Tuesday, October 04, 2016
"Submission" Sermon: John 13:21-30
October 2, 2016 Second Reformed Church
The chorus to Bob Dylan’s song, “You Gotta Serve Somebody,” says “you may serve the devil, or you may serve the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.”
Bob Dylan is right: everyone serves someone – either the devil or the Lord – there is no other option. You either serve the One Almighty God, the Creator and Savior of His people, or you can serve the devil – that corrupted and fallen angel, and his demon angels – creatures who rebelled against God and continue their futile failed war by tempting humans to sin, that we would follow him into his hellish punishment – thinking if he must suffer the Wrath of God, he will bring as many of God’s creatures along.
But, if you said that on the street, there would be some who object that they do not serve the devil or the Lord – they serve themselves – they are not in the service of either the Lord or the devil. This folly comes down to thinking you can have nothing to do with Jesus – that it is possible to not received His salvation, nor rejected it, but to have nothing to do with it and Him. Jesus does not allow that option: “He who is not for me is against me.” You either serve the devil or the Lord.
Jesus makes that clear back in chapter eight of John, as the Pharisees say that they are children of Abraham – children of God – simply by the fact of their biology. But Jesus rebukes them:
“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:42b-47, ESV).
“You may serve the devil, or you may serve the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.”
Last week, we looked at the humility of the Son of God coming to earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and symbolically explained that our salvation is the one-time act of God, but we need to continually repent and confess our sins to God. And we saw that the application of Jesus’ actions is that we, Christians, are to be people of service and self-sacrifice – always looking for the good of others – especially with regards to salvation.
Jesus sat down at the table with the disciples, and we read:
“After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit and testified, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’
John tells us that Jesus was “troubled in his spirit” – this is the same expression that we looked at as Jesus considered the crowd before raising Lazarus – and we said that this is a deep, righteous, and sorrowful anger.
Jesus was about to tell the Twelve something that shook Him to His core with anger – anger that sin exists in the world, anger that He would suffer so horribly for sin, anger that the one who would soon be named would terminally turn away to serve the devil.
Remember, in Hebrew, when we have the doubling up of a word or phrase, it is for emphasis, so Jesus is saying, “Listen up, I have something important to say.”
At the end of last week’s passage, Jesus said that one of His friends would “lift his heel” against Jesus – and we considered how to kick a person. Here, Jesus tells the Apostles – the Twelve – that one of them would be the one to betray Him.
The disciples, as we so often see, are still clueless – and Peter, as we also often see, demands to know what was going on so he could do something – we would suppose:
“The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of the 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.”
In the other Gospels, we see the verbal response of the Twelve – they start proposing amongst themselves, “Is it I, Lord?” “Who is it, Lord?” And Judas says, “It is not I, is it?”
They understood enough about sin to question whether or not they could fall into such a grievous sin. Yet, what can we say about the pride of the man who said it could not be him?
We need to understand something about how food was eaten in the first century Middle Eastern world – for, as much as we might love the painting, “The Last Supper,” it is wrong. They would not have sat on chairs at a table such as we see in the painting. No, the table would have been fairly low to the ground, and it would have been surrounded by couches, so the dinner guests could recline on them, and reach with their right hand to eat. Picture lying on your couch at home, reaching into the pizza box sitting on your coffee table and eating – that is the style of eating that occurred.
So, John, the author of the Gospel, the “one whom Jesus loved,” is reclining on a couch close to Jesus as they sat around the table – and Peter – wanting to have the question of the betrayer answered, cut through the questions of “Is it I?” – And Peter said, “Psst! John! Lean over to Jesus and ask Him who the betrayer is – get a name!”
“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.’
Again, we need to know something about Middle Eastern eating customs of the time: John leaned back so he was beside Jesus and asked Him to identify the betrayer. We need to understand the food customs, because, if we were writing the scene, might we not have had Jesus jump up from the couch and scream, “It’s Judas! Grab him, boys!” – as Judas runs off into the night to complete the betrayal?
But what happens is Jesus takes a piece of bread and dips it in His food – getting food on the bread – and remember this is dinner – it is not the Passover meal – that occurs later in the evening – and then He hands it to Judas. Why?
In first century Middle Eastern culture, if you were to take a piece of bread and dip it in your food and give it to another person, that was a pledge of loyalty and friendship. How are we to understand this?
There was an idea floating around a few years ago that we have been too hard on Judas – that Judas is not the villain, but the hero of the Gospel – because he collaborated with Jesus to make sure that Jesus would be crucified, so salvation could be secured – that’s nonsense. But we can see how some sloppy scholars can come to that conclusion when we see things like this – Jesus offers Judas a pledge of loyalty and friendship. What is that all about?
