Love: Betrayed, Commanded, Denied

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
16 October 2016 / Ordinary Time
John 13:21-38

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If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. – Augustine

May God’s love be with you all.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but the past few days have been an emotional roller coaster ride for me. There were new worship experiences, hospital visits, car troubles, a wedding and something that felt like a funeral, lots of tears and laughter, missed deadlines, cancelled meetings, unexpected news good and bad, and other ordained moments. All that to say, I am glad that week is over, and that I get to be with you this Lord’s day. Here, in this room, we find refuge in the Lord – together in the gospel.

Let’s pick up the storyline where we left off last week.

Remember, we are hanging out with Jesus and his disciples in an upper room. Everything that happens from chapter 13 to chapter 17 — from now til Thanksgiving — takes place in one room on the night before Jesus was betrayed, arrested, and crucified.

Here, Jesus teaches his disciples the things they will need to know and believe and do in their life and ministry after he has been crucified, resurrected, and ascended into glory.

These are the same things we need as well, so let’s pay close attention to the teachings of our Lord and Savior.

Our sermon text for today is John 13:21-38. If you are willing and able, please stand and listen to the word of God with all your heart:

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times. (ESV)

The word of the Lord.

May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. All the church says: Amen. You may be seated.

The first thing I want you to notice is that mood in the room had changed from tense to somber.

It was night.

Darkness was beginning to creep into upper room. The Light was only going to be with the disciples for a little while longer. The darkness was about to overtake some of them.

It was the night of the last Passover. Like the night of the first Passover, God’s people gathered in a house, with their Lamb, around a table, to eat a holy meal.

Like their forefathers, they passed through water, and would enter a wilderness, and the first-born Son would lose his life. The flesh of the Word was going to be abused, beaten, crushed, destroyed for the life of the world.

After Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and spoke about all these things his spirit was stirred up inside him — again — just as it was stirred up a few times before. His life and ministry were reaching critical mass and he could feel things coming unraveled deep in his soul.

Last week we learned that we are called to treat one another as Jesus treats us — with love and service. But, we need to know that no matter how well we love and serve one another there will always be mixed results — as we see in Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus knew those whom the Father had given him, those whom he had chosen, and which ones would receive him, and which ones would reject him.

In this story we see the love of Jesus received by all the disciples, including Peter and Judas. Later on, we will see that same love betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter.

The stories of Judas and Peter raise all kinds of hard questions about the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, and about liberty of God and the dignity of man.

That’s part of what I want us to consider today.

I realize that not everyone has the palate or stomach for these hard truths. Some will crunch and choke on the hard teachings of Jesus.

Nevertheless, Jesus insisted that everyone on the side of truth listens to him.

Some of what you are about to hear will be hard for you to hear, just as it is hard for me to say. But it must be said and heard because it is what the Spirit revealed in God’s Word.

As Saint Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”

Like it or not, we must deal with the hard teachings, and ask the hard questions and accept the hard answers. With the help of God’s grace, we will.

Now, with all that in mind, let’s re-enter the story as humbly and meekly as we are able.

Judas and Peter have a lot in common with each other and with us.

Both were called by Jesus to serve as disciples and apostles. Both followed Jesus for three years. Both saw Jesus turn water into wine, cleanse the temple, heal the sick, feed thousands, walk on water, open the eye of the blind, even raise the dead. Both were taught by Jesus and trained to teach and preach, to love and serve others.

Both Peter and Judas were exposed to God in the flesh. Both men were enlightened to the grace and truth of Jesus, they tasted the heavenly gift, they shared in Holy Spirit, they tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the kingdom. Both were washed by Jesus in the upper room and ate and drank with him at the Passover meal.

More than likely, you and I would have considered both Peter and Judas true disciples, as true as we are, and we would have treated them as such.

I know that’s hard to imagine since we know the rest of their stories, but that’s how the other disciples treated them.

And, as much as we try to be discerning, we (unwittingly) treat counterfeit disciples as the real thing all the time.

We give the benefit of doubt to one another all the time because there is only so much we can know about each other. We are finite and limited in what we can see and know. As human beings, we judge by appearances, but God judges the heart.

Judas and Peter have a lot in common, but it’s not what they have in common that matters; it’s where they differ that makes all the difference.

Jesus knew that Peter and Judas were each going to fall away from him in their own distinct ways — despite the fact that both men had a personal relationship with Jesus. As we will see, when Judas falls away from Jesus he will fall into the hands of the devil. When Peter falls away from Jesus he will fall into the hands of Father God.

Now, Jesus knew all these things about these men when he washed their feet and when he broke the bread and passed the cup to them.

But it was night.

And Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him. That’s why he gave Judas the bread dipped in oil and vinegar, and why he urged him to do what he was going to do quickly.

It was night.

And Jesus knew that Peter was going to deny him three times in spite of his bravado. Jesus knew that Peter would not lay down his life for him, rather he was going to lay down his life for Peter.

It was night.

And Jesus knew that darkness was beginning to creep into upper room. The Light was only going to be with them for a little while longer. The darkness was about to overtake some of his disciples.

It was night. And still, Jesus loved them to the end of the world. Why?

