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Lesson 73: From the Light into the Night (John 13:21-30)

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November 23, 2014

I’m not a country music fan, but sometimes when I’m driving for long distances, it’s the only thing on the radio, so I’ll listen for a short time. Invariably, you’ll hear a song around the theme, “I loved her but she didn’t love me; now I’m as sad as I can be.” We may chuckle at the songs, but if it’s ever happened to you, you know that it’s really painful to love someone but not to have your love returned; or, even worse, for the one you love deliberately to hurt you.

That’s true not only for romantic relationships, but also for friends of the same sex. If you’ve ever had a trusted friend turn on you and attack you, it hurts! It’s surely one of life’s most emotionally painful experiences.

To relate to that emotional pain is to understand, in part, why Jesus became troubled in spirit as He thought about Judas in the Upper Room on the night of the betrayal (John 13:21). There were other things, besides Judas’ calloused heart, which troubled Jesus that evening. (We’ll consider those things later.) But Jesus was troubled not only with the personal pain of Judas’ betrayal, but also because He knew that Judas was leaving the Light of the world and stepping into the darkness of hell. When John states (John 13:30), “and it was night,” he means more than the fact that it was dark outside. It is always night when a person rejects God’s love and goes into the darkness of eternity without God. It was especially “night” when the “son of perdition” betrayed the spotless Son of God into the hands of evil men.

To understand our text, you need to realize that Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper, where the men are seated next to one another on the same side of a long table, is historically incorrect. Rather, the men were reclining at a low U-shaped table. They leaned on their left elbow with their feet going out from the table so that they could eat with their right hand. Jesus was at the bottom of the U. John was to His right, so that it would have been easy for him to lean back on Jesus’ chest and whisper in His ear (John 13:25), “Lord, who is it?” Peter was sitting across from John so that he could gesture to him to find out who the betrayer was.

Judas was probably at Jesus’ left, in the seat of honor, as one last gesture of love from Jesus toward Judas. After Jesus announced that one of the twelve would betray Him, Judas asked (Matt. 26:25), “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” Jesus replied, “You have said it yourself.” That conversation had to be whispered in private as Jesus leaned back toward Judas. Otherwise, the other disciples would have known that Judas was the betrayer and they would not have thought (as John 13:28-29 reports) that Judas went out either to buy food for the feast or to give some funds to the poor.

If Judas was reclining immediately to Jesus’ left, He easily could have handed Judas the morsel of bread that was dipped in a sauce and handed to the guest of honor as a gesture of love and friendship. So Jesus was reaching out to Judas right up till the end. There is a mystery here in that Judas was betraying Jesus in fulfillment of Scripture (John 13:18; cf. Ps. 41:9). In that sense, Judas’ sin was foreordained. And yet, Judas was fully responsible for his sin. He couldn’t blame God for predetermining it. He couldn’t blame Satan, who entered into his heart immediately after he received the morsel from Jesus (John 13:27). Although Satan empowered Judas to carry out the betrayal, Judas was responsible for doing it. After Satan entered Judas, Jesus ratified the evil choice that Judas had made by saying (John 13:27), “What you do, do quickly.”

Two themes emerge from John’s portrayal of these events: the light of Jesus’ glory and the awful darkness of human sin:

Judas’ betrayal of Jesus gives us deeper understanding of Christ’s glory and also of the depths of human sin.

Judas’ betrayal is like the black velvet against which the diamond of Christ’s glory shines all the brighter.

1. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus gives us deeper understanding of Christ’s glory.

There are at least five sides of Jesus’ glory that shine through in this story:

A. We see Jesus’ glory in His inscrutable wisdom in choosing a man like Judas to be one of His apostles.

In the aftermath of Judas’ treachery, the other disciples must have wondered, “Why did Jesus choose Judas to be an apostle?” Did He not know the corrupt heart and the character flaws that would cause Judas to do such a thing? If He didn’t know, it would seem to undermine His credentials as the Messiah. But if He did know, then why would He pick such a despicable character?

We know that before Jesus chose the twelve, He spent the night in prayer (Luke 6:12). Knowing fully the Father’s plan for the cross, which He came to fulfill, He picked Judas as one of the twelve. Also, we saw in John 6:70-71 that Jesus knew all along that Judas would betray Him: “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?’ Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.” In John 13:18, Jesus indicates that Judas’ betrayal was so that the Scripture may be fulfilled, “He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.”

As we’ve seen throughout John’s Gospel, the Father sent Jesus to earth to do His will. At the center of that will was our salvation, where Jesus would offer Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. So Jesus’ choice of Judas as an apostle, knowing full well that he would betray Him, shows Jesus’ full obedience to do the will of the Father, even when that will led to the cross.

None of the disciples understood the necessity of the cross until after Jesus’ resurrection. So they couldn’t understand at the time why He would have chosen Judas, who played a key part in the events leading toward the cross. Jesus’ choosing Judas to be an apostle underscores the truth of Isaiah 55:8, that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. There is an application here for us: Many times we do not understand why God does what He does or allows certain trials into our lives, but we have to trust Him. Maybe a close friend or even your mate has betrayed you. Perhaps part of the reason God allowed it was so that you could enter more deeply into understanding the sufferings of Christ. Jesus’ choice of Judas displayed Jesus’ glory, even though the other apostles may not have understood it at first.

