Life To The Dead Denial — John 13:31-38
by Pastor Mike Fortune
November 29, 2008
Introduction: BlueFishVideo: Leaving New Orleans Behind
Life Comes From...
- Moving on [John 13:31-32; Hebrews 13:15-16]
- Loving well [John 13:33-35; 1 John 2:7-8; Leviticus 19:18; 1 John 3:11]
- Looking back [John 13:36-38; 12:16; 13:19; 14:29]
The young woman battling cancer who lost her home during Katrina confessed at the end of our video clip: “God, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I’m listening.” She was obviously willing to move on, love well, and keep looking back at how God had been with her. Even though everything she experienced when she did wasn’t pleasant, she wasn’t blaming God. She was listening for God. And that’s a good thing for us to do too because as our passage reveals today, that’s where life comes from. Let’s open our Bibles and read John 13:31-38. “31When he was gone, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.”
33"My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
36Simon Peter asked him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus replied, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later." 37Peter asked, "Lord, why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." 38Then Jesus answered, "Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!”
Peter was present in that upper room. Judas was not. John 13:30 says “As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.” When he was gone, Jesus said some more stuff to his disciples that we’ll be covering in our new series in 2009 entitled “In the Meantime.”
The question we’ll be asking ourselves is one in which I think the disciples were probably wondering about Jesus. “If you’re going to go away from us, how do we live grace in the meantime?” They were asking that in the shadow of the cross. Shortly before Jesus would die on it. We’re asking that question looking back at the cross. Living in the shadow of his return. How do we live grace in the meantime? So start reading ahead and send me your thoughts based on those verses on how you hear God asking us to live grace in the meantime. My email’s on the back of the bulletin.
Life comes from moving on...with Jesus
But even before we cover that content, it becomes obvious to the reader of John that Jesus was moving on. And this is point number one: Life comes from moving on. Even after experiencing profound suffering and loss. And remember, that’s what Jesus was literally anticipating and already experiencing. In less than 24 hours he would be crucified on a cross. And because He would be, John 12:27 describes how Jesus’ heart was “troubled.” Later, John 13:21 adds that with the imminent betrayal of Judas, Jesus was “troubled in spirit.” But in spite all that, Jesus goes out of his way to show Judas grace and love to the very end. Washing his feet. Offering him bread and friendship. Protecting him from being embarrassed in front of the other disciples by promising to love him as much as David loved his rebellious son Absalom.
But Judas says no to Jesus. And his exit stage left from that torch lit upper room was the sign that the betrayal and death of the Son of Man was at hand. Point number one: Life comes from moving on. Now outside of John’s context that sounds like awful theology or pop psychology straight from Oprah or Ekhart Tolle or whoever the latest greatest self help guru is. But what I mean is Life comes from moving on with Jesus. Whether you know what God is up to or not. Whether you constantly feel His presence or not. That’s the context of the faith statement Jesus makes in verses 31 and 32. He’s saying, though my heart is troubled, both about the cross and about losing Judas, I am moving on. And you must too. Because in doing so, we will glorify the Father and the Father will glorify the Son. Moving on with Oprah bad. Moving on with Jesus good. Make sense yes or no?
The other thing I think these first couple verses teach us is that sometimes, it takes a bad relationship to end for a better one to begin. It was after Judas left that Jesus started expounding on how we can live in the meantime. And that’s some good stuff from Jesus being shared. Timeless truths and classic input from heaven to earth. As relevant today as it was in the Upper Room. No doubt, life comes from moving on with Jesus. Hebrews 13:15-16 says it this way: “15Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
Thanksgiving has nothing to do with pilgrims and turkeys or Abraham Lincoln. It is about confessing Christ’s name, offering God praise, and doing good to glorify God even when you don’t understand God. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says we may never know exactly what God is up to, but we may be absolutely clear that moving on with Jesus and doing good anyway always pleases God. Sometimes it takes a bad relationship to end for better ones to begin in the meantime.
