Billy Renstrom was a blind singer whom I met as a teenager working at the Bill Rice Ranch near Murfreesboro, TN. Billy had a son named Scott who was my age and we became friends working together at the camp. Billy lost his sight in 1944 serving in Patton’s army in France. He was clearing land mines left by the occupation German army when one accidently blew up and caused him to go blind. Billy never complained about his mishap and he was greatly used of the Lord in revival work singing gospel songs as his wife Ruby played the piano.
My favorite memory of Billy was from the summer of 1969. It was a week of teen camp and there were several hundred teenagers gathered for an evening evangelistic service. Just as Billy came to the microphone to sing before the message there was a tremendous explosion of light and deafening thunder. Instantly, all the power went out and the building where we were meeting was plunged into total darkness. It was like a thick, dark blanket covered us all. In the total silence that followed we heard Billy’s soft voice say, “Boy! It sure is dark in here!” The irony floored us. A blind man talking about it being dark. The room exploded with laughter, the tension disappeared, and we went on to have a glorious service that evening in which several teens were saved, darkness and all.
The passage we are examining today emphasizes something that happened in the dark. There is a simple statement in the text that seems unnecessary. Look at the end of v. 30. “And it was night.” But we already knew that. This whole scene beginning with Jesus washing the disciple’s feet happened during the evening supper, in this case, the Passover meal (v. 2). They did not eat the meal in the late afternoon. They ate it after dark. It was a part of the Day of Preparation (Friday), so it seems unnecessary that the text would again clarify that it was night. But that’s often how the Apostle John subtly drew attention to what was central in his message. Yes, it was nighttime when all of this was occurring, but there was something darker going on. And that is what draws us deeper into the text.
In this morning’s message we will focus on two important truths. We will look carefully at the darkness of the night and then will examine the brightness of the light. Let me explain. Through the structure of his gospel account, the Apostle John was communicating something special to us. In a moment we will read vv. 18-30, the account of Judas. That will be followed by a consideration of vv. 31-35, Jesus’s issuance of a new command that believers love one another. The structure of this account helps us appreciate the depths of sin involved in Judas’ betrayal of our Lord but that will also serve as an astounding contrast with Jesus’ revelation of his will for his followers to love one another. There are several insights we can draw from the whole story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. It is a tragic story and the very fact of Judas’ betrayal was very troubling to Jesus (v. 21). But the story of Judas also works toward something that is good. The Judas account is like the black velvet that the jeweler uses on which he displays a beautiful diamond. The contrast helps you see the beauty of the precious gem. That’s what happens in this passage. We first of all learn the full extent of Judas’ treachery. But then we find the Apostle John diverting our attention to the glory of God on display in Jesus and how God seeks for his glory to be on display in our lives. Let’s benefit from both truths.
I. The Darkness of the Night (vv. 18-30)
- It is fascinating that Jesus’ repeated references to the presence in the midst of the disciples of one who would betray him didn’t expose Judas as the betrayer. We remember that when Jesus chose his disciples he spent a whole night in prayer, carefully made his selection, and then declared that one of them was a devil. John 6:70-71, “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.’” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.” Given Judas’ dishonesty (chapter 12 recorded the fact that he used to steal from their funds), and given the true nature of his heart, you would have thought that the other disciples would have caught on by now that he was the betrayer. But even on that fateful night, when Judas left their group to arrange for his betrayal, the other disciples did not suspect him.
- Let’s take a few moments to describe the events as they happened. It may be that you have at some time or another studied Leonardo Da Vinci’s rendition of The Last Supper. We actually have a copy in our display case in the small foyer by the handicap ramp. It is a very beautiful and respected piece of religious art. The drama portrayed on the canvass is amazing. You can easily figure out the identity of some of the disciples. Peter can be seen leaning over toward John with the request revealed in our text. Judas is especially easy to spot as he clinches the moneybag in his hand. But in reality, Da Vinci’s depiction is very inaccurate. Jesus and his disciples were not seated at a banqueting table, as you will see in the painting. Actually, the tables used that night were constructed after the manner of the Roman triclinium. These were three sided tables roughly shaped in a U-pattern. Each table accommodated three people but as there were multiple tables used it would have placed two people in especially close proximity to Jesus. Those were John and Judas. We don’t know when this style of reclining at Passover became the norm. When we read the Exodus 12 account we learn that the people were instructed to eat that first Passover with their sandals on, their belongings packed, and ready to go. You almost get the sense that they ate standing up! But by the time of Jesus’ day it was common to eat reclining. The participants would rest on their left elbow, with their heads closest to the table and their feet extended away from the table. This arrangement would have placed John close to Jesus on his right. A place coveted by James and John. It would have been easy for John to lean over part way, almost leaning on Jesus as it were, to ask him about the betrayer. Meanwhile, Judas was evidently on Jesus’ left so that Jesus only had to turn part way to speak to him and hand him a piece of the flat bread. Most of these exchanges went unnoticed by the other disciples.
