A Section of John's Gospel

Notes of an address on John 13.

1911 329 It is  necessary in order to get full enjoyment from a chapter that we should know something of the general character of the book, and particularly in the Gospels, we need to have some inkling of the structure. Now here in these five chapters, from the 13th to the 17th, we have a special section which has a character of its own. From this time Jesus never spoke in testimony to the world. Now it was communion of the Lord's heart with His disciples — except the 17th chapter, which was between the Lord Jesus and the Father, but which, however, they were permitted to hear. All this was a private thing between the Lord and His disciples, and had nothing to do with the world. They were shut in, away from the world. It relates to a new character or period of time.

There are distinct sections in the Lord's life. For example, there was His early life, of which we hear practically nothing except a brief mention in Luke 2:40-52. God has not told us about those thirty years. Then there was His baptism by John, when He was acknowledged by God with the words, "This is my beloved Son in whom I have found my delight." Following that, the temptation. Satan was going to try Him. He had succeeded with the first man, and now all his power and subtilty were concentrated on the Second. The Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness, where He foiled the art of the tempter and issued victorious. And now the account ends with "the devil leaveth him for a season." This is an epoch in the life of Jesus, and gives character to the succeeding period up to our chapter.

You remember the parable of the strong man — "No man can enter into a strong man's house and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man, and then he will spoil his house." Jesus had bound Satan to a certain extent, although he was conquered only so far. Now, for three years the Lord goes about spoiling the strong man's house. He delivered the poor woman who was bowed together for eighteen years; He healed the man with the withered arm; He gave the deceased son back to his mother; and the Gospels are full of the wonders that He wrought against Satan's power in every form. He bound the strong man and spoiled his house. He also spoke the truth of God everywhere, preaching the word through the villages. We must remember that the Lord was a great preacher. He said, "Let us go into the next towns that I may preach there also; for therefore came I forth" (Mark 1:38). We are apt to forget the power of His word in thinking of His miracles. When He sent the disciples forth He Himself "departed to teach and to preach," and His voice was heard throughout the land.

But now we come to another section of the Lord's life. There were certain Greeks who came up to the feast who said to Philip, "We would see Jesus" (John 12:23, 24). "Jesus answered saying, The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified." It was the particular hour to Him, and in the next verse He refers to His death. At the thought of that hour He says, "Now is my soul troubled." Yes, as that hour approached His soul was troubled. This was the culminating hour of His life, and we can truly say in the beautiful words of Sir Edward Denny:
"One hour there is on history's page,
Pre-eminent o'er all the past;
'Twill shine and shine from age to age,
While earth, while heaven itself shall last."
All the works He did, and the words He spoke, led up to this, and all would not have availed for us but for this solemn hour (John 13:31, 32). He refers to the same in John 17:1. What was the hour? It was when He met God about our sins. It was a wonderful hour when Jesus bore the penalty of sin, when He went to the cross and was made sin for us He who knew no sin. Yet there is another feature of this hour. I quoted from Luke 4:13 that Satan departed from Him for a season. Now, however, he leads the multitude on to destroy Him.

When He sent the seventy forth, He told them to take neither purse nor scrip, and they lacked nothing. Now He says, "He that hath a purse let him take it, and likewise his scrip, and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one" (Luke 22:35). They were no longer under His visible protection. He was going forth to enter upon that great work which He has so completely performed. Satan had left Him for a season, but now he was working through the people, so that the Lord says, "Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves? While I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hand against me; but this is your hour, and the power of darkness." Here was a great change. This was Satan's hour. When all this was about to take place He retired from testimony to the world and closeted Himself with His disciples before entering on His sufferings. "Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." Satan brought before Him all the horrors of that hour — the horror of contact with sin, when He who knew no sin was made sin for us. But with all this before Him did it cool His love? No, not for one moment. He loves you and me — He will love us right on to the end. His is a never-ceasing and never-changing love, and He will love us still through all eternity. His hour was come the culmination of all He came for. This great event was spoken of before the world was, "In the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God" (Ps. 40, and Heb. 10).

John commences chap 13 by introducing the person of the Lord and His position. It was the manner of John to do this. In opening the Gospel he presents the person of the Lord, beginning with a brief but important statement concerning that blessed One. He opens this section in a similar way. His Epistle also has this characteristic. He does not begin as Paul does, but has a style of his own. John breaks in suddenly with a presentation of the person of the Lord. The Revelation also shows the same. The first chapter is a symbolical vision of the person of the Lord. It is what we might term the Johannine manner. It is always the person of the Lord prominent in the foreground.

