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Nighttime Sovereignty

September 10, 2023


Pastor Peder Kling


Sermon Passage: John 13:18–30

Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)

Tension in the Air (and Sovereignly So)

Do you feel the tension in the air, as we read this story? The tension in the air, in this passage, is thick. “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me”. Can you imagine being in the room when Jesus said that? 


And, that’s not all that Jesus said, or did. He says that, leaves them hanging, ony to put on this odd, dramatic show with the morsel of bread. Jesus is creating tension, isn’t he? So the disciples, quite naturally, ask Jesus who he’s talking about, and he says in verse 26, “it is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it” Then of course we keep reading, “So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.” What a curious, dramatic thing for Jesus to do.  


Folks, this was the last supper, as we’ve come to know it. It was Jesus’s last supper—and, a lot happened at this supper. Jesus is going from one dramatic object lesson to the next, teaching his disciples and serving them in very visible, tangible ways. In the last two weeks of our study in John 13, we saw that he kicks the whole supper off with a dramatic display of his service to them. He washes his disciples’ feet—something that was incredible demeaning to a man, and culturally inappropriate in that day. That alone filled the room with tension, and then Jesus has to add to the tension by saying “you, go do likewise”. Then (we don’t see it here in John, but the other gospels mention it), Jesus institutes the Lord’s Super. He takes the bread and the wine and says ““This is my body [and my blood], which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” You’d have to think the disciples were thinking “Lord, where are you going that we’d have to do something in remembrance of you?”. 

Now, he has to go and throw this discussion about a looming betrayer in the mix. “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So we’ve got a footwashing, an institution of a meal to “do in remembrance of me”, and now we have this looming betrayer to think about. What’s Jesus doing? What do these three have in common, folks? 


If the foot washing didn’t make it clear, I don’t know what will. In all this, Jesus is committed to serving his people to the end. He’s preparing his disciples for the hours and days and years ahead, and he’s serving them to the end. Yes, even the dramatic way in which he singled Judas out, in our story, was to serve and love his disciples. I’ll remind you that verse 1 of chapter 13 sets the scene for all of this with the words, “when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart of this world… having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end”. Folks, this is all about Jesus’s radical, sovereign, stunning love and commitment to his disciples. He is sovereignly orchestrating all of this, even to the end. He’s sovereignly orchestrating all the betrayal, all the nighttime darkness, all the events in this story, for the benefit of his confused disciples.


Folks, it’s a reminder that Jesus’s love is often what we call “tough love”. He puts us in those tense moments. He puts us in hard places, but not without a sovereign plan to serve us and see us through the night. Jesus’s sovereignty and his service to his disciples is stunningly evident even in this passage, as he’s dramatically singling out Judas at this meal. Why does he do that? Why the morsel of bread? Why did he speak so vaguely, and make such a dramatic scene out of this? He could have, you know, just let Judas go his way on his own. He could have simply whispered quietly to Judas, “what you’re going to do, do quickly”. He doesn’t do that. He brings this out into the open, for all the disciples to ponder, and he does it sovereignly, before Judas even so much as furrowed an eyebrow toward Jesus. Why the big scene, here? Folks, because he’s loving his disciples to the end with his sovereign, calculated purposes. This isn’t a sovereign, serving Jesus for the faint of heart. He brings us into thick darkness at times, doesn’t he? He puts us in dark, tense, uncertain moments that make us want to crawl out of our skin. It’s what some call Jesus’s “hard” providence, or his “dark” providence. For our purposes this morning, we might call it his “nighttime sovereignty”—what does Jesus’s sovereignty look like at nighttime? How can his sovereignty help you sleep at night? Well, folks, I can tell you one thing at face value from this story. He leads the way, and he controls the darkness. Is that not evident in this story? He bears the darkness, even as he calls the shots. “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Then, verse 30, “and it was night”. None of this was an accident. None of it was outside of Jesus’s purpose, Jesus’s leadership, Jesus’s work of salvation, much less Jesus’s sovereign love and service for his people to the end. 


Discerning His Nighttime Sovereignty

As we walk through this story together, we’re going to see three ways Jesus’s serves us in his nighttime sovereignty. Folks, this is what Jesus’s sovereignty looks like at night, and when you don’t know which way to look. It all just looks black, tense, confusing, and you have no idea what God might be doing. Well, rest assured, there’s a lot of comfort in what we see of Jesus, here in this story. 


