Spotlight on Five

Second in a series titled “Upper Room Discourses.”
Delivered August 4, 2002 by Dr. John Murray Smoot.

Sermon Text:
John 13:19-35

Now we are very grateful, all of us are, of course, for light. We are grateful that we live in a lighted world and can use it and I am very grateful that science has learned many ways how to utilize light, how to harness it, even to focus light and make it serve our purposes. But no lesser a light than Dr. Houseman, who is assisting this morning, has assured me at least that we are not, and even we scientists are not, sure exactly how light is propagated. Sometimes it appears to be in wave lengths, very definitely, but other times it seems to be particles and probably some day we will learn, I don’t know, that it is both depending upon certain circumstances or who is looking at it, or taking advantage of this light. We are told in the Psalms to cry out to God, “Oh send out thy light and the truth and let them guide me to thy Holy Hill.”

Now last week, I really encouraged all of you to read a certain section of scripture, which I have been pleased to call “The Antechamber”, which is really a very important room that opens up to a more important room. The Upper Room Discourse, namely. John, Chapter 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 and I am not going to ask you to raise your hand if you read that or at least a portion of that, because if I were to ask you to raise your hand, I would either make up proud to raise your hand or embarrassed that you don’t. So no way will I ask you. However, a number of people, I am grateful to say, approached me during the course of this week to say, “I read it” and good for you! Make sure you do. That is the most important thing that could come out of these two sermons and the Lord willing and enabling, several more sermons through the summer and in to the fall from this Upper Room Discourse of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are still in the 13th Chapter of the Gospel of John and I would like to ask you to follow me and hold the scriptures before you as we look as this passage. It is found in John Chapter 13, which is the first of these five chapters that make up the Upper Room Discourse or what I call the Antechamber because it is extremely important in that it comes in after all of the Tenahk, which is the writings of Jewish people and then the writings of Christians of what Jesus said and what Jesus did and all of that is anterior to this passage. Everything that Jesus said and everything that Jesus did was still in the old covenant, but as we move in to his antechamber, in to this exciting period, we are hours away not days or years, just hours away from the inception of the new covenant. We will certainly reflect on that shortly as we have our good Lord’s Supper together, that this new covenant is in my blood and has not been shed yet and all through this passage had not been shed, nor had Jesus been raised from the dead, nor had he sent the boon of God’s blessed spirit 50 days later. So I want you to note the transitional nature of these words of Jesus as I read to you from John, Chapter 13, Verses 19-35.

“I tell you this now, before it takes place and when it does take place, you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly I say to you, he who receives anyone whom I send receives me and he who receives me receives him who sent me. When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit and testified truly, truly I say to you, one of you will betray me. The disciples looked at one another uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus. So Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.” So lying thus close to the breast of Jesus he said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give the morsel when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after the morsel, Satan entered in to him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do it quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that because Judas had the money box that Jesus was telling him buy what you need for the feast or that he should give something to the poor. So after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out. John writes and it was night. When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the son of man glorified and in him God is glorified.” If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me and as I said unto the Jews and now I say to you, “Where I am going, you can not come.” A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you will also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

We trust the Lord will add his blessing and understand to this reading of his Holy word.

Today I have entitled our thought, “Spotlight on Five.” We are looking at this exciting and cheerful and surprising and confusing time in the upper room. Jesus is torn by a great desire to have this agape feast, this love feast, with his own, having loved his own who are in the world, he loved them to the end. At the same time, there was not only the horror of the cross just hours away, the horror of horrors he knew that one of his own buddies was going to let him down. So as this drama unfolds for us in a few moments, we are going to look at five protagonists who appear in this passage.

The first one is Judas. And the more that we pass by him and the less that we linger about this man, the better. I have taken a scripture verse and applied it here. It’s “the mystery of iniquity”, it’s a complete mystery and there is no use trying to delve in to the background of this of how and why, one of his own disciples who lived and walked and ate and slept and traveled with Jesus for at least four years should be a turncoat or a traitor and a betrayer. All we can say is that, that is one of the five protagonists that we are looking at and when we are doing this I am going to ask you to categorize yourself. We are going to talk about five different kinds of Christians. Now I am certainly not going to do that. This is one strong conviction of mine that I will not categore people. That’s my own term. I will not “catty-gore” people, that is you know what I mean. Take this person and kicking and screaming stuff him in to a category. You are a so and so, whether you want to or not, I will stick your legs together and shove you in it. I will not do that, but you’ve got to do it. By the time I finish this great discourse with you today, you will have to categorize yourself as one of these five Christians and the first one is Judas, who is a conventional Christian. That is, someone who has attached himself to Jesus in some kind of conventional convenient way, that it was to his advantage apparently to walk with Jesus all these years, but there was night in his soul and unfortunately he made himself vulnerable to the inroads of Satan himself, who enters in to that night time soul of Judas. And as I said, we will linger over him not long at all. However, when I think of him, I think of what Samuel Coleridge, a great poet of previous generations, wrote. “The owlet atheism sailing on obscene wings across the moon, drops his blue fringed lids and shuts them close and hooting at the glorious sun in heaven, cries out, “Where is it?” Surely there is none so blind as one who will not see; and I hope to God that no one listening to me today is that kind of a Christian, who is a mere conventional Christian, convenient to call yourself a Christian, when you are not one at all.

