3 | Holy Week 2020 | John 13:21-30 | Beauty Amid The Great Betrayal

Betrayal. “Et Tu Brutus, then fall Caesar…” wrote Shakespeares to capture one of history’s great betrayals. As a friend turned on another to (apparently) save an Empire. Or consider the Gun Powder plot where Guy Fawkes was brought down by one of his own. Betrayal is a word that immediately evokes memories or fears when we hear it spoken. Most who have lived have faced it in one way or another. Yet, those moments, no matter how insignificant we consider, are significant because they affect us. Betrayal is a dirty word and an awful experience. Today’s passage (John 13:21-30) takes in the greatest betrayal’s the world has known. Even as Western Culture turns away from a Christian narrative and drifts any from any basic understanding of the Bible, the name “Judas” still evokes the fullness of human disgust and anger. People do not want to be a Judas! He is the embodiment of treachery, the most hated name in history:

“Above all, though, it is Judas’s name that retains a rare power to wound. We may never darken the door of a church, but most of us still know all too well what is meant if we are accused of being a Judas, and none of us wants to hear it.” (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/11513927/The-most-hated-name-in-history.html)

In today’s passage, we see the beginning of that betrayal an act that that sets in motion the sequence of events that lead Jesus to the Cross. I find this passage hard to read and hard to think about. It is hard to see Jesus being betrayed by one who is close to him, and maybe for you (it evokes memories). Yet, there is so much good here. With Jesus, there is much to be learned: about the world and the way of the kingdom. There is even much to learn and hold to in the midst of all that is going on with Covid-19.

Betrayal at the Table (Setting)

The lectionary breaking up of this Chapter is strange and not helpful for understanding it. Tomorrow we are meant to consider John 13:1-17 and 31b-35. That makes little sense for today, so we will read our passage through the lens of John 13:1-20 because context is everything when it comes to Scripture. You can make the Bible say whatever you want by taking something out of context. But, read things in their proper order, and it should be obvious what God intended to be taught.

The narrative of John 13:1-20 is vital to our reading today. It adds to the imagery and potency of what is going on. Above all, it makes us appreciate Jesus Christ more. To read this passage without reading or referencing the Washing of the Feet would be negligent at best.

Washing the Feet of One Who Would Betray (13:1-20)

It is just before the Passover, and Jesus is gathered with the disciples for what will be one of their last occasions together. The devil has already prompted Judas to choose the path that he is set on – betrayal. Yet, Judas is there with the eleven and Jesus reclining at the table.

I wonder where his mind must have been at that time, as he surveyed the room and those with him, remembered all that they had witnessed and experienced together, all that Jesus had taught them and shown them, and yet he would still choose to betray Jesus, and the other eleven. This family was about to be torn apart, and Jesus being Jesus knew what was ahead, and he still chose to serve and love all who were present at that table. That is why he is the one we look to.

What a powerful moment as Jesus humbled himself to the role of a servant and washed the feet of his disciples (13:4-10). Jesus got down – even after the protests of Peter – and cleaned – for the Jewish person – the most disgusting part of the body. Feet that had been exposed to the dust and dirt of long arid roads. Those feet Jesus endearingly and lovingly cleaned. All this in the shadow of the Cross as Jesus offers a final proof of his love and grace. Furthermore, showing the supreme example of humility for the disciples and all who would come after him. This was a task so despised in Jewish culture that only a non-Jewish servant could perform it…. Yet, no foot was excluded, not even the feet of Judas, the betrayer. Fully aware of all that would happen, Jesus displays no hate or malice towards Judas. Only love and service. It is a beautiful moment that should challenge us. We heard about it yesterday, that to be his disciples means to look to him, and to live like him. Thus, what Jesus is displaying is an example amid darkness; and, in an example, challenge to those who want to walk with him:

“You call me ‘Teacher ’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” – John 13:13-17 NIV

As they sat there, the disciples would have been apprehensive, “Why is he doing this?” they would have thought. Jesus’s answer to them informs them that he is doing this to show them their way. They rightly recognise him as their Lord and Teacher, and one last time he teaches them that to follow him is humility, not lording it over people. He has shown them a better way, a more beautiful way – the way of the kingdom as opposed to the way of the world. In the Kingdom to lead is to serve, and to follow Jesus is to be willing to ‘wash’ whatever ‘feet’ may be in our culture. This Christian is our example, model and way if we claim to be His. It does not mean that it will be easy, but it means that we chose service or the sword, love over hate, and the way of the Kingdom over what the world expects.

