The Scriptures, the Sovereign Christ, & Representing God
Passage: John 13:18–20
Sermon from John 13:18-20 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on June 22, 2014
To get started, let me set before you the big picture of today’s message by having you look first at verse 20. Jesus says there, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” These words anticipate the day when Jesus would send out his disciples on a mission (20:21). Just as the Father sent his Son on a mission to save the world, so Jesus would eventually send his disciples to continue his mission to save the world—and many of us, by grace, are now part of that mission. But before Jesus does any sending, he prepares his disciples for the mission. And the way he prepares them throughout John 13 is by equipping them to understand his own mission, and by equipping them to understand who he is, and by equipping them to understand themselves in relation to him.
So if you’re a disciple this morning, you’re in training right now. This is how Jesus equips you for your mission in the world: he explains his own mission, he tells you who he is, and then he wants you to see who you are in relation to him. You need to understand those three things if your faith is going to survive as his disciple—especially in a world full of betrayal and evil and that at times feels like it’s spinning out of control.
1. Jesus’ Mission Was Planned by God in Holy Scripture
So first of all, let’s look at what he says about his mission. We need to see that Jesus’ mission was planned in Holy Scripture. Jesus has just finished telling all twelve disciples that they would be blessed, happy, glad-hearted, if they practiced the humility of their Master (13:16-17). Jesus humbly washed their feet; and they would be blessed to follow his example as the love of Jesus compels them to serve and give and sacrifice as well. But not all of them would experience this promised blessing. Not all of them would know the happiness that’s found in Jesus’ humility.
He says in verse 18, “I’m not speaking of all of you.” He’s referring to Judas, because Judas is going to betray him (13:2). He did this earlier in verse 10: “You are clean,” he tells the twelve disciples, “but not every one of you.” And verse 11 then tells us that Jesus “knew who was going to betray him”—it’s Judas. The same exclusion occurs here, but in reference to the blessedness of imitating Jesus’ sacrificial love. Judas will not know the blessedness of being a true disciple much longer. He will walk away from joy, away from all Jesus is calling them to in these verses.
But here’s the thing: it’s happening just as God ordained it in Holy Scripture. Or even better, Jesus chose Judas as part of his inner circle for the purpose of fulfilling the Scriptures. “I know whom I have chosen,” Jesus says—Judas being included in the mix (cf. 6:70)—“but the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread [an expression of intimate fellowship, one of treating somebody like family at the table] has lifted his heel against me [an expression of deep treachery and betrayal].” We then find Judas and Jesus eating bread together in the following verses, and Judas leaves during the meal to betray Jesus (13:21-30), just as Jesus said would happen. Jesus’ mission could unfold in no other way than to have one of his closest friends betray him, because God had already spoken. It was already written about him long before in Psalm 41, a psalm of David:
All who hate me whisper together about me,
they imagine the worst for me.
They say, “A deadly thing is poured out on him;
he will not rise again from where he lies."
Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
Now on closer look, some of us may wonder how in the world Psalm 41 anticipates Jesus’ betrayal. When we turn back in our Bibles, not only do we find that Psalm 41 is about David and describing the sufferings that David faced in his own lifetime, but even more Ps 41:4 says the man of Psalm 41 is a sinner—he needs God to show him grace and heal him because he has sinned against God. And we know the Bible says elsewhere that Jesus is no sinner (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15). So how could it be that Psalm 41 anticipates Jesus’ betrayal? How does Jesus’ betrayal fulfill Psalm 41?
Reading Our Bibles and Understanding Typological Fulfillment
Well, here’s where we need to enter a short lesson on how to read our Bibles. Many times when we think of Old Testament prophecy being fulfilled in Christ, we think merely along lines of direct fulfillment—where a specific reference to the Messiah is given in the Old Testament and we then find its direct fulfillment in the New Testament. Many times the Bible does just that. But if that’s the only category of prophecy we have to work with, we’ll often leave our own study of Scripture scratching our heads—confused over how Jesus fulfills this or that Old Testament passage, which doesn’t seem to be speaking about him at all. Such a limited perspective on prophecy has even led many people to wonder if the apostles just got it all wrong, if the apostles are forcing the Old Testament to say things about Jesus that it really isn’t saying at all.
