Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Category: Gospel of John

PETER’S DENIAL PREDICTED

 

Jesus had just told His disciples, “Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer.  You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you” (John 13:33; NKJV).  This, of course, pricked their curiosity; and it was Peter, impulsive, impetuous Peter, who asked the obvious question: “Lord, where are You going?” (v. . 36).  But instead of answering the question directly, Jesus gave him a cryptic answer: “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.”

What Jesus understood, of course, was that He was not simply going to another location.  He was about to experience death and resurrection, and be removed from this world altogether.  Peter, and the rest of the disciples, would be left behind, at least for the time being.

But Jesus intimated that there was more to it than that.  What He told Peter was, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.”  But how would Peter follow Him afterward?

In Peter’s case the path actually would eventually lead to martyrdom.  According to ancient church tradition he was eventually crucified head downwards (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III.1).  But this raises an interesting question: if God loves us, if He has saved us and forgiven our sins, why would He allow any of us to suffer persecution?

The answer is that we must still live in the world, and the world hates Christ.  When Jesus sent His disciples out on their first preaching tour He forewarned them, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves . . .” (Matt. 10:16), and “you will be hated by all for My name’s sake . . .” (v. 22). And as He would eventually tell them later on in the Upper Room Discourse, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own.  Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18,19).  And so it is that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12), and “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Fallen man wants to deny God; he wants to deny the eternal and divine.  But the strongest testimony we can bear for the existence of the eternal and divine is to be willing to die for it.  “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (II Cor. 4:7).  “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).  “Precious in the sight of the Lord / Is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116:15).

Peter, however, being his brash self, says, “Lord, why can I not follow You now?  I will lay down my life for your sake” (John 13:37).  Peter had already heard Jesus say on previous occasions that He would be returning to His Father in heaven, and he had just heard Jesus predict that He would be betrayed by one of His disciples.  And so fervent was his love and devotion to the Master that he impulsively declared that he would even be willing to die with Him.  It would be an exciting adventure!

Peter’s zeal was certainly commendable, but what Jesus said next must have come as a shock: “Will you lay down your life for My sake?  Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times (v. 38).  The thought that Peter would deny Him at all was shocking enough.  That he would do it before daybreak the next morning the next day was even more shocking.  That he would do it no less than three times was utterly beyond belief.  And yet that was exactly what would happen.

One might wonder how such a thing could be possible.  How could someone like Peter, one of the Lord’s disciples, filled with love and zeal for his Master, fall so fast and so far?  The answer is that Peter was very much a human being, and as such was much more prone to weakness and failure than he himself realized.  And this, in turn, is a solemn warning to us all of the danger of overconfidence.

What Peter forgot, and what we would all do well to remember, was the proverb that says, “Pride goes before destruction, / And a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).   And as the apostle Paul would eventually put it, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12).  The sad fact of the matter is that we are weak in and of ourselves, constantly subject to temptation and prone to fall.  We are completely dependent on God’s grace to deliver us from temptation and to keep us from falling.  As John Brown of Edinburgh put it, “What can secure us?  Christ’s prayer for us, and the supply of Divine influence which that prayer alone can infallible procure; and if we would have the security which Christ’s prayer gives, we must, relinquishing all dependence on ourselves, lean entirely on him” (Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord, Vol. 2, p. 518).  Or as Peter himself would later put it, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time . . .Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:6,8).

One of the characteristic faults of American Christians is our sense of self-sufficiency – our “can-do” attitude.  We plan and organize; we raise funds and we build.  And we do it all in the proud assurance that we are completely sufficient unto ourselves.  And some celebrity pastors are able to point to the mega-churches and multi-million ministries as evidence of their success.  And yet we do not see the gospel making the lasting moral impact on American society that it should.  What is missing is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit which alone can change hearts and minds and produce genuine conversions.  Oh that the church would fall on its knees, humble itself before God, and acknowledge its dependence on Him!  Only then can we hope to see the “showers of blessing we need.”

