly with the Father in blessed fellowship; so that, as the only unblemished Lamb to ever
walk this earth, he could offer his lifeblood to satisfy the justice of a holy and righteous God for all the sins of the
world. That’s why he became fully human, as our creed says, not to run away from the enemy, but to face the
enemy head on, to win the war over Satan for every single human being who daily loses the battles of temptation
and sin, to win glorious eternal life through his humble sacrificial death. Right there, right then in that garden
battlefield, he couldn’t run away! He couldn’t back down! The cup of suffering was before him and he had to
drink it so that we would never, ever have to experience that divine wrath which we have earned with our sins, so
that we would not become an eternal casualty, so that we can enjoy an eternal dwelling of peace, serenity, tranquility
and worship in the New Garden, the New Eden of heaven.
The enemy has been vanquished, not with swords or rebellion, but with humble service and innocent
sacrifice! Victory unto eternity has been achieved. Yet to Peter, the garden experience was far from what he might
consider “victorious.” The Lord that he had spent the better part of three years with, the Lord that he went up to
the mount of Transfiguration with, was being led away to certain death. And now, this once proud disciple was
cowering in fright. The once eager confessor who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” who said
openly, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life,” now he is silent, hesitant, as he comes face to
face with the vanquished foe that continues to battle against God’s children.
“25 As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it,
saying, “I am not.” 26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him,
“Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.”
Who can explain Peter? Here you have the quintessential disciple who in the upper room made it
abundantly clear, “I am ready to go to prison and to death with you, Lord.” How is it then, that just a few hours later
as he is huddling around a fire for warmth, that he cowers in fright at the simple question of a servant girl? Think
about what a great opportunity this would have been to explain to the people around the fire that Jesus of Nazareth
was the Christ of God whose purpose for coming into this world was the very thing that was transpiring before their
very eyes, his suffering and his death. Yes, such a confession would be dangerous at the time, but when Jesus came
face to face with danger that night his confession was clear, precise and unapologetic. “I told you, I am he!”
Who can explain it? We can, because the same thing happens to us when we come face to face with the
adversary. We cower in fright. We look for the comfortable way out of religious conversations. We look for ways
to dissociate ourselves from Jesus or from the truth because talking about such things and proclaiming such things
openly has become politically incorrect in our culture of universalism, and might expose us to persecution. We close
our mouths when opportunities arise because we’re afraid of rejection, afraid of backlash, afraid of being labeled a
Bible-thumper or in the political terms, a “right-wing” conservative. Bottom line, we’re afraid! We wouldn’t want
to say anything or do anything that would make us uncomfortable, so we join Peter around the nice, warm fire, rub
our hands together and sheepishly mutter under our breath ever so softly, ”No, I’m not with him,” hoping that
Jesus doesn’t hear us!
Well he does! And when he turns and looks as us today, as he did with Peter, he has the same sorrowful
look and knowing glace. He need say nothing! How dare we disown him! How dare we keep our mouths quiet
about him. No rooster has to crow. Our eyes simply meet his and we know of our lost battles with temptation and
sin, how we have sought comfort in this world rather than being uncomfortable, even a little bit, for the sake of the
gospel and for the sake of souls. He knows!
But in the end, that’s why he’s making that humble march towards Calvary’s Holy Hill, because he knows
that without his sacrifice, the adversary will lay claim on our souls for eternity. And so, he goes willingly, from the
war garden of Gethsemane to the judgment hall, from the judgment hall to the torture chamber, from the torture
chamber to the courtyard and from the courtyard to the cross, where with one final word Τετέλεσται , and with one
final breath, he takes hold of that ancient serpent and crushes his head forever! Amen.