“Truly, Truly” × 3 — Part Two
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“Truly, Truly” × 3 — Part Two

John 13:12–22  (ID: 3654)

After washing His disciples’ feet at the Passover supper, Jesus, in yet another generous expression of love, prepared them for what was to come and announced that one of them would betray Him. As we consider this intimate scene in John’s Gospel, Alistair Begg teaches that it contains both warning and encouragement for believers. Followers of Christ must resist temptation in all its forms and trust in the Lord, even as we recognize that the God who sovereignly overruled Judas’ betrayal can be trusted in our present circumstances.

Series Containing This Sermon

“Truly, Truly, I Say to You…”

Twenty-Five Divine Declarations from John’s Gospel John 1:1–21:25 Series ID: 29001

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, let’s turn back to John 13. And I won’t read from verse 1, but let’s read from verse 12. John 13:12:

“When [Jesus] had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you[’re] right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor … a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I[’m] not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” I[’m] telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one [who] I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.’

“After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’”

Father, thank you for your Word. And we pray now that as we consider its truth, that the Holy Spirit may be our guide, controlling my thoughts and my words, our hearts and our wills, our response, so that having heard Jesus say this, we might be enabled by the Holy Spirit to go out and do what he said: “If you do this…” And so help us, then, Lord, to take seriously what the Bible says in order that we might do what it asks us to do, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, I take it that most of you were present this morning for our attempt at dealing with the first of these “Truly, trulys.” The sermon title for today was “Truly, Truly × 3.” I thought that was really good. And no one really had much idea about it, but nevertheless, I have to write something in my notes.

So, there are three that we’re considering, and the first of these we tried to give time to, although the statement itself in verse 16 really is borne out, its impact is borne out, by everything that goes before it. And in one sense, what he says in 16 is just a wonderful summary of the call to humility on the part of those who are his followers. And the attitude of heart is to precede the action of their lives. That’s why 17 follows 16: “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Now, the next one is then in verse 20: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

Now, we should note as well that the extent of Jesus’ love for these disciples to whom he speaks is such that, you will notice in the verses that actually precede 20, he is preparing his disciples for what is about to happen. It is clear from the text that the disciples are unaware of the fact that there is a quisling among them. The reaction that comes later on makes that obvious to us. Of course, Judas knows, and Jesus knows, but the rest don’t know. And so what Jesus is doing here is making sure that they’re not going to be caught off guard when this happens to them. And that’s the significance of him quoting from the Old Testament: “He who ate my bread has lifted [up] his heel against me.” And if you remember when we studied 1 and 2 Samuel together, this is a reference to David’s encounter with Ahithophel, who turns against David and seeks to do him ill.

And so, Jesus recognizes that when what is about to happen happens, it has the potential to upset them, to derail them—if you like, almost to undermine their faith. And so he lets them know: “I want you to know that the Scripture is going to be fulfilled that the one who ate my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” They surely looked at one another in this moment and wondered. If they didn’t say anything to one another, perhaps their eyes said it: “I wonder just exactly what he has in mind here.” “I’m telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place, you may believe that I am he.” That is actually the great “I Am” again. Remember, he’s already caused such a ruction with the religious leaders by making this amazing claim to divinity. And he wants them to understand that when all that is about to unfold unfolds, although there may be that which just creates a wobble in their hearts or their minds, he wants them to be prepared so that they will be able to hold on, if you like.

This is an expression of love, isn’t it? It’s a generous expression. I’m not a fearful flyer, but I also like it when the captain says, you know, “We’re going to be taking off, and it looks like it’s going to be pretty good. But until we hit the Gulf Stream over the Atlantic Ocean…” Not the Gulf Stream. When we hit the one that goes in the air, which is called… Huh? The jet stream? That’s right. The Gulf Stream’s in the water; jet stream’s in the air. And he says, “You know, when we hit that, you’ll know about it.” Well, he didn’t need to tell us that, but man, when we hit it, I was glad that he had told me. Because otherwise, when you hit it at a certain velocity and at certain angle, it’s an experience to be remembered. And so that’s why he did it. It was very nice of him.

