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Sermon: John 13:21-38: Love One Another

Old Testament Reading: Leviticus 19:13–18

“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:13–18, ESV)

New Testament Reading: John 13:21-38

“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.’” (John 13:21–38, ESV)

Introduction

Have you ever been in a room filled with tension? You can feel it, can’t you? It’s amazing how emotionally connected we can be with one another. You can feel the tension in the air when it is present.

As I think about the celebration of the Passover feast that John 13:21-38 describes, I imagine a room filled with tension. I picture Jesus and his disciples with faces that are serious and somber. John tells us that “after saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit…” (John 13:21, ESV) We might ask, how did John know that about Jesus’ spirit? For one, he was there. He was an eye witness to these things. And two, Jesus must have been visibly troubled. We should remember that Jesus, though he was divine, was also fully human. He experienced the full range of human emotions, yet without sin. He was troubled in his spirit.

And why was he so troubled? First of all, we should remember that he knew of the suffering that he would soon endure. His hour had come. He knew that he would suffer and die. This was troubling to him, and understandably so. But there is something more specific mentioned in this text: he knew that he would be betrayed by one of the twelve. Again, though it is true that Jesus was Immanuel – God with us, we should remember that he was fully human. Just as you would be deeply troubled by the betrayal of a close friend, so too Jesus was troubled, yet without sin.

Judas Identified – Notice the Darkness that Can Exist Even Within the Visible Church of God

It is here in the text before us that Jesus specifically identifies Judas as the one who will betray him. And it is with this revelation that we are reminded of the darkness that can exist even within the visible church of God.

Again, Jesus brings up the fact that one of his own disciples would betray him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (John 13:21, ESV) The words, “truly, truly”, should grab the attention. Jesus was saying, listen up and pay attention! What I am about to say is important and will surely come to pass! One of you will hand me over to my enemies. That is what the word “betray” means – to hand a person over.

This must have increased the tension already present in the room by tenfold. Now all of the disciples are thinking to themselves, who is it? Is he talking about me? Peter, being the leader of the group, motioned to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (remember, that is the way that John refers to himself in his Gospel) urging him to ask who it would be.

Apparently, John was “reclining at table with Jesus”. The Greek is more descriptive than the English. John was, in fact, reclining against Jesus’ bosom, or chest.  We might see this as strange in our culture, but this is how men would interact in Jesus’ day. Even today it is not uncommon for men in other cultures to show affection for one another through physical touch. In Turkey, for example, I am told that men might hold hands as they walk down the street as a display of their friendship. Perhaps we are the strange ones! Have you ever thought of that?

At any rate, John was reclining at table with Jesus and he leaned back and asked the question, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:25, ESV) Who is the one who will betray you? “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.’” (John 13:26–27, ESV)

Some have imagined that there was something magical or mystical about the “morsel” that Jesus gave to Judas as if somehow the morsel facilitated the entrance of Satan into Judas. The texts makes no such point. Rather, we should probably view the giving of the “morsel” as the last act of kindness from Jesus to Judas. The morsel was a probably a choice morsel.  Perhaps it was the kindness that drove him away!

Notice that Jesus makes this known only to John. The other disciples are still wondering who it will be. In fact they do not suspect Judas in the least.  When Jesus says to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:27, ESV), they do not think to themselves, Judas is the betrayer! No, they assume 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.” (John 13:29, ESV) The giving of alms to the poor was a common practice on the night of Passover. Apparently, Judas had them all fooled.

The point is this, though. Judas knew his own heart. More than that, Jesus knew Judas’ heart. And now John was aware of Judas’ heart! In the past Jesus had made it know that one of them was a devil from the start. In John 6:70, for example, “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil’” – but here he is specific. Jesus revealed it to John so that John would know that he really knew who his betrayer was ahead of time.

Why is this important? It is important because John’s has made much of the doctrines of election, particular redemption, effectual calling, and preservation in his Gospel.

Concerning election, he has made it clear that God the Father gave the Son certain people to save from before the foundation of the earth. That was the Son’s mission – to come and to save those given to him by the Father.

