Triumph or Tragedy
Scripture: John 13:17–30
Triumph or TragedyJohn 13:17-30
Sunday, October 5, 2003
Pastor Randy Smith
On March 15th, 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was betrayed by his friend and family member, Marcus Junius Brutus. Caesar not only trusted Brutus, but he also favored him as a son. According to Roman historians, Caesar first resisted the onslaught of the assassins. But when he saw Brutus among them with his dagger drawn, Caesar ceased to struggle and, pulling the top part of his robe over his face asked the famous question, "You too, Brutus?"
Another infamous traitor closer to our generation was Benedict Arnold. Arnold was an heroic American Revolutionary general. Due to a perceived lack of recognition for his military genius, Arnold offered his services to the British. Arnold planned to hand over West Point and went on to command British forces against American troops in his native state of Connecticut.
But as notorious as both Brutus and Benedict Arnold are, doubtless the most infamous traitor the world has ever witnessed is none other than Judas Iscariot. Judas will always be identified with dishonor, shame and cowardice. And similar to these other men, Judas made the grave mistake of coveting evil, betraying an intimate friend and living to regret his poor decision. From being chosen as one of the twelve, a miracle performer and the recipient of the Lord's benevolence, Judas digressed to self-will, satanic possession, betrayal, suicide and hell. His life once so promising, ended in tragedy.
Possibly Clarence Macarthney in his imaginary vision best painted the final night of this traitor's life: "The longest night in the history of the world is drawing to a close. The night is passing, but the day has not yet come. Far to the east, over the mountains of Moab, there is just the faintest intimation of the coming day. The huge walls of Jerusalem and the towers and pinnacles of the temple are emerging from the shadows of the night. In the half darkness and half light I can make out a solitary figure coming down the winding road from the wall of Jerusalem towards the gorge of the Kidron. On the bridge over the brook he pauses for a moment and, turning, looks back towards the Holy City. Then he goes forward for a few paces and, again turning, halts and looks up toward the massive walls of the city. Again he turns, and this time does not stop. Now I can see that in his hand he carries a rope. Up the slope of Olivet he comes and, entering in at the gate of Gethsemane, walks under the trees of the Garden. Seizing with his arms one of the low-branching limbs of a gnarled olive tree, he draws himself up into the tree. Perhaps he is the proprietor of this part of the Garden, and has come to gather the olives. But why the rope? For a little he is lost to my view in the springtime foliage of the trees. Then, suddenly, I see his body plummet down like a rock from the top of the tree. Yet the body does not reach the ground, but is suspended in mid-air. And there it swings to and fro at the end of the rope" (Macartney, Great Nights of the Bible, p. 86-87).
This morning I'd like to take a fresh look at the betrayal of Jesus. Together, we'll examine the sovereignty, sorrow, surprise and satanism of this familiar account. Yet this sermon is more than a history lesson, as I will attempt to interject application germane to each of us along the way as we prepare our hearts for Communion. (See the end of this sermon for a chronology on the life of Judas)
1. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE BETRAYAL
Let's begin with the first point: The Sovereignty of the Betrayal. In response to the blessing that Christ pronounced to His disciples in verse 17 came a restriction in verse 18. Jesus said, "I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, 'HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.'" Now for the third time in this chapter (13:2, 11), increasing in intensity, we hear of a reference to the traitor. And our Lord will make this general remark in verse 17 crystal clear just four verses later in verse 21 when He says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me."
It would be on this very night that Jesus would fall into the hands of Judas. To the human eye it would appear as the tragic termination of the ministry of Christ. Jesus knew His disciples might perceive the events in this manner so He wanted to reassure them of God's sovereign design. He wanted them to know the He was aware of the event. He wanted them to know that He did not unknowingly make a bad choice in selection of Judas (c.f. Jn. 6:70). He wanted them to know that He was not a helpless victim. He wanted them to know that evil proceedings were actually the fulfillment of Scripture, the execution of God's wonderful plan of redemption. He wanted His disciples to persevere in faith amidst the apparent disaster. That's why Jesus said in verse 19, "From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He."