B. We see Jesus’ glory in Judas’ later testimony to Jesus’ innocence.

Judas’ defection later provided an impartial witness to Christ’s moral purity (some of these points are from A. W. Pink, Exposition of John [on monergism.com], on John 6:60-71). Judas later testified in his remorse (Matt. 27:4), “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” Judas had known Jesus closely for three years, and yet he couldn’t come up with a single reason to justify his own treachery against Him. As Jesus rhetorically asked His enemies (John 8:46), “Which one of you convicts Me of sin?” No one could because Jesus was without sin.

C. We see Jesus’ glory in His deity and humanity juxtaposed.

We see Jesus’ deity in that He was in sovereign control over all the events surrounding His death. As He said regarding laying down His own life (John 10:18), “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” He was in control over the Jews, who didn’t want to crucify Him at the Passover because of their fear of the crowd. But it was God’s will for His Passover Lamb to be sacrificed during the Passover. And He was in control of when Judas would betray Him, as seen in His words (John 13:27), “What you do, do quickly.”

But we also see Jesus’ humanity in that Judas’ defection deeply troubled Jesus (John 13:21). Even though He was sovereign over all these events, Jesus wasn’t a stoic actor, just playing a role but detached from the real emotions of what was happening. As Hebrews 5:7 says, Jesus “offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears ….” He was fully God and fully man.

C. We see Jesus’ glory in the trouble He went through for our souls.

John MacArthur (sermon, “Jesus and Judas,” on gty.org) lists many reasons that Jesus was troubled in spirit on this occasion:

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.

D. We see Jesus’ glory in His patience and love toward Judas right to the end.

Even though Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray Him, He did not remove him from the apostolic circle. As I said, it’s likely that here at the Last Supper, Judas was seated in the place of honor, where Jesus honored him by giving him the morsel. Jesus didn’t reveal what He knew of Judas’ evil heart to the other disciples to try to get them to take action against him. He treated Judas with the same patience and grace as He treated the other disciples, since none of them suspected that Judas was the betrayer. Again, there is a divine mystery that we cannot comprehend, how Jesus knew that Judas was predetermined to be the betrayer (Matt. 26:24), and yet He genuinely loved Judas and held out to him the offer of salvation right to the end.

We see Jesus’ glory in the same way today. He endures the hostility of sinners against Him (Heb. 12:3) with amazing patience and love. When I see the wickedness of this world, especially the blasphemies that are brazenly spoken against Jesus, I want to cry out, “Lord, just blast these evildoers off the planet!” That day will come. As Peter points out (2 Pet. 3:10), “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” But to back up one verse, Peter explains why that day is delayed (2 Pet. 3:9): “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” If you have not yet repented of your sins and trusted in Christ, He is patiently, lovingly entreating you to come to Him for eternal life while you still can.

So as we see Jesus and Judas we should grow deeper in seeing the glory of our Savior. But there is another side to the story:

2. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus should give us deeper understanding of the terrible depths of human sin.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Darkness and Light [Baker], p. 52) observed,

It is people who have the deepest understanding of sin and what it means who have the greatest understanding and appreciation of the love and the grace and the mercy and the kindness of God. A superficial view of sin leads to a superficial view of salvation, and to a superficial view of everything else.

In a similar vein, he wrote elsewhere (God’s Way of Reconciliation [Baker], p. 201),

In order to measure the love of God you have first to go down before you can go up. You do not start on the level and go up. We have to be brought up from a dungeon, from a horrible pit; and unless you know something of the measure of that depth you will only be measuring half the love of God.

So let’s “go down” by learning five lessons from Judas’ sin so that these lessons will give us a greater understanding of God’s love and grace:

A. Judas shows us the awful nature of sin.

Before we start throwing stones at Judas and saying, “How could he do such a thing?” we need to realize that apart from God’s grace, we’re all just like he was. We all had the seeds of betraying Christ in our hearts before God graciously saved us.

Think of what Judas had witnessed in his three years of close association with Jesus! He had heard Jesus’ teaching, both in public and in private. He had witnessed most of Jesus’ miracles. He had seen Jesus’ grace and love toward the ungrateful and unlovely. He had never seen any hint of sin in Jesus, whether in public or in private. And yet he betrayed Jesus to the Jewish leaders for a few lousy pieces of silver!

James Boice (The Gospel of John [Zondervan], 1-vol. ed., p. 894) points out that Judas teaches us that sinners need more than a good example to be saved. Judas had the best example who has ever lived, but he was still dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). Unless the Holy Spirit imparts new life, sinners are not capable of repenting of sin, believing in Christ, and reforming their lives. That is why Jesus told the religious Nicodemus (John 3:7), “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”

B. Judas shows us that Jesus supplies religious sinners with a solemn warning.

Judas is one of many warnings in the Bible that especially apply to religious people. Religious people are often blind to their need for the new birth. They grew up in the church. They know all the religious jargon. They can quote Scripture. They have served in various ministries. Perhaps they even have theological training. But, like Judas, they have never repented of their sins.