Concerning particular redemption, John’s Gospel makes it clear that he came to lay down his life for his sheep. In John 10:15 Jesus says,  “I lay down my life for the sheep.” He came to die for the one’s that the Father had given to him. He came to atone for the sins of his sheep, and not the others. He payed for the sins of the individuals given to him by the Father from throughout the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike.

Concerning effectual calling, John’s Gospel also makes it clear that it is these that Father brings to repentance by the power of the Holy Spirit. John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27, ESV)

And not only will Christ’s sheep follow him without fail, but they will also be preserved.  Again, John 10:27 and following: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27–30, ESV) This is the doctrine of the preservation of the saints.

The issue with Judas has the potential of confusing us concerning all of this. We might wonder, if it is true that some were give to the Son by the Father that they be saved; and if it is true that Christ died for their sins; that it is they who hear the voice of God in Christ Jesus and come to to faith in him, having been predestined to do so from all eternity; and if it is true that Jesus has accomplished this mission given to him by the Father to save all who were given to him, then what about Judas? What about him? He seems to have been lost!

I know that I have made this point before, but it is worth making again – it is obviously important to John because he brings it up time and again in his Gospel – Jesus did not loose Judas! Judas did not slip through Jesus’ fingers. He did not jump out of Jesus’ hand, if you will. No, Judas betrayed Jesus because he never belonged to Jesus from the heart. He was “a devil” all along (John 6:70).

Jesus had made it clear that one of the twelve was a devil. Here he specifies Judas and tells John about it so that there might be a witness to these things. He told all of the disciples that there would be a betrayer, and he told John that it would be Judas, so that, according to 13:19, “when it does take place you may believe that I am he.” (John 13:19, ESV)

The truth illustrated by Jesus’ prediction of Judas’ betrayal is an important truth for the church to understand. Jesus is Lord of the church. He is sovereign over all things, but especially the church. He is building his church as he effectively brings the elect to salvation through the proclamation of the gospel, by the power of the Holy Spirit. He preserves his people. We expect that the church will be assaulted from without! But it can be difficult for the Christian to comprehend the assaults that come against the church from within. The assaults from within tend to shake us more than the pressures that we experience from the world around us. But we are reminded by the story of Judas that Christ is Lord of the church. He is able to build and sustain the church in the face of external and internal threats. He knows who are his. He is not surprised by the apostates. He is not caught off guard by the Judas’ of the world. In eternity the church will be pure! But in this age the visible church will be a mixture of sheep and goats, wheat and tares. The goats and weeds may surprise us, but they do not surprise Christ. The Judas’ of the world may disrupt us and grieve our hearts, but they will not thwart the purposes of God. “I will build my church [Jesus says], and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18, ESV)

This, I think, is the purpose of the Judas story. We are to take comfort in the fact that Christ reigns supreme over his his church as the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient Lord of all.  It is true that unthinkable darkness sometimes resides with the visible church of God, but Christ is sovereign still.

Notice that after Judas took the morsel from Jesus and went out to do his dastardly deed, John inserts a little comment – a literary flourish, we might say. He simply remarks in verse 30, “And it was night.” That is was literally nighttime is undoubtably true. But why did John take the time to say this? What difference does it make that it was nighttime?

Think of the theme of light and darkness in John’s Gospel. Jesus is “the light of the world”. Men and women are exhorted to “walk in the light” as they have opportunity. Jesus tells his disciples that they must continue doing the work of the Father “while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4, ESV) This theme of light and darkness, day and night permeates John’s Gospel. And now John simply tells us that “it was night.” Everything is cloaked in darkness. Judas has decisively rejected the light and has walked out into the abyss. And the time for ministry in the world has also come to an end. No more signs will be preformed; no longer will truth be proclaimed to the world – this is the hour of Jesus’ suffering (ironically, it will also be the hour of his glory). The words, “and it was night”, are more than historical fact. They signal a major transition in the ministry of Christ and in John’s Gospel from daytime to darkness.

Peter’s Denial Predicted – Notice the Darkness that Can Reside Even Within the Heart of a True Christian

But notice that Judas is not the only one touched by darkness in this text. Jesus utters predictions concerning two of his followers. Judas would betray Jesus, but Peter, we are told, would deny him three times over.  We are reminded here that darkness can reside even within the heart of a true Christian.

