21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus, 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 36Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.
“It was a dark and stormy night.”
You have likely heard that line before. It is a famous opening line. It is actually an infamous opening line, usually because it is now seen as an overly-dramatic and formulaic bad attempt at setting an ominous mood in a novel. The line was the opening line of an 1830 novel by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. It has become so famous that the English Department of San Jose State University hosts the The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest celebrating the worst examples of this kind of writing each year.
“It was a dark and stormy night.”
It has become a humorous and tired colloquialism in our day: “It was a dark and stormy night.” For instance, you may remember in the “Peanuts” comic strip that whenever Snoopy sat with his typewriter on top of his doghouse to begin his novel, he would type, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
I was thinking about that line this week. What made me think about it was a little, brief line in our passage this morning. It is tucked right in the middle. It is almost hiding there. You can find it there at the end of verse 30: “And it was night.”
It is an odd little sentence. It is rare because the New Testament does not often give us these kind of atmospheric observations normally, so we rightly suspect when we read this that it is telling us more than a mere description.
“And it was night.”
It does not say that it was “a dark and stormy night”…but it was dark and a storm was coming. Not a storm of wind and rain, though on the cross the weather itself would indeed revolt against the crime of crucifixion.
No, it was “a dark and stormy night” because of what was happening in the minds and hearts of the disciples as Jesus began to explain to them what was about to happen. There was a kind of spiritual turbulence in the air, a dark foreboding seems to have crept into the room where Jesus has just finished washing the feet of His disciples. There are flashes of terrifying lightning too, one in the person of Judas who will betray and one in the person of Peter who will deny.
“And it was night.”
John writes this because (a) it was night time but also because (b) mankind’s darkest hour and darkest crime was about to unfold. There is darkness in this scene. There is a prophesied betrayal and a prophesied denial…but in the middle of the darkness, love.
I. A Betrayal Begun (v.21-30)
Having completed the shocking, prophetic and preparatory act of washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus turns to reveal that one of the twelve will betray Him. Once again, as we also saw in our last chapter (12:27), Jesus is troubled. But this time His spirit is troubled not only by the coming trial on the cross, but also by His coming betrayal at the hands of Judas:
21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
It is another odd event in an already strange meal. The shock of this statement was no doubt magnified by the fact that Jesus had just finished washing their feet and had just called them all to show one another that kind of love. But in the midst of this display of and call to humble, self-giving love, Jesus reveals that He is about to be betrayed. His words fell on the gathered disciples like a bomb:
22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus, 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.
It is tempting to play amateur psychologist with Peter at this point. Peter was usually the first to speak. Undoubtedly he was aware of his position as the lead disciple. Did he fear that he was the traitor? Or, more likely, did he not even entertain that notion and did he simply want to know the inside scoop? Did he feel entitled to know? Did he resent having to ask John, “the beloved disciple,” to find this out for Him? Or was this simply insatiable curiosity? Whatever his motives, he presses John to find out the identity of the traitor.
25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
A few observations need to be made at this point. For starters, even though Jesus gave John what sounds to us like a very obvious clue, the scriptures assert that “no one at the table knew why he said this to him.” Meaning, somehow, it seems as if even John did not get that Judas was the betrayer.
Most interesting of all, let us notice the urgency in Jesus’ words to Judas: “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Remember: Jesus’ hour had come. It was time. Soon He would say from the cross, “It is finished.” Here He essentially says, “It has begun.” This should not be read dispassionately, as if Jesus has a mechanistic understanding of these events. This is not analogous to our idea of “getting the ball rolling.”
No, Jesus is deeply troubled and grieved. He is not flippant in His request. He knows what He is about to undergo, but He yields Himself to it nonetheless. “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
And then there is the tragic figure of Judas, the betrayer. We saw last week in verse 2 that “the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him.” Now we see in verse 27 that “Satan entered into him.” So Satan began his corruption of Judas by giving him a thought and a desire. Judas did not reject this idea. Instead, he embraced. Thus, “Satan entered into him.”
What we have here, then, is a possession, a hideous demonic, satanic possession of Judas Iscariot. But this possession was embraced by Judas whose heart was wicked. Judas was no victim. Judas knew what he was doing. The Satanic tune of the song he was playing did not make him any less responsible for playing the song.
