It’s one of the strangest sentences John ever penned.
“When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley,” read the words of John 18:1.
Anyone who has ever been to Jerusalem could ask, “John, why in the world would you tell us that? Can’t you see that the Kidron covers the entire north-to-south length of Jerusalem? Of course you had to cross the Kidron!”
And yet there is a reason.
On the morning of the day when families would celebrate Passover, each family had to have a lamb sacrificed, butchered and roasted. It took most of the day, much in the way it would take careful planning to have a Thanksgiving turkey ready in time for that big meal.
If hundreds of thousands of people were going through this process, then thousands of lambs had to die early on Thursday morning.
This did not surprise anyone, including the priests who would oversee and carry out the sacrificial killing. It was, therefore, also not surprising that a lot of blood would have to wash through the sewer pipes of the Temple Mount.
And that’s where the Kidron Valley came into play.
Hours later, after the Passover meal, Jesus led his disciples to Gethsemane. In order to reach the garden, Jesus and his 11 young disciples had to cross the Kidron.
It was not a river of blood. All the blood had long since disappeared into the ground or been partially washed away by the Temple sewage system. Still, remnants remained. Surely there were flies. You know there was a smell. In addition, there was the mental image in that midnight walk that perhaps someone like John might take the wrong step and hit some softer ground that oozed with the scent of death.
Or maybe John knew his Bible.
In Genesis 15, God gave Abram an unforgettable promise in the guise of a typical legal contract of that ancient culture. Abram sacrificed the required animals, split their bodies in half and let the blood run into a small valley. Normally, he and the other covenant maker would then walk through the halves of calves as terms of the contract were read.
Never heard of such of thing? You’re right. We wind up at an attorney’s office or the local courthouse in order to seal our contracts. But in that ancient time period, this is what they did. (Check out Jeremiah 34:19 for a reference to this long-forgotten practice.
Here’s what you need to know. The symbolism of the practice is dramatic and simple. The first party to break the covenant would be the next party to lay on the side of the hill with his throat cut. Though it’s unlikely you’ll ever hear this illustration in a wedding homily, it’s the same, “until-death-parts-us” idea.
On that night in Abram’s vision — long after the blood had soaked into the ground — only the Spirit of God passed between the sacrificed animals. It was as if God was saying, “Abram, I love you so much, I promise that if I break my covenant with you, I’ll pay for my sin with my life. And Abram, I love you so much, I promise that if you or your descendants cannot keep your end of this covenant, I’ll also pay for your sins with my life.”
For more than 1,000 years, God’s people had been waiting for someone else to pass through a valley marked with the blood of sacrificed animals. These incredibly sinful descendants of Abraham had waited for God Himself to keep His end of this grace-filled bargain.
The last thing Jesus did of his own free will? He passed through such a ditch on his way to Gethsemane, where he already knew he’d be arrested and led to his death.