Only a sovereign God can not only ordain but also take the most heinous event ever committed such as the betrayal of Jesus Christ by a dear friend and bring forth such good that all of us in Christ Jesus may obtain eternal forgiveness. Just as Jesus was encouraging His disciples to have faith in His words during this apparently tragic situation, He is encouraging us as well to cling to His promises in the midst of our trials, which likewise, to the human eye often appear unjust, tragic and hopeless. Just as it would be demonstrated with the betrayal, we must remember that God brings the greatest good out of the worst evil that comes upon His children. Therefore as Christians, our hope never lies in our circumstances. Rather, we walk by faith trusting a sovereign God who is able to deliver according to His word. We must embrace the wonderful doctrine of sovereignty!
From his early years, the great American theologian, Jonathan Edwards, fell in love with the truth about God's sovereignty. He wrote, "There has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, in respect to the doctrine of God's sovereignty…God's absolute sovereignty…is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of any thing that I see with my eyes…The doctrine has very often appeared exceedingly pleasant, bright and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God…God's sovereignty has ever appeared to me, (a) great part of His glory. It has often been my delight to approach God, and adore Him as a sovereign God" (Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, p. 59, 67).
We must remember that God is in full control, working all things together for the good of His children. Rightly understanding this truth enables us, like Jesus, to stand firm and trust and rejoice in the worst trials that may come our way.
2. THE SORROW OF THE BETRAYAL
Point number 2. Though our hope is in a sovereign God to bring forth good, often the good comes as a result real difficulties. Now, I do not wish to minimize the pain of our suffering, but I want you to understand that it is part of the process. God never promised us a trial-free life. God does not exempt us from pain. For consider this: No one knew greater pain than His own dear Son, Jesus Christ.
We must not understate the horror of the final 24 hours of Christ's earthly life. When you consider His physical anguish as He endured the torture and His spiritual anguish as He was abandoned by the Father, no other individual has ever suffered to such a degree. But the fire of the crucifixion was initiated by the spark of the betrayal. And during this betrayal, Jesus also experienced severe emotional anguish.
We know that Jesus chose Judas to be among the inner 12 chosen. We know that Jesus entrusted Judas with apostolic work. We know that Jesus considered Judas among his dearest of friends. We know that Jesus, being sinless, was the best companion anyone could ask for. Yet Judas stabbed his friend the back. He betrayed the Savior of the world for 30 pieces of silver (Mt. 26:15).
Worth noting are his disgraceful tactics which brought immense sorrow to Jesus. In verse 18 Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9 to indicate the shame of Judas' action. "HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME." It is generally agreed upon that Psalm 41 in its original context refers to Ahithophel (2 Sam. 17:21-23), who hung himself after he betrayed his master, King David. Jesus now informs us that the Psalm had prophetic implications to His ministry. Like much of David's life (2 Sa. 7:12-16; Psm. 2), the quotation ultimately pointed to Him. In the same way, Jesus too would be betrayed by a close servant and friend. And the precursor to the betrayal would be the act of sharing bread.
Though this custom has little significance to us, in the first century, eating bread together indicated close fellowship. Therefore Judas' actions represented the betrayal of an intimate companion. His heartless and reprehensible actions were done in the face of friendship. And this event itself only foreshadowed the actual betrayal itself that would eventually come by means of a kiss (Lk. 22:48). Such disgrace, such emotional pain was brought upon our Savior.
But even though Jesus understood the necessity and favorable outcome of the betrayal, even though Jesus trusted in the sovereignty of God the Father, He still experienced anguish when He contemplated the emotional pain. In addition to being fully God, He was also fully human. And being the perfect human, Jesus teaches us how to demonstrate God-honoring grief in the midst of suffering. Look at verse 21. "When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.'"