We don’t have to draw those conclusions, especially when we know that all of Scripture is inspired by God—whether Old or New Testament—and God never contradicts himself. What we need to do is broaden our understanding of prophecy a bit more. There certainly are direct fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy, but more often than not prophecy is fulfilled along lines of what some have called “typology.” You shouldn’t feel any pressure to use that fancy word, but I want you to get the concept.
To put it simply, typology looks at the way God reveals himself in the Bible through specific events, persons, and institutions in the Old Testament, which point to, or typify, or foreshadow, or paint a picture of, the future realities bound up with Christ and his kingdom. So there are events such as the flood (1 Pet 3:20-22) and the exodus (1 Cor 10:1-5); there are persons such as Adam (Rom 5:14), Melchizedek (Heb 7:1-28), Moses (Heb 3:5-6), David (John 13:18), the priests, the judges, the prophets; and there are also institutions such as the Passover (1 Cor 5:7), the temple (John 2:21), or the whole ceremonial and sacrificial system. And all these events, persons, and institutions reveal patterns that then point to the way God plans to work in the future through Christ and his kingdom. They’re written about in a fashion that prophetically expects the day God would bring them to their intended goal in Christ.
But keep this in mind, the New Testament fulfillment always surpasses the Old Testament types; the New Testament reality always outshines the Old Testament shadows. That doesn’t diminish the value of the Old Testament type at all; it just helps us see that the entire Bible has a forward-moving thrust as we read its revelation. It constantly wants us landing in Christ and his kingdom. Let that kind of thinking also inform your reading of the Scripture.
Jesus Fulfills Expectations Bound Up with God’s Anointed King
So what about Psalm 41? Well, in this case it’s a psalm of David; and David—in his role as God’s anointed king over Israel—becomes a type that looks forward to Christ (cf. Isa 9:6-11; Jer 23:5; Ezek 34:23-24). The way David represented the nation in government and battle (Ps 18); the way David stood against God’s enemies—think David and Goliath (1 Sam 17); the way David related to God as a father relates to a son (2 Sam 7); the way David prays (Ps 22), the way David suffers (Ps 35; 41; 69), the way David triumphs over his enemies (Ps 68)—all these aspects of David’s life anticipate the way God would work through his much greater Davidic King, Jesus Christ.
What we see from Psalm 41 is that God ordained David’s sufferings and, by the Spirit (cf. Acts 2:30; 2 Pet 1:21), had him write about his sufferings in such a way that they anticipated the sufferings of Jesus—it’s just that Jesus’ sufferings are far superior to the sufferings of David, because of who he is, the divine Son of God.
David’s betrayal by his closest friend anticipated the betrayal of Jesus by one of his closest friends—it’s just that when Jesus’ closest friend betrays him it will lead to his death (John 13:18-30; 18:1-11). David’s betrayal was merely by a human friend and this anticipated Jesus being betrayed by a human friend—it’s just that Jesus was enduring the onslaughts of the devil himself when the devil enters Judas (John 12:31; 13:27). David’s sufferings anticipated the sufferings of Jesus—it’s just that when Jesus endured his sufferings, he did so without sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15). David was vindicated for his faithfulness to God while suffering and this anticipated Jesus’ faithfulness to God in the midst of his suffering—it’s just that Jesus was faithful even to the point of suffering under the infinite wrath of God in place of sinners like you and me, and that’s why God vindicated him (Rom 3:23-26; Phil 2:3-11; Heb 1:4).
For Jesus to fulfill the Scripture of Psalm 41 means for Jesus to bring all the revelatory patterns written of David’s life to their intended goal. God mapped out the plan in Holy Scripture—a plan that included the betrayal and sufferings of his own anointed Davidic King—and Jesus was now fulfilling the plan right before the eyes of his disciples. He was suffering betrayal as the superior anointed Davidic King—it was part of his mission; it was preordained by God.
And we shouldn’t stop there. If he was suffering as the superior anointed Davidic King, then that means we should expect other patterns and promises linked to David’s kingship to be fulfilled as well. David represented his people in battle, but there’s only One King who secured victory over all our enemies when he went to battle with sin, death, and the devil on the cross (John 8:13-59; 12:31-32; Col 2:6-15). David was given power to protect God’s people from human enemies, but Jesus Christ—now risen from the dead—has power to protect God’s people from cosmic enemies like Satan and the powers and principalities (Eph 1:18-22; 2:1-10; 6:10-20; 1 John 5:19). David was given authority to bring peace for God’s people, but it wasn’t a peace that lasted nor was it a peace that covered the earth; but of Jesus’ government and of Jesus’ peace “there will be no end. He will establish his kingdom with justice and with righteousness forever (Isa 9:6-11; cf. 1 Cor 15:22-28).