The next one is Peter. Please realize that at this point in his life he is an unconverted Christian. What, unconverted Christian? Isn’t that an oxymoron? No, not at all. Look at this passage. I preached on this by the way a couple of Sunday’s ago and one lady came up after the service, believe it or not, who had said, “I am converted” so that was delightful. Listen to this. In Luke, Chapter 22, verse 31 and following, Jesus is speaking at the same time, this is not the Upper Room Discourse, but it’s at the same period, it’s after the Holy Communion that followed the service of Passover, same time. “Simon, Simon behold Satan demands to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail and when you have turned again or been converted, strengthen your brethren” and that is exactly what happened. But you see, Peter was really an unconverted Christian in that he was too a follower of Jesus, just like Judas was a follower of Jesus, but he was sincere, but he was all messed up. And we know that because if I were to complete this passage, Peter boldly says, “If everybody forsakes you, I won’t. I got my sword at my side, count on me.” And Jesus had to say to Peter, “Will you? Oh come on. Just in a few hours from now at sunrise, before the cock crows, you are going to deny me three times”. He was unconverted. It was only when Jesus died, when Jesus gloriously rose again, when Jesus sent his blessed spirit that Peter was turned around completely. You bet. One thing interesting about this. Way back in the Book of Numbers, it was recorded that there were a couple of people who are not followers of Moses who were prophacying and Joshua comes up to Moses and says, “Moses, we have to go do something about those guys.” And Moses made this statement and I want you to take this home with you. In a sense it is the core of today’s message. Moses said, “Would that all of the Lord’s people were prophets.” That the Lord would put his spirit upon them. That’s in Numbers, Chapter 11. That’s where we are. That is exactly where we are here at Central Presbyterian. Now, literally we no longer have with us Jerry or George. We are cut adrift. No. No! Would that all of God’s people were prophets. Jesus said that “you, all of you, everyone of my believers and my followers are to be my witnesses”. I tell you it bothers me no end to read of the victories and the power of believers in the third world. All those without exception when people become believers in the third or fourth world, they become witnesses right away. I can’t take credit for this, but if I look back at my own life, after I just barely moved out of my teens, and got a job, believe it or not, and this was in the middle of the Great Depression in 1935, I was working as a page boy and then in the proof department of the Union Trust Company. And I discovered right away that I had moved in to a witnessing mode and everybody in that whole crazy bank, from the president on up knew about Jesus because I always talked about him all of the time. Would that all of God’s people are prophets. We Americans just don’t do that. We don’t replicate ourselves. We don’t try deliberately everyday if possible, but certainly every week to witness of the goodness of Jesus to somebody else, we just don’t do it. Unconverted Christians all over the place. And God grant that his spirit will start to stir us, that as the spotlight comes upon us and we find maybe we are like Peter, we are unconverted Christians. So much for that.

