I have to confess that these thoughts were going to start out as a message appropriate for Valentine's Day. As I have considered that it's time to get back to sharing concerning John 13 and what is taking place there, the passage concerning "love" (vv.34-35) is what jumped out at me...at least in my initial thought process. In considering the entirety of the passage, the "love" theme is the highlight of an otherwise challenging, difficult section of Scripture concerning the betrayal of Jesus. Not exactly "Valentine's material"...and as one of my silly children astutely pointed out, "yeah dad, nothing says Happy Valentine's Day like a message concerning the betrayal of Jesus." Oh well, what are you going to do sometimes? :-) Nonetheless, it may be challenging, but it is an important message to share.
Michael McCartney shares about John Bevere’s book, “The Bait of Satan.” In it he says, “Our response to an offense determines our future." I believe that he is correct. Paul understood this principle clearly, as he was betrayed a number of times. And this is why he warns churches against "the spirit of causing offense" and those who practice it. Bevere states, “Many are unable to function properly in their calling because of the wounds and hurts that offenses have caused in their lives. They are handicapped and hindered from fulfilling their full potential. Most often it is a fellow believer who has hurt them. This causes the offense to feel like betrayal.” In Psalm 55:12-14, David laments, “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me; then I could hide from him. But it was you, a man my equal, my companion and my acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in the throng.” They are those whom we sit with and sing alongside, or perhaps it is the one who is delivering the sermon. We spend holidays, attend social functions, and share offices with them. Or, perhaps it is closer…someone we grew up with, have confided in, or even sleep next to at night. The closer the relationship, the more severe the offense! He concludes with the thought, “Pride keeps you from dealing with the truth. It distorts your vision.” Perhaps, in some small way, this helps us to understand what is taking place in this section of John’s gospel, concerning Judas, the disciples and Jesus. It is certainly not something we are comfortable to discuss, but if we have lived long enough, we have experienced it at one time or another...hopefully to our growth and understanding.
Following Jesus’ display of service in washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-18), now the one who is to betray Him comes to the forefront. After three years of ministry, it is now the appointed hour. It is important to note that Judas really has not been a true believer…but he has been a very good actor. He never really believed in Jesus, but has had every one of his fellow disciples fooled; he was even the treasurer of the group. Jesus has two great concerns – the fulfillment of the Word of God (vv. 18-30), and to magnify the glory of God (vv.31-35). Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9 concerning a betrayal that David experienced…likely that of trusted advisor Ahithophel who joined the rebellion of David’s son, Absalom. I believe that Jesus is concerned that Judas’ treachery not weaken the faith of His other disciples. Even though Judas may be showing his true colors, Jesus expects His disciples to be loyal to Him. It is truly an amazing thing that the other disciples are completely ignorant concerning the fact that Judas is an unbeliever and a traitor. Up to the very hour of his betrayal, Judas has been protected by the Savior whom he is betraying. If Jesus had revealed his intentions before this time, the other disciples would have turned on Judas and it would have created some other significant problems…as it is, they are still arguing about who is the greatest (Luke 22:24ff.)
From the very beginning, Jesus knows what Judas is going to do (John 6:64), but he does not compel him to do it. Judas has been exposed to the same privileges as the other disciples, but they have not benefitted him. As one anonymous person has shared "The same sun that melts ice hardens clay." Judas had continued to be a thief, dipping into the treasury, despite Jesus’ warnings about covetousness and unbelief. The situation is such that when Jesus dips the morsel of bread and gives it to Judas, the disciples interpret it as an act of love and honor. This highlights the fact that the disciples have no clue concerning what is taking place. They figure that he has been sent on some special mission of mercy by the Lord in order to help the poor. Judas then goes out of their presence. “And it was night,” carries a significant message when we consider how important are the concepts of “light” and “darkness” in John’s writings.
After Judas is gone Jesus proceeds to instruct the disciples and prepare them for His crucifixion and ultimately, His return from heaven to take them (and us) home with Him (John 14:1ff). It is now that He also institutes the Lord’s Supper. This is the last supper…something that Judas could not participate in, because it is about fellowship -- for them as well as for us. The theme changes to the glory God. It is remarkable how Jesus could take such an awful situation and turn it into one of the most positive messages we see in the New Testament – it is the focal point for His life and for the gospel. Jesus has glorified the Father in the way that He has lived His life…preaching and teaching, ministering and blessing. Now the Father is going to glorify the Son through death, burial and the Resurrection. He leaves them with the challenge and responsibility to continue to grow in their love for one another. This is central to everything He has taught and lived…and displayed in the washing of their feet, including Judas’. They are to love another, even as He has loved them – sacrificially. This section begins and ends with love…His love for His own (John 13:1), and the disciples’ love for one another – this is powerful! (I do want to talk about this some more later).
Mark Brunner offers some good food for thought, and I want to close with it -- If life is going well and I am in all things successful, does that me that God is pleased with me? That’s a good question! If I am successful in the things that I do, does that necessarily mean that it is always God that is behind that success? When things go well it is nice to believe that, isn’t it? I must be doing something right if failure is a stranger and success is my daily companion. Why else would it be that life is moving along and things are just working out? When things are going well it is tempting to place all success right on God’s doorstep. But, if you stop to think about it, there are quite a few unbelievers that seem to be basking in the warmth of money, fame and popularity these days. That being the case, how can we be certain that our successes are from God? And what about my failures?
Let’s think about it…among Jesus’s apostles, the one absolutely stunning success was Judas, and the one thoroughly groveling failure was Peter. Judas was a success in the ways that most impress us -- he was successful both financially and politically. He cleverly arranged to control the money of the apostolic band; he skillfully manipulated the political forces of the day to accomplish his goal. And Peter was a failure in ways that we most dread: he was impotent in a crisis and socially inept. At the arrest of Jesus he collapsed, a hapless, blustering coward; in the most critical situations of his life with Jesus, the confession on the road to Caesarea Philippi and the vision on the Mount of transfiguration, he said the most embarrassingly inappropriate things. He was not the companion we would want with us in time of danger, and he was not the kind of person we would feel comfortable with at a social occasion. Time, of course, has reversed our judgments on these two men. Judas is now a byword for betrayal, and Peter is one of the most honored names in the church and in the world. Judas is a villain...Peter is a saint. Yet the world continues to chase after the successes of Judas, financial wealth and political power, and to defend itself against the failures of Peter.
All of this is very interesting. According to Brunner, if we are living for Jesus and not ourselves, then our priorities have apportioned themselves into the right place. But, I have to wonder how many of us American Christians living in 2012 are more interested in making a buck than in washing someone’s feet. They may protest otherwise, but the proof is in how they...and we...live.