Because he knew that (somehow) God would use Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial for the glory of Jesus and the good of the world. That is why Jesus said,

“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.”

God draws straight lines with crooked sticks like Judas and Peter — like you and me — and even the cross.

The cross is the place where God will glorify his Son Jesus at once. The cross is the place where Jesus is going and his followers cannot come. In fact, they are not able to come, they do not have the capacity to come. Jesus will go to the cross alone and he alone will lay down his life for his chosen people alone.

That brings us to the literal heart of this story.

When Judas had gone out to do his thing, Jesus said to the rest of the disciples,

“Little children, yet a little while I am with you…A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

It is not by accident that this teaching on love stands between the news of Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denial.

Jesus knew all that was about to unfold that night and he wanted his disciples to know what to do in the aftermath.

Instead of pointing fingers at each other and playing the blame game, he expected them to remember his love his love for them, and to imitate him by loving one another.

One of you will betray me. Love one another.

One of you will deny me three times. Love one another.

This where our teaching on the love of God in Christ gets extremely practical.

Who must love? Little children.

Everyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ and a family member in God’s household must live by the rule of love.

What is the rule of love? It is a new commandment. Not merely a suggestion or recommendation. But a law which we are expected to obey.

The old commandment says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s still a good law as far as it goes. But the new commandment says, “Love one another as Christ loved you.” This a true and better law because not only because it is inter-personal, but because it is rooted and grounded in who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

How shall we love? We must love one another just as Jesus Christ loved us.

Jesus is the standard of love. To love one another as Jesus loves us means we must imitate him in humbly serving one another, giving ourselves to one other, telling the truth to one another, sharing our life with one another, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another from the heart.

It also means we must love and serve our friends and our enemies without showing partiality of favoritism just as he did.

Why should we love like this? “By this all people will know that you are my disciples.”

This is the most missional thing we can do.

Jesus did not say, “All people will know that you are my disciples, if you have liturgical order, loads of money, light kits and loud music, or lots of exciting activities for every single person.”

He said, “All people will know that you are my disciples, if you love for one another enough to take off the robes of power and glory and tie on the apron of weakness and shame.” (notes on John 13:35)

This is the only mission strategy established by Jesus and made effectual by the Holy Spirit.

As the late Francis Schaeffer so passionately declared: “Love—and the unity it attests to—is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.”

The kind of love Jesus commands is a self-denying, and self-sacrificing kind of love. This kind of love is cross-shaped, and Christ-centered. This kind of love is costs you and me nothing except our pride and everything we have. This kind of love shows the world — Jews and Greeks and even Texans — whether we are truly followers of Jesus or not.

The trouble is that we stumble and fail in so many ways.

Judas betrayed Jesus’ love. Peter denied Jesus’ love. And we do the same. Like them, we get caught in the cross fire between the love of God and the love of the world, “between the horses of love and lust we are trampled under-foot” (U2/So Cruel).

There is not a day that goes by that we do not betray or deny the love of Jesus in some way big or small.

All churches have Judas Iscariots who outwardly show concern for the poor but inwardly care only about themselves; who love raking in bread more than receiving the Bread; who love cash more than Christ, and silver more than the Savior; who lust for luxuries over love, and loot over the Lord; who would rather walk in darkness with pockets full than walk in the Light empty-handed. Is that you?

All churches have have Simon Peters who boast and brag about all the things they are going to do for Jesus, but fail to keep their word and follow through; who play hide and seek with their faith in Christ because they are ashamed and afraid; who follow Jesus in private, yet pretend they don’t know him in public; who want to walk in the Light, yet find themselves tripping and falling in the darkness. Is that you?

There is not a person among us who has not betrayed or denied the love of Jesus at some point.

There is not a person among us who has not been overtaken by darkness at some point in life; there is not a person among us whose heart has never felt anguish and turmoil, whose spirit has never been troubled.

This is precisely why we need the love of Christ and why we need to love one another as Christ loves us.

We need to be washed, fed, and counseled in the love of Christ. We need to be forgiven, accepted, restored in the love of Christ. We need someone to rub our sore feet, and hug our stiff necks, and wipe our teary eyes. We need someone to tell us that we are loved and accepted in Christ.

The sun is setting — it is almost night. The time when we will be left alone with out thoughts and feelings and the remains of the day. The time when things are more scary and not as clear. The time when the light seems distant and dim. The time when we need to remember that Jesus Christ loves us and laid down his life for us.

And as we prepare our hearts to come to the Lord’s table, let us remember that Jesus loves us with an unfailing and undying love. That means he will never betray you and he will never deny you.

Jesus is the true and better Servant-Host

who is merciful and gracious to sinners like us;

who spreads a table before us even in the presence of our enemies;

who washes our broken hearts and dirty feet,

and refreshes our fearful and troubled soul;

who makes our cup overflow and gladdens our hearts with wine;

who chases after us with goodness and steadfast love all the days of our life;

and prepares a place for us so that we may dwell in his house forever.

Pastoral Prayer: Based on Psalm 55

O God, give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan, because of the noise of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked. For they drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me.

My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.”

But I call to God, and the LORD will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice. He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me. God will give ear and humble them, he who is enthroned from of old, Selah because they do not change and do not fear God.

Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

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