The apostle Paul was like that before his conversion. He took great pride in his religious heritage. He was more zealous than many of his contemporaries in persecuting the church, which he considered to be apostate from the Jewish faith. But God had to strike Paul down on the Damascus Road and bring him to see that all of his religious self-righteousness was garbage compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:1-11).

So if you grew up in the church (as I did) and are familiar with religious matters, the warning is for you: You need the new birth just as much as Judas did. You need to repent of your self-righteousness and come to God as a guilty sinner to receive the mercy that is offered at the cross.

C. Judas shows us that we can expect to find hypocrites among the followers of Jesus.

Often skeptics will say that they don’t believe in Jesus because of all the hypocrites in the church. You should answer them, “Yes, and there are hypocrites in the world, too. There was a hypocrite among the original disciples. But that doesn’t invalidate who Jesus was. The key issue is who Jesus is, not whether some of His professed followers are hypocrites. Just make sure that you’re not a hypocrite!”

Keep in mind that Judas didn’t look like a villain in a dark coat, gloating over how he was going to profit at Jesus’ expense. When Jesus announced that one of the twelve would betray Him, the other eleven didn’t all turn toward Judas and cry out, “There’s the dirty rat!” Rather, each one was deeply grieved and said (Matt. 26:22), “Surely not I, Lord?” Even when Judas left the room to do his dirty deed, the others did not suspect him. John, who had just found out, was probably too shocked to say anything. If Peter understood that it was Judas, he was too stunned to say anything. The rest thought that Judas was just going out to buy more food or to give alms to the poor. Judas had played his role beautifully!

Hypocrites can fool other people, but they never fool God, who looks on the heart. We shouldn’t be shocked, although we often are, when a respected church leader turns away from the faith. It doesn’t shock the Lord, who knows and keeps all who are truly His. He warns the disciples in advance so that Judas’ defection will not shake their faith. Keep your focus on Jesus, not on those who fall away.

D. Judas gives us a warning about our inner motives.

Why did Judas become a disciple of Jesus? Probably he thought that Jesus would set up a political kingdom and Judas would be in line for a top job in the new administration. Even James and John had aspirations about sitting at Jesus’ right and left in the kingdom (Matt. 20:20-23). But things weren’t going quite as Judas had hoped. Jesus was talking more and more about His death. The religious leaders weren’t lining up behind Him to support His claims to be the Messiah. And so in disappointment, Judas bailed out by betraying Jesus for a few pieces of silver.

The application is, “Why do you follow Jesus?” Most of us would have to admit that we came to Jesus for selfish reasons. We had some needs or desires and we hoped that Jesus would meet those needs. But what do you do when things don’t go as smoothly as you had expected? What do you do when rather than more blessings, you have more trials? What do you do when you discover that the path Jesus has called you to walk leads to a cross before it leads to a crown? Do you still follow Him and seek to glorify Him? Or, at such times do you turn back in disappointment or, even worse, turn against Jesus?

E. Judas shows us that we should never walk away from the opportunity to receive the love of Christ.

Jesus loved Judas. He washed Judas’ feet. He offered Judas the opportunity to repent right up to the end. But Judas walked away from the love of Jesus. Later, like Esau who could not find repentance though he sought for it with tears (Heb. 12:17), Judas felt remorse, but not repentance. He threw down his betrayal money in the temple, went away, and hanged himself.

Don’t reject the love of Christ! No matter how badly you may have sinned, the Lord Jesus graciously reaches out to you, even right now through this message, with His love. He invites all thirsty sinners to come and take the water of life without cost (Rev. 22:17). Let Judas teach you the bitter end of those who walk away from the love of Jesus. Come to Him now and you will be satisfied with His grace.

Conclusion

Alexander Whyte was a great Scottish preacher (1836-1921) who magnified the awfulness of sin and the graciousness of Christ in his sermons. But He was always more aware of his own sins than those of others. An evangelist once went to Edinburgh and criticized the ministers. A friend told Whyte, “The evangelist said last night that Dr. Hood Wilson was not a converted man.” Whyte jumped from his chair. “The rascal,” he cried. “Dr. Wilson not a converted man!”

Then the friend reported that the evangelist also said that Dr. Whyte was not converted. At that, Whyte stopped short, sat down, put his face in his hands, and was silent for a long time. Then he said to the visitor, “Leave me, friend leave me! I must examine my heart!” (In Warren Wiersbe, Walking with the Giants [Baker], p. 92.)

That’s the effect that the story of Judas should have on us. We should soberly examine our own hearts before God.

Application Questions

  1. When you encounter a difficult trial, what are some ways that you can more deeply see Christ’s glory in the trial? How does Satan seek to tempt you to doubt Christ’s glory (1 Pet. 5:6-11)?
  2. Has the failure of a spiritual leader ever caused your faith to waver? What lessons can be learned from such tragedies?
  3. What is the difference between moralistic religion and the new birth? How would you counsel a person who wanted be sure that he has been born again?
  4. We’re all prone to be hypocrites by saving face and by trying to please people. What are some practical ways to fight this?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Glory, Hamartiology (Sin)