John, what about John? He shows up here in an interesting way. Jesus announces that one of his disciples betray him and of course they are thrown into consternation and they are all questioning themselves, questioning one another on what to do. Without anybody else hearing this, three people are there together, three protagonists. There is Jesus and there is Judas who has just gone out and there is John who is leaning on Jesus’ bosom, who identifies himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. But what is going on here? So Peter whispers to him and he says, “Ask him who it is.” Why? Not only because John was leaning on Jesus bosom, but because John had Jesus’ ear, more than Peter did and he knew it. So he said, “Ask him who it is.” And so John whispers to Jesus, “Who is it?” And Jesus said, “It’s the one that dips in to that dish the same time that I do.” And you know the story. We don’t have time to pursue it. But John is identified as the disciple whom Jesus loved. How come? Because it was true and the reason it was true, is because John loved Jesus. And all of us could claim that and should claim that, for this is not an unconverted Christian, this rather is a consecrated Christian, who is chosen to be close to Jesus. That’s all. We all admit that Jesus had an inner circle, Peter, James and John, they were in the inner circle. How come? Was Jesus playing favorites? No. It’s because Peter, James and John made Jesus their favorite. And it always happened that way. Thank God someone in the earlier service today picked up something that I said. And said it was going to effect his life and this is what he wrote. “You have right now everything that you want from God”; there isn’t anything keeping you back from being in the inner circle, I mean someone whom Jesus loves because you truly love him and are consecrated to him and to his high purposes. And don’t forget this. At this point in life, John could easily be characterized as adolescent. He had probably barely moved out of his teens and yet he is a high quality believer because he chooses to be. Because he chose to be. And there isn’t one of us who is too old or too young to be a disciple whom Jesus loves because that disciple loves Jesus down to the bottom of his shoes. Alright.

Here is the next person upon whom this spotlight shines. And it’s Jesus. Well what kind of a Christian was he? Well if you will forgive me now, I am going to try to read rather rapidly from a little pamphlet that I wrote for Jews for Jesus and it is entitled, “Jesus was not a Christian”. Jesus was not a Christian? Wasn’t he the first Christian who started a whole new religion? No, Jesus could not have been a Christian simply because people didn’t start name calling his followers that until years after his death and Jesus certainly would not have been recognized as a Christian throughout his entire life. He was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth and was presented for purification at a temple in Jerusalem, was thoroughly indoctrinated in a sacred Jewish writings and he could trace his devoted lineage, all the way back to Judah Ben Isaac to Abraham, Jesus was an unofficially recognized Palestinian rabbi who lived near the close of the time of the second temple, who scrupulously adhered to Moses, kept the high feasts, paid the temple half shekel and joined his disciples to keep every detail of the Holy Torah, he moved with ease among the Hellenized Jews of his day quoting extensively from the septuagint. It may startle one to reflect that Jesus strictly forbade his followers from calling him the Messiah. Why would Jesus reject the use of that title? Simply because it has attracted to itself and by that time a completely erroneous coloring, Rabbinic Judaism had painted a monochromatic portrait of Messiah that was wholly political and The Bar Kokbha nevoit is a picture of that. Jesus said, “My kingship is not of this world, else would my servants fight that I might not be handed over.” I am giving you all of this mostly because there might be some people who are brand new, who really don’t know about Jesus. If Jesus rejected this use of the title of Messiah, what designation did he chose for himself? Do you know? What did Jesus call himself all of the time? “Son of Man”, right. The deliberately, ambiguous son of man. He never attempted to define the term, but those who knew the scriptures would sense the double meaning, the Hebrew of bar enosh which means “the man”. In Daniel he is seen as the glorious cloud writer coming and reigning over all people in the name of the Ancient of Days. The son of man was God’s worthy prophet, yet the term also applied to the humble and humiliated suffering servant of Yahweh, witnessed to by the prophet in Isaiah, “behold my servant”. This servant is seen as a man of sorrows who was wounded for our transgression and bruised for iniquities, but after being the suffering, silent savior, he is exalted as the bringer of spiritual prosperity. God our father would not let his holy one see corruption, but raised him from the dead and placed him at his own right hand. No, Jesus was not a Christian, but Jews and Gentiles who have entrusted themselves to him have found the way to be the one true living God.

So what kind of Christian are you? Well the last one that we see here is where the spotlight shines on you and me at Central Presbyterian Church and that is covenantal Christians; those who have entered in to a covenant of love. Very shortly we are going to be meeting around the Lord’s table, which is called the Eucharist or the Lord’s supper or Holy Communion, which means “having completely and totally in common”, and in the first century it was always called the Agape, which is the Greek word for love. And that’s the badge that we all carry. It is the badge of a believer and the distinctiveness of a disciple, is that we love one another. What an opportunity for us, everyone one of us, to look for ways, not only to witness to other people outside or that all of God’s people are prophets, but also to wear that badge all day long of love for one another. By this Jesus said they are going to know that you belong to me. You are a covenant Christian, you love one another.

Dear Father, we thank you and bless you and adore you for turning the spotlight upon us that we may see where we stand before you and with one another, that together we will be such lovers of the Lord and such lovers of one another that people will come to love him too.

Hear us now as we respond to this message, as we sing together to God and from our hearts, “Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts” in preparation for Holy Communion.