The TroubledRev. Philip Miller | April 18, 2021
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus is in the Upper Room with His disciples just hours before His crucifixion, and John wants us to focus on the magnitude of what’s happening. As Pastor Miller takes us through these passages, he’ll point out three astonishing realities about Jesus: He’s fully aware and in command, He resembles His Father, and He faithfully pursues His disciples. And, most importantly, Pastor Miller reminds us that no matter how far we’ve run from Jesus, He has not given up on us.
When a film director wants the audience to focus in on the magnitude of what’s happening in any particular scene, what they will often do is bring the shot in close, up close, zoomed in, and they will slow the pace down, slow everything down so you can see what’s going on. And that’s something of what John is doing, our author, in his Gospel here in chapters 13 to 17. These five chapters all take place in one evening in the life of Jesus. Jesus is in the Upper Room with His disciples just hours prior to His crucifixion the following day. And John, who has covered three years in twelve chapters now takes five chapters dedicated to one evening in the life of Jesus. He brings the shot in tight. He slows everything down because he wants us to focus. He wants us to see the magnitude of what’s happening. He wants us to see everything.
So grab your Bibles and open them up to John, chapter 13, and we’re going to read verses 14 down to 38, to the end of the chapter today. If you don’t have a Bible with you and want to use the blue pew Bible there you can find today’s reading on page 900, and you can join us there.
You will recall from last week that Jesus has just washed His disciples’ feet, and last week we worked our way all the way down to verse 17. But to refresh our thoughts with Jesus’ train of thought, we’re going to begin reading here in verse 14 down to the end of the chapter. This is the word of the Lord.
John 13, verse 14: “‘If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.’
“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 had 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.’”
Thanks be to the Lord for the reading of His Word.
Now, this account in this chapter is fairly straightforward. There’s not a lot here that is confusing, but as I reflected this week on this passage there were three astonishing realities that jumped out to me that I want to share with you this morning. Three astonishing realities: First is Jesus’ Full Awareness, secondly, it’s Jesus’ Family Resemblance, and thirdly, Jesus’ Faithful Pursuit.
Jesus’ Full awareness, Family Resemblance, and Faithful Pursuit; three astonishing realities for us this morning. As we jump into God’s Word, would you pray with me?
Father, we ask now that you would help us see Jesus in all of His glory and all of His tenderness, in all of His love. Help us respond to Him today. In Jesus name we pray, Amen. Amen.
The first astonishing reality that we’re going to see this morning is Jesus’ Full Awareness. Jesus’ full awareness. When you read this account, you can’t help but notice just how fully aware Jesus is of everything that is going on in His situation. He’s in full awareness. He’s in full command. He’s about to be betrayed and crucified, and none of this will take Him by surprise.
Remember, if you will, how John introduced this chapter last week. In verse one he said that Jesus knew that His hour had come. In verse 3 he told us that He knew He had come from God and was returning to God. He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands. We know from this chapter that Jesus knows that He’s about to be betrayed. In verse 10 He says, “For not all of you are clean.” Remember, because He knew who was to betray Him (verse 11). And in verse 18, He says it here, “But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am—” “I am he,” it says in your translation, but it’s actually, the “he,” the pronoun, is actually not in the Greek. It’s just “I am.” This is the divine name of God.
So this betrayal that is coming at the hands of Judas is no surprise to Jesus. It’s foretold in the Scriptures. It’s foretold by Jesus Himself.
In verse 21, “After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’” Jesus knows what’s coming, and when John asks privately of Jesus who will be the one to betray him in verse 26, Jesus answers, “‘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.”
So Jesus here identifies His betrayer ahead of time, doesn’t He? And of course, He’s the one who dispatches Judas on his way in verse 27, saying, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” And off Judas runs to betray Jesus for thirty shekels of Tyrian silver. And, of course, Jesus also calls out Peter’s denial in advance as well, doesn’t He? Verse 38: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”
So everything is about to go down, and it appears that everything is spinning out of control. One of Jesus’ inner circle will betray Him with a kiss. The disciples will flee. Peter will deny Him. He will be beaten and condemned and mocked and crucified. And it looks like everything is going terribly wrong, except Jesus has called His shot. Do you see that? He knew all along what was going to happen, and everything is right on schedule.
