We praise you for the gifts of Eden—fertile land, food and water, and the security of your presence. Keep our hands busy; guard our minds; and give us hearts that yearn only for you. Forgive us that we are not fit for Eden—that we are not satisfied with your gifts; that we have not valued your presence; that our hands have been idle, our minds set on physical things, and our hearts easily tempted by crass things. Restore us—make us fit custodians of your garden. Set in our hearts a yearning for your presence and in our minds a hunger and thirst for your righteousness that our hands may praise you with good works all the days of our lives. Through the power of your Holy Spirit and in Jesus’ name, Amen.
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
God is holy; we are not. Our tension with God often starts with guilt over this holiness gap. This gap, which is more of a chasm, points to our need for Christ because we cannot bridge it on our own . The existence of this gap is explains why the gift of the Holy Spirit is foundational for our faith and for the establishment of the church. But first, let’s talk a bit more about the gap.
What does it mean to be pure in heart? The Greek word for pure, καθαρός, means “to being free from moral guilt, pure, free from sin” (BDAG 3814 (3c)). The Greek expression, pure in heart (καθαρὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ), is only here in the New Testament but arises in the Old Testament—
“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” (Psalm 24:3-4 ESV)
—in the context of worship in the temple in Jerusalem. In view here is the holiness code of Leviticus where God admonishes us many times: “be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44).
The emphasis on the heart in English translation is somewhat misleading because the response expected is not limited to emotions, which the English infers. The Hebrew expression for heart, לֵבָב, means “inner man, mind, will, heart” (BDB 4761). This is not wordsmithing trivia. Immediately following the Shema  we are commanded—”You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5 ESV)—which emphasizes this point (heart, soul, might) through repetition . Jesus reminds us of this verse in Matthew 22:37 where he gives us the double-love command (love God; love neighbor; Matt 22:36-40)
The promise of seeing God, if we remain pure, is a promise of forgiveness (Ps. 51:10-11) and salvation (Job 19:27), but it is also a call to ministry. Seeing God figure prominently in the call stories of both Moses (Exod 3:6) and the Prophet Isaiah (Isa 6:5). Similarly, Paul is blinded by light in his call story which parallels the call account of the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezek 1:28) . Seeing God blinds us and threatens our very existence, as unholy beings.
The promise of seeing God is also a promise of restoration of the relationship with God, as we first saw in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:8-9), which is also a picture of heaven. For example, in the last chapter of the Book of Revelation, we read:
“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Rev. 22:3-4 ESV)
In some sense, holiness is the mark of God on our souls, as well as our foreheads. This surprising idea is not a new idea; it is an old one. In Genesis we read:
“Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, She is my sister’? And she herself said, He is my brother. In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this. Then God said to him in the dream, Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.” (Gen. 20:4-6 ESV).
What is most surprising here is that Abimelech is a gentile, not a Jew. Yet, God works in his heart to keep him from sinning and speaks to him directly.
It is indeed ironic in this beatitude to see Jesus, a “friend of … sinners” , placing a high value on and teaching about holiness knowing what was to come. John’s Gospel ends with Jesus offering the Apostles a commission—”As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV)—and anointing them with the Holy Spirit—”Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22 ESV). Clearly, purity of heart was a prerequisit for ministry and the Holy Spirit brought purity of heart within their reach. Still, the Apostles had to appreciate and desire the gift.
 The exclusiveness of Christ arises, in part, because he is both God and man which is a necessity for bridging both the holiness gap and the gap between mortal and immortal beings.
 ”Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deut. 6:4 ESV)
 The unity of heart and mind (or body, soul, and mind) implies that having a pure heart is a holistic statement of purity—purity throughout our entire person or being. Benner (1998, 22) notes that when the Bible refers to a division of the person, the division is for emphasis, not to infer that the person can be divided into separate and distinct parts.
 The Acts 26 allusion is the most complete: ἀνάστηθι καὶ στῆθι ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας (arise and stand on your feet; Acts 26:16 BNT) which compares with Ezekiel’s words: στῆθι ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας (stand on your feet; Ezek 2:1 BGT)
 “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, He has a demon. The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7:33-35 ESV)
Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.
Benner, David G. 1998. Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.
Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
What does it mean to be human?