- As Jesus spoke of the fact of his coming betrayal and that it would be accomplished by one of the 12, he grew increasingly troubled. This is the third time that we read in this gospel of Jesus being troubled. In chapter 11 Jesus was troubled at the tomb of Lazarus, and in chapter 12 he was troubled at the prospect of the cross. Peter noticed Jesus’ agitated spirit and heard him speak of a betrayer. From his position at the table, Peter signaled John that he should ask Jesus who it was that would betray him. Jesus, evidently in a whisper because the others didn’t know about the signal, told John that it would be the one with whom he dipped his bread. No sooner had he spoken those words to John but he then dipped the bread and handed it to Judas. Evidently, with Judas right beside Jesus another whisper was all that was needed to exhort Judas to carry out the evil deed. But the other disciples did not understand what was going on. In fact, they seemed to assume the best about Judas thinking he was simply going out to get more supplies.
- We are struck by the statement that Jesus was troubled in his spirit. Pastor John MacArthur, in a sermon entitled “Jesus and Judas” lists a number of reasons as to why Jesus was troubled in his spirit. “He was troubled because of the unrequited love of Judas; He was troubled because of the ingratitude in Judas’ heart; He was troubled because He had a deep hatred of sin and it was sitting right next to Him, sin incarnate; He was troubled because He was shrinking about from contact with the one about to betray Him; He was troubled because He knew of the eternal destiny in Hell; He was troubled because He could see with His omnipotent eye Satan moving around Judas; He was troubled because He had a knowledge of the sin of the betrayer and the terrors of his eternal punishment; He was troubled because He sensed all that sin and death meant; He was troubled because He had an inner awareness that Judas was a classic illustration of the wretchedness of sin, sin which He would have to bear in His own body on the next day, sin for which He would be made responsible, and would die for. To make it personal, Jesus endured all of that trouble and more to secure your salvation.”
- It is also interesting that the action of sharing bread with Jesus was considered a fulfillment of Psalm 41:9 which is actually one of the Psalms written around the time of Absalom’s conspiracy (Psalms 38-41). One of the most hurtful events at that dangerous time in King David’s life was the betrayal of his trusted advisor, Ahithophel. The Bible says in 2 Samuel 16:23 that the counsel of Ahithophel in those days was so sound it was like hearing the word of God. David had benefitted greatly from his counsel and had learned to greatly value it. But Ahithophel turned against David, counseled Absalom to violate some of David’s concubines thus affirming that he had thrown off David’s authority as King. It proved successful in signaling to all of Israel that Absalom was taking David’s place as king. During that dark time David prayed that God would turn the counsel of Ahithophel to foolishness and God used the contradicting counsel of Hushai to do that. Why did Ahithophel turn against David? Although he had been held in honor for some time, Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba. It would seem that long standing bitterness over David’s adultery (rape) with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah had been held in Ahithophel’s heart. He saw Absalom’s rebellion as a perfect time to get back at David when he was most vulnerable. The story of Ahithophel is a tragedy. So is the story of Judas. Jesus loved Judas. Jesus chose Judas. Jesus had welcomed Judas as a member of the 12 even though he knew he would one day betray him. Jesus had washed the feet of Judas. But Judas had rejected Jesus and determined to see him harmed just as Ahithophel wanted to see David harmed. Bitterness is a powerful but destructive motivator in the human spirit.
- It is no wonder, then, that our text reveals that Jesus was deeply troubled in his spirit (v. 21). He knew exactly what was taking place. He felt keenly the betrayal of Judas. He understood fully the hatred of Satan. He knew what evil forces were at work. And yet he knew it was all a part of God’s sovereign plan. The truth of that plan did not erase the sense of hurt, betrayal, and even sorrow for his disciples knowing there was no way they could possibly understand all that was taking place. It was a dark time. Oh how dark the night!