When we come to these communications (John 13), what is the first thing He brings out? Not salvation, for we know already that we are saved to all eternity. There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, but we do need provision for keeping us clean while on the journey, and the Lord gives this at the opening of the chapter. It was a beautifully gracious action on the Lord's part. "He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself." Just consider who He was — He made the worlds and upholds them by the word of His power. This was a symbolic action, setting forth His present work of keeping us clean, and it is more explained by Peter's characteristic attitude during the process. "Lord, dost thou wash my feet?" The Lord's reply is, "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter." That is, there is a hidden symbolical meaning which Peter knew nothing about, or he would not have said, "Thou shalt never wash my feet." "Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him — (like his usual impetuosity) Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head." This brings out the intention of the Lord's act. "He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet." That is just how it stands with us we contract defilement by the way; we feel how often we commit sin while on the journey. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." When any one sins what he has to do is to confess his sin, and the Lord will forgive at once. It is not merely judicial forgiveness, but cleansing we are clean from the sin and communion is restored.

Now why should a believer go on with sin upon his conscience when the moment a sin is confessed it is forgiven? But it is true that many believers carry a burden which they ought to get rid of. When David said to Nathan, "I have sinned," Nathan answered immediately, "The Lord also hath put away thy sin." So you see the moment a sin is confessed we are clean every whit. We occupy the happy position of being justified ones, but are we clean? How different everything would often be — on the Lord's day morning, for instance. Sometimes the hymns are not from the heart as they would be if all had been through that little process beforehand; but when this has been done worship rises in fulness and power. We cannot be happy with the Lord with unconfessed sin on our consciences, but it is beautiful to see His way of keeping us clean while we are left here. It is so full of graciousness and love, and consideration for us. You see He not only washes their feet, but wipes them with the towel. He is the perfect Workman, and does not leave His work unfinished. There was nothing rough or unkind in the way He did it, and they were to do for one another as He had done for them. It should be so with us too. We are to bring the word to bear on one who is in the wrong, but only in love and grace as He did. He stooped in humility and took a low place, and we should take the same. It seems very striking to me that He wiped as well as washed their feet. It shows the perfect way in which He did everything. A good workman always likes to turn out his work nicely finished, and the Lord did not leave the disciples to wipe their own feet! We can never alienate His heart. Though we may lose hold of Him, He never loses hold of us.

We will now pass on to the scene where Jesus is troubled at the thought of Judas betraying Him. He says, "One of you shall betray me." It was not so much that it was Judas, but that it should be one of those who had companied with Him and had seen His works and heard His words.

In John 13:23 and 24 we see the different characters of Peter and John. They both loved the Lord and were loved by Him, but how different they were! John was gentle and a character the Lord could enjoy. He, as man, had a personal love for the man John. But with Peter "there was too much of Peter," although he was a great man and the chief of the apostles. It is sweet for us to know how the Lord appreciates the individual character of His saints. Some are gentle, some are more active, and fitted to grapple with the sterner work of life, while others are fitted only for gentler service. But we know that He will give to each the right place in glory, for He knows all about us. Although Peter was the chief of the apostles, and his name was always put in the foremost place, it was through John that he obtained the information he wanted.

Judas is a sad and solemn character. It seems strange to us that he should proceed with his evil designs after he had been pointed out by dipping the sop, but it is probable that he never thought that the religious leaders would proceed to such lengths. He did not know, as he afterwards found out, that he had betrayed the innocent blood. We read that after the sop Satan entered into him. That is a remarkable word, for though we read of many cases of men being possessed by demons, this is the only time we hear of Satan himself entering into a man. There are two who are called "the son of perdition," Judas and Antichrist, or the man of sin.

Under the circumstances this is a remarkable expression in John 13:31, "Now is the Son of man glorified." It seems contradictory in view of the cross, but it was moral glorification in the rendering of a perfected obedience. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God, but He was the sinless One. Then He goes on to say, "God shall straightway glorify him." This He did, we know, when He received Him up into heaven; that is, straightway, without waiting for the coming kingdom, for He was the Man who had fulfilled in His life all the Father's will, in perfect, loyal obedience, and God could not wait for a future time, but would straightway glorify His Son.

This section of the Gospel is exceedingly beautiful, but we have no time to dwell more upon it now, save just to notice John 13:34 and 35. I am sure we all want to love one another. In John's Epistle he says, "We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren." And here we have, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." These are two important points. If there is love to the brethren it is a testimony to ourselves that we are His. Love in our hearts is sure to manifest itself and so become a testimony to the world. We cannot all preach, but we can all show love to our brethren, and that is a direct testimony both to ourselves and to the world. What we want is more love in our hearts, and if love is pre-eminent there must be blessing. "Hereby perceive we love, because he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." You say, "Oh, but that brother wants too much love." Perhaps so; yet nevertheless you should be willing to lay down your life for your brother. Love would not think of stopping short even at that and we ought not. E.J.T.