Only from Behind You: John 13
There is so much in the Passion Week narratives of John, that begin here in John 13 and continue until John 21, and I hate for you to miss any of it. I cannot, however, write it all in one blog post, so I’m going to narrow down one thing. One person, really.
While the finality of Judas’ betrayal does not come for a few more chapters, it begins here. Judas goes out from among the disciples, from the inner circle, and finalizes his deal with the religious establishment and ruling authorities. The end is well-known, and typically accepted even by those who doubt the validity of any other part of the Gospel: Jesus goes to His death, betrayed there by His friend.
Countless bottles of ink have been spilled over Judas’ actions. Even the M*A*S*H episode “Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?” (one of my favorites out of 11 seasons) features a discussion about Judas’ motivations. Typically, we want to know why?
Yet the reality is that there were only 12 people who could have betrayed Jesus. You find their names listed in Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:13-19, and Luke 6:12-16. It had to be one of the Twelve. There were no others who were truly a portion of the ministry of Jesus enough to betray Him.
It is, as the wise Sir Humphrey Appleby once said, necessary to get behind someone if you are going to stab them in the back. Only a close supporter could betray Jesus. The Pharisees could not, neither could the Romans. Persians were no threat to His work, and the Chinese Empire of the Han dynasty could not have cared less.
The pool of betrayal possibilities was pretty shallow.
Why do I highlight this?
Quite simply, because we need to realize the same thing in modern Christianity. While I do not wish to downplay the danger to Christians from people like Kim Jong un, in the news today for having people executed for owning Bibles, or the intellectual challenge to people of faith from atheist scholars like Richard Dawkins, these people cannot destroy the faith as a whole. After all, history shows that scholars like Nietzsche and John Stuart Mill have attacked the faith before, and we are still here. Neros and Stalins and Hitlers have risen and fallen, and Christianity remains. Often, we see the old statement that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church proven true—the more the opposition, the more we see the Word of God spread.
Our greatest danger is not our external opponents. Instead, our greatest danger comes from within. The danger is from those within the faith, the leaders, the speakers, the authors, the pastors, the conference organizers (for us in the US), the professors, all who rise up and then twist the Christian Faith to their own ends.
These are the sources of our danger. The people who preach purity and chastity and do not live it—and flame out in the process, rather than truly being open and repentant. The people who write books on humility and practice arrogance. Those who are called and directed to protect the weak and instead protect themselves.
When we see this behavior, we should see the face of Judas in their eyes. The face of betrayal, not merely of us, but of Christ Himself. And typically the motivation comes back to the same old problem: a little bit of coin in the purse. A jingle of silver across our tables.
Yet the end remains the same: the betrayer eventually will face their actions. The personal gain will come to naught, and they will stand before God for what they have done.
What, then, shall we do?
1. Take heed for ourselves: if you are on that edge of turning against the faith, come back. Now. The cliff is perilous, the rope shorter than the fall.
2. Take grace for ourselves: I firmly believe that Judas had a myriad of opportunities to call out for grace and repent. The textual evidence suggests he never did. There was grace available—but it was rejected. Wherever you are, you can come back. Peter does—so can you.
3. Take grace to others: While I am speaking somewhat harshly, there is a balance. Betrayal comes from within, and one who betrays must choose repentance, that one still has access to God’s grace, and to our best ability we should extend grace to them. Take grace—oftentimes, a person falls and fears because they will lose the only thing they know. I personally know several ‘fallen’ ministers who never knew where to turn, because their whole life and education had been about working for churches, and they knew that would end—as would their ability to feed their families. Grace does not prevent all consequences, but it does aid with the landing.
4. Take heed for others: Alongside that grace, though, must be the concern for others that have been betrayed. It is our community responsibility to protect each other—allowing someone to stab another in the back shows a slip in the community work. We allowed too much power to one when that happens—or we were all deceived. If so, we must all work together to address the issues.
Yet nothing is more important that binding up the wounds of the broken-hearted in these cases. Bind the wounds, then fix the problems.
Today’s Nerd Note: John speeds through the Passover meal that institutes the Lord’s Supper ordinance of the Church. I think this is further evidence that John is aware of the Synoptic Gospels and Paul’s own writings on the night—and their ready availability among the churches of the time.