Torches danced in the night. Weapons were unsheathed. Judas led his oppressors to him.
After warring in prayer — watering the ground with blood-laden sweat — he led the disciples across the Brook of Kidron to the place where he knew his persecutors would arrive.
The Second Adam stood poised in the garden. The soldiers arrived. Angels watched with bated breath as the tsunami of the Father’s holy wrath rose before him.
No other hero could step forth (Revelation 5:1–5) except the one who knew perfectly well the absolute horror that awaited him.
“Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, went forward . . .” (John 18:4).
He Stepped Forward
I don’t cry often. Moisture may gather, but tears rarely fall.
But a particular scene in movies consistently moves me. The story reaches its climax and the people are in imminent danger. The enemy is looming, and the hero — knowing that the fight will cost him his life — steps forth to defend his own.
Those moments whisper about one glorious scene two thousand years ago when a Galilean peasant — knowing that the fight would cost him more than his life — stepped forth into battle to save his own.
Jesus stepped forward for you and me — willingly, with authority, and in love. He intervened between a ruined race and God’s righteous wrath to secure his people’s rescue.
1. He stepped forward willingly.
He who had rejected worldly crowns embraced the Roman cross. As the wolves growled, the good Shepherd stood before his sheep.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep . . . No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:11, 18)
Jesus counted the cost. Never did knowing Scripture give anyone more reason to sweat blood.
He saw the piercing of hands (Isaiah 53:5). He envisioned the slapping, the spitting, the beard-pulling (Isaiah 50:6). He anticipated the lashings, the beating beyond human recognition, the oppression (Isaiah 52:12). He rightly feared the crushing of his Father (Isaiah 53:10; Matthew 10:28). He knew he would have no rest (Psalm 22:1).
He heard the dogs approaching (Psalm 22:16), the stampede of bulls surrounding him (Psalm 22:12). The lions were coming to devour (Psalm 22:13). The beasts of men would soon wag their heads at his anguish (Psalm 22:7–8). His very soul would be poured out to death (Isaiah 53:12). He knew his disciples would soon desert him (Zechariah 13:7). And, most terrifying of all, he knew his Father would forsake him (Psalm 22:1).
Christ stood between God’s righteous wrath and sinful men. Jesus interceded for criminals before the heavenly courts. These were not merely innocent bystanders. Each made the Heaven’s Most Wanted list along with the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:3). If he chose not to be unjustly taken away, they would eventually stand before the wrath of God, alone.
And knowing this, he stepped forward willingly.
2. He stepped forward with authority.
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. (John 18:5–6)
The arrested one was the authoritative one.
By the word of his mouth he buckled their knees and knocked them down. With one more word, he could have had them executed by an army of angels (Matthew 26:53). His divine proclamation of “I am” caused his enemies to fall at his feet (Exodus 3:14; John 18:5). As they crawled upon the ground, he did not run. The King of all the earth allowed them to rise and arrest him. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world was to be led to the slaughter.
He stepped forward with authority because he stepped forward as God.
3. He stepped forward in love.
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.” (John 18:8–9)
Let these men go? These men who couldn’t stay awake an hour to pray? These men whom he knew would forsake him anyways — and at his hour of greatest need (John 16:32)? The Son of God left perfect fellowship with his Father to become forsaken, traded angelic adoration for sinner’s sneers, and exchanged eternal joy for a cup of eternal pain — all for these men.
Why? Because he and the Father loved them.
When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1; 3:16).
The Word that became flesh, the child born in a manger, the Creator of all things, the light of the world, has, as his earthly epitaph: He loved them perfectly in his life, and he loved them perfectly to his death.
No other love has survived such an end. Deserts of wrath stood between him and his beloved. His steadfast love endured mountains of judgment and valleys of pain.
He stepped forward into wrath to save those whom he loved from it.
Your Step Forward
His earnest prayer was that his people would be with him to see his glory (John 17:24) . . . but not yet. He prayed to his Father,
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one . . . As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:15, 19)
We step forward into a world that would rather have Barabbas rob them, than Jesus call them to repent; a world of Pilates who find no fault with Christ, but who see no glory in him either; a world of Judases who may kiss him every Sunday, but betray him with their lives; a world that pays homage to Caesar instead of the Savior.
Jesus sends us into darkness, just as he was sent into darkness. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession so that we might declare the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9–11).
He willingly stepped forward in love and authority to manifest his excellencies, that we might declare them in this life, and experience them perfectly in the next.