The focus of the modern church since the nineteenth century has been on finding new interpretations of the Bible’s view of anthropology—anthropology is the study of what it means to be human. According to one definition of anthropology, it is: “the science that deals with the origins, physical and cultural development, biological characteristics, and social customs and beliefs of humankind.” Much of what the Bible says about the nature of humanity comes from the Old Testament, especially the Book of Genesis. One of the Old Testament’s core teachings is that—whatever else we are—we are all inherently sinful by nature.
Old Testament Teaching
Gagnon appropriately devotes more than 100 pages at the beginning of The Bible and Homosexual Practice to the Old Testament. These topics are covered:
- The Ancient Near East (ANE; outside of Israel) laws and practices pertaining to homosexuality;
- The creation accounts in Genesis 1-3;
- Noah’s curse of Ham in Genesis 9:20-27;
- The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:4-11;
- The rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19:22-25) and the image of women in Judges (19-21);
- Homosexual cult prostitution in Israel;
- The prohibition of homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 where it is described as an abomination ( תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה); and
- David and Jonathan.
Because most conversations about homosexuality sexuality within the church revolve around the creation accounts and only occasionally stray as far as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, let me focus my comments accordingly.
The Creation Accounts
The creation accounts in Genesis 1-3 are important because they set the standard for “acceptable sexual practice”— homosexuality is not specifically mentioned (56). Only human beings were created in God’s image and given the task of ruling God’s creation. Only human beings are capable of working the garden and resting on the seventh day to consciously worship God. Ruling requires populating the earth with human beings and procreation makes this happen. Gagnon (57) writes: “The complementarity of male and female is thereby secured in the divinely sanctioned work of governing creation.”
Gagnon views male/female complementarity in Genesis to be more than simply physical—it is physical, interpersonal, and procreative sexual complementarity—that is blessed by God, anchored in a stable family structure, and given a mission (58, 62). God said:
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28 ESV)
Adam and Eve were blessed to be co-regents (having dominion) in the Eden kingdom working on God’s behalf—procreation was part, but not all, of being a co-regent. Animals were rejected as suitable partners for Adam; Eve was acceptable because she was “bone of my bones and flesh from my flesh” (Gen. 2:23)—part of what it meant to be a complete human being (61). Furthermore, the marriage was more important than parental obligations—an uniquely Hebrew concept in the Ancient Near East (ANE) where family and clan had priority over everything else.
The story of Eden, however, does not end well. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were cast out of the garden (Gen. 3:24). Much of the remainder of the Book of Genesis outlines the corrupting power of sin. This corruption runs deep—polluting both our hearts and minds—and no one is immune. Sin affects who we are (our identity) and everything that we do. Confusion is not the exception; it is the norm. The good news is that in Christ we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves of righteousness (Romans 6).
Sodom and Gomorrah
Gagnon describes the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as the classic story about homosexuality. More recently, critics have argued that the story only deals with homosexual rape or merely being inhospitable. However, Gagnon makes the point that this narrower reading focusing on rape is inappropriate. The text, like other texts such as the curse of Ham, uses the reference to same-sex intercourse as expressing an “inherently degrading quality” which is, for example, why Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by God himself (71, 75).
The interpretative dilemma arises because in Genesis 18, where the reason for God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is discussed, the first 9 verses in the chapter portrays Abraham as the ultimate hospitable host—the first 3 verses of Genesis 19 do the same thing for his nephew Lot. Meanwhile, Genesis 19:5-11 shows the men of Sodom as an angry mob bent on homosexual rape. The key verses spoken by the men of Sodom to Lot is: “Where are the men [angels] who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know [יָדַע] them.” (Gen. 19:5) . This verse accordingly explains, presumably, why: “the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave” (Gen. 18:20).
Is Genesis 19 being used by the author, presumably Moses, as a case of an inhospitable community or is it displaying an arch type of wickedness?
Gagnon opts for the latter interpretation and uses other scripture passages in the Old and New Testament to argue his case. For example, the Book of Leviticus, also written by Moses, could not condemn homosexuality more strongly than saying:
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Lev. 20:13)
Why would Moses treat homosexuality more leniently in one place as another? (75, 83) Gagnon interprets later references to Sodom and Gomorrah in Ezekiel 16 as displaying—in addition to immoral conduct, pride, child sacrifice, and contempt for the poor (injustice)—arrogance in relation to God. Gagnon additionally cites 2 Peter 2:6-10 and Jude 7 as New Testament passages supporting this interpretation (85, 89).