The Way of the Foot Washer

Here we are challenged to love them and serve all, even those who have hurt us in some way. To walk the way of the Foot-Washer. Might we ask ourselves today, how can we serve them in a way that brings Glory and honour to God? Praying for someone now, checking in on a difficult family member in the middle of a pandemic, phoning that self-centred friend…. Regardless, let us walk the way of Christ and receive what Jesus has promised us “blessing.” Meaning that when we choose to live this way, we have grasped something of the wonder of who God is. And, what is made available to us through faith in Christ. To grasp the wonder of the Cross it to be blessed and then to willingly live like Jesus, so that others Glory in him. The is the logic of the Kingdom and the way of the foot-washer. Is this our life? In the midst of this Covid madness, let us be those who wash the feet of all.

A Sovereign God in the Worst of Situations

In crises, we often question God. Today, most people across the world are practising some form of social isolation. Fearful of what tomorrow might bring. Darkness seems to have set upon the earth. It can feel like God has lost his authority, power or worse has simply withdrawn himself. Yet, Scripture assures us that God will never forsake that which he created. He is active in the world as much as ever, regardless of what the circumstance communicate about that reality. Today we are reminded of God’s sovereign rule over the earth as Christ further speaks to the disciples in the build-up to our main passage:

“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. – ”John 13:19 NIV

Jesus quotes from Psalm 41:9 in verse 18, where King David mourned the rebellion of Absalom. Not to simply foretell what is about to happen with Judas and the dipping of bread, but to remind the disciples that God is at work. This is the imperative of verse 19. Even though the disciples will not understand it now. In their naivety of seeing Judas be sent out (for some shopping…or so they think); then in the horror of seeing Romans soldiers arrive to take Jesus following the kiss of the betrayer. Even though it may seem that their world has fallen apart. After the dust settles, and they look back not only will they understand that it was required to happen for the Salvation of humankind, they will see that God was at work the whole time.

It may be of little comfort to say it now, but the same is true for us today. As Christians, we hold to the truth that in spite of what may seem, God is at work to bring Glory to his name. If you are reading this and you are struggling or worried about this pandemic or something else in life – trust that God is at work, hold on to that certain hope amid hopelessness. Often at the moment, we cannot see clearly, but when we look back, things begin to make sense. This is what is being explained to the disciples before everything unfolds. Jesus is foretelling them that even as things descent into decay, and death, God is still sovereign.

Furthermore, we know that not only is God at work, but he will also turn all things to his glory and the good of his children! How can we know this to be true? Consider the logic of the Glory of the Cross again, that God would take the worst form of death a nation could think of and turn it into his greatest display of Glory and love. That out of death would come eternal life. The Cross is the cry of God that all things will work out for the good of those who love him. Thus as Joseph said: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20) so we believe. Today in the panic of a pandemic may we hold fast to this truth.

John 13:21-30 (NIV)

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” 22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” 25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

1 – The Beginning of Betrayal (20-27)

There is a traitor in our midst

Again we find Jesus being described as being “troubled in spirit.” Jesus is human, after all. It is a truly shocking sequence of events: Jesus moves from a “broad betrayal announcement” to a precise “it will be one of you twelve guys!“ You can picture the scene as the atmosphere of the room changes, the air almost seeming thinner. The disciples begin to think franticly: “Who does he mean…?” You can see them seated around the table looking at each other, trying not the capture the gaze of Jesus. Wondering to themselves: “Does he think I am going to betray him? Was it something I said or did?”

All confused and looking somewhere for an answer, and as chaos reigns Judas just sitting there. I would love to know at that point what was he thinking, was he having doubts. You can see eleven looking anywhere for an answer. Then it clicks with them: John is close to Jesus maybe he will be able to get something out of him, so they motion to Peter who motion’s to John…. “Ask him who he means!” John both awkwardly and eagerly shifts position at the table, and leans into Jesus, you can almost feel the tension in his voice, the heaviness of his words as he asks:

“Lord, who is it?” (v25)

At this point, the narrative has shifted from the crowd to two. The disciples cannot hear what is being said here, they are still waiting to understand, to figure out what is going on. For the disciples’ everything is about to change, and, it is only going to get worse as the scene broadens to three people: John (the one whom Jesus loved), Jesus (The Christ), and Judas (The Betrayer) on the other side. A best friend to the left of him, and a traitor on the right, oh how Jesus must have felt. Jesus informs John how to identify the one who will betray him as he explains that he who will receive the bread after it has been being dipped into the cup will be then who will hand him over. As soon as those words are spoken the action is taken – the pace almost too much for John to process this new information – and Judas is offered the bread by Jesus (An act of friendship and honour in itself), and takes it. It is done. Satan enters him, and a more sinister force takes over as events are set in motion than cannot be stopped. The betrayal has begun, but there is hope amid this darkness.