That’s why the doctor says, “If you can endure the next twenty seconds, you’re going to be okay,” as he comes at you with a hypodermic needle. He wants you to know that there’s an after to this; you’re going to be all right. It’s the same tenderness that your parents say to you as a child when they say, “You know, when we move house and you are going to be in a new school, the chances are that you’re going to be unhappy, and the chances are that you will miss your friends.” Why are they telling you that? Because that is going to happen. And when it happens, you’re going to say, “Aha! They prepared me for this.” That is exactly what the love of Jesus is doing for his disciples.

Those that Christ sends out have a dignity that is theirs, that is ours in Jesus, as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And it is a wonderful encouragement. “When things,” he might have said to them, “seem to be unraveling, you need to know—you need to know—that I am moving forward to do what is planned for me to do”—which, of course, is a reference back to the previous chapter and his “Truly, truly, I [tell] you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it [will bear] much fruit.”[1] They had pondered that on that occasion. Now they’re about to discover a distinct wrinkle in the material, as it were, and very kindly, he prepares them.

Now, in verse 16, they were warned—and we with them were warned—not to stand on any assumed personal dignity: “Don’t get ahead of yourself. Don’t get out in front of your skis. Don’t have too high of an opinion of yourself. Just don’t do that,” Jesus says, both by his word and also by his testimony. But having said that in verse 16, now you find in verse 20 that he’s actually saying something different. He’s not contradicting 16, but he is pointing out that those that Christ sends out have a dignity that is theirs, that is ours in Jesus, as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ. The dignity is not in personality. The dignity is not in giftedness. The dignity is in being called to Christ, to know Christ, to live for Christ, and to go out and speak for Christ and bear testimony to Christ, in the awareness of the fact that the response of people to a straightforward statement concerning who Jesus is, why he’s come, what he’s done, and so on, is often the occasion of mockery and so on. And so Jesus is saying, “You need to understand, fellows, that you didn’t choose me, but I chose you, and I ordained you to go and bring forth fruit”—this is John 15—“bring forth fruit, and that fruit will actually last.”[2]

So, you see what he’s actually doing here. This is the scene. The move has gone from the crowd and from the public arena into a private arena with his immediate followers. He recognizes all that is before them. And what I think we must guard against is the idea… Because this is an intimate scene. It is a scene of intimacy, without that question. But… And I think I’ve read this in the past as a kind of intimate farewell: Jesus gets together with his disciples, and in 14, you know, he says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God,” and so on. “I’m going away. I will prepare a place for you.”[3] And so there is something very tender about it. But to view it in terms of just as an intimate farewell, almost as a kind of spiritual deathbed scene, is a real danger, I think, and for this reason: because what Jesus is saying when he says that the hour has come—he’s actually saying, “Listen, fellows: I am now facing the completion of my mission. The completion of my mission brings the beginning of your mission. I will go to the Father, you will stay, the Holy Spirit will be given to you, and you now will go out to the ends of the earth in order to bear testimony to me.” So that what is happening here is, if you like—when we compress the hours that are involved in the whole discourse—is in one sense Jesus saying to them, “You know, you’ve got your marching orders here. The hour has come. This is what’s involved. This is what it will mean.” And then, “Whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

Now, I read that wrongly, because it’s easy to read it incorrectly: “Whoever receives the one I send.” Who’s that? His disciples, those whom he has called to himself. “Whoever receives the one I send receives me.”

You’re writing a Gospel, a chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do and the words that you say.
Men read what you write, distorted or true.
So what is the Gospel according to you?[4]

“Those who receive the one I send receive me, meet me.” “You are the light of the world,”[5] he says. “I am the Light of the World. Follow me, you won’t walk in darkness.”[6] And he says, “Now you are the light of the world. You go out and shine as your light in the world. And if you’re frightened, and you’re fearful, and you feel yourself to be the only person in your lab or in your office or in your schoolroom or whatever else it is, you need to remember this: that your humility of heart is a big, big plus. But don’t take on some peculiar role of undue self-deprecation, because there is a dignity that is now yours because you are my ambassador.”

