HOW TO HANDLE SOME PAINFUL RELATIONAL EXPERIENCES

One of the most painful experiences in life is to be betrayed by someone close to you. It is a devastating experience. What is interesting is that Jesus knew all along that Judas would betray him. So, why did Jesus keep Judas on as one of the twelve, knowing that as the treasurer, he was stealing from the common purse and what he was about to do? A couple of things come to mind. First, Jesus is showing the depth of his concern for humanity by constantly reaching out to those who were his enemies, including one that was in his closest company of followers. The second thing, we can learn from this is that Jesus was concerned about fulfilling the word of God which would bring glory to the Father. In obedience to both of these concerns, Judas was allowed to be a part of Jesus’ leadership team. We know from the biblical text that Jesus knew that betrayal would be a part of his experience as prophesied from Scripture.

Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.[i]

In some translations, the expression ‘has turned against me’ is literally ‘to lift up one’s heel’. Gerald Borchert explains this term and cultural nuance.

To lift up the heel, therefore, in a culture where displaying the bottom of the foot has been regarded as a breach of honor, especially after one had enjoyed acceptance at the meal, was the epitome of shaming the host and the equivalent to being a traitorous scoundrel, after the manner of Ahithophel and his betrayal of David.[ii]

Though David likely wrote with this in mind, it had an even greater prophetic significance in David’s greater descendant, the Lord Jesus and that treacherous act by Judas. Warren Wiersbe shares this insight regarding the moral responsibility of Judas in light of the amazing exposure that he had with Jesus to repent and serve him.

Judas was exposed to the same spiritual privileges as the other disciples, yet they did him no good. The same sun that melts the ice only hardens the clay. In spite of all that our Lord said about money, and all of His warning about covetousness, Judas continued to be a thief and steal from the treasury. In spite of all our Lord’s warning about unbelief, Judas persisted in his rejection. Jesus even washed Judas’ feet! Yet his hard heart did not yield. Jesus had spoken before about a traitor (John 6:70), but the disciples did not take it to heart.[iii]

Not only had Judas not taken to heart all the warnings from Jesus and respond in repentance, but it is also obvious that the disciples were not paying much attention to Jesus’ warnings about a traitor in their midst.

Now, as they approached the last Passover which Jesus will celebrate with his disciples we find a dark undercurrent flowing. Jesus is carrying the weight of what He is about to experience, but also addressing two very painful relational experiences that at some point in our lives, we may also encounter. How will we handle them? How did Jesus handle it? How do we handle betrayal and rejection?

THE FIRST PAINFUL RELATIONAL ISSUE THAT JESUS ADDRESSED IS THE ISSUE OF BETRAYAL

We know that the mood was one of deep distress for Jesus. He knew that among His followers was one who was about to betray Him. Love spurned and rejected is always painful. Jesus knew that Judas had never been a true follower and now the moment of decision had come. Judas’ spiritual direction is now exposed.

I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’

I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.[iv]

A. Even in this pronouncement of betrayal, Jesus explains the power and significance of acceptance.

Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.[v]

While Jesus is preparing the disciples for this critical moment when the spiritual battle will intensify, He reminds them of the mission that they have been called to and the opposition that they can anticipate. Bruce Milne explains what Jesus is trying to convey more than just a preparation for his departure, but also their impending mission into the world.

The analogy is that of a commanding officer giving his troops final instructions and encouragement on the eve of a most dangerous mission in which he will lead them.[vi]     

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.’[vii]

Jesus therefore decides to break the unwelcome news that the traitor is at that moment eating bread with them. Two purposes are served by this disclosure. First, Judas is given the opportunity of withdrawing from the fellowship of the children of light, and entering the realm of darkness to which he belongs. And, secondly, the further evidence of Jesus’ foreknowledge, which would be available when His prophetic words about the traitor have been proved true, will strengthen the faith of the rest of the apostles.[viii]

B. Jesus’ announcement of the betrayal is a sign of His Divine nature.

It is also true that this foreknowledge, in fact, revealed the divine nature of Jesus. Jesus tells the disciples ahead of time that he will be betrayed so that they will believe that He is the great I am. We notice the expression at the end of verse 19, “you will believe that I am who I am.” This is the personal name for God that was revealed to Moses at the burning bush.

When we consider what had already happened with Jesus washing their feet, and the announcement that one will “turn against him,” the disciples have been slow to pick up the sense of sorrow that Jesus was experiencing and the seriousness of this moment. F. F. Bruce paints a picture of the mood of in the Upper room as Jesus discloses that there is a traitor in their midst.

