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You will believe that I am who I am

Sermon passage: (John 13:18-30) Spoken on: March 2, 2022
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: John

Tags: John 约翰福音

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About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

Title: You will believe that I am who I am
Date: 2nd Mar 2022
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

Tonight is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. We have chosen to begin the period of Lent with the story about Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, which serves as a bleak reminder of the suffering of Christ. In comparison with Matthew, Mark and Luke, John’s narrative is far more detailed and multifaceted. For example, even though Luke was the first to mention Satan’s influence on Judas’ betrayal (Luke 22:3) , 【1】John linked Jesus’ foreknowledge to the precise timing of Satan’s activities far more explicitly (see John 13:2-3 and 27). Jesus knew what Satan was doing before the dinner, and during the meal itself. This was a spiritual trial and struggle that he had to overcome, much like the three temptations of Satan at the start of his ministry.
Another unique contribution of John’s is, even though all the other gospels mentioned the betrayer sitting at the same table and dipping their bread into the same bowl, John directly quoted and referenced Psalm 41:9 ,【2】 thus connecting Jesus with the scriptural laments of King David. We are reminded that even the anointed servants of God are not spared from the persecutions from loved ones. This provides us with a biblical and theological reasoning for the betrayal of someone chosen by Jesus.
Lastly, Mark and Matthew mentioned how the disciples were grieved when they heard about a betrayer among them (Matthew 26:22; Mark 14:19), but John revealed further that Jesus too was “troubled in the spirit” by this betrayal. We often talk about the physical pain of the crucifixion, but I think the emotional pain from the betrayal of a comrade is no less unbearable and heart-wrenching. All these deeper insights shared by John reveal Jesus’ mindset towards his suffering, he was ready spiritually and theologically, but it hurt him, nonetheless.

If we were to believe that this gospel was written by John the apostle as indicated by church tradition, then surely what happened at the last supper must have been rather impactful for the beloved apostle to record these private moments in such detail. One of these moments was when Jesus revealed that there would be a betrayer amongst them. In Matthew and Mark, they took turns to ask Jesus “surely not I?” (Matt 26:22, Mark 14:19). But we now know the phrasing was different for John. John 13: 25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” There is a significant difference between “surely not I?” from the rest of the apostles and “who is it?” from John. “Surely not I?” meant that those apostles were not sure if they would be the one(s) who would betray Jesus, whereas John who asked “who is it?” was a lot more certain that the betrayer would not be him. John indeed proved to be steadfast till the end because we know he was at the cross when Jesus entrusted his mother Mary to his care. 【3】 We may be puzzled why the other apostles would lack such fortitude about their fidelity to Jesus, since he had been their master for about three years. But the truth is, when the moment arrives to lay your life on the line, who will remain steadfast? Even Peter who thought he would surely lay down his life for Jesus denied Jesus three times in a moment of panic. In short, except for Judas who was going to betray Jesus, and John who was innocently sure he would not, the rest of the apostles honestly did not know if they could persevere till the end. Of course, to be fair to them, another key factor was that they also did not know that the betrayal was going to happen on that very night. Even if they might be feeling courageous and loyal at that moment, no one truly knows if their allegiances would ever waver further down the road, as we might have observed betrayals do happen so often in war or spy movies.

To appreciate the intensity of the scene, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of these apostles. They had followed Jesus for the past 3 years based on the message that the kingdom of God was near. What started as a rural Galilean movement was then at the doorsteps of the Jerusalem elite. When Jesus was entering into Jerusalem, the people in John 12: 13 were shouting, “Blessed is the king of Israel!” There might have been a sense of euphoria, but surely also a heightened alert of peril and threat. Though it is hard to know exactly how many of the apostles were thinking of an actual political revolution, it is safe to assume that they knew the dangers involved in confronting the authorities, be it the Temple authorities or the Romans. There might even have been a level of intrigue between the apostles like a real-life Mafia, Werewolf or Among Us guessing game going on. And when the moment arrives to lay your life on the line, who will remain steadfast? Who is merely an imposter?

As I write this, Russia is invading Ukraine. President Zelenskyy 【4】vowed to stay in the capital city despite the danger of being captured or killed. I’m reminded of the contrast with the Afghan President who fled when the Taliban was closing in. 【5】 I ask again: when the moment arrives to lay your life on the line, who will remain steadfast?

The answer to this question is related to Jesus’ purpose of revealing the betrayal at the Last Supper. This was clearly stated by Jesus: 19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” This meant that Jesus’ revelation of the betrayal ahead of time had direct implications on his identity (“who I am”). It wasn’t for them to identify the betrayer or to do anything about it. In fact, even though Jesus indicated to John that the betrayer was Judas, John did nothing about it. But in revealing the betrayer, Jesus revealed something crucial about his identity: he remained steadfast. I ask again: when the moment arrives to lay one’s life on the line, who will remain steadfast? The answer is Jesus. Jesus was the one who remained steadfast.

If you think about it, given the turbulent times in Judea in the first century, Jesus’ death could have been interpreted very differently. There were multiple people claiming to be the Messiah. Jesus could just be yet another wannabe killed by the authorities, exposed as a fraud. Worse still, because Jesus didn’t openly declare his messiahship, his death could have been just an honest mistake. He was just preaching a religious revolution and he got killed mistakenly as a political insurgent. Without a clear revelation as to his thoughts about his death, one could even say that Jesus was caught by surprise and died as a victim of circumstance.

But it wasn’t any of these conclusions because the apostles came to realize what Jesus was thinking. John 13:19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. When the apostles recalled this moment, particularly John, they realized that Jesus was steadfast to his calling even till the moment of death. The apostles might have been confused at the last supper, but after the death and resurrection of Jesus, these moments became indicators of Jesus’ true identity as the Messiah. Jesus knew about the betrayal and he knew who the betrayer was. He was in full control of the situation and he was certainly not an accidental tragedy or an unfortunate mistake. As the way the synoptic gospels put it: “For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him” (Matt. 26:24, Mark 14:21, Luke 22:22). Jesus was a willing sacrifice in God’s spiritual battle against sin and death.

More importantly, Jesus’ steadfastness became an inspiration and encouragement in the future evangelistic ministries of the apostles. As Jesus reminded the apostles in John 13:20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me. When we are sent, we represent Jesus Christ. And Jesus represents God the heavenly Father. To be honest, evangelism is often not easy because the gospel might be uncomfortable to those accustomed to the ways of the world. There was an episode in John 6: 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

Jesus meant that even if you were chosen, even if you knew the truth about his identity, it did not mean that you would not leave Jesus when the going got tough. But in the tough moments of our ministry, whether we are rejected by the world, or even betrayed by our loved ones, let’s remember Jesus who was steadfast till the very end. We represent Jesus, and Jesus represents God. I think the beginning of Lent is a good start to prepare ourselves spiritually and theologically for ministry, and though suffering and pain might be possible, as the faithful followers of Jesus, let’s be steadfast so that we may declare as Paul did in 2 Timothy 4: 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.


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