Now, I think in the simplest terms, as you know, and I don’t apologize for that. But as I sat and thought about this, I thought immediately of Mr. Spence. “Well,” you say, “I wonder who Mr. Spence is.” It’s kind of suspenseful, mentioning Mr. Spence, isn’t it? Well, Mr. Spence was the headmaster of Carolside Primary School. And Mr. Spence would come around to all the classes in the primary school every day just to see what was going on and who were in the positions of usefulness and who were in the naughty positions. And every so often a call would come from the office that there was a message to be taken around to all the classrooms in the school, and Mr. Spence wanted somebody to go as his messenger.

Oh, I wanted to do that! I wanted to do that. I want to do that. One, you get out of the class that you’re in right now. Two, you can string it out for as long as you possibly can, going from class to class. And three, you kind of feel pretty good about it—especially if it is that school is going to be set free from its bondage one hour early this afternoon. And that’s what you have to do. But you go in, and you say that—but not in so many words. But actually, you don’t say that. You don’t say, “I want you to know that…” You say, “Mr. Spence has asked me to say…”

There’s all the difference in the world. Because the “I want you to understand this” can have a real smart-aleck dimension to it. It can creep up on you, especially the longer you go in the faith, the more you understand the gospel, the more free you become about being able to articulate the gospel to people. And suddenly, we get the dignity/humility thing completely upside-down, so that we start to take ourselves too seriously rather than acknowledging the fact that we are there at the appointment of someone else.

What Jesus is doing here is actually anticipating 20:21: “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” And “then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” And “Jesus said to them again, [Shalom]. As the Father…” (“Shalom Aleichem.”) “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”[7]

Now, what this actually means is very, very important. It has a particular impact, I’m sure, for those who are called into positions of particular areas of ministry. But we speak wrongly when we talk about “Are you in the ministry?” No, there is no “the ministry.” There is ministry. There is preaching ministry. There is singing ministry. There is helping ministry. There’s flower ministry. There’s art ministry. There’s caring ministry. There is ministry. And in Christ, we’re in ministry. And we know ourselves to be flawed and failing, and we know what we’re really like inside, and so does Jesus. But what Jesus is saying to us is very straightforward: “Listen: when I go and I leave this to my disciples and they take it up from there, they will in turn make disciples who will in turn make disciples. And look at where you are.”

We speak wrongly when we talk about ‘Are you in the ministry?’ No, there is no ‘the ministry.’ There is ministry.

So when we go to people and we say to them, “We implore you”—this is 2 Corinthians 5:20—“we implore you on [Christ’s] behalf …, be reconciled to God”—that may sound a bit of a mouthful; we might not necessarily say it in those terms. But we get in the conversation with somebody, and we say, “Well, what this is really about is about Jesus. He steps in between our sinful lives and the glory and the wonder of God in all of his holiness. We’re actually alienated.” We talk to our friends, and we say, “That sense of insecurity and alienation that we sometimes feel, that we often can’t even explain,” we say to them, “what the Bible actually says is that that is just a product of the great alienation and that what Jesus has come to do is to reconcile us to God. And I beseech you, on behalf of Jesus, who sent me to you: be reconciled to God.”

I wonder if we haven’t left some real opportunities, as it were, on the table for, just at the moment of closure, being afraid to follow through. I say that because I remember, with the Campus Crusade background that I had, pushed on me by my mother- and father-in-law, and particularly by my mother-in-law… She actually arranged, you know, the meetings that I was supposed to have with people. She decided, “This person—you need to speak to this person.” And, of course, I responded to that with alacrity: “Oh, what a wonderful idea, Mother-in-Law-to-Be!” And in actual fact, she set it up.

