Sunday, March 21, 2021


"Even my close friend whom I trusted, the one who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me." (Psalm 51:9) 

The person who betrayed Jesus and handed him over to those who would crucify him was a close friend of Jesus, even one of the twelve disciples. That one, as we know, was Judas Iscariot. We know this because we have recorded for us the moment when Judas left to notify the authorities that Jesus would later be found in the Garden of Gethsemane. We also have written for us what happened after the events of the upper room, including the actual act of betrayal.

But even without those facts that are given to us, and simply by reading what happened in the upper room and by the words of Jesus, it seems obvious to us that the betrayer is Judas. As we read and synchronize the four gospel accounts, these are the events of the evening where Judas is included:

The Upper Room Conversation

As Jesus and all twelve of the disciples were at the table after the foot washing, Jesus refers to a scripture from the Psalms when he says, “The one who shares My bread has lifted up his heel against Me. I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it comes to pass, you will believe that I am He.”

Then, with a troubled look he adds, “Truly, truly, I tell you, one of you will betray Me.” (John 13:18-21)

This in turn greatly troubles the disciples. They look around at each other, wondering who it could be who would do such a thing.

One by one, they began asking Jesus, “Surely not I?”

Even Judas asks him this question. “Surely not I, Rabbi?”

Jesus answered, “You have said it yourself.” (Matthew 26:22-25)

The disciple sitting next to Jesus (assumed to be John), asks him, “Lord, who is it?”

In response to this question, Jesus answers, “It is the one to whom I give this morsel after I have dipped it.”

Jesus then dipped the morsel and gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.  

Then Jesus said to Judas, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” (John 26:26-27).

At this, Judas got up from the table and hurried off into the night.

It seems astounding; the rest of the disciples heard Jesus send Judas away, telling him to do what he had to do, but they did not know what Jesus was referring to. They assumed that Judas was sent to buy something for the feast, or perhaps to give some money to the poor, since he was the one who was in charge of the money, (John 13:29).

How could they have missed all that was said? Did they not see the morsel of bread given to Judas? It is difficult to understand, but I think it has something to do with what I spoke on last week. The disciples at this time were in heavy discussion about who of them was the greatest. They were preoccupied with themselves, and did not notice or completely pay attention to the words and actions of Jesus.

When Events Begin to Unfold

In the hours before the crucifixion of Jesus, events were moving very rapidly. Jesus knew that they would, which is why he arranged for a few quiet moments with his disciples in the upper room before they were all occupied by the flurry of the events of the evening.

The disciples seemed unaware that Judas had left to set these events in motion, even after Jesus told them most plainly. We might be inclined to criticize the lack of understanding on the part of the disciples. Sitting where we are 2000 years after the fact and with all of the information given to us as what happened subsequentially with Jesus and the disciples, it may seem almost shocking to us that they could not see this. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we see that we are no different than they.

As we near the events of the very last days of this age and of this present earth, we will also see the events in the final days move very rapidly. The disciples may have been told beforehand of the betrayal of Jesus, and about his death and resurrection, but we have also been told many things about the end of the age. We have been given many signs and many predictions.

How many of us will be like the disciples—so preoccupied with ourselves and trying to secure our own place in the world, that much of what is happening will go unnoticed by us? Will we be aware of what we have been told and understand the events as they begin to unfold? We have much information about the coming of the final days—more than the disciples had of the events of their own day. Are we so busy with our own lives and our own greatness that we will not see these things?

Jesus criticized the Pharisees for just this attitude. He said to them, “When evening comes, you say, ‘The weather will be fair, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:2-3)

After Jesus explained to his disciples about some of the events that will lead up to the last days, he said this, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.”

Then, speaking of some of the signs of the last days, he added, “So also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:29-31 BSB).

But if we do not look, we will not see. If you are so busy with daily activities, you will not even notice. For you, the return of Jesus will be like “a thief in the night.” You will immediately lose all that you have worked for, and it will be gone forever.

