Mid-career change has become common in our contemporary society. The danger is that we not only change our work and career, but also our husband/wife and our Christian faith. The challenge comes to us therefore to continue to follow the Lord with patience and steadfast endurance. So in Habakkuk 2.4 the righteous shall live not only by the initial act of putting our faith in the Lord (Paul’s and Luther’s emphasis in understanding this verse), but also by our faithfulness. So in the list of spiritual heroes in Hebrews 11 the emphasis lies on their on-going faithfulness, not just on their initial conversion by faith. True faith is contrasted with ‘shrinking back’ and ‘throwing away our confidence’ (Hebrews 10.35-39). In Habakkuk too God is looking for faithfulness even when God’s working seems appallingly slow – ‘if it seem slow, wait for it!” (Habakkuk 2.3). Even if everything seems to go terribly wrong and severe suffering comes on us, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my saviour” (Habakkuk 3.18).
At the Last Supper Jesus shocks his disciples with the warning that “one of you is going to betray me” (John 13.21). The disciples were a close-knit fellowship, so none of them could imagine which of them might sink to the depths of actually betraying Jesus. Finally they ask Jesus himself, “Lord, who is it?”.
In John’s dramatic description of this scene his verb tenses vividly indicate that he begins to feel as if he is back at that Last Supper. Some verbs are in a past tense, but others are in an evocative present tense. It is as if John is re-living the tension of Jesus’ warning and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. And verse 30 grips us with its stark brevity – “Having taken the sop, he went out immediately. And it was night.”
We may notice the emphasis on the sop in John’s description. It is the sign to the disciples that it was Judas who would betray Jesus (13.26). John then states that ‘with the sop Satan then entered into Judas’ (13.27 – my translation) and ‘having taken therefore the sop, he went out immediately’ (13.30 – my translation). Somehow the sop seems almost to have had significance in itself. Under the initial authority of Jesus himself, the sop now becomes an instrument of Satan. It is through the sop that Satan enters into Judas and it is after taking the sop that he goes out into the utter darkness of night. In the spiritual life inanimate objects can gain power by the authority of the Lord and/or by the working of Satan and his demonic powers.
So the stage is set for the glorification of Jesus and the Father through the cross (13:31). On the cross Jesus must be abandoned by all and suffer the agony of total loneliness. Even the Father will be hidden from him as he bears the penalty of all our sin. “Where I am going, you cannot come” (13.33). In his burning love and perhaps his over-confidence Peter blurts out a declaration of his desire to follow Jesus whatever it may cost – “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Pride comes before a fall – “before the cock crows, you will disown me three times”.
As I write this blog and you read it, let us examine our hearts and pray that we may never be the one who betrays our Lord and Saviour, or the one who in fear denies him.