The Pine Stump Gospel

The pine stump Gospel.

They felled the woods behind the church this year, and besides changing the look of the place, they displayed the Gospel many times over.  Some years ago, doing some research for a children’s sermon at Christmas,  I discovered that frankincense and myrrh were both produced from tree resins.  I further discovered that the method of production and harvest involved wounding the trees.  To protect itself, the tree produced or bled the resin into the wounded area.  The resin hardened and was later harvested.

Growing up in the rural South, I knew nothing of the trees in question, but knew more than I ever wanted to know about pine trees.  Countless times I have seen pine resin hardened over a wound in a tree.  For the children’s sermon, I went into the woods behind the church and soon found a wounded tree.  I scraped away some of the aromatic pine resin to show the children.

When they cut the woods down this year, I walked among the stumps of the trees and observed the bleeding.  God has planted the Gospel everywhere in his world.  Even a pine stump declares the glory of God.

Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

What a wonderful Savior!

Trepidation

Trepidation.

I had only been preaching for a few years when I was invited to take part in a Good Friday service.  Seven preachers would speak on “The Seven Sayings of Jesus from the Cross.”  In great trepidation, I agreed.  The host pastor assigned the sayings.  He gave me Matthew 27:46.  That’s when I realized that heretofore I did not know the meaning of the word trepidation.  That was many years ago and, if anything, I tremble more not less.  If ever there is a place in Scripture that deserves our highest reverence, our deepest faith, our best thought, and our sincere humility, this is it.

Matthew 27:46-47  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.”

On this Good Friday, are there some things to be said about this cry of Jesus that will not be mere speculation, but biblically sound and helpful for faith?  I think so.

It was a misunderstood cry.  Perhaps we can understand how “Eli” could be taken for “Elijah.”  It is harder to understand how a faithful Jew would not recognize the opening line of Psalm 22.  But I think the truth is that no one at that moment understood what was happening.  Isn’t that the real reason it happened at all?  “All we like sheep have gone astray… and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)  That being true, should it surprise us when people cannot understand the cross?  Not at all.  The real surprise comes when they do understand, for that is a supernatural work of God in the human heart.

It was a cry of reconciliation.  Does that sound odd?  Did you expect the word ‘forsaken’ instead?  Yet this is what Paul would later teach us.  2 Corinthians 5:19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Reconciliation is what was happening there.  The Bible describes it in various ways.  Christ became our sin. 2 Corinthians 5:21 He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.  Christ became the curse for us.  Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”  Or simply, Christ gave himself for us.  Galatians 2:20 And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  However we describe it, the result is the same.  What Jesus did at the cross brings us back to God.

It was a cry of faith.  Far from despair, even in death, God’s only begotten Son bears the Word of God in his heart and on his lips.  Psalm 22 chronicles the worst kind of suffering, but it ends in great triumph.  How significant that Jesus speaks Psalm 22 for us to hear and not Psalm 88 which ends in the depth of sorrow!  Our reconciliation was accomplished by an act of absolute obedience to the will of the Father.  God is always well pleased with his Son, and the only possible consequence of this ultimate obedience is triumph and glory.  The Father has promised him the nations and the very ends of the earth. (Psalm 2:7-8)  The Father has said to the Son, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Psalm 110:1)  The Son’s faithfulness to bear the sin of a world that the Father loves will be honored when that world bows at his feet.  Looking at Psalm 110, this would appear to be the next item on the Father’s agenda.

John 3:16.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Ready for a good argument?

Ready for a good argument?

God is.   Isaiah 1:18-20  “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Reason – to argue out together as in a legal dispute.  In other words, God says “You present your case.  I’ll present mine.” God preferred a good argument with his people over what he had been getting.  The trappings of a vibrant faith covered the ugly truth of a people spiritually sick to death.  Observe Isaiah 1:2-15.

Forgotten faith. (2-4)  The order of God’s great creation had been turned on its head.  The ox and the donkey knew more than their masters.  The animals had become the teachers of men.  Where men and women should have witnessing to God’s glory, heaven and earth are called to witness to the nation’s unfaithfulness.