Back to the Upper Room

After Judas had left, Jesus addresses the remaining eleven, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him…Little children, I am with you only a little while longer. You will look for Me, and as I said to the Jews, so now I say to you: ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” (John 13:31,33 BSB).

He also gave them some disturbing news—news which caused Peter to make his vows about never leaving Jesus. Jesus tells them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of Me. For it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’” (Matthew 26:22).

Then, Jesus introduces his most important instructions for his disciples. These are not only the most important things that he said that evening, but some of the most important of his entire time on earth. Jesus said: 

A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 BSB)

As important as these words were, the statement by Jesus went largely unheard by the disciples. They were too preoccupied with the news that Jesus would be leaving them and that they would be scattered. Certainly this would be disturbing for these men. They had left everything of their former lives to follow Jesus. For the previous three years, their lives were centered on Jesus—nothing else. I am certain that they were awash with fears of what they would do after Jesus left them.

The disciples peppered him with questions:

“Lord, where are you going?”

“We do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

“Why can’t I follow you now?”

Trying to allay their fears, Jesus told them this: 

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe in Me as well. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4 BSB) 

The disciples were so preoccupied with what was going to happen in the next moments, that when Jesus gave them what he called “a new commandment,” they had paid little attention. But even if the disciples let those words drop, Jesus did not. This was too important. It was imperative that they understood this.

The New Commandment

Jesus had been sidetracked somewhat when he had to answer questions about his leaving, but then he again picks up the lesson of this new commandment. Using the subject of the works of God as a springboard, he returns the topic of this conversation back to what he was talking about earlier. There is quite a lot of content in the quotation below. Perhaps Jesus wanted to get out everything that he wanted to say before the disciples sidetracked him again. 

And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me for anything in My name, I will do it.

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot receive Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you do know Him, for He abides with you and will be in you.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you. Whoever has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me. The one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him.” (John 14:13-21 BSB)

These words brought out one more question from the disciples: “Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself to us and not to the world?”

The answer that the disciples received to this question was probably not what they were expecting or even what they wanted. As often was the case with Jesus, his answer was wrapped in a bit of an enigma, but it is all centered on the new commandment of love. Jesus speaks now of not only loving one another, but loving God. 

If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. The word that you hear is not My own, but it is from the Father who sent Me.

All this I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you. (John 14:23-26 BSB)

Hearing these words from Jesus, we might pepper him with our own questions:

“What do you mean that you will come to us?”

“How will you ‘make your home’ with us?”

“What do you mean by calling the Holy Spirit our ‘Advocate’?” (or as the word is translated in other Bible versions, our “Comforter” or “Helper”) 

I am certain that with all of the perplexing information that Jesus was giving the disciples, they were troubled. They knew something important was soon going to happen. They must have finally begun to be aware of the fact that their Lord would be crucified, but they did not understand it all. They still had so many questions.

Questions about Our Own Day

People today often have the same feelings about the information concerning the last days of this age. There is so much happening even right now that we do not understand. When it comes to the very last days, many of the things that we are told in the book of Revelation in particular are difficult to comprehend, and that is at its best. The words are not only enigmatic, but some of what we are told seems impossible to be true.

Like the disciples facing the death of their Lord, we also might feel fearful about the coming events. You might say as do I, “I have dedicated my entire life to the Lord. All that I do is for the sake of Jesus. If all these trials are to come upon me, what will I do?”

To us Jesus would say, as he said to the disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid…And now I have told you before it happens, so that when it does happen, you will believe” (John 14:27, 29 BSB).

Let Us Go From Here

In the upper room, Jesus now seems almost eager to get going. Although the disciples are still confused by the words of Jesus and about the coming events, Jesus knew full well what was soon to take place. It is true that in the coming hours, the disciples would be driven by the events happening around them. That what was soon to come would control the disciples, but Jesus made it clear that it was not the events that were controlling him. Rather, the Father was the one who was controlling what was about to take place.