John 10:18 says, remember, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Now, this is what’s astonishing to me. Jesus sees the pain that’s coming and faces it head-on. Jesus sees the pain that’s coming, and faces it head-on. If you knew someone was going to betray you, stab you in the back, someone in your inner circle, if you knew who it was, and exactly what they were about to do, wouldn’t you try to get ahead of it? Wouldn’t you, if you knew one of your closest friends would leave you in the dust, deny that they ever knew you, and you knew all the details, right, down to when the rooster will crow, wouldn’t you change course? If you knew there was a plot to murder you, a corrupt trial at the hands of abusive authorities, and you knew everything ahead of time, wouldn’t you go into hiding?
And it’s not like Jesus didn’t have second thoughts. In verse 21 here we see that He was troubled in His spirit, disturbed. The other Gospels describe His distress in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. No, Jesus is very human. He gets it, but in the end Jesus sees the pain that’s coming and He faces it head-on with astonishing courage. He’s fully aware of the pain that awaits Him, which means He’s fully aware of how hurtful life can be.
And here’s your takeaway for this first point. Jesus knows how hurtful life is. Jesus knows how hurtful life is.
Have you ever stopped to realize that Jesus really knows how painful and broken and hard life is? Isaiah 53:3–4 says this of the Son of Man: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Friends, have you ever been abandoned? Have you ever been betrayed? Have you ever been forsaken? Have you ever been hurt? Have you ever been abused? Have you ever been the victim of injustice? Jesus has. Jesus knows. Jesus cares. He could have avoided all of it, but He faced it for us. His full awareness is astonishing.
Secondly, the second astonishing reality I see here is Jesus’ Family Resemblance. His family resemblance. At the very heart of this chapter is Jesus’ commandment, right? His commandment here, verse 34: “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.”
Now Judas has left the room at this point and Jesus is alone with His chosen few, and He gives this new commandment. Now there’s nothing new about the commandment to love one another. Jesus has said this before, but what is new is how Jesus defines love. “Just as I have loved you, you are to love on another.” How did Jesus love? Well, He just washed their feet, didn’t He? It is a selfless, sacrificial, and servant-hearted love. He has made Himself the servant of all. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” And it will be a sign to the watching world. Verse 35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So there’ a cascading effect here, you see, that Jesus has served His disciples in love, and now the disciples are to serve one another in love, in order that this loving service may be seen by all people who will know these are indeed the disciples of Jesus Christ. It is a cascade from Jesus to the disciples, and from the disciples now to be seen by all people.
But this loving service doesn’t actually start with Jesus. It’s very interesting. Its origins go further up the food chain, if you will. Look at how He introduces this commandment. Wind all the way back to verse 31: “Now is the Son of Man glorified,” Jesus says, “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.’”
So Jesus here is talking once again about His hour of glory, that He will die, that He will be buried, that He will rise again and He will ascend to the right hand of majesty on high where He will be enthroned in glory forever. And notice the language here, this inter-trinitarian language. It’s amazing. The Son is glorified right now, and if the Father glorifies the Son, serving the Son in love, and God the Father will be glorified in the Son, which means the Son will also be glorified in the Father. Notice all this inter-glory, this inter-dependent glory here, the Father in the Son, and the Son in the Father, and the glory that is both and shared and esteemed from one to the other. So the Son brings glory to the Father as He serves Him in love, and the Father glorifies the Son, serving Him in love and exalting Him above all, and as the Son receives glory, the Father is glorified, and as the Father receives glory from the Son, the Son is glorified, because it is the glory of the Son, you see, to glorify the Father. And it is the glory of the Father, you see, to glorify the Son. They both are selflessly serving, loving, giving glory one to the other.
And so this loving service that now Jesus commands to His disciples is a family resemblance, you see, from Father to Son, and Jesus now enters into the role of a father to His disciples. That’s why He calls them little children in verse 33. It is a family resemblance that’s cascading from Father to Son, from Son to disciples, from disciples to all people, that they might see and know whose they are, what family they belong to.
This loving, selfless service, you see, flows from the very heart of God through Jesus into the children of God so that all people everywhere might know that we belong to the family of God.