Festering wounds. (5-6)  Smarting as they were from the temporal judgments in which their rebellion had landed them, the people were yet determined to go their own way.  Isaiah would later recount how temporal judgments had no impact on the people.  It is an amazing statement.  Isaiah 42:25  So He poured out on him the heat of His anger And the fierceness of battle; And it set him aflame all around, Yet he did not recognize it; And it burned him, but he paid no attention.  They were so determined in their rebellion that no amount of pain deterred them.

Failing prosperity. (7-9)  “Like a watchman’s hut in a cucumber field” is Isaiah’s description of the remnant of the nation’s once great wealth.  ‘Strangers are devouring them in your presence.”  Her prosperity was disappearing before her eyes but she either couldn’t see or didn’t care.

Fruitless worship. (10-15)  This was saddest of all because it involves what should have been highest of all.  There should be nothing like worship for the people of God.  The heart cry of the faithful resounds in the Scriptures.  Psalm 63:1-3  O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

But in Isaiah 1, they went through the motions, and oh, what motions they were!  Countless sacrifices, a constant trampling of the courts of God, useless offering piled upon useless offering, endless assemblies and special days, it would give a computer a headache to track it all!  God simply said that he hated it, all of it, even the prayers.  He wasn’t listening.

God wanted an argument.  He would win, of course.  But so would they.  Their rebellion was killing them in more ways than they could count.  Only he could fix it.

He is still the only one.  What a wonderful Savior he is!

Caught Between Fears

Caught between fears.

Pilate was caught between fears.  On the one hand was the kind of fear seen so clearly in his wife, a fear that he shared.  There was something unusual about this man and he was afraid of that.  On the other hand, there was the fear of the trouble Jesus’ enemies would make if Pilate did not do their bidding.  How would it sound to Caesar when he heard that Pilate was sparing would-be kings?  Pilate found he could steer no middle course.

John 19:16-18  So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.  There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.

Pilate could not know, as no man knows until the Lord aids his understanding, that this was Jesus’ destiny.  Jesus had opened that door of understanding for Pilate.  John 18:37  For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.  But Pilate turned away with a question, or was it a statement?  “What is truth?”

Was Pilate too busy for the truth?  It is possible to be so consumed with daily affairs, that which we sometimes call the ‘real world,’ that we have no time for an abstract idea like truth.  But for Pilate, truth was no longer abstract.  It was up close and personal.  Truth was bleeding but unbroken before him.  Truth was calling for his attention.

Was Pilate too jaded for the truth?  No doubt, the search for a true word in our world can leave one skeptical of their existence.  Truth must seem like the dinosaurs to some, big when you could find them but who can find them now?  Yet Pilate’s own fears were telling him that the man before him this day was like no other.  The journey from jaded to jubilant was within reach, literally.

Was Pilate too guilty for the truth?  Worldliness and skepticism may just be covers for a sterner reality that is hard to face.   Jesus is bound for the cross because Pilate is Pilate.  And what is true of him is true of all, for all have sinned and come short of God’s glory.  The distraction and the unbelief mask our deepest need and blind us to God’s great provision.  Was Pilate afraid that if the truth really were known, the goodness that faced him that day would have to reject him?

Everyone must reckon with the sin of their own heart.  There was no pass for Pilate on this and there isn’t one for us.  John 3:19  This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.  But there is no longer any need to fear God’s rejection.  Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  I would like to think that Pilate eventually saw that.  That I cannot know.  But I do know another sinner who finally repented of his sin and, wonder of wonders, God’s grace in Christ received him.

There is room at the cross.  What a wonderful Savior he is!

Pilate, You Need This Man

Pilate, you need this man!

Pilate had no obvious reason to pass over any wrong he found in Jesus.  Three times he declared essentially the same thing.

John 18:38  After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.
John 19:4  Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.”
John 19:6  Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.”