Love one another
Moving on with Jesus, John 13:33-35 adds, “33My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Again, Jesus wasn’t embarrassing His disciples by insulting their intelligence or doubting their maturity. He wasn’t calling them childish though Luke 22's parallel account of this passage makes it clear He could have!!! Because Luke 22:24 says after Jesus offered them communion and washed their feet that “a dispute rose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” I always thought that argument came before Jesus washed their feet on their way to the Upper Room. But that afterward, with humility installed, they quit arguing. But apparently that’s not what happened because Luke 22:23 says they were not only arguing about who might betray Jesus but also about who, after whoever did betray Jesus, would be greatest.
And it’s in that mind numbing context of quarreling disciples that John introduces a term of endearment found only this once in the entire Gospel of John to describe them. In John 13:33, Jesus turns to those who remain and says to them, “My teknia. My little children.” According to the Talmud, other rabbis often affectionately called their followers “my children” so what Jesus was saying to them wasn’t un ordinary. But used in this context of conflict, this term of endearment based not on their performance [which at the moment wasn’t much better than Judas’], but on their position as sincere children of God is especially jarring and odd. It’s why Romans 4:17 says we serve a God who “Gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”
And I love that about God. He doesn’t see us the way we are. He sees us as the way we will be in the twinkling of an eye. And it’s in that context that John uses this repeatedly to describe all Christ’s sincere followers. Whether they were performing well or not. In 1 John 2:1 he say, “My dear children.” Same thing in 2:12 and 2:28, 3:7, 3:18, 4:4, and 5:21. It became the term John uses to describe himself no longer as the Son of Thunder but the beloved child of God—the one Jesus kept on loving flaws and all in spite of himself not because of himself.
And it was only because John learned to see himself this way. As deeply loved, as a child of God, that he could later write something similar to those reading his letters. 1 John 2:7-8 says, “7Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning.”
Life comes from loving well
And what was this new old command? It was to love and be loved. Point number one: Life comes from moving on with Jesus. Point number two: Life comes from loving well. John would say it this way in 1 John 3:11 “11This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” He could say that because Leviticus 19:18 said the same thing. “18Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
And for as long as God has been interacting with His children, this has been His message. It is not a new message. It is an old message. Older than Cain and Abel which is the story John refers to next in 1 John 3:12 so keep reading that later this afternoon for yourself. But before you do, don’t miss John’s 2 nd point in our passage today: Life comes from loving well. And while the message is old, it has new application.
In John 13, Jesus is saying “You have heard it said, ‘love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.’ But I’m saying unto you, ‘Love them as much as I love Judas!’ Love them till death do you part. Love them if they never love you back. Love them before they even know you. Love them even after they reject you. Love them even after they bomb your buildings and kill innocent tourists. Love them with that kind of love!’”
We know Jesus is raising the standard of love here because the Greek word he uses for love in John 13:34 is a form of agape—the highest form of Godly love. Literally, what Jesus says is: “Love and keep loving like I love you.”
For Jackie and me, what that means is if we buy our children a Christmas present, we buy our adopted children in India a present of the same value. I’ve even heard of some other crazy parents who wait to buy their children braces until they can simultaneously afford to buy braces for a child whose parents can’t afford them. Making two smiles beautiful is always better than one right?
Don’t just love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Love them as much as I have loved Judas! This understanding was new to them. And may be new to you. But it’s how people will be able to identify the true followers of Jesus. They will love and keep on loving the way Jesus loved Judas! Extravagantly! Lavishly! Unconditionally! Constantly! Fervantly! Not in isolated, conditional, seasonal outbursts of charity. Which is the English word used in the King James version of 1 Corinthians 13:1 to describe the same word in Greek. Agape. Christ is not calling us to seasonal charity, but ongoing agape. Ordinary outreach is a lifestyle of evangelism based on ongoing agape.
