“When evening came, he arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining and eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one by one, ‘Surely not I?'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever betrayed anyone’s trust? I’m not talking about lying to another person. That particular sin is on all of our balance sheets. I’m talking about actively betraying another person. They trusted you to do something that would advance their interests in some way and instead, you acted in a manner that intentionally did the opposite. They trusted you to be a certain type of person because you led them to believe as much, but the truth is you never were, and eventually they found out. That’s a pretty terrible place to be. If you’ve been there, you know the heavy weight of emotion and guilt you bear for it. Now, imagine that you haven’t done something like that, but someone tells you that you will. How are you feeling now? That’s where the disciples found themselves quite unexpectedly on the night of what would be their last supper with Jesus. Let’s talk about it.
The Passover was for Jews in the first century a little like what Christmas is for us. It was a time when families gathered and celebrated God’s goodness to them as a people. It was a reminder that He was for them. He had acted powerfully on their behalf in the past and would do so again. They ate a special and traditional meal together. They told familiar stories and sang familiar songs. In addition to its obvious religious significance, there was likely no small amount of nostalgia that was part of the celebration.
This was the third time the disciples had gotten to celebrate the Passover with Jesus. Three years is plenty of time for traditions to develop. They were no doubt looking forward to this night. Yes, there was a bit of heaviness to the air as Jesus had been getting very morose lately, talking about HIs death as much as He was and having all the tense engagements with the chief priest and their ilk, but just like Christmas acts kind of like a reset button for at least a moment, they were hoping this would be a time they could get together and forget all about everything else that had been going on in their world.
Then everything fell apart.
As they were sitting around the table together, reciting the Scriptures and singing the hymns and telling the story of God’s action in the Exodus and generally having a good time, Jesus suddenly cleared His throat and the room got quiet. He obviously had something to say that He considered pretty important. All of them leaned in to find out what it was.
“Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me.”
I have to think this would have been one of those moments when it felt like someone had hit the pause button on time. Everything ground to a halt for the disciples. The reverberations from the blast of those words continued to sweep over them in waves. If the room had gotten quiet before to hear what Jesus had to say, now it was deadly silent. No one moved. No one spoked. They hardly breathed. Of all the things they were expecting Jesus to say, this was not on the list. It wasn’t even a category for them. I mean, sure, they had messed up on occasion. But betrayal? That was a whole other level.
When their hearts finally started beating again, their minds went off to the races. To a man they were thinking about everything wrong they had done or said recently. Were they on a path they didn’t even realize they were walking? They thought through all the possible things that might happen in the days ahead of them (not a single one of these scenarios envisioned a cross). What did Jesus know that they didn’t know to make such a claim as this, to charge them with such a horrible crime?
It is hard to overstate just how distressing a moment this would have been for the disciples. They all knew and believed Him to be the Messiah. As we talked about last week, perhaps it was Judas’ lack of understanding or refusal to understand what kind of a Messiah He really was that led him to betray Jesus, but they all still at least believed that He was the guy. The thought of betraying the Messiah was absolutely anathema to a conscientious Jew in that day. Plus, they all loved Jesus. The shock and pain of this moment would have been intense. It would have been like someone you love and respect greatly sitting down with you and telling you that you were going to fail at your most significant task. You would be crushed. So were they.
All of them immediately started to plead to Jesus, “Surely, it’s not going to be me, Lord!” They would all later confidently assert: “It’s not going to be me! I would never do that.” I can imagine Judas was the one guy who reacted differently. Perhaps he put on a show of shock to make sure he didn’t reveal himself, but he had already done the deed. His betrayal was accomplished. It just had to be completed. Knowing the story, though, Judas’ actions weren’t the only ones to which Jesus was referring. As He would later clarify, all of them were going to run out on Him right at His moment of greatest need.
So then, why would Jesus say this to them? Why put them through the mental and emotional torment this was causing them? Even if he was only referring to Judas’ tragic, but God-used, actions, why pull back the curtain so publicly like this? How was this going to do anything for them other than leaving them so distracted they weren’t going to really be able to engage with what was coming next?
Because He was preparing them for what was about to happen. Everything He had done and said with them was aimed in that direction. He didn’t want them to encounter any surprises on the road immediately before them. He wanted them fully prepared so they would not lose their faith along the way. He knew this would hurt them now. He told them anyway because of the pain it would save them later.
I think this is what points to why this exchange matters for us. Love is a popular idea nowadays, but the ways we think about it aren’t always consistent with what it really is. We tend to think about love never causing pain. After all, who would want to cause any amount of discomfort to someone of whom we think so highly and fondly? Pain is bad and love is good. Surely those two things could never go together? They don’t on the distorted definition of love our culture uses when talking about the classical virtue. But again, the way our culture thinks about love and teaches us to think about love, isn’t really as full a picture of love as we need to get it right.
I’ve been arguing for years for a particular definition of love that I am fully convinced best captures the virtue as it appears in the pages of Scripture. Love is an intentional decision to see someone else become more fully who God designed them to be. While feelings and emotions certainly play a part in love, they are not by any means the whole of it. I would go so far as to argue they aren’t even the majority of it. Love, at its core, is about a commitment to work for the best interests of another person. That commitment remains in place even when our emotions are conflicted and our feelings toward them in a given moment are somewhat (or a lot) less than warm and fuzzy. Certainly love is more fun when we are “feeling it,” but if love is not anything more than our feeling it, it’s not going to get us very far in life. Relationships reach points where we don’t feel it pretty quickly into their existence. If a lack of feeling is considered an exit ramp for love, we’ll never be able to maintain any kind of a long-term relationship.
The trouble with being committed to the good of another person is that our understanding of what is in their best interest and their understanding of what is in their best interest may not align. In those moments we have a choice: Defer to their view, or stick with ours. If we defer to theirs, we may keep them feeling good about us, but if they are wrong (and given how easily we can deceive ourselves when it comes to things we want, we’re wrong a good bit of the time), then we’ve done them a disservice at best. At worst, we’ve caused or at least been complicit in their pain. That doesn’t seem very loving, does it? But, if we stick with our view, we may actively take steps that will cause them short-term pain, but with a long-term picture in view. That’s not an easy path to walk, especially when they start pushing back against the pain or otherwise angrily hold us responsible for it. It takes a great deal of commitment and intentionality to keep loving someone when they currently hate us because they can’t yet see the ends toward which we are aiming in our actions toward them.
Here’s where I’m going: Jesus loves us. This is not the emotional swell of a Hallmark movie. This is real love. He is fully committed to intentionally moving us in the direction of who God designed us to be. Everything He does is focused on achieving this end. And who God wants us to be is our highest good because He’s the creator. But who God wants us to be and who we want to be don’t always intersect. In fact, they often don’t. The result of this divergence of wills is that if Jesus is going to successfully push us in the direction of who God wants us to be, He is going to sometimes push us in ways that don’t feel good in the moment. In fact, they downright hurt. But the pain is a temporary stop on the way to a much grander reality. Our challenge is to trust in His love even when His expression of it doesn’t feel like we want. This isn’t easy, but it will always lead us to where we most want to be…even if we don’t understand just yet where that is. Keep trusting Him; He will get you where you need to be.