Curiously, it is God that destroys Sodom and Gomorrah, not Abraham, even though Abraham had ample opportunity. Abraham captured it as a prize of war (Gen 14) and later interceded with God not to destroy the cities (Gen 18:20-33). If Abraham is our model of faith, then we are to leave judgment to God and pray for those around us caught up in gender confusion .
Hostility in Old Testament?
More generally, why is there such hostility to homosexuality in the Old Testament?
The usual answer among Jewish scholars is that homosexuality is contrary to nature, as created by God (159-183). Reviewing extra-biblical sources, such as Philo and Josephus (160), Gagnon cites 4 reasons for why only heterosexual intercourse was natural:
- Homosexual intercourse cannot lead to procreation;
- Physical complementary of male and female sex organs;
- Homoerotic desire reflects an excess of passion; and
- Animal do not normally practice homosexuality (163).
Of these 4 arguments, Gagnon sees the first two arguments as constituting the primary concerns (180-181). Because God is first identified as a creator in Genesis, procreation in the accounts of Adam and Eve plays an important role in bearing God’s image (Gen 1:27).
The gist of Gagnon’s argument is that homosexuality is clearly inconsistent with the Old Testament witness and that this inconsistency entails health consequences even today. Therefore, the moral teaching on marriage and prohibitions in the Bible on homosexual practice remain binding on the church today (theological statement). Our response, however, should be to stand with those caught up in gender confusion—much like we would stand with someone caught up in alcoholism—and, at a minimum, to pray for them (ethical dilemma). Obviously, because it is hard to hate or to ostracize someone that you pray for, God’s instruction here implies that we should do much more than simply pray.
In part 3, I will explore Gagnon’s arguments based on the New Testament.
 Commentators frequently argue that Ham’s son Canaan was cursed to be a slave of his brother because he homosexually raped his father Noah. Therefore, because his sin involved his “seed” then the curse would fall on his “seed”. Theologically, this is an important argument because it essentially justified the genocide practiced against the Canaanites—the sin of homosexuality, especially the rape of one’s father— was so extreme that an extreme remedy was thereby justified.
 In the Hebrew, to know [yada] someone was a euphemism for sexual intercourse.
 “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day–just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.” (Jude 1:6-8 ESV)
 This same prayer template is repeated in the enigmatic story of Abraham, Sarah, and Abimelech (Gen 20) which also focuses on sexual sin (adultery/polygamy). In this story, Abimelech takes Sarah into his harem and God informs him in a dream that he would die because he has done this. Abimelech protests that he has not touched Sarah. God then instructs him to return Sarah to Abraham and to ask Abraham intercede in prayer for his life. Abimelech faithful adheres to God’s advice—he returns Sarah to Abraham; grants Abraham a huge reparation payment; asks Abraham to pray for him; Abraham prays for him; and Abimelech’s life is spared. Why is prayer successful in Abimelech’s case and unsuccessful in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah? My guess is that it is because Abimelech repented of his sin.
Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 2
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, Where is your God?” (Ps. 42:1-3 ESV)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
The great irony of faith is that we approach God out of our poverty, not riches. Babylon and Egypt were among the riches of nations in the Ancient Near East because of the benefits of irrigation, while Palestine was mostly poor and best known for its deserts. Yet, it is in the wilderness that we get to know God (Card 2005, 16).
What do the law and the prophets say about satisfying the hunger and thirst for righteousness?
The Law. Hunger and thirst were unknown in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis we read:
“And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.” (Gen. 2:8-10 ESV)
In the Garden of Eden was an abundance of food and water. Righteousness consisted of living in direct communion with God. Hunger and thirst arose when God expelled Adam and Eve from the garden on account of sin (Gen 3:23). Consequently, hungering and thirsting for righteousness can be seen as mourning over the sin that separates us from God.
We see this idea prominently displayed in the blessings associated with the Mosaic covenant. Seeking a renewed relationship with God is caste in terms of obeying the laws of the covenant. Moses writes:
“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full.” (Deut. 11:13-15 ESV)
If one obeys the law, God will send rain and you gather a full harvest and have plenty to eat—be satisfied. Likewise, if one reluctantly obeys the law or disobeys the law out of disrespect for God, then hunger and thirst follow:
“Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.” (Deut. 28:47-48 ESV) .
Consequently, it is fair to conclude that under the law one reaps what one sows in respect to one’s relationship with God! In fact, hungering and thirsting for mere physical things, not God, is subject to judgment (Exod 17:3) .