G. There is no question that we should see this reference to the night as being both literal and symbolical. Night represents the antithesis of Jesus, who is the light. It is the darkness of unbelief and opposition where people stumble and find themselves in a fruitless search for life (see 21:3). It was the setting of Nicodemus, a man who would choose to leave the darkness and be reborn to join Jesus (19:39). Therefore, Judas represents a person described in 3:19, “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” We even read in Luke 22 where Jesus described the moment in the Garden of Gethsemane as being a time when “darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).
II. The Brightness of the Light (vv. 31-35)
- With the departure of Judas a turning point occurs in the dynamic between Jesus and his disciples. Truly, he is now privately meeting with the chosen ones who will carry out his commission and launch the church. What he has to communicate to them is very powerful and very loving. These will literally be his final instructions for them.
- Jesus’ hour is at hand. It has been referenced frequently in this gospel and Jesus even declared it in 12:23 but now, literally, it was beginning. That’s what Jesus inferred when he said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him” (13:31). Except for Jesus’ personal exchange with Peter at the very end of this chapter he was addressing the entire group. It is his Farewell Discourse. He not only spoke to them frankly about his departure but he even prayed a departure prayer in their presence (17). The Scriptures afford us other farewell remarks. Moses’ farewell in Deuteronomy 31-34, Joshua’s farewell in Joshua 23-24, David’s last words in 2 Samuel 23, and the Apostle Paul’s farewell in 2 Timothy 3. There are even examples of a transfer of authority such as Moses’ transfer to Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:9) and Elijah’s transfer to Elisha (2 Kings 2:9-14). Jesus’ farewell has some of all of these elements. He encouraged, comforted, urged, and made promises to his disciples. His words fit all the characteristics of a Jewish farewell. This makes the content of v. 33 even more significant. Jesus will depart but his departure will be with a purpose, a saving purpose and a future blessing in return, reunion, and eternal glory.
- This section ends with an important emphasis on glorification. The glory of God had been missing from Israel for centuries. Although it was very evident at the Tabernacle in Moses’ day and at the Temple in Solomon’s day, the glory had departed. Although the Temple would be rebuilt after the Exile and King Herod would greatly expand it with human grandeur, it lacked the Shekinah glory of God. But that glory had come back in Jesus. As he lived a life of perfect obedience he was a reflection of God’s glory. When he goes to the cross he will reveal God’s glory. Someday, when he comes again to reign we will see even more of his glory. But in this discourse Jesus has something special to say to the disciple—something that will be expanded and emphasized in chapter 15. It is to be found in the giving of a new commandment. “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.”
- The idea of love is not a new idea. But the explanation that Jesus’ disciples are to love in the same way he loved is something dramatic. His example of washing their feet taught them the importance of humble, sacrificial love. The commandment that they were to love each other in this way so that the world will know that they are his true disciples bodes all kinds of challenge for their futures. Jesus’ love was reflected in his willing and complete obedience to the Father, even to the death on the cross. Since Jesus’ love included a willingness to sacrifice, Jesus was calling them also to a willingness to sacrifice.
- This is exactly why early Christianity was so powerful that it turned the world upside down. Christians defined love as being willing to even give their lives. In fact, the testimony of Scripture was that they loved not their lives even unto death (Revelation 12:11). The tragedy of Judas provides the dark fabric against which the light and joy of true Christianity shines brilliantly. We are called to be that light. We are called to demonstrate that love.
- Nothing so astonishes a fractured world as a community in which radical, faithful, genuine love is shared among its members. There are many places you can go to find communities of shared interest. There are many places you can go to find people like yourself, who live for sports or music or gardening or politics. But it is the mandate of the church to become a community of love, a circle of Christ’s followers who invest in one another because Christ has invested in them, who exhibit love not based on the mutuality and attractiveness of its members, but on the model of Christ, who washed the feet of everyone that day, even Judas.
Conclusion: Today’s text is a classic example of the author purposefully taking us on a journey of his design. Everything recorded in this text is there for a special reason. John had had over 60 years to reflect on the whole Judas episode and what he should have learned from it. His insights, which came later, are shared with us in deliberate fashion in this passage. The Judas story reveals the sinfulness of our human hearts. The Jesus story reveals the graciousness of God’s heart of mercy.