Perhaps he could have been concerned about the people’s reaction.  Surely he knew of the grand procession into Jerusalem on Sunday and how the people seemed to be for him.  But within a week, seemingly the same crowd that hailed him was ready to hang him.

Pilate seemed intent on releasing Jesus.  Having failed in the first effort when the crowd demanded Barabbas, Pilate had Jesus scourged and paraded before the people in a hideous crown and mock robe.  This too failed to obtain Jesus’ release.  Finally, Pilate had enough or so he thought.  John 19:6 is roughly equivalent to “do it yourself!”  At this point, a new issue surfaced.  It was one of particular import to the Jews, but it had a strange effect on Pilate.

John 19:7-8  The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”  When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid.

To this point, the issue had been kingship and that would be the issue that finally tipped the balance. (19:12, 15)  But ‘Son of God’ was new.  His wife’s urgent message (“Have nothing to do with that righteous man” Matthew 27:19) and perhaps some natural Roman superstition regarding the gods was working on him.  But more than anything else, it must have been the personal aspect of Jesus that stirred fear in the heart of this hardened Roman.  Back inside he went.

Where are you from?”  Nothing.  Majestic silence.  How could this beaten, humiliated man not collapse into a puddle and tell Pilate anything the Roman wanted to hear?  Is it possible that this day we have whipped and scorned and bandied about the life of the Son of God?  Is that where this conviction of innocence has come from?  And if any of this is true, what do I do now?

It was too much for Pilate.  He retreated behind his Roman authority only to have Jesus put Roman authority in divine perspective.  John 19:10-11  So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”  Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

How totally disconcerting for a man who knows nothing but control, to be put so utterly out of control by this horrendous spectacle of beaten flesh!  But there he stood, bleeding majesty, uncanny glory, unfazed spirit, and purest innocence.  He who knew no sin was telling Pilate that Romans aren’t the worst sinners, but they are sinners.  Pilate, you need this man!

2 Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

The Smell of Coffee

The smell of coffee.

In my household there are certain cups designated non-coffee cups.  The reason being that my wife doesn’t like coffee and she says that they always smell like coffee after coffee has been in them.  I didn’t believe this. I smelled them and still didn’t believe it.  Then I remembered something else.  Back in the days when I was a smoker, I heard non-smokers complain about the smell of tobacco.  I didn’t get it.  Then I quit smoking and in a very short time I got it.

You can be so immersed in something that it never strikes you as odd at all.  It is your normal state of affairs.  Then along comes someone who operates in a different ‘normal.’   The air you breathe everyday is odd to them and perhaps they are odd to you.

Pilate was deeply immersed in the world of Roman power and politics.  He was accustomed to the hedging, hemming, and hawing going on at his front door that Friday morning.  He could not have been pleased to be roused so early, especially with Passover weekend at hand and Roman peace in his charge.  Yet, he was in familiar territory.  He smelled this stuff everyday.  It was not odd.  The oddness began in verse 33.

John 18:33-34  So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”

Strange response from a man whose life is on the line, wouldn’t you say?  Had Pilate ever encountered an aroma like this before?  Pilate is the interrogator here, right?  Jesus is the one whose life hangs in balance, right?  So, what is Jesus doing asking questions of Pilate?

Then, what a question!  Jesus seems to be concerned about Pilate.  “Who do you say I am, Pilate?” would be another way of putting the question.  This may be the generation that has put God in the dock, but how quickly that is turned on its head when God starts talking back!

John 8:35-37 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

Pilate caught the whiff of another realm.  Pilate threw up the hedge of nationality to fend off Jesus’ personal interest in him.  Jesus responded by talking about a realm that was bigger than any nationality.  Pilate was a small cog in a mighty machine called Rome.  But here was a man who claimed to be king of something far bigger.  If it was anyone but Jesus, Pilate could have laughed at him.  By every conceivable human measure, this man should have been groveling for his life.  Yet the first thing he did was take the situation out of Pilate’s hand and put it in his own!  The smell of another kingdom had invaded Pilate’s headquarters.

John 18:37-38 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.”