There are a few points of application for us if we seek to honor God as Jesus did in the midst of our real suffering. First of all, like Jesus, we need to remember that God is sovereign. We must not be angry with God nor waiver in our faith. Rather we should thank God for everything, rejoicing that He promises to bring good from the affliction.
Second, though we walk by faith, it is not necessary to mask our emotions. Now for the third time in this gospel (Jn. 11:33; 12:27), we have witnessed the outward grief and sorrow of Jesus. He was not a stoical machine. He was a man and He expressed emotions when His heart was torn. We too have been created in that image. It's OK to shed a tear and it's OK to ask for help.
Third, I believe the highest expression of our sorrow should be selfless, like everything else in our Christian walk. There is no doubt that Jesus was grieved, but His grief was the result of another's spiritual failure. Jesus grieved because Judas, His friend, had chosen the path of spiritual darkness. Along these lines, nothing should bring our hearts greater grief than to witness others who profess Christ and then abandon the faith or backslide or refuse to repent or demonstrate lukewarm belief. Godly sorrow is real, it's selfless and it's full of faith.
If I can combine points one and two, I would compare it to both sides of a tapestry. The back of a tapestry is often gnarly, discombobulated and unattractive. Yet the front composes an artistic creation of beauty. To the human eye, our painful trials are like the back of the tapestry. They appear ugly, unpleasant and without purpose. But our focus must never be on the back of the tapestry. We must gaze intently to the front, believing by faith that our sovereign and loving God is weaving a work of beauty. If you are in Christ Jesus, you are God's workmanship. You are His masterpiece in progress. And what greater masterpiece is there than His ultimate purpose of making you like His Son.
3. THE SURPRISE OF THE BETRAYAL
After our Lord made the clear prediction of His betrayal by one of His own in verse 21, great surprise came amongst the disciples.
Beginning in verse 22 we read, "The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking. There was reclining on Jesus' bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, 'Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking.' He, leaning back thus on Jesus' bosom, said to Him, 'Lord, who is it?'" (Jn. 13:22-25).
To picture this scene at the Last Supper, we must get the popular Leonardo da Vinci painting out of our minds. The disciples were not seated in chairs. Rather they were lying on their sides around the U-shaped table. Their feet were outstretched from the table as they leaned on their left elbow leaving their right hand free for eating. Based on the account, most likely Judas was positioned to the left of Jesus and John (the disciple whom Jesus loved), was on our Lord's right. You can see now how easy it was for John to lean back to his left, place his head in Christ's bosom and ask Him the question prompted by Peter. You can also see how Judas, seated to the left of Jesus, could easily receive the morsel (the piece of bread) from our Savior.
With this background in mind, let me finish reading the text beginning in verse 26. "Jesus then answered, 'That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.' So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, 'What you do, do quickly.' Now no one of those reclining at the table knew for what purpose He had said this to him. For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, 'Buy the things we have need of for the feast;' or else, that he should give something to the poor. So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night" (Jn. 13:26-30)
In this third point I'd like to briefly bring out two points of application that both deal with surprise.
First of all, I always find it amazing that once the Betrayer was announced, none of the disciples expected it to be Judas. Rather they stated, "Lord, who is it?" Even when Judas departed, they believed that Judas was off on some noble errand (verse 29). They ministered in close quarters with this wicked man for over three years, but nothing tipped them off. Judas covered his duplicity well. He was the perfect actor.
In our day and age he might be the one who is well dressed, well versed in the Bible, influential in the inner clique, possibly in the position of leadership. But like some today, Judas was merely a wolf in sheep's clothing. He appeared to be among God's flock. He was an imposter. In reality, he was a child of the devil (Jn. 8:44). And like the devil, he deceived them all. He masqueraded as a soldier of the light, seeking to promote himself and destroy God's agenda.