When Peter impulsively requested that Jesus wash, not only his feet, but also his hands and his head (John 13:9), what did Jesus say to him? “Jesus said…, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” (John 13:10, ESV) Peter was declared to be clean by Jesus. Judas was the unclean one. Peter was clean and did not need to bathed; only his feet needed to be washed.

But in verse 38 Jesus says to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” (John 13:38, ESV) Notice that the same “truly, truly” used to announce Judas’ betrayal of Christ was also used to announce Peter’s threefold denial of Christ.

I can’t decide which is more shocking? Is it the fact that a man could walk with Jesus for three years and then betray him to his enemies, or that the leader of the band – the one who was pronounced clean – would deny his Lord three times in the night of his suffering?

Brothers and sisters, do you see that it is possible for darkness to win even within the heart of a true Christian? Peter was a true Christian – he was clean – and yet he would stumble in a serious way.

Let us for a brief moment consider what this passage has to say about Peter.

After Judas had left the room Jesus began to speak in verse 31,saying, “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…” Isn’t it interesting the way that Jesus speaks of his hour of suffering? It would be through this dark hour that the Son of Man would be glorified. The Father would also be glorified by the Son, and the Son would be glorified by the Father at once. When you and I think of the suffering of Christ and the cross of Christ we might be tempted to see only darkness. Jesus spoke of it as the hour of his glory. It was the hour of glory because it was through the cross that he would accomplish the will of the Father. It was the hour of glory because it was there that the love and justice of God would be most fully displayed. It was the hour of glory because it was through the cross that Christ won the victory over sin and death and Satan. The suffering of Christ was cloaked in darkness given the evil that enveloped him, but it was out of that gloomy and chaotic darkness – it was out of that deep and ominous abyss – that the glory of God in Christ Jesus shone forth.

In verse 33 Jesus said, “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.’” (John 13:33, ESV) More was said after this (and we will come back to those words in a moment), but notice that it is the words of verse 33 that Peter latched on to.

Look down to verse 36: “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ “ Peter was still confused about where Jesus intended to go. “Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.’” (John 13:36, ESV) Jesus, of course spoke of his death, his resurrection, and his assent to the right hand of the Father. Peter would not follow him right away, but he would eventually follow. Evidently Peter started to get the gist of it, saying, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” (John 13:37, ESV)

Peter is bold with his words, isn’t he? He talks a big talk. And it is was to this that Jesus responded, saying, “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.” (John 13:38, ESV)

It appears that Peter needed to be humbled. Perhaps he was prideful. It was not, Thy will be done! It was not, Lord sustain me! It was, I will lay down my life for you! Evidently he was not a strong on the inside as he portrayed on the outside.

The thing I want you to notice is that Judas and Peter are set before us side by side. “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me…” (John 13:21, ESV), and, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” (John 13:38, ESV)

The sin of Judas and the sin of Peter are both serious indeed. But there is a difference between the two. Judas would betray Jesus and never return. Peter would deny Jesus and then repent. Judas, it would seem, betrayed Jesus acting out of a heart of pure darkness. Peter would deny Jesus in a moment of weakness. That darkness resided within his heart is undeniable, but he was of the light. Peter stumbled; Judas fell.

But as you read of Jesus’ prediction concerning these two men – the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter – are you not left with the impression that the church of Christ will be characterized by struggle. Sin will threaten the church. The church will struggle with sin.

There will be some who, although they identify with Christ and his people, are really not of Christ – they do not truly belong to him. The church will be threatened from within. Darkness will exist even within the visible church of God. Goats will wander amongst the sheep. Weeds will spring up among the wheat.

And concerning those who do truly belong to Christ, even they will struggle with sin – serious sin. They may be of the light, and they may be clean, but darkness threatens. The filth of the flesh lingers even within those who belong to Christ truly.

It is important for us to recognize these things. How common it is to hear, even those who call themselves Christians, complain saying, I will not join myself to the church because it is filled with hypocrites! Two things need to be said. One, it should be acknowledged that there are some churches that have been so overrun with sin and hypocrisy that Christ threatens to remove their lamp-stand. Sometimes the complaint squares with reality. But more often than not those who say I will not join myself to the church because of the sin within it have misunderstood the nature of Christ’s church. Perhaps they are expecting to much, in other words. Perhaps they expecting the church to be in the here and now what it will only be in eternity.