From his words thus far the disciples had not gathered the gravity of the situation. That their Master was not completely happy about all of them was evident; that one of their present company was going to turn traitor came as a shock to them… Had one of them by some inadvertent action or word endangered his safety, or was he speaking of something more serious still–of a deliberate plan to put him into his enemies’ hands?[ix]

Matthew reveals that once Jesus disclosed this information about His betrayal, they were saddened and pleaded their case.

They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, ‘Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?’[x]

Not only did they deny or were at a loss of who Jesus was speaking about, but they began to look around the room, wondering who it could be.

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant.[xi]

Once again Peter takes the initiative and signals John, who is next to Jesus, to discover who Jesus is talking about. 

C. Jesus subtlety reveals the betrayer in an act of reconciling love.  

One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.

Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’

Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’

Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.

As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, ‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’[xii]

Jesus discreetly explains that the person who is the betrayer is the one whom he is about to give the bread to. This action by Jesus is filled with significance. Tasker explains:

When Jesus offers Judas a special morsel from the common dish, such as it was customary for a host to offer to an honoured guest, it is a mark of divine love which ever seeks to overcome evil with good. …In accepting the sop Judas shows himself completely impervious to the appeal of love; and from that moment he is wholly the tool of Satan (27).[xiii]

The irony of Judas’ acceptance of the bread dipped in the common dish is a cultural sign of loyalty (Tasker-161), which speaks of the height of Judas’ hypocrisy. We must be on guard as one dark deed leads to another in our lives.

Merrill Tenney in speaking of Judas’ actions reveal what happens to a heart that becomes self-centered.

His life was the antithesis of love, and its utter selfishness ended in satanic control and the sin which has made his name a byword to all subsequent generations.[xiv]

What we see from Jesus’ actions is the incredible love and willingness to forgive, but once the decision was made, Jesus sends Judas on his way. There comes a moment which, when passed, becomes a point of no return and the relationship becomes severed because the heart of the participant is hardened. In this case that hardened heart was Judas, who having determined to betray Jesus, opened the door for Satan to empower him for this heinous and dark action.

D. The disciples’ lack of discernment of what had transpired.

But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.

Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor.

As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.[xv]

Even though Peter and John witnessed the act of Jesus handing the morsel of honor to Judas, it did not occur to them that Judas’ leaving signified the beginning of the betrayal leading to the crucifixion of Jesus. It states that “no one at the meal understood” why Jesus told Judas to leave. They made assumptions that since Judas was the treasurer, Jesus was either telling him to secure more of what was needed for this festival time, or to give monies to the needy. John now gives the significance of the moment by simply stating that when Judas left, it was night. This statement speaks of more than the time of day. It is the time in which the forces of spiritual darkness would seemingly prevail. Yet, as Jesus as stated earlier, that very hour which had now come would bring glory to the Father.

Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.[xvi]

Jesus was talking about His death and resurrection. How often in our darkest hours where death seems to be reigning, where hope is often waning, God is secretly working and bringing about new life, new hope, and a new direction.

THE SECOND PAINFUL RELATIONAL ISSUE THAT JESUS ADDRESSED IS THE ISSUE OF DENIAL

What I mean by denial is rejection or lack of confession regarding being a disciple or follower of Jesus. Jesus is warning the disciples of the coming spiritual crisis in their lives. While Jesus is willing to pay the ultimate price in making a good confession of faith before Pilate, the Sanhedrin and the people, Peter is about to cower in fear when being exposed as one of Jesus’ followers. Peter denies his relationship with Jesus on three separate occasions, while the rest of the disciples flee for their lives. Jesus is deserted in his hour of greatest need.            

A. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his upcoming death.

When he was gone, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.

If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

‘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.[xvii]

D. A. Carson speaks of the greatest moment of God’s glory being revealed to humanity is His incarnation (coming to earth as a human being) and ultimately, Jesus willingly surrendering to that shameful death on the cross.

Even in the Prologue, the glorification of the incarnate Word occurs not in a spectacular display of blinding light but in the matrix of human existence (1:14). Now, bringing to a climax a theme developed throughout this Gospel, the Evangelist makes it clear that the supreme moment of divine self-disclosure, the greatest moment of displayed glory, was in the shame of the cross.[xviii]

Like in the Passover meal, Jesus takes the role of a father leading his family through the Passover meal. Jesus instructs them about a greater deliverance than Egyptian slavery. It is the deliverance from the slavery of sin and the manifestation of what our lives ought to be like in this new freedom; a life of self-giving love.

B. Jesus gives a new commandment.

‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’[xix]

What makes this a “new commandment?” In the Old Testament we have the concept that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves as an expert in the Law summarized it. Jesus, however, elevates that standard, by commanding us to love as He loves and had demonstrated earlier in the evening when He had washed their feet as a slave would. The ultimate expression of Christ’s love is His willingness to lay down His life for us, even as we ought to lay down our lives for each other. Carson explains the nature of God’s love being revealed to us shining that light into our sinfulness.

