Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
Sermon – John 13:21-30 – Betrayal
Beaver Dam and Pitts Creek Churches
March 7, 2010
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This is the third Sunday in Lent and this is my third Sunday sermon drawn from the Gospel of John. We have been accompanying Jesus on his journey to the cross. We started two weeks ago at a dinner in Bethany with Jesus’ close friends, Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and Judas, and saw Judas get angry when Mary anointed Jesus not for a crown but for death. Last week we were with Jesus when some non-Jewish Greeks wanted to see him and come to belief. This fulfilled Jesus mission on earth and triggered the events we now see unfolding which constitute the glorification of Jesus, his death, resurrection and ascension to heaven. The next event in John’s gospel is a dinner held the night before the Passover. This dinner started with foot washing about which we will talk about on Maundy Thursday. Today we will be looking at the dinner itself, and then we will gather around this table for our own supper with our Lord.
But before sitting down to dinner with Jesus and his disciples let’s pray. “Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)
John 13:21-30 21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me." 22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, "Ask him which one he means." 25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" 26 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 Iscariot, son of Simon. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. "What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him, 28 but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
Jesus and his disciples have gathered for dinner. They are arranged in a configuration common for Roman meals called a triclinium. There is a central table with couches assembled in a horseshoe manner around the table. Jesus and his disciples have reclined on the couches. They are resting on their left elbows and eating with their right hands. With this arrangement the disciples clearly see people to their right, but those on their left would be behind their backs and out of sight. Jesus and two disciples are reclining at the position of honor at the head of the table. The other disciples are in groups of five along either side of the table. They eat by picking up a small piece of bread with their right hands, dipping the bread it in a bowl of olive oil, and eating it.
During the supper Jesus was very troubled. He realized that his death was at hand, and this affected him as much as the death of his friend Lazarus did earlier. Jesus told his disciples that truly someone would betray him. The Greek word that is translated as “betray” in your Bibles is paradidomi. This word means that you hand over something of personal value to someone else. For example, if you go to settlement on a house and you are the seller, you hand over the deed to your house to someone else. In ancient times, if your brother was captured in battle you would redeem him and hand him over to his family. Paradidomi would be translated here as “deliverance”. But if you handed someone on your side over to the enemy paradidomi would be translated as “betrayal”. Bible translators have assumed that Jesus is talking about Judas handing Jesus over to the authorities in Jerusalem. So they have translated paradidomi as “betrayal”. But we can’t be so sure that this is correct. Jesus’ own disciples have no idea what Jesus was talking about. So how could we know what he was talking about without looking at this passage a little closer?
Peter was sitting on the right side of the table. He was in the line of sight of the disciple on Jesus right hand. This disciple was called “the disciple that Jesus loved”. We don’t know who this was, but tradition says that this is John the son of Zebedee who had earlier asked Jesus to be permitted to sit at his right hand in heaven. Tradition also tells us that John the son of Zebedee was the author of the fourth gospel, the one we are reading. So it is possible that Peter gave some kind of hand signal to John the son of Zebedee to ask Jesus what he was talking about. John leaned his head back so he could see Jesus sitting behind him and asked him to explain what he was talking about.
At this time Jesus then picked up a small morsel of bread with his right hand, dipped it in the olive oil and said that he was talking about the one to whom he would give this bread. Jesus then leaned back and offered the piece of bread to the disciple reclining at his left. This disciple was Judas Iscariot, who was seated at a place of honor to the left of Jesus Christ. We are then told that Jesus told him to do his deed quickly. At this point the other disciples still have no clue what Jesus is talking about. All they could do was to speculate on what Judas might we doing.
This is a most confusing passage. It is about handing over something of personal value. But from the way it is written we don’t really know who is handing over what and to whom. We can read ahead and see Judas handing Jesus over to the authorities in Jerusalem. But how could this be possible? Jesus is under the authority of God. How could Judas take Jesus away from God and hand him over to the Sanhedrin?
I believe that the author of the fourth gospel is a magician. He makes you think that something is in his right hand when it is really in his left. Someone has handed over something of personal value here but it may not be who or what we think. We think that we see Judas handing Jesus over to the Jerusalem authorities. But really it is Jesus who has handed over something of personal value, his friend Judas to the authority of Satan by casting him out into the night. And Judas has handed over to Satan something of great personal value, his faith in Jesus Christ, the light of the world.
Like Judas, we are offered a choice between light and darkness, between belief and unbelief. If we believe in the death, resurrection of ascension of Jesus Christ, then we walk in the light and receive the blessings of eternal life. But if we walk away from belief in Jesus then we also walk away from the light and we return to the darkness of sin and death.
So as we gather around this table today with Jesus we have a choice to make. As we eat the bread and drink the juice will we leave this sanctuary with Judas and enter the darkness of night? Or will this communion with our savior strengthen our faith so that we remain in the light?
A couple of years ago I was asked to do a funeral for Mark. Mark was a homeless man who spent most days sitting on a stone wall next to my apartment building. He was an alcoholic and was addicted to pain killers. I got to know Mark and his wife Kathy from conversations we had whenever I walked over the church. He came, a couple of times, to a Sunday Night dinner that we served to the poor of Eagle Rock. But he was not active in church and I saw no evidence that he believed in Jesus Christ. He died one morning from an overdose of pain killers. I remained on the sidewalk with his wife until the medical examiner came to take away the body, and I allowed Kathy to use my cell phone to call his family. The next day Mark’s brother called me on that cell phone to talk with me about Mark. He wanted a funeral for Mark, but was very concerned for his brother because his lack of faith in Jesus. I did the funeral and talked a lot about God’s love that day. But sadness permeated the family because they knew that Mark had no faith. And I was sad because I could not assure them about his eternal life.
Don’t let this happen to you. Hold onto you faith in Jesus Christ. Always remain in the light. Continue in you baptismal belief in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. And then I can assure you of the blessing of God of eternal life.
As you gather around this table, remember that you walk in the light. As you eat the small morsel of bread and drink from the cup remember that you are at table with our Lord and he is the one who blesses you. Believe in his death, resurrection of ascension of Christ and be assured of eternal life. Amen