All of these things are bound up with Jesus’ mission, which was planned and revealed by God in Holy Scripture. And that’s just some of the trajectories God set forth in David. Now, I want to get to application in just a second, but not without pointing you briefly to Jesus’ identity, which he alludes to in verse 19.
2. Jesus Is the Lord Who Controls All History
So, Jesus prepares us for mission by helping us grasp that his own mission was planned beforehand in Holy Scripture. Now he prepares us for mission by revealing his identity as [Jesus is] the Lord who controls all history. Verse 19 says, “I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.” Most English translations add the pronoun “he” to the end of that sentence. But the “he” is not present in the Greek. It can be translated simply, “that when it does take place you may believe that I am.”
He’s referring us once again to his own deity (cf. 8:24, 28, 58). “I AM” was God’s personal name that he revealed to Moses before rescuing them from Egypt. In Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses [at the burning bush], “I AM WHO I AM…Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Isaiah 43:10 [LXX], “I AM…before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.” Jesus is calling attention to his deity by taking on God’s personal name. But he’s doing more than just taking on that name; he’s explaining the God he is; and you don’t have to know Greek to get what Jesus is saying about who he is. But you do need to know your Bibles, especially places like Isa 46:9-10 (cf. 46:6 LXX, "even to your old age I AM").
Turn with me to Isa 46:9-10, and while you’re doing so keep in mind that Jesus has just told the disciples what’s going to happen with Judas before it actually happens. Isaiah 46:9-10, God is calling Israel away from the idolatry of the nations to trust in him, and he says this: “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”
By telling the disciples how Judas will betray him before it actually happens, Jesus is helping them see that he is none other than the only, true God of the universe. He declares the end from the beginning. When he gives them counsel about his betrayal, he is showing the disciples that his counsel will stand, that he will accomplish all his purpose, and there’s none who can thwart him whatsoever—not even the treachery of someone in the inner circle, not even the evil schemes of the devil himself. Everything is under his control and his authority; and they need to believe this about him.
Jesus’ Sovereignty Assures Us in the Mission
And you need to believe this about him, if you’re going out as God’s representatives in this world. Jesus’ mission is planned in Holy Scripture and Jesus is the Lord who controls all history. This is absolutely crucial for us to cling to when we’re on mission, because it guards us from despair when we face a world wrought with so much sin and evil and pain. It helps to know that Jesus doesn’t just predict the future, he creates the future (cf. Rev 17:17). And he is sovereign over all history, so that it will finally reach the glorious destination he has planned for it all and planned for us in it.
Things are not spinning out of control when ISIS takes over Iraq and Christians are fleeing, and when government agencies lie to one another, and when presidents and judges approve the murder of babies, and when Bulgaria is ravaged by deadly floods, and when certain orphanages in Haiti pretend to be noble, while selling kids into the sex industry behind closed doors. God sees. He knows. He has a plan to deal with all of it. And his Son entered history as part of that plan to redeem the world from its bondage to corruption (cf. Rom 8:21).
I met an eight-year old little boy yesterday, Jake. I could tell he was wondering around the streets lost; and so I stopped and asked if he needed any help. He said yes. He thought he had missed the bus for summer school—rather odd, since it was Saturday. Dad was in jail. Mom was at work. His fifteen-year old brother was supposed to be watching him and his baby sister at home, but wasn’t. He was so confused and didn’t know what to do. Great despair in his eyes. No Christ. No testimony. No knowledge of Jesus’ sovereign power to save him. And our children get DIG Children’s Ministry week in and week out. After getting the assistance of the police, I got to the office and just cried out to God for the little boy, and thousands of others just like him in Tarrant County. And I could cry out to God for Jake, because of who God is—he sees the situation; he knows Jake; he has a plan; and he has the power to save him.
As I was praying, I was reminded from our passage that the world may be broken, dark, sinful, and overwhelmingly needy, but Jesus’ isn’t finished with his purposes yet. And he has power and authority to ensure it reaches that day when the skies roll back like a scroll and he establishes a kingdom of peace and glory on earth. If things weren’t spinning out of control when Judas did the infinitely atrocious and betrayed God’s only Son; if things weren’t spinning out of control when Satan appeared to gain the upper hand over Jesus; if things weren’t spinning out of control when the most heinous crimes in history consumed God’s Son, then they’re not spinning out of control now. God’s counsel will stand; all his purposes will be accomplished.