Jesus is extending the Gospel to Judas one last time. It is as though Jesus said, “Judas, you have spent three years with Me – was it all about the things you could get? The recognition as part of My inner circle? The honor of holding the money bag – while you skimmed off the top for yourself? Was it all about you, or do you really love Me? If you love Me, if you submit to the Will of My Father and obey My commandments, then I extend to you everlasting loyalty and friendship. But if you do not love Me, consider this the last offer of the Gospel to you; consider this the last offer to escape the Wrath of God in Hell.”
Jesus is saying, “I’m drawing a line in the sand – receive my loyalty and friendship through faith alone in the Gospel, or you are cut off.”
People “come to church” for a lot of reasons, don’t they?
People come to church because they think it will make them good people.
People come to church because they think it will make others think they are good people.
People come to church because they think it will make them feel better about themselves.
People come to church because they think God will be happy that they came.
People come to church because humans are social beings.
People come to church for whatever free stuff they can get.
People come to church to steal whatever they can.
People come to church to cause conflict.
And there are people who come to church because they love Jesus – they have been handed the bread dipped in food, and they have taken it in true love, desiring the friendship and loyalty of Jesus. They know there is nothing better than Jesus and His salvation. There is no more joy than being in the presence of God with other believers. And, even though we suffer in this life, we come because, as Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68b, ESV).
God sent His Son – for love – and Jesus holds out the dipped bread as the Gospel is proclaimed and calls every human being to believe, to submit to His commands, and to love Him.
Do you love Him?
Do you ache for Him?
Do you desire to know Him more?
Are you will to do whatever it takes to know Him better – because you love Him and in Him is your joy?
Judas did not.
“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.”
Judas took the morsel of bread and food, but instead of opening his heart and crying out, “Come, Lord Jesus!”, he submitted fully, giving over his heart to Satan – as it had been prophesied – and Judas was lost – and God’s Plan for the death of Jesus and the salvation of His people carried on.
Here is some of the anguished anger that Jesus felt as He spoke of the betrayer: Judas had spent three years with Jesus, learning from Him, following Him, being loved and cared for by Him – part of Jesus’ inner circle—this is the hideous wage of sin.
Have you ever had a friend or a child who walked away for you and got involved with dangerous or evil things and you just didn’t know how to help him or her – or even that you thought he or she was a lost cause?
Judas spent three years with God in the flesh as Jesus proved Who He is, and Judas turned completely away. Jesus was heart-broken and angry, and He knew it had to be.
Jesus knew the Scripture was being fulfilled – Satan’s plan was enacted – Judas submitted to all that Satan wanted.
“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.”
Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray Him that He would be arrested and put to death. John – who had asked Jesus – knew that Judas was the betrayer. We’re not told if the name made it to Peter, though we might suppose not, since Peter didn’t jump across the table and tackle Judas to the ground, as we might assume he would. The other Ten did not know Judas was the betrayer.
And Jesus sent Judas to the betrayal, telling him to “go quickly.”
And the Ten were confused – “Why did Jesus just send Judas out? Is it because he is the treasurer? Is it because we need additional supplies for the Passover meal, and Judas was sent to buy them? Was Jesus sending Judas off to make one of Jesus’ periodic charitable contributions?”
Judas, himself, ran off as soon as he ate the bread dipped in food.
And John tells us it was night – which makes sense since it was dinner time and they were getting ready to celebrate the Passover meal which would have been celebrated after sunset – but it may be that John was not merely indicating that they ate at the proper hour, but that darkness had fallen upon them – they were experiencing darkness in their souls.
They did not know it, but – imminently – the soldiers would take Jesus away and He would prepare to die. For all intents and purposes, it looked as though Jesus had failed – Satan had won – salvation had been stolen away from God’s people – it is only from our vantage point that we can look back and clearly see that all these things needed to be. For them, there was darkness – fear, depression, anxiety.
We can only have One Sovereign Lord. Will it be the devil, or will it be the Lord Jesus?
Let us pray:
Almighty God, as the song goes, “we want it all.” We want You and the world. We want what You command and what You forbid. We think we can have it both ways – being obedient and disobedient – and experience no ill effects. O Lord, renew our minds, clarify our sight, let us see that we can have You alone, or we can follow after the devil – we cannot have both. Cause us to long for You and make us willing to do and be and take on and give up anything that keeps us from the joy of joy in Jesus. And we ask this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.