Secondly, not only was I surprised by the camouflage of Judas' pride, I was also surprised by the disciples' humility. According to Matthew's parallel, instead of pointing fingers at one another as to the potential betrayer, they looked to themselves. Verse 22 of Matthew 26 says, "Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, 'Surely not I, Lord?'" I believe these men, at he end of Christ's ministry were beginning to realize the weakness of their own hearts.
Beloved, we too must realize that we never arrive. There are few things that are more detestable than the cocky, prideful swagger of those who think they are spiritually elite. Regardless of how long we have been walking with the Lord, we are exhorted to "work out (our) salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12) and " (to) be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing (us)" (2 Pet. 1:10). We must persevere, never resting on past spiritual accomplishments. We must be forever examine our hearts, lest we too be tempted.
Within the past year, two godly pastors form local churches have been disqualified from ministry due to immoral failure. But worse yet are those who start out in the Christian life strong, but fizzle out along the journey only to walk away from the faith. The Puritans called them "temporaries." Maybe we should call them modern day Judases, as they desert their Lord, forfeit their soul and bring irreparable damage to the church. Beloved we must guard our hearts from pride. We must not forsake the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, service and church attendance. We must forever pray for a humble, contrite and broken spirit. We must cherish reproof. We must look to ourselves. But remember, for every look to ourselves, we must take ten looks to Christ for dependence on His grace. Let me ask you, would you exhibit the same humility as the disciples if you were at that Last Supper by asking, "Lord, is it I?"
4. THE SATANISM OF THE BETRAYAL
Finally, as we move to the fourth point, I want you to see the Satanism behind the betrayal. Verse 27 says, "After the morsel, Satan then entered into (Judas)."
Satan is forever looking for pawns to execute his diabolical plans of opposition. All he needs is a heart not fervently in tune with Christ, because in rejecting Christ, we open our hearts often unwittingly, to the devil's temptations (c.f. Jas. 4:7-8). F.F. Bruce said it well. "Satan could not have entered into (Judas) had he not granted him admission. Had he been willing to say 'No' to the adversary, all of his Master's intercessory power was available to him there and then to strengthen him. But when a disciple's will turns traitor, when the spiritual aid of Christ is refused, that person's condition is desperate indeed" (Bruce, The Gospel of John, pg. 290).
Our Lord extended His love many times to Judas during that memorable meal. He seated Judas on His left side (the greatest place of honor). He warned Judas that He was aware of his plot. He washed Judas' feet. He shared an intimate meal and passed Judas the morsel, a token of honor and friendship (Ruth 2:14). Judas, according his own free will was given two options. He could fall down at the feet of Jesus and ask for forgiveness or execute his wicked plan. With the help of Satan, Judas chose the latter.
John concludes in verse 30 by saying "and it was night." Beyond the historical marker, John's mention of night had theological implications as well, implication we have witnessed throughout this gospel (Jn. 1:4-5; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:46; c.f. 1 Jn. 1:5-7). The "hour and the power of darkness" (Lk. 22:53) had come upon Jesus. But also, Judas, once engulfed by the Light of the world, had chosen to be swallowed up by the darkness. He departed from the table into the Judean night, into the darkness of satanic gloom. That night, Judas, committed spiritual suicide (Ac. 1:25), which within hours led to his physical suicide (Mt. 27:5; Ac. 1:18). Never again would Judas walk in the sunshine of Christ's countenance.
We've covered a lot this morning, but I believe it can be summed up in one sentence. When we experience trails we must look to the sovereign Lord for grace to strengthen us in His love, increase our faith and protect us from Satan who is committed to sifting our hearts like wheat in the turbulent winds of affliction.
Was this not the attitude of Jesus? And can we not agree that He saw God bring forth the greatest good despite the painful betrayal? This sermon was entitled, "Triumph or Tragedy?" When we consider the betrayal from God's perspective it was tragedy for Judas, but triumph for Jesus.
Out of the dark forbidding soil,
The pure white lilies grow.
Out of the black and murky clouds,
Descends the stainless snow.