He tells the disciples later on, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (16:33). I don’t know how people live in this world without Jesus and his sovereign majesty over everything. All the more reason for us to bring Christ into the lives of others, like little Jake.
God’s Word Protects Us When Doubts, Trials, and Evil Rise
More than that, when we represent Jesus in the world, he’s well aware of the betrayal and suffering and persecution and doubts and objections that will come against us. He knows the trials we will face. Not everybody will receive his disciples like they ought. Can you imagine the objections that would come from within the disciples once Jesus was crucified? Can you imagine the objections that would come from others not following Jesus? “You followed a guy who died on a cross! Even one of his closest disciples thought he was lame! If he was such a strong Messiah, in control of everything, why didn’t he save himself from all the calamity?!”
Jesus was preparing them for when their own doubts would rise and he was preparing them to endure the ridicule of others. He set their eyes on the word of God, which spoke beforehand of all that was happening—a word that revealed the truth of all that was happening. He didn’t want them creating their own stories about what was happening when Judas betrayed Jesus—stories like, “maybe he isn’t who he says he is after all;” stories like, “maybe we’re just fools after all;” stories like, “I guess Jesus wasn’t all that after all;” stories like, “evil is going win.”
Jesus is grounding them in the Bible’s storyline, and saying, “Pay attention to what’s true about me! Nothing can stop my purposes. Nothing happens by accident. Nothing escapes my counsel. Everything is unfolding just as planned. Read this book when I’m taken out of this world, and you tell people what the Bible says was really going on in my betrayal. I was suffering just like God planned it, so that you would be saved.” Folks, if you’re not reading God’s word—feeding your soul with its truth—you will be destroyed. The darkness will swallow you up. The enemy’s lies will devour your faith (John 8:44; 1 Pet 5:8). Sin will deceive you and cause you to drift away from the faith (Heb 2:1).
But the word of God proves Jesus’ power and control over all things—which we need to overcome sin, to shake the devil’s lies, to comfort our anxieties, to strengthen our weak knees, and to give us courage to face trials as we serve as his representatives. Jesus graces them with his mission and his identity before his betrayal, so that they will remain his own through the betrayal. He knows what they need to survive the darkness of the next few hours, and he speaks to generate faith (13:19, “that you may believe…”).
So, what are you grasping for in desperation? Is it Christ? Where are you going to understand the truth about things when the darkness draws near? Is it the word of God which bears witness to Jesus, the sovereign Lord who controls all things, the Davidic King who suffered that you might enter his kingdom free of sin? Where is your trust residing when traitors raise their heads? Where is your hope when betrayal comes upon you? It must be in Christ who knew it all from the beginning. Hold fast to his words, brothers and sisters, they are precious in the midst of this world’s struggles. Until Jesus returns, evil will creep in here and there and cause deception and betrayal and apostasy; but we should remain steadfast, knowing that Christ governs all things. He is never caught by surprise, and he will remain faithful to redeem us, just as he was faithful to redeem in the face of Judas’ betrayal and Satan’s deception.
3. Jesus Delights in Making Us God’s Representatives on Earth
One more way Jesus prepares us for mission. He tells us who we are in relation to him. When we embrace what the Scriptures say about him; when we trust that he controls all of history, even in the midst of our calamities, then Jesus delights in making us God’s representatives on earth. Now we’re back where we started 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.”
There is such a solidarity between Jesus and his disciple that to receive Jesus’ disciple is to receive Jesus. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words to Paul in Acts 9:4. Paul is going around ravaging the church, persecuting all the disciples of Jesus, and Jesus stops him on the Damascus road with, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” The disciples were so united to Jesus that to persecute them was to persecute Jesus. The same unity is being portrayed here: to receive Jesus’ disciple is to receive Jesus himself; and to receive Jesus is to receive God. We represent God to others.
That we are God’s representatives should amaze us
Now that’s both amazing and sobering at the same time, if you’re a disciple of Jesus. It’s amazing, because we’re unworthy to be called God’s representatives? We have done nothing to put ourselves in this position. Like everybody else in the world, we too have fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23); and there’s nothing we could contribute to convince God to make us his representative (Eph 2:1-3). Even worse, we didn’t want to be his representative (Rom 8:7); and apart from grace, we would’ve never wanted such a position before him. If anything, our sinful nature wanted nothing to do with him; and all we deserved was to be crushed by him under his wrath (John 3:36).