“35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” And if it were just me saying this, I suppose some us could choose to participate or not. We could say, “Ah, well, I don’t like the music at car shows so that’s not for me.” Or “I don’t like the smell of nursing homes so that’s not for me.” Or, “I hate camping so helping young people find their path is not for me.” Wrong! Ordinary outreach is a lifestyle of evangelism that Christ is calling all of us to participate in 24/7. He is calling us to ongoing agape not seasonal bursts of charity.
But still I Adventists saying we should be known by the Sabbath or Second Coming. But in our exuberance to remember the 4 th commandment, is it possible that we have forgotten the 11 th? To “Love one another as I have loved you”? Please note that Jesus does not say, “By this the whole world will know that you are My people if you keep the seventh-day Sabbath.” He could have I suppose since he was talking to a thoroughly sabbatarian group of followers. But he doesn’t.
Just as strangely, Jesus does not declare “By this the whole world will know that you are My people if your hopes is in literal audible visible return and not the rapture.” Of course we long for the Advent, for Jesus to return, that’s why we’re Seventh-day Adventists. In just a few minutes, Jesus will assure his disciples of that in John 14:1-3 that “Where I am there ye may be also.”
Life comes from looking back
But Jesus says that’s not to be what we’re known for. So if we’re not supposed to be known by the Sabbath or the Second Coming, how should we be known? By point number two! By loving well. Five times within these 4 upper room walls Jesus tries to make this clear. Take a look at John 13:34-35; 15:12,17 for more or read Dwight Nelson’s book The 11 th Commandment published by Pacific Press. Five times he ups the ante. Five times he asks us to live grace and show love and by known by that love. Hoping that when we look back, we’ll remember not only what he said, but how he said it. And this is point number three: Life comes from looking back.
“36Simon Peter asked him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus replied, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later." 37Peter asked, "Lord, why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." 38Then Jesus answered, "Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!”
Prophecy helps us believe
This is now the 2 nd of three times in chapters 12-14 of the Gospel of John that Jesus has repeated this point about prophecy to his disciples. So obviously it was important to Jesus. And should be important to us. So let’s remind ourselves what the point of prophecy is one more time. The point of prophecy is to help us look back. John 13:19 says, “19I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.” John 14:29 would add, “29I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.” John 12:16 said, “16At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.”
The point of prophecy is to remind us to look back. To see how Jesus has been with us in the past, is with us in the present, and will be with us in the future. Even if everything in the future isn’t clearly understood. “God, I don’t know what you’re doing,” that young woman battling cancer who lost her home during Katrina confessed in that video clip, “But I’m listening.”
Jesus told Peter before he denied him that he would do so. But Peter wasn’t listening. He says, “No way, not me Lord! I’d die for you.” But if you skip ahead to John 18:15-27, you can see that Jesus’ prophecy was right. And that Peter would in fact deny even knowing Jesus three times in the next 12 hours. Some of which was rated PG-13 and needed to be bleeped.
But Jesus doesn’t predict that to Peter that to discourage him. Jesus tells Peter that to encourage him. So that after he does deny Jesus, he’ll remember not only what Jesus said, but the love with which he said it. Why do we so quickly forget that John 13 is connected to John 14? And it’s in John 14 that we hear some of the most compassionate and loving and encouraging things ever recorded in Scripture. “Do not let your heart be troubled Peter.” I know you’re going to deny me. In fact, I know you will all betray me. Not just Judas. “But do not let your hearts stay troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in Me.” What an amazing thing to say! How those words and the reassuring way they were shared must have encouraged Peter later on.
We should be praying, “O Lord Most Holy, save me in spite of myself, my weak, unchristlike self. Lord, take my heart; for I cannot give it. It is Your property. Keep it pure, for I cannot keep it for You. Mold me, fashion me, raise me into a pure and holy atmosphere, where the rich current of Your love can flow through my soul” [Christ’s Object Lessons, 159]. Is that your prayer? Today, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior in the coming weeks, let us all decide to move on and love well while looking back at Jesus. If we do, I think like Peter, we’ll see that Jesus has been with us all along.