Let these go their way.
John 18:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden… (suggest reading John 18:1-9)
Before they left the upper room, Jesus began teaching his disciples the lessons now recorded in John 14-16. Then they left the room and went out into the same dark night into which Judas earlier disappeared. They walked in the same darkness, but, oh, what a different set of thoughts they carried in their heart! The companions of Jesus were thinking about a peace the world cannot know, about vines and branches, and about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the great comforter of the people of God.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were likely well known to John who wrote his account later. He did not repeat matters that were already well attested and to which he could add nothing. So, John wrote no word about Jesus’ prayerful struggle in the garden of Gethsemane. He took up his account when Judas arrived.
John 18:3 Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.
What a scene! Armed soldiers, not the entire cohort which would be six hundred men, but enough to handle any contingencies, Temple police armed with clubs, and servants from the High Priest’s household, all moved with lamps and torches on their way to a garden outside of town to arrest a carpenter and his motley crew of disciples. It was Passover with its full moon. It was cold (18:18) which likely meant clear skies. Yet, here they came with lamps and torches blazing. Did they think that Jesus would hide?
John 18:4-6 “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am he.” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. So when he said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
When the authorities identified him as their person of interest, Jesus spoke only two words. “I am.” This is not unusual by itself. You or I might respond the same way. The difference becomes plain in the reaction of the people. These were armed and trained soldiers. These were temple police. Their numbers were apparently overwhelmingly strong. But they backed away and they fell down. The word is strong. It means to collapse or to become invalid. They must have felt as Isaiah when he said, “I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:1-8) Peter, who stood beside Jesus at that moment, had once felt the same thing. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8) Ezekiel collapsed into a heap and only the Spirit of God could raise him up. (Ezekiel 1:28-2:2) John felt as good as dead until the hand of Jesus touched him. (Revelation 1:17) It was just two words, but what a two words they were!
All the earthly powers were represented here, but look who was in control. In just a few verses, they would bind him. (18:12) Imagine that! He felled the entire mob with two words! Is there anything that can hold this man? They had already lost control of the situation, lying there en masse. So Jesus helped them with their awful task. He started over.
John 18:7-8 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.“
He was in control of all things. He had legions of angels at his command and did not need the aid of even one, only his word. He could open and no man could close, close and no man could open. He summoned demons and they came. He sent them away and they went. He told Satan to hurry and he did. When his enemies crumbled into a heap, he put them back on on their feet, so that the Father’s command might be finished. This is who is, and he consents to go with them. But there is a condition, and who will argue with him? “If you seek me, let these go their way.“
No one took his life. They couldn’t. He gave it. Now I am allowed to walk away, free of that terrible load of sin and guilt. No wonder so many, having seen his glory unveiled at the cross, have said they no longer wish to go their own way. They now want to go his! “Because the sinless Savior died my sinful soul is counted free; for God the just is satisfied to look on him and pardon me.” (Charitie Lees Bancroft)
Oh, what a Savior! Oh, what a Savior!