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THE NEW COMMANDMENT

 

Judas had now left the room, and Jesus was now free to address those who remained as His genuine disciples.  And He begins by addressing them as “little children” (John 13:33: NKJV).  This is significant because it tells us how He saw His relationship with His disciples and, by extension, us.  On the one hand we are “little children” – we are not His equals; there is a vast disparity between Him and us.  And so He is a kind of father-figure to us – strong and wise, and able to take care of us in our need.  And we, for our part, are finite and limited, and absolutely dependent on Him.

But “little children” is also a term of endearment.  We bear a special relationship with Him, and because of that He has a special, warm, personal love for us.  It is reminiscent of the description of a father’s love found in Psalm 103:13,14:

“As a father pities his children

So the Lord pities those who fear Him.

For He knows our frame,

He remembers that we are dust.”

And so, as Jesus looks around the table at His remaining disciples, His genuinely committed disciples, and He reflects on what is about to happen to Him and where that will leave them, He is filled with compassion and concern over their well-being.

And so He continues: “Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer.  You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I way to you” (v. 33).  In other words, He was leaving, and was leaving them behind in the world.  They will seek Him, they will want to be with Him, but He will not be there.  And then He repeats to them what He had previously told the Jews: “Where I am going, you cannot come” (cf. Jn. 7:34; 8:21).  The disciples probably did not understand what He meant by this – it was an oblique reference to the fact that He was about to be crucified, resurrected from the dead, and the then ascended into heaven.  It was all a part of the special mission to which He was assigned by God the Father.  The disciples themselves would eventually be martyred, but not right away.  And that meant that there would be a length of time during which they would be separated from their Master.

The question then is, how were they to function in His absence?  And the first thing that He tells them is, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).  God has always required human beings to love each other.   Leviticus 19:18 in the Old Testament reads, in part, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and Jesus had previously said that this was the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39,40)  How then is it a “new commandment”?  This answer lies in the phrase “As I have loved you.”  What was new was Christ’s personal example – His willingness to die on the cross to save lost sinners – something that was unique and unprecedented in human history.  And Jesus says that this is the way we should love one another: “as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

This, in turn, is to be the distinguishing mark of the church: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (v. 35).  It was this kind of brotherly love that sets Christians apart from the fallen world around them.  It is the kind of love that is possible only through the inward renewal by the Holy Spirit, transforming us inwardly and making us more like Christ.  And this is what should strike unbelievers when they look at the church – a fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters who genuinely love and actively care for one another.

This can only happen, of course, if the church is a believers’ church with a regenerate church membership.  On this point the 16th Century Anabaptists were absolutely right, and it is one of the so-called “Baptist distinctives.”  And so far have modern Baptist churches, and evangelical Bible-believing churches generally, strayed from the biblical ideal, that oftentimes outsiders can see little difference between the church and the world.  It is a sad commentary on the current state of affairs that James Baldwin, the prominent African-American writer and civil rights activist, could tell an NAACP gathering in 1973:

“I am obviously opposed to the Christian church.  It has a pretty

shameful record.  Let’s leave it at that.  But to be opposed to the

Christian church and to loathe its history is not to say that I hate

you or anybody else.  In fact, that’s my argument with the Christian

church: precisely that there is no love in it.”

(European Stars and Stripes, Feb. 27, 1973)

That an outsider could say such a thing about the church is an absolute scandal.  What a reproach on the name of Christ!

Part of the problem stems from the fact that many churches have weak views on conversion and regeneration, taking people into their membership who show little evidence of repentance or a changed life.  The problem then is often compounded by lax standards of church discipline.  The end result is that the church’s testimony in the community is ruined.

What the world needs to see is a fellowship of believers in close communion with God and a loving relationship with each other.  Only then can we manifest the life of Christ to the world.

JUDAS

 

          While Jesus was in the process of washing the disciples’ feet He made an ominous comment to Peter: “. . . and you are clean, but not all of you” (John 13:10; NKJV), and then John went to explain in his narrative, “For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean’” (v. 11).