And now we’re called Jesus’ disciples? Now God is pleased to have us represent him to the world? Folks, the Lord’s grace in this is astonishing. Jesus’ mission is so complete—his life and death and resurrection is so sufficient for us—that God can turn rebels against him into representatives for him (cf. Eph 2:1-10; Tit 2:13-15). Through the work of Jesus, God has taken us from the pit of destruction, and given us a place of highest service in the world—that of bringing God into the lives of others. That’s true of everybody here, who follows Jesus. From elders to stay-at-home moms, from care group leaders to children’s ministry servants, from seasoned married couples to young singles, from students to professionals—everybody who follows Jesus serves in the highest position on earth because of the work of Jesus (Eph 2:4-6). We need to leave amazed at God’s transforming work in our lives.
And I would invite those of you who are not Christians to consider that Jesus’ work on the cross was enough to make you God’s representative as well, if you will trust and obey Jesus. If you don’t follow Jesus, then you’re giving up living as God intended you to live. He made you to represent him on the earth (Gen 1:27-28); he made you to bear his image and reflect his glory on the earth (Gen 1:26-27). But your sin isn’t allowing you to live that way (Rom 3:23). Even worse, your sin has so marred the image of God, that he will not allow you into his kingdom on the last day. He will have to destroy you for not bearing his image, and he will do this for eternity.
But that’s why Jesus came; he came to live the life you could never live (Phil 3:9). He then died on the cross, not for sins that were his own but for your sins (2 Cor 5:21). And God then raised him from the dead, so that you could walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4)—the life he gives in the Spirit to all who trust in him (Rom 8:1-17). It’s a life in which God’s image is then restored in you, because Christ, who is the perfect image of God is in you through the Spirit (Col 3:10). He will be pleased to make you his representative, too, if you trust him—if you give him everything. To be called God’s representative is amazing.
That we are God’s representatives should sober us
At the same time, it’s very sobering. The sense of “receiving” in this verse is not merely a formal greeting of sorts, but a whole-hearted embrace of the disciple and all he stands for in his witness and service to Christ. Most immediately, Jesus is referring to the eleven disciples. He’s going to send them out as his authorized apostles, and if people embrace their testimony and imitate their faith, then they will get Christ. But this is later extended to the whole church insofar as the church holds fast to their original message and way of life (John 17:20-21; 20:21). So it applies to all of us.
The idea is that our solidarity with Christ is so much a part of who we are—his mission so characterizes us—that others can tell who we belong to, who we treasure most, who shines most from our words and our deeds.
So, how are you representing God? Can others tell that Jesus is your treasure? Is Jesus’ name on your lips when people encounter you? Is your primary identity bound up with Jesus, or is it bound up with something else like your vocation, or your role at home, or your favorite hobby, or your food preferences and diet? Would others be able to see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven, as Jesus puts it in Matt 5:16? For some of us, I think this is very much the case, and we should rejoice at the work the Lord is doing in various brothers and sisters. We should rejoice at the even the little things he’s begun to do in each of us.
But none of us should be content with where we are this morning in representing Jesus. We should strive to maturity in representing Jesus both in word and deed. And Jesus has already given us a picture of what that looks like in verses 1-17. We humble ourselves to serve the eternal well-being of others; we lay down our lives to see people prospering in the Lord. This is how he sends us to represent him.
Some of you need to ask whether you even view yourself this way, as God’s representative. If you don’t, or perhaps you have trouble doing so, then dwell further on the words of Jesus and the comprehensive nature of his love toward you. He refuses to leave you the same once he saves you; rather, he makes you a different person. If you profess to follow Jesus and you’re not a different person, you need to seriously consider whether you’re even saved. Or, you need to at least consider how you need to repent of looking too much like the world. Jesus is able to fit you to be his ambassador. He will authorize you to speak on his behalf to others, so that they too might know God. Embrace your high calling, Christian. Speak on God’s behalf. Serve others for his name’s sake. The one who controls all of history is for you. We know he’s for us when we look at his mission, as it’s laid out in the Bible and see it fulfilled in all the works of Christ.
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus