Peter Misselbrook's Blog
May 29 2013 - John 18:1-27 – I am he

Of all the Gospel writers, John is the only one who records the extraordinary effect Jesus words had on those coming to arrest him. Judas was leading a crowd of soldiers and temple guards to the place where he knew they would find Jesus. They were equipped with torches and lanterns and were well armed. They must have made an intimidating sight. But Jesus is not intimidated. Rather, when he sees them approaching, he deliberately steps forward to meet them and asks whom they are seeking. When they reply, "Jesus of Nazareth", Jesus tells them, "I am he" (John 18:5). At these words, John records, "they drew back and fell to the ground".

What an extraordinary situation. A crowd of armed men who have come prepared to arrest Jesus step back and fall to the ground at his words. John leaves us in no doubt as to who is in charge here. Jesus was not taken captive by this army; he delivered himself into their hands. They bound him and led him away. But it was not the ropes that kept him captive – he could have snapped them more easily than Samson snapped the seven fresh thongs; it was his determination to complete for our sake the work the Father had sent him to do. He commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (18:11).

So they led him away to face their mock trial and a cruel death.

What was it about Jesus’ words that made those come to arrest him draw back and fall to the ground? At the end of Jesus’ high priestly prayer, recorded just a few verses previously, Jesus says of his disciples, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known” (17:26). Jesus reveals the character of God and, if I may put it this way, the meaning of his name. The Jews would not utter the name by which God revealed himself to Moses, the name ‘Yahweh’; they thought it too holy to take upon their lips. The name means something like “I am” or “I will be what I will be”. This is God’s covenant name, by which he binds himself to his people, yet it’s an enigmatic name; what does it mean? Jesus declares that he has made it known.

And here in the garden as soldiers come to seize him, Jesus makes it known. He declares that he is “I am”. He is the one in whom God himself has come to redeem his people. This extraordinary assertion causes the crowd to fall back in fear – and maybe in horror. Yet Jesus hands himself over to them. Here is the supreme revelation of God’s character; he is the God who gives himself for the redemption of his people. This is the meaning of his covenant name for this is how he takes a people to be his own and binds them to himself with bonds that no one can break.

In the midst of the turmoil and conflict of our lives, the risen Christ still asks the disarming question, "Whom do you seek?" And in response to our confused replies he tells us, "I am he." His words still have power to stop us in our tracks and drive us to our knees, for Jesus Christ is Lord.

Whom do you seek?

Lord, there are things here which I cannot fully understand; “Amazing love, how can it be, that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” Lord Jesus, I worship you. Help me to appreciate more fully the greatness of your love for me that I may love you in return. Keep me from denying you. Help me rather to declare to others the wonders of your redeeming love that they also may seek you and find in you eternal life.

May 29 2019 - Song of Songs 1:1-2:17 – A love song

The Song of Songs is attributed to Solomon (Song 1:1). It consists of a poetic celebration of the love between a man and a woman. Several voices are heard in this poem and are helpfully identified in headings found in most modern versions such as the NIV. So, for instance, a woman speaks of the one she loves in chapter 1 verses 2-4 and the man responds in verses 9-11. Other voices are labelled "Friends" in the NIV. I was in the habit of listening to The Daily Audio Bible for several years. Brian Hardin from Tennessee reads through the Old and New Testaments on a yearly schedule. When he comes to the Song of Songs he would normally be joined by his wife. The two of them would read the different parts and read together the sections spoken by many voices.

But what is this love song doing in the Bible? Some of the material in it is so sensual and suggestive that young Jewish boys were not allowed to read it before their bar mitzvar, their coming of age.

One of the common ways to explain the inclusion of this book in the Bible is to suggest that it should be read allegorically. Jewish commentators often argued that the book describes the depths of the relationship of mutual love that exists between God and his people Israel. In a similar way, Christians, following the New Testament description of Christ as bridegroom to the church, his bride (John 3:29; Eph. 5:22ff.; Rev. 18:23ff.), have often read this book as a description of Christ's love for his people and of our love for Christ.

Those who have adopted this approach to the book have shown great ingenuity in interpreting the various details in the Song. One famous commentary by a Baptist minister named John Gill begins his summary of chapter 1 as follows: "In this chapter, after the general title of the book, verse 1 the church expresses her strong desires and most ardent wishes for some fresh discoveries of the love of Christ to her, and for communion with him, verse 2. and having tasted of his love, and smelled a sweet savour in his grace, and enjoyed fellowship with him in his house, verses 3, 4. she observes her blackness and uncomeliness in herself, and comeliness in him, the trials and afflictions she met with from others, and her carelessness and negligence of her own affairs …" Interpretations of this sort do damage to the plain sense of the text.

The Song of Songs (also known as The Song of Solomon), should be read first and foremost as love poetry. It has a place in the Scriptures because the God who made us, and made us male and female, made us that male and female might find love one with another and that children might be conceived and born into such a relationship of love. And the Bible is not prudish about these things, nor does it consider sexuality and sensuality unspiritual. On the contrary, here we find a whole book devoted to celebrating passionate love. Here is perfect material for teaching young people about love which is more than a sexual act; love which is rooted in heart-to-heart devotion rather than the desire to use (and maybe even exploit) another. With this perspective in mind, try reading through all eight chapters of this beautiful song to love (we are only reading the first two chapters in our journey through the Old Testament in a year).

But having said all that, if this is a celebration of human love, how much more should we celebrate the love that God has for us in the Lord Jesus Christ! More than that, the best and deepest expressions of human love are a reflection of the fact that we have been created in the image of God. In this sense we can look beyond the pages of the Song of Songs to delight in Christ's love for us and to find extravagant ways to express our love for him in return.

Living God, I give you thanks and praise for the wonder and joy of human love. But I thank you even more for your great love for me in the Lord Jesus Christ, a love which nothing can destroy. You have drawn me into the embrace of the unfathomable love that exists between you as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Help me to celebrate your gift of love. 

Peter Misselbrook