Jesus Himself went on immediately to make it clear.  Having urged His disciples to follow His example, He then said, “I do not speak concerning all of you.  I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me” (v. 18).  And then He said, “Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He” (v. 19).  The quotation is from Psalm 41:9, in which David tells of being betrayed by His close friend.

What was about to happen in Jesus’ case was that Judas Iscariot would soon depart from the meal to betray Jesus.  Jesus, for His part, was saying that He knew this in advance, and that this was a fulfillment of prophecy.  And by telling His disciples this before it actually happened they would be able to believe that Jesus really was who He said He was.  A charlatan generally does not know in advance what would happen to him, and his own plans eventually come to naught.  And in Jesus’ case the idea of the Messiah being crucified by the Romans would have been unthinkable to most Jews.  Surely Jesus’ betrayal and arrest would have suggested to them that He was not the Messiah.  But by predicting it in advance and pointing out that it had at least been alluded to in the Old Testament He was able to demonstrate that He really had been sent from God and was about to fulfill Messianic prophecy.  As the 19th Century Scottish theologian John Brown pointed out, here Jesus was “manifesting an obviously miraculous knowledge of the thoughts and feelings of another – thoughts and feelings unexpressed in actions, in words, or even in gestures, — and of a future event, in itself highly improbable, and plainly undiscoverable by any process competent to the most sagacious human mind . . .” (Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord, Vol. 2, p. 367).  It is a powerful testimony to the fact that Jesus was no ordinary human being; He had indeed come from God.

Jesus went on to say, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (v. 20).  At first this seems disjointed from what immediately went before it, but on closer inspection it follows logically from what He had just said.  He was speaking to His disciples; all but one of them would become apostles, “sent ones” or emissaries.   So the implication was that if they came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, they in turn would proclaim the message to the world.  And if people respond positively to the message they are not just responding positively to the apostles, the missionary or evangelist; they are receiving Christ.  And if they receive Christ they are also receiving God the Father.

John then goes on to say that Jesus was “troubled in spirit,” and said, directly, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me” (v. 21).  This invoked consternation among the disciples, who naturally wondered which one of them it could be.  Finally Peter motioned to John, who was positioned next to Jesus to ask Him who it was.  Jesus replied to John that it would be the one to whom He would give a piece of bread that had been dipped.  The “piece of bread,” as the NKJV translates it (the NASV had “morsel”), was very likely a piece of the Passover lamb, a piece of unleavened bread and some bitter herbs dipped in a mixture of nuts, fruit and vinegar to mitigate the bitter taste of the herbs (cf. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. II, p. 506).  Jesus dipped the morsel and handed it to Judas.  And then, John tells us, Satan entered Judas, and Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly” (v. 27).  The other disciples were not sure what exactly Jesus meant by this, but Judas apparently knew, and left immediately.

Jesus then explained the significance of what had just happened.  “Now the Son of man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him.  If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately” (vv. 31,32).  One might wonder how this might be, coming, as it were, at the most difficult moment in Jesus’ earthly ministry.  It is most likely a reference back to a Messianic prophecy contained in Dan. 7:13,14, in which  “One like the Son of Man” is presented to “the Ancient of Days,” and “to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, / That all peoples, nations and languages should serve Him . ..”  And yet, ironically, in order for that to happen an atonement had to be made for the sins of men.  And what Jesus was conscious of at that moment in time was that that was what He was about to do.  The turning point in human history had arrived – but it would require His death on a cross.

And yet the text in Daniel specifically states that “to Him was given . . . glory.”  Here we can see the paradox of Divine Providence.  What was about to happen to Jesus was truly horrible – the arrest, the trial, the excruciating death on the cross as a condemned criminal.  And yet God had a larger purpose in it all – the redemption of fallen sinners.  And how is Christ glorified in this?  Because He is the Savior who died to save us from our sins, and thus to Him we owe our eternal salvation.  And how is God glorified in Him?  Because in addition to His holiness and justice we can also see wisdom, grace and mercy, and victory over the powers of sin and hell.  What a glorious God we have!