Why did Judas do it? What was His game? Some paint Judas in colors of simple, basic evil. By this theory, Judas was simply evil, secretly hated Jesus and wished to see Jesus die.
Others suggest that Judas actually started following Jesus in earnest in the beginning. To be sure, He never truly accepted Jesus as his recurring crime of stealing money from the their common purse demonstrates. Even so, it is still possible that Judas thought he was part of a real movement but that he misunderstood the movement “from the get-go.”
This theory suggests that Judas assumed that Jesus was coming to be a political revolutionary, that Jesus was ultimately going to begin an insurrection against the occupying Roman forces. Then, the theory goes, Judas began to grow increasingly uneasy as he walked with Jesus. Jesus did not sound like a political revolutionary. Jesus did not do the things that revolutionaries did. In fact, based on many of his teachings concerning forgiveness, and blessing those who curse you, Jesus sounded almost weak.
If this is the case, it could be that Judas betrayed Jesus not primarily in the hopes of seeing Jesus die but mainly in the hopes of forcing Jesus’ hand, of driving Jesus out into the open, as it were. That is, perhaps Judas felt that by bringing Jesus into direct conflict with the Roman military machine, Jesus would be forced to become what Judas had hoped He was all along: a political, military revolutionary who would take up arms against Rome.
This could be true, though it is hard to tell. It might explain Judas’ grief and suicide at seeing Christ crucified. In this theory, Judas’ grief was attributable to his final realization that Jesus never intended to be what Judas thought He was, and that Judas’ efforts to force Jesus’ hands had backfired into a horrible crime and the murder of innocent blood.
Regardless, here is Judas, the traitor. He walked with Jesus and saw the works of Jesus…but still he betrayed Him. He talked with Jesus and heard the King of Kings teach about the Kingdom…but still he betrayed Him. He saw Jesus extend unearthly love and forgiveness to fallen people…but still he betrayed Him.
What a terrible act…and what a terrible word: Judas! The name Judas has truly gone down in infamy.
There is an old myth from the Celtic Christians claiming that Brendan, the first Celtic sailor, once encountered Judas on an island during his travels. The following conversation ensues:
“I am Judas, most wretched, and the greatest traitor. I am here not on account of my own merits but because of the mysterious mercy of Jesus Christ. For me this is not a place of torment but rather a place of respite granted me by the Savior in honor of his Resurrection.” It was the Lord’s own day. “It seems to me when I sit here that I am in the Garden of Delights in comparison with the agonies which I know I shall suffer this evening. For I burn like molten lead in a crucible day and night at the heart of the mountain which you see, where Leviathan lives with his companions. I have a respite here every Sunday from first to second vespers, from Christmas until Epiphany, from Easter until Pentecost, and on the Feast of the Purification and the Assumption of the Mother of God. The rest of the year I am tortured in the depths of hell with Herod and Pilate, Annas and Caiaphas. Therefore I beseech you by the Savior of the world to be kind enough to intercede for me with the Lord Jesus Christ that I may be allowed to remain here until sunset tomorrow and that the devils may not torment me, seeing your arrival here, and drag me off to the hideous destiny which I purchased with so terrible a price.” St. Brendan replied: “The Lord’s will be done. You shall not be consumed by devils tonight until dawn.”
In Umberto Eco’s novel, The Island of the Day Before, a 17th century man named Ferrante encounters Judas Iscariot chained to a rock in the sea. After inquiring as to the nature of his punishment, Judas offers this explanation:
“Why, because God has willed that my punishment consist in living always on Good Friday, to celebrate always and every day the Passion of the man I betrayed. The first day of my suffering, when for other human beings sunset approached, and then night, and then the dawn of Saturday, for me only an atom of an atom of a minute of the ninth hour of that Friday had gone by. As the course of my sun began to move even more slowly, for the rest of you Christ was rising from the dead, but I was still barely a step from that hour. And now, when centuries and centuries have passed for you, I am still only a crumb of time from that instant…”
What a terrible thought: to be stuck forever in the moment of your greatest sin! Indeed, we cannot even mention Judas’ name without thinking of his great crime!