Pilate caught the whiff of truth. Perhaps this was the strangest smell of all for a man like Pilate who had to deal with lies everyday.  When you are immersed in lies, the truth is odd indeed.  At this moment, for Pilate, the truth was too odd.  Pilate wanted to get this man off his hands.  It is not so easy as it may seem.

Pilate caught the whiff of a Savior.  We are not told the rest of Pilate’s story, but we see enough of it to see something amazing.  Once the grappling in the Garden of Gethsemane was over, Jesus moved throughout the ordeal of his passion seemingly careless for himself and always caring for others.  In the garden, his eye was on Judas.  When the rooster crowed, his eye was on Peter.  On the cross, his eye was on his mother and a thief.  And in the court of Rome, where his verdict will be rendered, his eye is on Pilate!  If Pilate would only breathe deep!  The strange aroma in his headquarters is the aroma of a Savior.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Inconvenient Truth

Inconvenient Truth

John 18:19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

Jesus was hauled up before the de facto high priest, Annas, in a sort of pretrial, midnight deposition.  It is somewhat hard to tell who ended up being deposed.

John 18:20-21 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.  Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.

This was too much.  John 18:22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”  This must have been a favored method of correction among the Sanhedrin.  The high priest Ananias would us it against Paul in Acts 23:2.  Paul did not take to it so well.  He replied in haste, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?”  Paul repented of his haste.  Jesus had no need of repentance and pressed on with the truth.

John 18:23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”

Truth is often inconvenient even when you are for it.  Truth is always inconvenient when you are opposed to it.  Jesus had become a very inconvenient person, especially to Annas, who had controlled the high priesthood for so long.  With that control came the wealth generated by abusing the sacrificial system.  When Jesus was out on the fringes in Galilee, he was a problem.  But when he came to Jerusalem and cleaned out the Temple, he was meddling.  What is to be done with such inconvenient truth?

You can strike at it.  Physical intimidation is quickly applied and often works.  But there are other ways to strike at the truth.  You can twist it.  The scribes led the charge to position Jesus as demonic (Mark 3:22-30).  Jesus exposed the unreasonableness of that effort just as he exposed the underhanded ways of Annas.  But this method is as old as the garden of Eden and as current as this very moment.  Demonize the truth.  Demonize, then marginalize.  It is happening as we breathe.

You can hide from it.  This reaction is graphically portrayed for us in John’s vision.  Revelation 6:15-17  Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”  Yet men do not wait for the Day of the Lord to hide from the truth.  God’s truth is always pressing in on us.  Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  Suppressing truth is like herding cats, it won’t work for long if it ever works at all.

You can go with it.  It will set you free.  But it requires repentance and confession.  Where that happens, forgiveness will always be the result.  1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Inconvenient truth.  Annas struck at it and failed.  He would hide for the moment.  He had another strike in mind.  John 18:24 Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

John 8:32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

What a wonderful Savior he is!

When Fishermen Bear Swords

When fishermen bear swords…

John 18:10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) (suggest reading John 18:10-18)

When fishermen bear swords, watch your ears!  Peter was a fisherman whose hands were skilled at handling boats and nets.  Peter was not a swordsman.  Peter was impetuous.  Peter was brave after his own fashion.  He had asserted that bravery in 13:37.  Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”  Jesus warned him then that his bravery would not take him far.  But, Peter’s bravery came at least this far.  If he did not pick a Roman soldier, he did pick someone.  If he did not strike true, he did strike.

Peter is fascinating.  I have often said, “Paul I admire, Peter I identify with.”  When I look at Paul, I wish that I could be like that.  When I look at Peter, I know that I am like that.  I don’t say bad things about Peter lest I end up talking about myself.  Yet, for all of Peter’s fits and starts, the bottom line is that Peter really did love Jesus.  He really wanted to be the brave one, the stand-up guy who goes to the absolute bloody end with the Master.

Peter, along with John, followed the crowd to the court of the high priest.  John was known to the high priest’s household and entered the courtyard quite naturally.  Peter lingered at the gate.  Peter’s bravery, such as it was, was beginning to crack.  When John came to fetch him, the crack began to show.