1.1 – The Beauty of Jesus

The beauty of Jesus Christ here is highlighted by the ugliness of Judas. The selflessness of The Son of God highlighted by the selfishness of a son of man. There is much to draw out of this exchange and narrative, but our understanding is helped by the whole narrative of Chapter 13. Jesus washing all twelve pairs of feet and called the disciples to live out the same humility and love. Even with the weight of worry, and a troubled soul, Jesus committed to what he was ordained to do and used the time he had left to further instruct his followers. This is Jesus! This is our saviour, and this is why he is worth trusting in; because it the face of the worst of humanity it brings out the best in him. That he would serve, love and go to the Cross to give us life. Do you see it? Can you see his beauty, his worthiness not just to be our Saviour but to be our Lord? Can you see why to walk his path (the Way of Cross) to live his life (dying to live), is the only one to live?

1.2 – The Beauty of His Example

What can be learned for the follower of Jesus in all of this confusion? Firstly, the reality of wolves among sheep. In Matthew 7, Jesus warns the disciples and those listening:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit, you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles?” – Matthew 7:15-16 NIV

Today’s scene is the embodiment of that teaching. Judas was a Wolf in Sheep’s clothing. For three years he had walked with the disciples, sat at the feet of Jesus, watched him perform countless miracles, joined in the missions, seen the dead rise, blind given sight and communities turned upside down. Yet, with all that, he still has chosen to worship his own gods rather than God Incarnate.

Thus, we learn something of the reality of the Christian community – there will be those among us, who look like us, see the same things, hear the same truths and Gospel proclaimed. Yet, they will worship at their own alters, and seek to use Christ for their own advantages. Then, at some point, they will betray Jesus and with him us. Today we learn the way of the Foot Washer, that we are to be as Christ too Judas with those sort of people. That is why it was important to spend so much time considering the start of John 13 – to understand the lesson in the text. The lesson that the disciples would learn in hindsight we learn with proper sight. As we live in the community we live like Christ, we humble ourselves and serve, love and give with cost. We die to ourselves so that others might live. Even to those who might have hurt us and remain in the community! Why? Because if we are Christs then in him we have all received our all. Let us consider our own living, and our own community and how Christ is calling us to serve there.

2. Beauty and Hope amid Betrayal (28-30)

2.1 – The Light of Hope

Judas has made his choice, Satan entered him, and the betrayal has begun. It is one of the most disturbing scenes in the Gospels. Darkness now reigns. Symbolised to Johns reference “it was night.” Yet, in this darkness, there is light, in chaos hope, and in vileness, there is beauty. In one sentence Jesus reminds us who is in control: “What you are about to do, do quickly.” In the vilest of situations God is still sovereign, working and in control. It has been a theme throughout this chapter. As we began, Jesus informed the disciples that he was telling them about his betrayal before it happened sot that when they looked back, they would see that God was acting out his salvation plan. Now we see that authority in action as Christ instructs Judas to act quickly. This is where we will finish today, and this is our hope today. God is in control even when the world cannot see it. In this passage, the eleven remaining disciples are innocent of what is going on. They think Judas is nipping out to the shops to get something for the Passover feast, or even more wholesome going to give to the poor. Yet, in their ignorance, God is still sovereign, and as darkness falls on them, there is still light.

2.2 – The Beauty of Redemption

Today, a darker darkness has fallen upon many of us, there is panic in a pandemic, and we do not know what do to, where to look or who to consider. We are worried about ourselves, family and friends. We are scared of lifting a petrol pump in case we come into contact with the unseen enemy. Yet the glimmer of light that shines at the end of our reading shines even brighter today. God is still in control, death has been defeated by the Cross of Christ, and we must cling to that hope and make it our confidence amid darkness and decay. Then as we turn to Christ and allow Him to shape us, and live for him empowered by the Holy Spirit. The light of hope will shine brighter still as we as transformed into his likeness and people are drawn to him. Finding the hope they have been looking for their whole lives. Today see the beauty of Christ and come to him afresh or anew; today see the Glorious sovereignty of God and bring your worries, petitions and prayer to Him. Seize today for tomorrow may be to late. I do not want to cast panic, but when all this covid madness is said and done, we will still suffer from a curse than has no earthly cure – sin. A sickness that leads to eternal death, yet Holy Week reminds us that there is a great healer, who drives out darkness with his life, and dead the death we deserved so that we could know the life he gives. Today I pray that as you consider the Cross, you will grasp the beauty of Redemption and wonder of Grace and make Christ your saviour.

Questions To Consider

  1. Is Christ beautiful to you?
  2. Who are the Judases in our lives, those who have hurt or betrayed us, and how is God calling us to pray for them and serve them?
  3. In what ways today, can we “wash feet” so that others see something of Jesus?
  4. Where do we need to be wise to the wolves among Gods flock, and what other imperatives does the Bible give us to handle them?
  5. Where is the Holy Spirit challenging us by the example, beauty and wonder of Christ and all that he offers?
  6. Amid this darkness where is the light of Jesus shining brightness, and how can we share that to draw people to him and bring hope?
  7. Have we allowed Christ to deal with our Sin, by confessing our need of saving? Do we know the gift of Eternal life, secured by the deposit of the Holy Spirit?

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