Jesus was born to die and rise again, and Judas played the terrible role of the traitor in the great story of the cross.
II. A Denial Foretold (v.36-38)
After Jesus foretells His betrayal, He speaks to the disciples powerful words of love and of glory. Before we look at these words, let us see that Jesus’ words were bookended by the dark night of sin: Judas’s on the one hand and Peter’s on the other.
36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
As if definitively to distance himself from the traitor, Peter makes a grandiose promise of faithfulness: “I will lay down my life for you.” If we are honest, we all understand what Peter is doing here. After all, which of us does not secretly enjoy those rare moments when we get to be “the good Christian” and maybe even “the super Christian.” Which of us does not relish the self-righteous rush of standing up after some Judas has left the room in order to proclaim, “I am not like him! I will follow you anywhere!”
Jesus has informed the disciples that they cannot follow Him where He is going. He is speaking, of course, of the events of His passion and of His coming ascension into Heaven after the resurrection. Peter, desperate to solidify his position as a faithful and true disciple, swears fealty and loyalty and devotion to his Master.
What Jesus said next undoubtedly floored Peter even more than Jesus’ initial revelation of a traitor in their midst.
38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”
Here we see a rhetorical question followed by a terrifying revelation.
“Will you lay down your life for me?”
I imagine a flash in Jesus’ eyes as He asks Peter this question. Perhaps there was a new tone of aggression mixed with something like pain: “Will you lay down your life for me?” Once again, let us get the right emphases on the right pronouns: “Will you lay down your life for me?”
The tension in the room could have been cut with a knife at this point. Jesus has suddenly shifted from an enigmatic and mysterious teaching about His coming departure, to an abrupt and cutting rhetorical comment.
Was Peter shocked by this? Did Peter lean back, further away from Jesus and His painful words? Did Jesus pause after saying them? Did His eyebrows furrow? Did tears stand in His eyes and His lips tremble as He said this?
38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.
“No. No Peter. No, you are not quite so different from Judas as you think. Not even you, Peter, can seize this moment and turn it to your own ends. Here in this room on this dark night, Peter, you will begin to understand the nature of the cross I am about to embrace. Judas will be damned and you will be saved, but it is not because you are better than Judas. It is not because you are above him or even above his crimes, Peter. Judas will betray me once. You will deny Me three times.
No, Peter, the difference between you and Judas is not your moral superiority. Rather, it is that you will taste the painful tears of repentance leading to life and Judas will taste the bitter tears of despair leading to death. But mark this Peter: I came to lay my life down for the Judas’s and the Peter’s alike. It is not about you, Peter. It is about Me and about what I am about to do for you.”
Do you see why it was dark? There was a darkness creeping in the room. From the one side there was a darkness of betrayal. From the other side there was a darkness of denial. Just as Jesus was crucified between two sinners so here He dined between two sinners. And just as one of the thieves on the cross repented and lived and the other denied Him and was condemned, so one of these two disciples will be saved while the other will die and be condemned.
The bookends of darkness creeping into this room are important. They remind us that we are all stained by the sin for which Jesus died. We are all culpable. Keep in mind that the first disciple to try to distance himself from Judas was none other than Peter…who would deny Jesus three times.
Dear church, hear me: some of us like to pride ourselves that we are not Judas. We have never betrayed the Lord. Wewould never sell Jesus to the forces of evil for thirty pieces of silver. We are no Judas!
Perhaps not, but what other option is there to Judas? Peter? He who denied Jesus three times? Perhaps you have not betrayed Him, but have you denied Him?
I believe we find these two examples in the upper room to remind us that Jesus came to die for the Judas’s and the Peter’s, the sinners…and the sinners.
Oh, it was a dark and stormy night after all. The storm of sin swept through the room and affected everybody except He who never sinned: Jesus.
We find in this room the darkness of betrayal.
We find in this room the darkness of denial.
But in the middle of the darkness, love.