Never do the scriptures claim that Christ’s church will be pure. Christ’s church will go on struggling against sin until the Lord returns and makes all things new. Oh, how we long for that day when there will be no more sin. But until that day we should expect a battle – a battle with those who claim to be Christ’s and are not; and a battle within our own hearts as we are tempted to deny our Lord as the things of this world press in upon us.

This is not to say that we should excuse sin. But it is to say that we shouldn’t be surprised by it. We should not loose heart, or faith, when we see it rear its ugly head within the church of God. Christ is Lord of the church, at the church can be a mess at times.

I’ve been doing ministry for some time now. One of the things you learn early on in ministry is that ministry is messy. Christians – true Christians – struggle with sin. The Christian life is far from a walk in the park! It’s a battle! It’s marked by struggle. Struggles without and struggles within. Listen to how Paul described his time in Macedonia:  “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within.” (2 Corinthians 7:5, ESV).

One of the worst things we can do is to gather with the church thinking, this here is an utterly pure church; Or these people are utterly pure people. There is no such thing! A church like that cannot be found in all the earth. And if you ever hear a church claims such a thing, run! Times of humiliation are not far off.  We who are in Christ have been cleansed. We have been made pure by the blood of Christ. And yes, we are being conformed into the image of Christ. But that, brothers and sisters, is a process. And it is a process marked by struggle.

So how are to walk with Christ between his first and second comings given the sinful tendencies of his people? The temptation is to say, I will walk alone! But what does Christ command?

The Key to Living in Christian Community Tainted by Sin is to Love One Another

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.”” (John 13:34–35, ESV)

The key to living in Christian community tainted by sin is to love one another.

Brothers and sisters, do you think it is a coincidence that Jesus issued this command here with all of this going on? One of you will betray me. Peter, you, the leader, will deny me, not once, but three times before the rooster crows. Everything is falling to pieces, it would seem. The disciples are now suspicious of one another. They are wondering, who can I trust? Who can I rely upon? It is into this setting that Christ utters the words, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another…” How is the church to deal with the threats from without and the threats from within? We are to love one another!

Christ calls this a “new commandment”. It’s interesting that the command is not really “new” in the sense that nothing like it had been said before. Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18, ESV)

It is “new” in the sense that the love we are to have for one another has now been modeled for us by Jesus Christ. “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.” (John 13:34, ESV) The love we are to have for one another has been displayed. This changes everything! When a brother or sister sins against you and you think to yourself, should I hold a grudge, or should I forgive?, we are to think of Christ’s love for us. Or when a brother or sister is in need and you think to yourself, is he or she worthy of my help?, we are to of Christ’s love for us. Or when we are tempted to slander a brother, or take to advantage of him, are we not to set our eyes upon Christ and to consider the way that he loved us? He has forgiven us so much. He has loved us and served us to the full. Brothers and sisters, how could we not love one another in this way, given the way that Christ has loved us?

Peter puts it this way: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8, ESV)

John reiterates this principle in his letter, saying, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:9–11, ESV)

The “new” commandment is also new in that Holy Spirit has been poured out enabling us to keep it from the heart. Paul says,“But the fruit of the Spirit is love…” (Galatians 5:22, ESV) Christ has given us an example that we are to follow, but he has also given us the Spirit in order to enable to keep that commandment from the heart.

The end result should be that the church, despite all of it’s messiness, would be known for it’s love. When Jesus wept for Lazarus the Jew’s said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36, ESV) The non-believing world ought to look in upon us saying, see how those Christians love one another! Look at how they forgive! Look at how they care! Look at how they provide for those among them who are in need! “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”, Jesus says.

Conclusion 

Brothers and sisters, in the time between Christ’s first and second coming the church will indeed struggle with sin. There will be some who identify with the visible church who do not really belong to Christ. And even those who belong to Christ will struggle with sin in their own hearts. We are a foreign people, but we are also a messy people. But we are to go on in Christ loving one another.

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