And what are the practical implications for ourselves?  First of all, the example of Judas should show us how it is possible to be nominally a Christian and yet totally lost at the same time.  Outwardly we may do the same things as genuine Christians – Judas had dwelled with Jesus, heard Him preach, watched Him perform miracles, and possibly even preached to others about Christ.  Yet inwardly he was a cesspool of selfishness and greed.  No sooner had Jesus demonstrated humble servanthood to him than he went out to betray his Master for a sum of money.  How each one of us ought to take heed of where we really stand with Christ today.

But secondly, the example of Christ should show us how that God has a larger purpose in the trials and difficulties that come our way.  We may suffer financial hardship or experience serious health problems.  Friends may betray us.  Acquaintances may reject us.  And eventually, if we are fortunate enough to live that long, we become old and infirm.  In such trials we may be tempted to ask “why?”  And yet God has a larger purpose in it all.  What that might be will vary from circumstance to circumstance.  It may be to some others something form our own example.  It may be simply to teach us something that we need to know about patience, humility, and gentleness towards others.  And in the end if we suffer with Christ now, if we endure, we will reign with Him later forever (II Tim. 2:12).  Sometimes it is hard to see all of that when we are going through the trial or difficulty, but we are called to walk by faith, not by sight (II Cor. 5:7).  To God be the glory forever!

JESUS WASHES THE DISCIPLES’ FEET

 

As we noted earlier, John chapters 13 through 16 contain an account of the discussion that Jesus had with His disciples during His last Passover meal, just prior to His arrest and crucifixion.  The discussion began, however, with a striking gesture on Jesus’ part – the washing of the disciples’ feet.

John introduces the incident by telling us that “. . . the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper . . .” (John 13:2-4; NKJV).  Here again John tells us that Jesus was conscious of certain things as he undertook to do what H was about to do.  Jesus knew that He had come from God the Father and was about to return to Him.  He knew that the Father “had given all things into His hands.”  Thus Jesus knew that He was in a position of preeminent authority over all things.  But He also know that Judas had already decided to betray Him.  If anyone deserved honor and respect, it was Jesus.  And if anyone contempt and disgrace, it was the wretched human being who was about to betray Him.

In light of all that what Jesus did next was most remarkable.  He “rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself” (v. 4).  He then proceeded to wash the disciples’ feet and wipe them with the towel.  It would be difficult to imagine a human being doing such a thing, let alone the eternal Son of God, the Lord of the universe!  And yet that is exactly what He did.

Apparently most the disciples watched in stunned silence, not quite comprehending what was happening.  And the Jesus came to Peter who, being his usual impulsive self, blurted out, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” (v. 6).  The word order in the Greek emphasizes the contrast between “You” and “my.”  Peter was struck by the anomaly of the situation – “Lord, are You washing my feet?”  And Jesus’ answer must have totally mystified him: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this” (v. 7).

Peter protested.  “You shall never wash my feet!” (v. 8a), to which Jesus replied with a cryptic comment, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (v. 8b).  Well, thought Peter, that being the case, let us go all the way: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” (v. 9).  Jesus’ reply to that must have been even more mystifying: “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean: and you [plural] are clean, but not all of you” (v. 10).

What Jesus was driving at, but what the disciples probably did not comprehend, was that His action in washing their feet was symbolic of something greater, of something that He was about to do – cleanse them spiritually by atoning for their sins on the cross.  He was about to make the supreme sacrifice on their behalf.  But it was a necessary sacrifice if their sins were ever to be forgiven.  Then they would receive the Holy Spirit who would renew them inwardly, transforming them from fallen sinners to children of light.  Without this cleansing no relationship with Christ is possible.  “You have no part with Me.”

But what did Jesus mean when He said, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean”?  The implication is that when we are saved and born again, we are completely forgiven and inwardly transformed – we are “bathed,” as it were.  But we may still fall into sin from time to time, and need to have those sins forgiven and be completely restored to full fellowship with Christ.  And so as we walk thought the filth of this world we need to have our spiritual “feet” periodically washed, as it were.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

But then Jesus added an ominous note: “You are clean, but not all of you”; and John explains, “For He knew who would betray Him . . .” (v. 11).  Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion were not due to unforeseen events or circumstances beyond d His control.  Jesus was conscious that this was all part of God’s redemptive plan and that this was an ordeal which He must undergo.