Out of the crawling earth-bound worm,
A butterfly is born.
Out of the somber shrouded night,
Behold! A golden morn!
Out of the pain and stress of life,
The peace of God pours down.
Out of the nails-the spear-the cross,
Redemption-and a crown!
Said during the bread…
In 1 Corinthians 11 we read, "That the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me'" (1 Cor. 11:23-24). Of all the significant events that took place that evening, the foot-washing, the commandment of love, the promise of the Holy Spirit and the prayer for His disciples, Jesus referred to the betrayal. One because it was profound that He would be sold by an intimate friend, but two because it initiated the events which led to the giving of His body on the cross.
Said during the juice…
The placement of the evil betrayal in chapter 13 is interesting. It comes after the beautiful foot-washing parable on humility and before the great commandment to "love one another" (Jn. 13:34-35). While we might expect an application of love and humility in this section, John shocks us with a negative example in Judas and reveals what actions take place when we fail to exercise love and humility. Maybe it's because John doesn't want us to focus on Judas, but rather Jesus as positive example, epitomizing love and humility in His going to the cross and spilling His blood on our behalf.
What the Bible teaches us about Judas
- Judas is chosen as one of the 12 (Luke 6:12-16; Mark 3:13-19).
- Judas is sent out as one of the 12 (Matthew 10:4).
- Judas accompanies Jesus with the other 11 disciples, beholding our Lord's character and power, and hearing Him teach and claim to be the Messiah (Mark 3:14).
- In all of this, Judas never comes to faith in Jesus as his Messiah (John 6:64-65; 13:10-11, 18; 17:12).
- Judas is put in charge of the money box (John 12:6; 13:29).
- Judas begins to steal money from the money box (John 12:6).
- When Mary anoints the feet of Jesus, Judas is incensed by her extravagance, and is distressed that Jesus would allow such "waste" when this ointment could have been sold, and the proceeds given to the poor. He apparently manages to convince his fellow-disciples, so that they verbally harass Mary also (John 12:1-8; Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9).
- At this same point in time the chief priests and Pharisees are panic-stricken by our Lord's growing popularity, as a result of the raising of Lazarus and then the triumphal entry (John 11:45-53, 57; 12:9-11). They wanted to seize Jesus privately, but not during the feast of Passover, lest they stir up the crowds (Matthew 26:3-5; Mark 14:1-2). They become so desperate they decide to kill not only Jesus (John 11:53), but Lazarus as well (John 12:10). The time was "ripe" for Judas to come to them with his proposal of betrayal.]
- Shortly after this incident with Mary, in which Jesus rebukes Judas and the other disciples, Judas goes to the chief priests and strikes a deal with them to betray Jesus and to hand Him over to them (Matthew 26:14-15; Mark 14:10-11).
- Judas begins to look for the right moment to hand Jesus over to the chief priests and Pharisees (Mark 14:11).
- Judas is with Jesus and the disciples during the first part of the Last Supper, apparently in the place of honor, next to Jesus (John 13:26).
- At the meal, Jesus indicates that one of the disciples will betray Him (Matthew 26:20-25; Mark 14:17-21), and then, by means of His dipping a piece of bread and handing it to Judas, our Lord indicates that it is Judas who will betray Him (Mark 14:20; John 13:21-27).
- Judas accepts the bread Jesus offers him, after which Satan immediately possesses him (John 13:27).
- Jesus dismisses Judas to carry out his terrible deed (John 13:27-30).
- Judas leads the soldiers to Jesus, where he identifies Jesus as the One they are to arrest by kissing Him (Matthew 26:47-50; Mark 14:43-46; Luke 22:47-48; John 18:1-9).
- Judas regrets his betrayal and tries to reverse his actions by returning the money, but it is too late. Judas then goes out and hangs himself (Matthew 27:3-10; Acts 1:15-19).
Credit for this compilation goes to Bob Deffinbaugh as it was presented in his sermon on John 13:18-30