III. A Glory and a Love Revealed (v.31-35)
Return now to the middle scene, Jesus’ words in verses 31-35. Standing between betraying Judas and denying Peter, what does Jesus say? Does He condemn? Does He ask sarcastically and bitterly if there is anybody in the room who will actually stand with Him in His moment of trial? Does He tear into the disciples and let them have it for being the sorry bunch they are?
What does Jesus say in the darkness of that bleak night?
31 When he [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.
What is this? What is this?
Glory? Does He speak now of glory? Does Jesus stand in the midst of this foul and putrid and demonic creeping darkness and speak of glory? He knows that Judas will betray Him unto death. He knows that Peter will deny Him thrice before the cock crows. He knows the inky black and ugly darkness of the sin that will betray and deny and the sin of humanity for which He will die on the cross…and He speaks of glory?
No. No! It cannot be.
Glory, as we understand it, does not involve betrayal. Glory does not involve denial. Glory does not involve sin. Glory does not involve the night. Glory does not involve the darkness.
No, glory involves the opposite of these things. Glory involves the adulation of the crowds, the esteem of one’s peers, and the bright light of the midday sun. Glory involves cheering crowds singing praises and awestruck contemporaries who marvel at another’s greatness.
This pitiful scene in this upper room may be many things, but how, I ask you, can it be about glory?
“Now is the son of Man glorified?!”
“How so,” we ask. “How so Jesus?! You are not glorified here, you are betrayed! You are not glorified here, you are denied! What is about to happen to you is not glory, it is shame! It is not victory, it is defeat! It is not a crown, it is a cross!”
So our natural hearts rebel and kick against Jesus’ notion of glory…until we begin to remember who this Jesus is and what He is about…until, that is, we begin to realize that Jesus did not come to confirm what we think glory is. He came to redefine our notions of glory into what God says it is.
Do you see? For us, “glory” is synonymous with “fame,” with “adulation,” with “the favor of the crowd.” For God, “glory” is synonymous with “obedience,” with “sacrifice,” with “laying down one’s life for traitors and deniers.” The oldNew Century Bible says that “the glory of self-sacrifice filled His heart.”
In the Kingdom of God, self-sacrifice is glory, God being born a baby in a manger is power and having the grace to forgive a disciple who denies you three times before the cock crows is beauty.
This leads us to one unmistakable and life-changing conclusion: the cross is glory. This is so not because the sins for which Jesus died on the cross are glorious. They are not. They are hideous, my sins and yours. No, the cross is glorious because it was there that the Lamb of God, the only begotten Son of God, fulfilled the Father’s just demand of righteousness and exemplified the Father’s great and unending love. The cross was glorious not because it was painless. It was anything but. No, the cross was glorious because on it the Son loved the Father and the world to the very point of painful death.
And the cross was glorious because it was the doorway to Christ’s glory three days afterward: the empty tomb. The cross was Jesus’ path to the resurrection. The darkness that fell over the earth during the crucifixion would soon give way to the glorious light of Easter.
Yes, there is darkness in this room, but in the midst of the darkness stands Jesus.
In the midst of the darkness, glory.
In the midst of the darkness, love.
Our final verses, 33-35:
33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It is not just that Jesus will demonstrate His love on the cross. It is also that His work on the cross will open the door for us to love one another as well.
“Little children,” He calls us. He calls us this because He loves us and He calls us this because He no doubt knows how unsettling the kind of love to which He has called us is. It is unsettling because it is the kind of love that forgives those who deny. It is unsettling because it is the kind of love that lays down its life for another. It is the unsettling because it is the kind of love that dares to follow the Father’s will, even to a cross.
There is darkness in this room…but in the midst of the darkness is love. And this love is Jesus. And this love is light. It is light shining in darkness. It is the light that beats back the darkness. It is the light that illumines all who step within its radiance, illuminating them in the process. It is the light that shines through those who come into the light.
It is light in the darkness.
It is love.
And this love is life.
And this life is offered to you today.
 Calvin Miller, The Path of Celtic Prayer: An Ancient Way to Everyday Joy (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2007), p.76.
 Umberto Eco. The Island of the Day Before (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994), p. 466-467.
 J.A. McClymont, ed., St. John. The New Century Bible. Vol.25 (New York: Henry Frowde), p.272