And I remember this so vividly. This fellow died a few years ago. He was a pilot, as it turned out, for the airline that flies out of Pittsburgh, which is now, I guess, American. I forget what it was. Anyway, he was French. He was French—Michael. And he was a good tennis player. And she said, “Well, you should talk to Michael, and I’ve invited him over this afternoon so you can talk to him.” And so he came over, and we sat out on the back porch. And so I did what I had been trained to do: I went through the Four Spiritual Laws with him. I said, “God loves you. He has a wonderful plan for your life. You’re sinful, you’re separated from God, and you can’t know his wonderful plan for your life. But there’s good news: Jesus has come in order to bridge the gap between you and a holy God, and he has done for you what you can’t do. But here’s the deal: you have to individually receive what Jesus has done in order that you might be reconciled to God. What do you want to do about it?” He said, “I want to receive Jesus Christ.” I said to myself, “Oh, no, that can’t be. You can’t do it like that. You can’t… Something’s gone wrong in the whole system. I mean, this is… This can’t be right!” I mean, I was flabbergasted. I was amazed! I said, “No! I mean, yes! I don’t know. Yes, of course, yeah!” And we prayed together. And he trusted Christ.

And all these years later, I ran into him again in Pittsburgh, when he was flying in the airline, and he was an elder in his church. And then he got cancer, and then he died, and then he went to be with Jesus. But if I hadn’t listened to my mother-in-law and had the guts to actually close the deal, someone else would have had to do it. Because clearly, he was one of those that the Father had given to the Son.[8]

I think, you know, that in this present climate, with a humility of heart and an understanding of a dignity that comes through our calling and our relationship to Jesus, there is, you know, far more opportunities than we realize to take the gospel to our friends in a kindly way. Because what Jesus is actually saying—and I need to go to this last thing—but what Jesus is saying is that to reject that kind of appeal—if we go back to verse 20, if we go back to that—to reject that kind of appeal is to reject Christ. And if anyone rejects Christ, they will be rejecting the one who sends Christ. And the one who sends Christ is the God who loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him wouldn’t perish but would have everlasting life.[9]

I don’t know who wrote this, but it’s good, and we’ll move to the last point:

Let us note that it is no light matter to reject and despise a faithful minister of Christ. A weak and ignorant servant may carry a message for a royal master, and for his master’s sake, [and] ought not to be lightly esteemed. Contempt for Christ’s ministers, when they are really faithful, is a bad symptom in a church [and in] a nation.”[10]

We don’t ever want to be a church that says, “Well, I like this one, but I don’t like that one.” It’s a shared dignity. It’s a shared calling. It’s a shared privilege. It’s a shared responsibility.

Now to the third one, which is verse 21: “After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified.” The staggering thing when we come to 21 here is that as readers, we know what only two of the thirteen people at this table actually know, and that is what we learned in verse 3: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,” and that “he knew”—verse 11—“who was [going] to betray him.” We’re privy to that. The others are not.

And what it’s important for us to grasp is that Judas had been chosen by Christ. It wasn’t as if they were all going along the road, and all of a sudden, he was an interloper. He was hand-picked. He was chosen by Jesus, as were the rest. For three years he had followed Jesus. For three years he had listened as Jesus taught. For three years he had seen the signs that Jesus did. And yet now, in this place, as he sits beside Jesus, who has said these things, he’s on the brink of sealing his eternal destiny.

And therefore, we should not be surprised that “after saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit.” The word that is used there is a graphic word. For example, it’s the same verb that you find in John 11 in relationship to the death of his friend Lazarus. It’s also, I think, the same as in—yeah, in 12:27: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say?”

Although Jesus is entirely in control, as we can see—he’s already told his followers, “I lay down my life. I can pick it up again. Nobody takes my life from me. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again.”[11] And yet, here he is troubled in his spirit. It would have been impossible for Jesus to be truly human and not to be troubled. I guess there is probably no pain quite like the heartache that comes in the betrayal of someone we regard as a good friend.

Now, Jesus has alluded to this along the way. Here in chapter 13, in verse 10, he’s given hints of this, hasn’t he? Jesus said to them, “The one who has bathed does[n’t] need to wash, except for his feet; [he’s] completely clean. And you are clean”—hang on!—“but not every one of you.” And then, in verse 18: “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen.” Actually, back in chapter 6, he made a very straightforward statement concerning this, at the end of chapter 6: “Jesus [said to] them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.’” And “he spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.”[12]

So, what we need to understand is that Jesus has mastery over all these circumstances. He’s not caught off guard. The fact that the disciples didn’t register this should not really be much of a surprise to us, I don’t think, because they didn’t register a lot of what he said. They didn’t register the fact that he was going to die and be buried and so on. He said that to them on a number of occasions, but they never understood. So it’s hardly surprising that somehow or another, that just went right over their heads. Surely they must have said, “Well, I don’t know who that is. Surely I hope it isn’t me.”

And so, the word that is used here in this statement is that he “testifies.” He “testifies”: martureō which is a word that is used only every so often. And it is used more in John than in any other place. And for those of you who are interested at all, let me just tell you that, for example, when it says that the man that was sent from God—namely, John the Baptist—“he came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might [bear witness of] him,”[13] that’s the same verb. And it’s the same verb, actually, in chapter 7, when “the world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.”[14] So John the Baptist is testifying to the fact that he is the one who stands in front of the one who comes as the Light of the World. Jesus says, “I testify to you that the world is evil.” Now here we have it: “[And] after saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and [he] testified.” In a court of law, it would be as if he stood and said, “I declare the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: I say to you that one of you will betray me.”

Verse 22, stunned silence: “The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.” They’re mystified.

Now, the fact of the matter is that there is nothing here or afterwards to suggest that there was any suspicion in relationship to Judas. It might just as well have been Peter or James or John. In fact, Mark in his record says that when Jesus said this, they looked around, and they said to him, “It’s surely not I, is it?”[15] So in actual fact, the staggering thing, the horrible thing about it is that all of Judas’s activity, all of Judas’s interest, all of Judas’s participation had proved throughout three years to be a suitable disguise to his hypocrisy.

You know, it’s terrible, the songs I have in my head, but: “And your [eyes are] a thin disguise.”[16] That’s the Eagles. I don’t know why I have these things in my head. But anyway: “And your [eyes are] a thin disguise.” You’d look out on him, and he was able to play the game. He did it masterfully. He was there for all the talks. He was present for all the miracles.

And I shouldn’t say that I’m surprised at all—and I don’t think you will be—that it is Simon Peter, then, who is immediately wanting to know names: “Give me names.” “One of [the] disciples, whom Jesus loved”—we take it it was John—“was reclining at [the] table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.”[17] Imagine the scene, right? So, they’re in a U shape. There’s a table here, and there’s a U shape of them all around, going like this. And their feet are all sticking out at the back. They’re not sitting up at a table, but in a meal like this, they would be on their left-hand side, leaning on their left-hand side, able to eat with their right. And if, as I think it may well be the case, Jesus had actually said to Judas, “Judas, I want you to be close to me tonight,” let’s imagine at least that Judas now is on his left-hand side, which would be a place of honor for him to have Jesus on his right. And if John is in such proximity, the chances are that he’s on Jesus’ right. We don’t know where Peter is, but he always gets in on the action in any case. And so somehow or another he says, he says to John, he says, “Hey! Who is it? What’s… We got a name?”

So John, he asks Jesus: “So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus…”[18] So if John’s here and Jesus is here, he says, “Hey, who is it?” Nobody else knows about this. They’re whispering. “Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I[’ve] dipped it.’ So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.”[19] And in doing so, he unmasks Judas as the traitor.

The chances are that in a meal like this, from the little that I’ve read—and it is little—there would be occasions where it would be a gesture of kindness or of friendship to give somebody from the meal a token of affection. And if that is actually the case, then we assume that he who loved his own and loved them to the end[20] and chose them, every single one of them, gives now to Judas a token of his affection, and with that a further opportunity for Judas to climb down from the position that he has taken for himself. Because in this one last lingering moment, the destiny of Judas is actually in the balance. Will he accept the gesture of friendship? Will he turn from the path that he has set for himself? Answer: no. His course was set.

And you will notice what it says: that “after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him.”[21] At the beginning of the chapter, it was that Satan had put into his mind these things, put it in his heart to betray him.[22] And so now, with a word of direction on the part of Jesus, he says, “Well, what you’re going to do, go ahead and do it quickly.”[23]

“Now,” notice, “no one at the table knew why he said this to him.”[24] Nobody said, “Well, there you go. We knew he was a bum all along. We knew he was a con man.” They didn’t. That’s the thing about hypocrisy. That’s actually the scary thing. The scary thing is how close you can be to the action. Proximity is no indication of reality. If one of the Twelve called out by Jesus, elect to not salvation but elect to the responsibility and privilege of being a disciple, can do this, then surely it makes all of us sit up in our seats. It does me.

And some thought maybe Judas, because he had the money bag, was going to go out and do some gesture of kindness, give it to the poor.[25] “So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night”[26]—the vast contrast between “You’re only going to have the light for a little while,” said Jesus. “Believe in the light while you have it.”[27] Judas heard that. Judas knew that. Judas turned his back on it and walked away.

Now, it is now night, and I’m conscious of the fact that it’s night. So let me just make a couple of closing observations—one from Ryle, whom I mentioned this morning: he says, “On all the coasts of England there is not such a beacon to warn sailors of danger as Judas Iscariot is to warn Christians.”[28] And that’s the point: how close to Christ we might appear to be and yet not be his.

Also, to recognize that the betrayer emerges from the core group. They’re not somebody who, you know, just shows up every so often and is on the fringe of things. No, he’s in the core group—thereby making clear to us something that we need to pay attention to: that we shouldn’t be surprised if we find hypocrisy and false professions of faith in the church. I mean, if you’ve got it in the disciple band… Isn’t that what Paul was saying when he took leave of the Ephesian elders in Acts chapter 20? He says, “You’d better take care of yourselves, fellows, and watch over the flock that’s in your charge, because after I leave you, from among your own self there will arise those who will draw people away after them.”[29]

That’s what we discovered in Jude. The problem in Jude wasn’t a theoretical problem; it was a real problem: that these people were present within the framework of things. It ought not to alarm us to the point of being entirely freaked, but it ought to remind us, as Calvin said, that the church, despite all of its attempts to become a pure church—membership interviews, all the things that we may seek to ensure that everybody is in and understands and so on—the church is always a mixed multitude. It’s always a mixed multitude.

And when we think about the impact of Satan’s activities, the Bible is given to make sure that we’re alert to these things. Paul writes to the Corinthians; he says, “Let us not be foolish and ignorant of Satan’s devices.”[30] “Don’t be ignorant,” he says. “Don’t be so stupid as to walk around with your mouth open and assume that you’re beyond all these things, this could never be the situation. No, no,” he says, “you shouldn’t do that.”

The fact that God overrules the evil that bad men and women do as he brings his purposes to pass does not make their actions any less evil.

Now, what happened? Well, we don’t have time to work our way through, but again, he “put it into his heart” in verse 2. In verse 27, he “entered” him, whatever that means. The deed was now done. And so James, when he writes about the impact of this, says, “Resist [him], and he will flee from you.”[31] Well, how do we resist him? Well, we “resist him, firm in [the] faith.”[32] We arm ourselves with the armor of God.[33] We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re not just skeptical about the affairs of the world; we’re skeptical about our own hearts. We know the wickedness of our own hearts. We know the potential that we have for wandering and for failure and for messing up. And that reality, then, is there in order to say to us, “Come on, now! Get ahold of yourself. Resist him in the power of the Holy Spirit.” That’s why James is so helpful on this: “Just don’t open your mind, Alistair, to folly, to foolish, godless thinking. Do not read books about it. Do not watch movies about it. Do not include it in the purview of your existence. Do not open your mind to trash. And at the same time, do not entertain thoughts of sin. Do not play with sin in your mind. Don’t play with the idea in your mind. For we have a roaring lion seeking to devour.[34] And don’t, whatever you do, make light of the devil’s designs.” Because it is impossible to read this without realizing that Satan is influential in this drama.

However—and with this I will close—he is influential in the drama, but Judas is still responsible for his choices. God is sovereign over all of these events. And the fact that God overrules the evil that bad men and women do as he brings his purposes to pass does not make their actions any less evil. For Judas, the momentum of sin had become irreversible. He’s an illustration of the tragedy of Romans chapter 1—and God gave him up.[35] Jesus said, “Go out, and do what you’re going to do.”

But here’s the thing that I want to finish with: Jesus actually… God is using all the dark forces of chaos that are going on in Jerusalem in this context, as it comes to the crucifixion—all of the malignancy, all of the treachery, all of the animosity, all of the reviling of those who ought to have known better and in many cases did know better, all of that, for which all men are responsible—God was using all of that chaos in order to fulfill his purpose from all of eternity. You say, “Well, that’s so hard for me to get my head around.” It’s supposed to be!

But here’s the point: the God who was doing that over all the chaos of the Passover in Jerusalem is the same God, in Christ as an ascended Lord and King, who is using all of the chaos, malignancy, animosity, and reviling in the present context of the unfolding drama of our lives at this point in the twenty-first century. He is in control. “The Lord God omnipotent reign[s].”[36] It doesn’t always seem so, but it is so. He wasn’t taken by surprise then, and he isn’t taken by surprise now. We can trust him. We can’t trust ourselves; we can trust him. But then, if we have good friends around us, then when we know that we can’t trust ourselves, maybe a good elbow in the ribs, maybe a good arm around the shoulder, maybe a good promise of prayer, maybe something to say, “Hey, stay in the race.”

A brief prayer:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And [he] rides upon the storm. …

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face. …

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And [try] his work[s] in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make [things] plain.[37]

Lord, help us to trust you unreservedly, we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] John 12:24 (ESV).

[2] John 15:16 (paraphrased).

[3] John 14:1, 3 (paraphrased).

[4] Commonly attributed to Paul Gilbert. Paraphrased.

[5] Matthew 5:14 (ESV). Emphasis added.

[6] John 8:12 (paraphrased).

[7] John 20:20–21 (ESV).

[8] See John 6:37.

[9] See John 3:16.

[10] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. John (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1878), 3:28.

[11] John 10:17–18 (paraphrased).

[12] John 6:70–71 (ESV).

[13] John 1:7 (ESV).

[14] John 7:7 (ESV).

[15] Mark 14:19 (paraphrased).

[16] Don Henley and Glenn Frey, “Lyin’ Eyes” (1975).

[17] John 13:23–24 (ESV).

[18] John 13:25 (ESV).

[19] John 13:26 (ESV).

[20] See John 13:1.

[21] John 13:27 (ESV).

[22] See John 13:2.

[23] John 13:27 (paraphrased).

[24] John 13:28 (ESV).

[25] John 13:29.

[26] John 13:30 (ESV).

[27] John 12:35–36 (paraphrased).

[28] Ryle, Expository Thoughts, 3:4.

[29] Acts 20:28–30 (paraphrased).

[30] 2 Corinthians 2:11 (paraphrased).

[31] James 4:7 (ESV).

[32] 1 Peter 5:9 (ESV).

[33] See Ephesians 6:10–18.

[34] See 1 Peter 5:8.

[35] See Romans 1:24, 26, 28.

[36] Revelation 19:6 (KJV).

[37] William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.