John 18:17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.

Peter loved Jesus, but he miscalculated his strength.  He had not seen how formidable were the forces arrayed against Jesus.  Even in human terms, the strength of the enemy seemed large.  But there was a spiritual dimension to the darkness before Jesus that human understanding cannot calculate.  Peter couldn’t measure the spiritual resistance, but it was real and the weight of it was creating pressure.  These were not just big things happening at the cross.  This was THE thing.  This was nothing less than the redemption of a world unfolding before Peter.  Jesus really meant what he said.  John 13:33 “Where I am going, you cannot come.”

But Jesus knew what was happening.  Long before he came into the world he said in Isaiah 50:5-7  The Lord GOD has opened my ear; and I was not disobedient nor did I turn back.  I gave my back to those who strike me, and my cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover my face from humiliation and spitting.  For the Lord GOD helps me, therefore, I am not disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed.  The Messiah had set his face like flint for this hour.  In the garden, he told Peter to put his sword away and he healed the damage Peter had done.  Then Jesus said this. John 18:11 “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”  The fisherman put his sword away while the Master drank the cup to the glory of the Father.

Peter really did love Jesus.  Jesus really did know that.  Peter would be OK.  Jesus would see to it.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Let These Go Their Way

Let these go their way.

John 18:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden… (suggest reading John 18:1-9)

Before they left the upper room, Jesus began teaching his disciples the lessons now recorded in John 14-16.  Then they left the room and went out into the same dark night into which Judas earlier disappeared.  They walked in the same darkness, but, oh, what a different set of thoughts they carried in their heart!  The companions of Jesus were thinking about a peace the world cannot know, about vines and branches, and about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the great comforter of the people of God.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were likely well known to John who wrote his account later.  He did not repeat matters that were already well attested and to which he could add nothing.  So, John wrote no word about Jesus’ prayerful struggle in the garden of Gethsemane.  He took up his account when Judas arrived.

John 18:3 Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.

What a scene!  Armed soldiers, not the entire cohort which would be six hundred men, but enough to handle any contingencies, Temple police armed with clubs, and servants from the High Priest’s household, all moved with lamps and torches on their way to a garden outside of town to arrest a carpenter and his motley crew of disciples.  It was Passover with its full moon.  It was cold (18:18) which likely meant clear skies.  Yet, here they came with lamps and torches blazing.  Did they think that Jesus would hide?

John 18:4-6  “Whom do you seek?”  They answered him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am he.” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them.  So when he said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

When the authorities identified him as their person of interest, Jesus spoke only two words.  “I am.”  This is not unusual by itself.  You or I might respond the same way.  The difference becomes plain in the reaction of the people.  These were armed and trained soldiers.  These were temple police.  Their numbers were apparently overwhelmingly strong.  But they backed away and they fell down.  The word is strong.  It means to collapse or to become invalid.  They must have felt as Isaiah when he said, “I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:1-8) Peter, who stood beside Jesus at that moment, had once felt the same thing.  “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)  Ezekiel collapsed into a heap and only the Spirit of God could raise him up. (Ezekiel 1:28-2:2)  John felt as good as dead until the hand of Jesus touched him. (Revelation 1:17)  It was just two words, but what a two words they were!

All the earthly powers were represented here, but look who was in control.  In just a few verses, they would bind him. (18:12)  Imagine that!  He felled the entire mob with two words!  Is there anything that can hold this man?  They had already lost control of the situation, lying there en masse.  So Jesus helped them with their awful task.  He started over.

John 18:7-8  So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”  Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.

He was in control of all things.  He had legions of angels at his command and did not need the aid of even one, only his word.  He could open and no man could close, close and no man could open.  He summoned demons and they came.  He sent them away and they went.  He told Satan to hurry and he did.  When his enemies crumbled into a heap, he put them back on on their feet, so that the Father’s command might be finished.  This is who is, and he consents to go with them.  But there is a condition, and who will argue with him?  “If you seek me, let these go their way.