Jesus then undertook to drive home the practical lesson.  “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (vv. 13-15).  This does not necessarily mean that we must perform the physical rite of footwashing, as is done in some churches (the practice does not appear again in the Book of Acts or the Epistles).  But rather it means that we must imitate Jesus’ example of humble service to our fellow believers.

There was a sense in which Peter’s astonishment at what Jesus had done was well taken.  There was something odd about the eternal Son of God, the Lord of glory, taking on the role of a servant and performing a menial task.  But if Jesus was willing to do that for us, how much more should we be willing humbly to serve each other?  We have no excuse for not following His example.

But alas!   How very often is it different in our churches today!  As fallen human beings we crave attention.  We want to be respected and admired by others.  We strive to excel so that we can gain honor and respect.  And all too often in church life our actions are driven by ego rather than a desire to please God and serve others.  But everything we do should be marked by a humble servant attitude.  If Christ could die on the cross for us, what excuse do we have nor not serving each other?

THE UPPER ROOM DISCOURSE: INTRODUCTION

 

In John chapters 1-12 the evangelist has been focusing on Jesus’ public ministry, especially in His interactions with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.  But now we have come to the end of that ministry, and John’s focus shifts to a discussion that Jesus had with His disciples about what they should expect after He is gone, and that forms the substance of chapters 13 through 16.  That, in turn, if followed by Jesus’ high priestly prayer in chapter 17.

John introduces this section with the following statement: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that the hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1; NKJV).  This remarkable statement tells us, first of all, that Jesus was conscious of something about Himself.  He “knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father.”  He was conscious that He was no ordinary human being, that God was His Father in heaven.  Moreover He knew that He had come down here to earth on a temporary mission, and that that mission was about to end: “His hour had come.”  It was all foreordained and His departure was imminent.

But where would that leave His disciples?  Jesus was also conscious, the verse says, that they were “His own who were in the world.”  First of all, they were “His own.”  This points back to what He had said earlier about the Father giving certain ones to Him (Jn. 6:37,39), and He would come back to the idea in His final prayer for them in John 17:2,24.  There are certain people who are special to Him because they belong to Him in a certain way that the others do not.   They were chosen by God to be the recipients of salvation.  It points to the doctrine of election.

But then Jesus is also conscious of the fact that they “were in the world.”  In John’s writings, at least, the word “world” (kosmos) does not refer to just the physical, inhabited earth.  It also means the sum total of humanity that lives upon the earth.  It is the fallen human race, a human race that is in a state of sin and rebellion against God.  It is sunk in depravity and under God’s wrath and condemnation.  And Jesus is conscious of the fact that as He is about to depart form this world He will be leaving them behind, and that they would somehow have to function in the world without Him being physically present.  And this would pose a great challenge for them.  The world, in its sin and rebellion, is hostile towards the truths of the gospel.  It will put pressure on them to conform to its standards.  And ultimately it will persecute them.

Conscious of all this, then, Jesus, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”  This is a remarkable statement.  He was the eternal Son of God.  He was about to die on the cross.  Why should He be concerned about them?  One would think that He had more important matters on His mind.  And yet He loved them.  He was concerned for their welfare.  He was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for them.  That the eternal Son of God would lay down His very life for finite and fallen human beings is quite extraordinary.  This truly is “amazing grace that save a wretch like me.”

That kind of divine love, that kind of personal sacrifice, should move us to respond in love and devotion to Him.  If He would make that kind of sacrifice for us, what kind of personal sacrifice on our part would be too great to make for Him?

“When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of Glory died,

My riches gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

 

\                       “Forbid it Lord, that I should boast,

Save in the death of Christ my God:

\                       All the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to his blood.”

Isaac Watts