Jesus tells his disciples, “I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming, and he has no claim on Me. But I do exactly what the Father has commanded Me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”

“Get up! Let us go on from here.” (John 14:30-31 BSB)

Words of a Dad

This ends chapter fourteen of the book of John. It is not until the eighteenth chapter that Jesus and the eleven disciples arrive at the Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas would also soon be arriving, bringing with him a band of soldiers and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees. Chapters fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen of the book of John consist almost exclusively of the words of Jesus. Chapters fifteen and sixteen are words that Jesus spoke to the disciples. Chapter seventeen are words that Jesus spoke in his prayer to the Father in heaven.

They are all some the most important words in the Bible for a disciple of Jesus to read, to re-read, and on which to meditate. It is especially important as we approach the final days of the age.

Consider the situation with Jesus and the disciples at the time…we could in some ways liken the words of Jesus to the words of a dad who was going off to a war from which he knew that he would never return. What would this father say to his children? He would prepare them for difficult times, but he would also assure them that in the end, all will be well. This is a little bit how Jesus spoke to his disciples.

Words of a Savior

The very first thing that Jesus wanted the disciples to understand was how they would find the strength to face the trials that would soon be upon them. It is here that what Jesus said to his disciples might be different from a dad going off to war and speaking to his children.

An earthly dad might say something to the effect of, “You have to be strong! You must learn to find the inner strength to be brave!”

Jesus did not say that. He instead began by using an illustration that each of his disciples would understand. He spoke of the cultivation of grapes.

Jesus said to them, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the keeper of the vineyard. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes to make it even more fruitful.”

Although so far as we know, none of the disciples had ever owned a vineyard, they all knew about the growing of grapes. There were grapevines all around the hills of Judea. They knew the process of growing a healthy crop of grapes.

They understood that any branch of the vine that was growing only leaves was not only superfluous, but it actually was using the nutrition of the soil that could otherwise go toward the fruit. The purpose of the vine was not to grow leaves. It was to produce fruit.

Branches that were growing no fruit at all were completely cut off, but more relevant to the disciples is what happens to the branches that did have some clusters of grapes. These branches are pruned. That means, all smaller branches that are growing from it are removed. The main branch may have had fruit, but the smaller branches that grew from it wastefully used water and nutrients that could otherwise be utilized by the clusters of grapes.

When Jesus explained to his disciples what they had to do to be strong in the face of severe testing, it was not to find some untapped personal power. It was instead to rely on power from without. They were to rely upon the power from the life coming from the vine.

Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are gathered up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, proving yourselves to be My disciples” (John 15:5-8 BSB).

The tribulations and difficulties that the disciples would face would be a pruning in their lives. The troubles that they would experience would cut away from their lives all that was distracting them from what was truly important. Jesus was not interested in how great the disciples appeared to one another or to the world—that greatness vanishes like a morning fog. He was intent on having them bear fruit in their lives that would last for eternity.

The Fiery Trials of the Last Days

Peter tells us in his letter that we should not be surprised by the fiery trials that come to us through the world, as if some strange thing were happening to us (1 Peter 4:12). The disciple of Jesus Christ is a stranger in this world. He or she should expect to be treated unjustly and unkindly here.

But Jesus assures us that if we remain in his life, he is producing fruit for eternity.

As the time approached for the betrayal of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, he turned to his disciples and told them this:

“Truly, truly, I tell you, you will weep and wail while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy…So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:20, 21) 

Joy Comes in the Morning

In this past year, some of us have faced unspeakable trials of one sort or another. Some of these have been of so personal a nature that we have not shared them with anyone. We are foreigners living in a hostile land—should we expect to be treated kindly by the world?

But whatever trial you may have faced, if you are a true disciple of Christ, you can be assured that it is not the events of the days that are controlling what God is doing in your life. You are going through a pruning process. It may not be pleasant, and it may even be very painful, but in the end it will produce a fruit from your life that you will enjoy forever.

“Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

And there is no one who will take away your joy.

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