The Prophets. In the law, one reaps what one sows. In the prophets, the wise are clever and the foolish are ignorant of the ways of the world. For example, we read in Proverbs:
“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” (Prov. 25:21-22 ESV)
Because God rules over both heaven and earth, understanding the ways of the world is an aspect of wisdom that God grants to the faithful. In this case, the wise feed their enemies and offer them drink because they will feel an obligation—will they perhaps become friends?
In the prophets, we also see hunger and thirst used in a more metaphorical way. For example, Jeremiah prophesies a new, more enlightened form of leadership:
“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:15 ESV)
The good shepherd is, of course, Jesus himself (John 10:11-16) but here we see hunger relieved through “knowledge and understanding” rather than through physical consumption. This metaphorical view of hunger and thirst clearly shows the influence of the creation accounts and pictures heaven as a return to Eden. In Isaiah, for example, we read:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isa. 55:1-2 ESV)
Eden is, of course, a place where water and food are abundant. And when we hunger and thirst for God’s fellowship, heaven is not far off (Rev. 22:17).
 This theme is repeated over and over (e.g. Deut. 8:11-16).
 This is, in fact, the basis for the curse for not accepting the new covenant in Christ. Paul writes: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom. 1:28 ESV) To be given over to one’s passions is a curse and it leads to self-destruction because both the mind and the heart are corrupted by sin.
Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow Experience Guide: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.
Heavenly Father. We praise you for hope in the future and for the gift of patience. We praise you for the vision of Eden and for the promise of new creation where the fullness of salvation will be revealed and all things made new. For in Christ we know the end of the story. You are our rock and our salvation. To you and you alone be the glory. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Padre Celestial. Te alabamos por la esperanza del futuro y por el don de la paciencia. Te alabamos por la visión del Edén y por la promesa de una nueva creación donde se dará a conocer la plenitud de salvación y todas las cosas hechas nuevas. Porque en Cristo sabemos el fin de la historia. Tú eres nuestra roca y nuestra salvación. Para Tí y sólo a Tí sea la gloria. En el nombre del Padre, el Hijo, y el Espíritu Santo, Amén.
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Do you long more for heaven or for something else?
When I was a foreign exchange student in Germany, I never missed home more than during Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a uniquely North American holiday when families converge and spend time together. The foreign student office arranged a dinner party for the Americans on campus, but goose is not a perfect substitute for turkey. So between my incomplete comprehension of German at that point and my absence from the family, my homesickness reached a peak.
As Christians, we experience sin as a similar kind of homesickness. We groan feeling the particular pain of knowing our sinfulness and separation from God (v 4). It is much like the point in a fight with your spouse when you know that you screwed up but still have not reconciled. Or, like Adam and Eve as they are being sent out of the garden (Genesis 3:23). Or, like the prodigal son as he woke up finding himself slopping pigs in a foreign country (Luke 15:15-17). And even as we groan, all of creation groans with us (Romans 8:18-23).
But as Christians we are not without hope. We know the source of our problem. Our holy fear of God’s judgment marshals us to admit our guilt and reconcile with God. And not only that. As the Apostle Paul writes:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others (vv 10-11).
Absent our knowledge of God, our groaning might lead us deeper into sin. The alcoholic, for example, does not have simply a bodily ailment. The problem of addiction is inherently a spiritual problem—it is groaning without knowledge of God and of the need for reconciliation. The bottle is not substitute for knowing the ultimate object of our groaning. We are homesick for Eden and intimacy with God; yet as addicts, we are unaware.
Paul lived this reality. He wrote: For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you (v 13). We evangelize, not just to save others; we evangelize to save ourselves. Our holy fear of God means that we feel God’s heart for the fallen and pine for the other objects of God’s holy love—our neighbors.
So in Christ, God gives us new clothes and a new job description—the ministry of reconciliation (v 18). Not only are we marked as God’s chosen as with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21), but also commissioned into His service.
 Also: 2 Corinthians 5:10-11.
Teme, pues, a Dios y cumple sus mandamientos, porque esto es todo para el hombre. Pues Dios juzgará toda obra, buena o mala, aun la realizada en secreto. (Ecclesiastés 12:13-14 NVI) 
Por Stephen W. Hiemstra
¿Te gemir para el cielo o para algo más?