The more we recognize the depth of our own sin, the more we recognize the love of the Saviour, the more we appreciate the love of the Saviour, the higher his standard appears; the higher his standard appears, the more we recognize in our selfishness, our innate self-centredness, the depth of our own sin.[xx]

This growing awareness is both humbling but also creates a deeper love and appreciation for Jesus and an impetus to love others.

C. Peter’s question and prideful confidence.

Simon Peter asked him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.’

Peter asked, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’[xxi]

Missing Jesus’ focus on their mission and the new emphasis of life as His followers, the disciples seemed to be fixated on Jesus’ words of departure and the fact that they cannot go with Him. Peter now expresses his passion and devotion to follow Jesus immediately, even to the point of laying down his life. Like Peter, our intentions may be honorable, but we are often unable to ascertain our own weaknesses which are often hidden to us and only exposed by great trial and testing.

D. Jesus’ warning toward Peter’s self-confidence.

Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times![xxii]

Sadly, good intentions in a secure room after good food are far less attractive in a darkened garden with a hostile mob.[xxiii]

We know that Peter tried to defend Jesus with a sword, but later warming himself once the ardor of passion had subsided, Peter vehemently denies knowing Jesus to a servant girl. How the mighty had fallen.

We know that years later, a humbler Peter would lay down his life for Jesus and his brothers and sisters in Christ. This is a warning to all of us that we cannot serve Jesus in our own human strength. We are no match for the powers of darkness that assail our souls. We must find our refuge in Jesus. We know that Jesus forgave Peter his denial, and the rest of the disciples’ flight in the garden.

How do we handle betrayal and rejection? How did Jesus handle it? Jesus continued to exercise love and forgiveness until the heart of others had hardened and embraced another course apart from repentance. Bruce Milne reminds us that all is not what it may seem to be in the lives of people who profess faith in Jesus Christ.

This paragraph is a powerful and disturbing reminder of the ambiguity of the life of the people of God in every age. Despite all the laudable and entirely appropriate attempts, particularly since the Reformation, to obtain a ‘pure membership’ for the church, it remains, as Calvin acknowledged in the sixteenth century, a ‘mixed multitude’. Only Christ can truly unveil the heart, as he will do at the coming judgment day (cf. Mt. 24:30f.; Jn. 5:22; etc.). Then and only then will the true ‘flock of the Lord’ be assembled by the good shepherd. Until then the church is an irreducibly ambiguous company, at once both holy and profane, embracing the servants of Christ and the servants of Satan. This must not surprise us, however, or cause us to stumble (20). The presence of Judas among the visible company of the disciples throughout the course of Jesus’ mission did not prevent the completion of the purpose of the Son, nor the coming of the Spirit, nor the witness of the apostles, nor the going of Jesus to the world through them. It need not, it must not, prevent it now.

The most disturbing element in this passage, however, is the awesome warning represented in the figure of Judas. There is, tragically, ‘a road to hell at the very gates of heaven’ in the sense that it is possible to resist even the prolonged, personal appeals of Jesus Christ and turn away at the last into the darkness. There are those whom even Jesus cannot, and will not, save. Not that his grace is insufficient for them. On the contrary, it truly is ‘enough for all, enough for each, enough for evermore’, as Charles Wesley eloquently declared. But they will not come to receive it.[xxiv]

What does this mean? We should stop being shocked by people’s behavior, even when they profess to be Christians. The most profound moments of betrayal and rejection often come from the most unexpected sources.

What should our response be but continuous love and forgiveness until they become so hardened that they flee into the darkness.

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[i]     Psalm 41:9, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[ii]      Gerald Borchert, John 12–21 Vol. 25B, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 89.

[iii]      Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 1, (Victor Books, 1996), 347-348.

[iv]     John 13:18-19.

[v]      John 13:20.

[vi]     Bruce Milne, The Message of John: Here is Your King, (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 201.

[vii]     John 13:21.

[viii] R. V. G. Tasker, John, TNTC, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1960), 159.

[ix]    F. F. Bruce, F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 288.

[x]      Matthew 26:22.

[xi]    John 13:22.

[xii]   John 13:23-27.

[xiii]    R. V. G. Tasker, John, 159.

[xiv]   Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 202.

[xv]   John 13:28-30.

[xvi]    John 12:23-24.

[xvii]   John 13:31-33.

[xviii]   D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 482.

[xix]   John 13:34-35.

[xx]     D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 484.

[xxi]    John 13:36-37.

[xxii] John 13:38.

[xxiii]   D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 486.

[xxiv]   Bruce Milne, The Message of John: Here is Your King, 203.

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