No one took his life.  They couldn’t.  He gave it.  Now I am allowed to walk away, free of that terrible load of sin and guilt.  No wonder so many, having seen his glory unveiled at the cross, have said they no longer wish to go their own way.  They now want to go his!  “Because the sinless Savior died my sinful soul is counted free; for God the just is satisfied to look on him and pardon me.” (Charitie Lees Bancroft)

Oh, what a Savior!  Oh, what a Savior!

It Was Night

It was night.

John 13:30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. (suggest reading John 13:21-38)

The ‘he’ of John 13:30 is Judas.  Jesus had exposed his betrayer by this morsel of bread.  Jesus then commanded him (as well as Satan who mysteriously ‘entered into him’) to be swift about his terrible deed. (13:27)  Judas responded immediately.  The perplexed disciples watched him leave.  Everyone knew that it was night.  That is when the Passover was eaten.  But there was something about Judas’ exit that riveted John’s attention, at least for a moment, on the darkness outside.  Many years had passed between that night and John’s writing, and still he did not forget.  “It was night.”  Observe…

A traitor in the dark.  What a riddle Judas seems to be!  Surely, he saw something in Jesus that compelled him to follow for those three years.  Yet, alongside that apparent devotion, others saw something else at work in Judas.  Perhaps it surfaced as a preoccupation with the purse.  Somewhere along the way it escalated into criticism.  Lavish gifts to Jesus began to trouble him.  Finally, thirty pieces of silver was enough, enough to leave this motley crew and their would-be Savior who keeps talking about crosses.

Judas is mysterious, yet not too mysterious.  Judas speaks to the heart of anyone who wants a thing so much that they will do anything to have it.  He has many namesakes in Scripture; Ahab who wanted a vineyard, Jezebel who wanted a kingdom, Athaliah who wanted a throne.  There are other names we cannot dismiss quite so easily as those.  There was David who wanted a woman.  Outside of Scripture, there is one name I cannot dismiss at all, mine.  The line between that first set of names and the last two is repentance.  But you see why I say that Judas is not as mysterious as we make him out to be.  At least for me, he is uncomfortably close to home.  The finality of seeing him walk away into the dark night etched itself in John’s mind.  As Peter would later say, Judas went to “his own place.”

A voice in the dark.  While Judas walked away, it was the voice of Jesus that called the disciples back to himself.  John 13:31  When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.”  The darkness can be overwhelming at times, enticing at others.  How blessed we are when we hear the voice of Jesus calling us back to the glory of God!  Jesus began teaching them once again about his departure and what kind of people they were to be.  He showed them that when his great work was done, they would show the world the greatness of God’s love by the way they loved. (13:31-35)  Here is the chasm between belief and unbelief; Judas is swallowed up by the darkness, the others are swallowed up in the love of Jesus Christ.

A disciple in the dark.  This passage concludes with Peter’s protest, 13:36-38.  Where could Jesus possibly go that Peter could not and would not follow?  Don’t be hard on Peter.  Judas stumbled for love of himself.  Peter stumbled for love of Jesus.  Peter’s fault was that he overestimated the strength of his love.  Not only could Peter not go to the cross with Jesus, he wouldn’t even wait by the cross for Jesus.  It is a hard, hard lesson this humility.  But Peter’s faith in and love for Jesus is real.  Peter will come around, just as soon as he sees what great love really looks like.

A love that bears all.  “Where I am going you cannot come.”  Whether Jesus meant the cross of our salvation or the heaven our hearts hope for, we can not gain either by our own doing.  Only Jesus could make the sacrifice for sin.  Only Jesus can bring us to heaven and the everlasting glory of God.  When Peter saw the great love of God stretched out on the cross, it would change him forever.  It broke his heart, bowed his knee, and bent his will to God’s.

Jesus told Peter that he would follow afterward.  Peter did.  He didn’t forget the love that covered his sin.  So he would write years later.  1 Peter 4:7-8  The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

What a wonderful Savior he is!