Now, think who Jesus is addressing here. He’s talking to eleven people who are about to abandon Him in the night, one of whom will deny he even ever knew Jesus three times. They are not very good at “loving one another just as I have loved you.” Is that a fair statement? Not yet. Not this night, but one day they will be good at it. Because the very next day Jesus will go to the cross, and in the greatest act of loving service He will lay down His life.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13); “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10); and having secured their redemption in love He sends the Holy Spirit in love to fill them, and guide them, and lead them in the way of love, for “the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22); and love is the greatest of all (1 Corinthians 13:13); and “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
And don’t you see, Jesus commands of us what He then works in us. Jesus commands of us what He then works in us. Jesus commands His disciples to love as He loves, knowing full well the weakness that is in them. And seeing that weakness He still redeems them, and fills them with His spirit, and works in them a kind of love they could never have had otherwise, the divine love of God itself. For as Philippians 2:13 says, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to act for his good pleasure.” It is God who works in you, both to will (to desire it), and to act (the doing of it) so that we might fulfill His good pleasure. Both the doing and the desire, friends, are from God.
Hebrews 13:21 says God is working in us “that which is pleasing in his sight.” God is working in us what is pleasing in His sight. In other words, Jesus loves us into loveliness. Jesus loves us into loveliness. Friends, Jesus takes unlovely people, even though we’re a mess, the disciples and us, and in love, gives Himself for us, and in love, imparts Himself to us, and in love, works Himself through us, so we begin to love as He first loved us. His love is making us lovely. He’s loving us into loveliness. He is making us like Himself, the family resemblance, you see. It’s astonishing.
The third astonishing reality here is Jesus’ Faithful Pursuit. Jesus’ faithful pursuit. Isn’t it astonishing how Jesus pursues these disciples in faithful love here? Ten of them will flee in the dark as soon as He is arrested. One of them will deny Jesus, that he ever knew Him, three times. And one of them will betray Him, in cold calculated anger, to the religious authorities. But there’s not a hint, is there, of anger or distance on Jesus’ part here? Not a bit. No, the whole text, the whole chapter He’s drawing them close. He washes all of their feet. He shares a meal. He’s opening His heart. And even when Peter, at the close here, misjudges his own loyalty to Jesus, pledging (in verse 37), “I will lay down my life for you,” there’s not a bit of anger in Jesus’ simple reply here in verse 38, “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.” There’s no bitterness here. No, in love, Jesus continues to draw close to Peter, even though He knows he will disown Him multiple times. This is astonishing.
But what’s even more astonishing to me is how Jesus pursues Judas to the very end here. I mean, this is His betrayer, and Jesus takes off His outer garment and wraps a towel around His waist and washes Judas’s feet. Who does that? And He’s giving Judas one last chance to repent. Do you see that? He’s trying to woo his heart back from the brink.
He even calls him out, verse 11, “Not all of you are clean.” Judas is supposed to realize what that means. Verse 18: “One of you eating my bread will lift your heel against me.” Verse 21: “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” You can’t get any clearer than that. These three warning shots, three appeals, three chances, “Come back, Judas.” And he takes none of them. And I’m amazed at how close Jesus brings Judas to Himself.
Now, I may be wrong in what I’m about to tell you. Okay? So there’s certain things that are absolutely true. We go to the bank on them. And then we have theories. This is a Philip Miller theory. I’m not alone on this, but let me share my thought here.
So they’re sitting around at this meal, and they’re reclining. They ate reclining in the first century. So they’re leaning heads toward each other in a circle, feet out like spokes of a wheel. Okay? Leaning probably on a cushion with the plates in the center, and they’re using their hand to eat. Right hand is considered clean in the middle east, and so they are eating with their right hands, leaning on their left elbows. Okay? This is their posture.
In verse 23, one of His disciples, the one Jesus loved (That’s our John. That’s our author, John.) was reclining at the table with Jesus at his side. Okay? And when Peter wants to know what’s going on, Peter is too far away from Jesus to ask Him directly. He has to ask John, and John has to ask Jesus. They have this whispered conversation about “Psst. Who is it?” Right? And John, verse 25, leans back against Jesus’ chest and asks Him a question. “Hey Jesus—” Okay. So we know that Jesus is on His left elbow. That means John must be on Jesus’ right-hand side, leaning back against Jesus. Okay? We know where John is.