Cuando yo era un estudiante de intercambio en Alemania, nunca me perdí en casa más que en el Día de Gracias. El Día de Gracias es una fiesta única en América del Norte cuando las familias convergen y pasan tiempo juntos. La oficina de estudiantes extranjeros organizó una cena para los estadounidenses en el campus, pero el ganso no es un sustituto perfecto para el pavo. Así que entre mi comprensión incompleta de alemán en ese momento y mi ausencia de la familia, mi nostalgia llegó a un pico.
Como cristianos, nosotros experimentamos el pecado como una clase similar de nostalgia. Gemimos sintiendo el dolor en particular de conocer nuestro pecado y separación de Dios (v 4). Es muy parecido al punto en una pelea con su esposo cuando sabes que te equivocaste, pero todavía no se ha reconciliado. O, como Adán y Eva, ya que están siendo enviados fuera del jardín (Génesis 3:23). O, como el hijo pródigo que se despertó encontrándose a alimentar a los cerdos en un país extranjero (Lucas 15:15-17). Y así como nosotros gemimos, toda la creación gime con nosotros (Romanos 8:18-23).
Pero como cristianos no estamos sin esperanza. Sabemos que el origen de nuestro problema. Nuestro santo temor del juicio de Dios nos calcula las referencias a admitir nuestra culpa y reconciliarse con Dios. Y no sólo eso. Como el apóstol Pablo escribe:
Porque es necesario que todos comparezcamos ante el tribunal de Cristo, para que cada uno reciba lo que le corresponda, según lo bueno o malo que haya hecho mientras vivió en el cuerpo. Por tanto, como sabemos lo que es temer al Señor, tratamos de persuadir a todos (vv 10-11).
En ausencia de nuestro conocimiento de Dios, nuestros gemidos podría llevarnos más en el pecado. El alcohólico, por ejemplo, no tiene simplemente una dolencia corporal. El problema de la adicción es de por sí un problema lo spiritual—está gimiendo sin conocimiento de Dios y de la necesidad de la reconciliación. La botella no se sustituye a conocer el objeto último de nuestra gemido. Estamos nostalgia de Edén y la intimidad con Dios; sin embargo, como adictos, no nos damos cuenta.
Pablo vivió esta realidad. Él escribió: Si estamos locos, es por Dios; y si estamos cuerdos, es por ustedes (v 13). Evangelizamos, no sólo para salvar a otros; evangelizamos a salvarnos a nosotros mismos. Nuestro santo temor de Dios significa que nos sentimos el corazón de Dios por los caídos y el pino de los demás objetivos del Amor Santo—nuestros vecinos.
Así que en Cristo, Dios nos da ropa nueva y un trabajo de nueva descripción—el ministerio de la reconciliación (v 18). No sólo se nos marcamos como escogidos de Dios, al igual que Adán y Eva (Génesis 3:21), sino que también encargó a su servicio.
 También: 2 Corintios 5:10-11.
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Narrative sermon given at Riverside Presbyterian Church (www.RiversideChurch.com), Sterling, VA on Sunday, April 6, 2014. The narrative of Jesus’s arrest in John 18 is told from the perspective of the Apostle Peter who leans on a shepherd’s staff as he speaks.
Good morning! Welcome to Riverside Presbyterian Church. This morning we continue our preparation for Easter with the account of the arrest of Jesus in John Gospel.
Heavenly father, thank you for your presence among us this morning. Grant us mouths that speak and ears that listen. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.
Sermon Text: John 18:1-12
Why did he lead us to that place?
He must known. Why? Why? Why?
My mind plays tricks on me when I remember that evening. The sun had gone down but the moon was so bright that it cast a shadow ; yet, I keep thinking that it was dark and stormy—it’s that brook Kidron—outside the camp—with all those tombs. It is no wonder that the priests have thrown unholy things there since ancient times . Some think that Ezekiel, in his vision of the valley of dead bones , had this place in mind.
Why did the teacher lead us to that cursed place?
Oh yeah, I know. It was the garden. Why did he love that garden so much? It is like it reminded him of Eden. Of course, Eden had its beauty; it was peaceful and God was with us. But, Eden was also had a betrayer. Death began because of what happened in Eden .
Oh, but he must have known and he must have seen that cohort of soldiers with lanterns, torches, and weapons (v 3) walking down from temple mount and back up the ravine. That tribune loves his cohort. Five hundred men  lit up at night cannot hide in a place like that.
Yes, he must have known, but all he asked us was to wake up and keep watch while he prayed. Yet, all we did was doze after that big meal . Who doesn’t want to sleep after feasting at Passover?