There are two seats of honor, of course, to the left and to the right of Jesus. John is in one of the places of honor. Okay? Jesus would have asked him, “John, I’d like you to sit by me tonight.” Okay? Who’s on the other side? Here’s the question. We know it’s not Peter because Peter would have just asked. Right? Peter’s over here somewhere probably (Points further to his right). And I can’t prove this for certain, but think about it with me. Jesus says, “‘It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.’ So when He had dipped the morsel (This in verse 26), he gave it to Judas, [the] son of Simon Iscariot.” If John is on Jesus’ right, and Jesus is on his left elbow, and Judas is within reach, okay? It would be hard for Jesus to reach around John to the right, and with twelve people at the table, they are pretty spaced out going around in a circle. So I think the most likely scenario is that Jesus reaches with this piece of bread over His shoulder, and Judas is actually on His left.
I may be wrong, but I think that’s the best reconstruction here, which means Jesus would have asked him to sit by Him for this last meal, that Jesus is honoring Judas to the very last moment. He’s drawing him close. He’s pursuing him to the very end.
Now, you don’t need to buy my seating-chart theory here, because Jesus also washes his feet. Jesus also calls him three times to repent. Jesus is pursuing him to the end. Do you see that? Jesus relentlessly pursues those who betray Him. Jesus relentlessly pursues those who betray Him.
He relentlessly pursues Judas. He relentlessly pursues Peter. He relentlessly pursues James, and John, and Andrew, and Nathanael. He relentlessly pursues James the younger, and Jude, or Thaddeus, and Matthew and Philip and Simon and Thomas. And friends, Jesus relentlessly pursues me and you. He relentlessly pursues you, Austin. He relentless pursues you, Debbie. He relentless pursues you, Chantel, and Jose, and Dante, and Omar, and Zara. Jesus relentlessly pursues those who betray Him because, friends, listen, we have all betrayed Jesus. Our sin is always betrayal, but in His great mercy and love, Jesus relentlessly pursues those who betray Him. He washes our feet, you see. He calls us to repent, and He seeks us in honor at His side.
Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Which means, friends, Jesus will never give up on you. Jesus will never give up on you. (applause)
Why does Jesus tell Peter that he’s gonna deny Him? Why does Jesus do that? It’s not so He could say, “Aha, I told you so later.” Right? He never does that. Why would Jesus tell Peter, “Hey, it’s going to go so bad, dude? You don’t even know. Like, you don’t even know.” Why would He call that out? I think it’s because Jesus wants Peter to realize that He knows the depths of Peter’s heart even more than Peter knows the depths of his own heart.
Peter really thought he’d die for Jesus. When push came to shove, Peter thought, “I think I’m the kind of guy who would do that.” He was wrong. He didn’t realize the weakness that ran through his own veins, but Jesus knew. And Jesus calls out Peter’s failure ahead of time, so that when Peter fails he can remember that Jesus saw all of the depths of his weakness and failure even before he knew it was in him, that Jesus saw the depths of his disloyalty, and still went to the cross for Peter. Jesus calls it out so that we will know that when Peter is faithless, Jesus remains faithful, that Jesus will never give up on Peter, and He will never give up on you. He sees the depths of our hearts, and He loves us to the very end.
Friends, no matter how hard you’ve run away from Jesus, no matter how far you’ve gone off the deep end, no matter how deep your betrayal of Jesus Christ, Jesus will never give up on you. All we have to do is come back into His arms and admit that we are sinners, believe that Jesus has done everything, everything to make us right with God, and commit ourselves to Him as our Savior and Lord, so that we might discover, like John, that we are loved by Jesus. This is astonishing and real. Aren’t you glad?
Father, the love of Christ is astonishing. If the redemption of the world had been up to us, we would have given up. We would have turned aside. We would have pulled the plug and said forget that. But, oh, the goodness and love of our Jesus. No one takes His life from Him. No, He lays it down willingly. He has authority to lay it down and to take it back up again.
What a magnificent Savior who sees all the depths of our failure and loves us to the skies. We are astonished. We marvel at His grace. We thank you in Jesus’ beautiful name, Amen.