Guess who was leading that parade? (v 3)
I should have known he was unreliable. His name, Judas Iscariot, says it all. He’s not a Galilean, but a Judean. People said he came from Kerioth; people called him a zealot . The teacher had words with him about that woman crying and wiping her hair with the perfume the week before . Seemed that guy only cared about money .
Yeah, it was Judas leading the parade. Such a sight to see Judas leading that pack to the garden in the middle of the night.
Still, Jesus was fearless—I will never forget. How could someone who healed people and talked so much of peace speak with such authority? How could someone like that so remind me of the Judah’s blessing—the lion’s cub and ruler over his brothers . Jesus was fearless.
Jesus asked them: who do you seek? (2X; v 4)
The words still ring in my ears. The words swept over the parade like a hurricane. The tribune was so startled that he fell to his knees on the ground like a man in deep prayer. The whole cohort followed him down. Even Judas and the Jews with him fell to their knees (v 6). All he asked was: who do you seek?
Meekly, someone answered: Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus responded: ἐγώ εἰμι. I am.
They said nothing; they did nothing. They were looking back and forth at one another like lost sheep. Did Judas think that he could force God’s Messiah  to do his bidding; force God’s Messiah to pick up a sword; force God’s Messiah to assume a crown?
Jesus asked again: who do you seek?
This time the answer was more convincing: Jesus of Nazareth.
To this Jesus responded: I told you that I am he. If it is me that you want, then send these other men away (v 8).
When I heard those words, I just lost it—Jesus was surrendering to these hooligans. I drew my sword and attacked Malchus, the leader of the Jews. But he saw me coming and got out of the way. Oh, my goodness. What does a fisherman  known about swords? Well, he did not get completely away—I did chop off his right ear! (v 10)
Jesus said: Rock, put the sword away (v 11).
What?!!! Why would God’s Messiah give up without a fight? I could not believe it. Later, I remembered how Jesus washed my feet earlier in the evening . Later, I thought, How could my feet be clean if my hands were covered with blood? Later, later, why is it always later than we think about what we are doing?
The sword is Satan’s tool—even the tribune and his mighty cohort did not yield the sword that night. Why did I?
Then, Jesus said to me: shall I not drink from the cup given me? (v 11)
Jesus knew my future that night—I would deny him three times before it was over —why now did I insist on resisting God’s will for my life? Why? I survived that fateful evening only because Jesus prayed for me.
Judas, he was not so lucky—after he tried to force God’s hand and failed, he killed himself . How could he know that in obedience, Jesus would vanquish the betrayer; vanquish death itself? Maybe that is why he returned to the garden—may be Ezekiel was right: the dead do rise again.
Why was it so hard to answer Jesus’ question that night: who do you seek? Funny, Jesus asked us the same question when we first met him—first followed him—by the lake in Galilee. Who do you seek?  Who do you seek?
Heavenly father, beloved Son, Spirit of all Truth. Guard our hearts from the temptation to try to force our will on you rather than accept your will for us. Grant us a spirit of contentment to allow you to remain in control of our lives. In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.
Lowry, Eugene L. 2001. The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as a Narrative Art Form. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
 At the First Counsel of Nicaea (325 AD), Easter was determined to be the first Sunday following the full moon after the spring equinox (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computus).
 2 Kings 23:6, 12.
 Ezekiel 37.
 Genesis 2-3.
 BDAG (σπεῖρα 6759)In our lit. prob. always cohort, the tenth part of a legion (the σπ. thus normally had 600 men, but the number varied.
 Matthew 26:38-45.
 BDAG(Ἰσκαριώθ 3742) The mng. of the word is obscure; s. Wlh. on Mk 3:19; Dalman, Jesus 26 (Eng. tr. 51f). It is usu. taken to refer to the place of his origin, from Kerioth )in southern Judea; …Another interpr. connects it w. σικάριος (q.v.), ‘assassin, bandit’.
 John 12:3-8.
 John 12:6.
 Genesis 49:8-10.
 Matthew 16:16.
 Matthew 4:18.
 John 13:6-10.
 John 13:37-38.
 Matthew 27:5.
 John 1:38.
Heavenly Father. We praise you for hope in the future and for the gift of patience. We praise you for the vision of Eden, the new kingdom of heaven, where our present world will pass away and a new world will replace it. For in Christ we know the end of the story. You are our rock and our salvation. To you and you alone be the glory. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.