His Preparatory Sovereignty

Let’s look again at verse 18, and I think we’ll quickly see what I mean. Jesus gets right to the point in answering why he’s sovereignly and dramatically singling out Judas, here.


18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. 


So, remember, this is all dovetailing off Jesus’s conversation about serving one another just as he just served them, washing their feet. He says in the verse prior, “blessed are you if you do [these things]”. In other words, “you’re blessed if you serve one another”, and that’s when he draws out the qualifier. “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen”. There’s the first tip-of-the-hat to Jesus’s sovereignty, right there. “I know who I’ve blessed. I know who will serve like a foot-washing servant, and I know because I have chosen those who will serve and be blessed, and I’m not speaking of you all”. 


Folks, there’s no way around Jesus’s sovereignty, there. He doesn’t say, “I can look down the vortex of time and see who will be serve and be blessed, and (oops!) looks like not all of you got it in you to serve!” He doesn’t say that. He says “I know whom I have chosen to save, to cleanse, to follow after my example, and to be blessed. And I’m telling you now, I haven’t chosen you all”. 


Again, he doesn’t have to go down this trail of election, of speaking about a person whom he has chosen to not be blessed. He doesn’t have to go there, but he does—and he does with a piercing knife. Why? Why all these antics, this sovereign election, thing bringing-up-of-a-betrayer? He answers it in the next sentence, there in the second half of verse 18. 


But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 


So, there’s one reason he brings up a looming betrayer. “The scripture will be fulfilled.” This is necessary, because Scripture has spoken of it. Jesus quotes Psalm 41, there, a Psalm of David which we read earlier. In a few moments, when we consider verse 26, we’ll talk more about that Psalm and how it fits into what Jesus is saying. But for now, I’ll simply say that Jesus believes that what happened to David (the betrayal and trouble he experienced) must happen to him as well, quite simply because he’s David’s son. David was an anointed king, Jesus is the anointed king. 


So, Jesus is bringing up the matter of this looming betrayer in order to point out that what’s about to happen must happen because it’s a fulfillment of prophesy, and Jesus didn’t want his disciples to miss that.


Now, keep reading, and we’ll see a very related reason for Jesus bringing up the betrayal. Verse 19—


19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 


Say that again? What’s the reason for Jesus bringing all this up? Why is Jesus sovereignly bringing up a looming betrayer “before it takes place”, making everyone feel awkward and scared and uneasy? “So that when it does take place you may believe that I am he”. 


Does it get clearer than that? Jesus goes into this long, dramatic unveiling of the looming betrayer “before it takes place so that when it does take place you may believe that I am he”. Jesus isn’t doing this out of his own, selfish interest folks! He’s not feeling scared and betrayed, and so he just needs to let it out and have a shoulder to cry on! He’s not showing off that he has some inside information that they don’t. Folks, all the discomfort and confusion and fear and confusion which the disciples are experiencing as Jesus is slowly unveiling this is for their salvation. He’s doing this so that these events would be implanted in their brains, and they won’t forget it. “Jesus said it would happen. He quoted a prophesy about it. He even did this funny thing when he dipped the morsel and gave it to Judas, and he told Judas loud enough for everyone to hear to do it quickly!” 


Folks, Jesus isn’t being weird or dramatic or scary or dark and gloomy for no purpose. He’s got a reason for it, and the reason is so that later on, they’ll be able to remember what Jesus did and said about all this stuff, and they’ll have more for their faith to latch onto and believe that Jesus is no ordinary man. He is God, he’s the sovereign messiah who calls the shots, and he’s the sort of God who leads us into dark and scary and confusing places only to bring us out of it with that much more faith and trust in him.


You know what Jesus is doing, here? He’s washing his disciples’ feet—he’s still doing it. He’s doing the hard work of serving them for their faith and holiness and goodness. He’s the chief servant of sinners, and his service to them is their faith and repentance and salvation. He’ll serve and love his people to the end, folks. “19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.” Let that sink in, as it must have sunk into the disciples.


Think about it. When we think of Judas, I think we’re tempted to think “that ugly, nasty, wicked, greedy, money-smuggling traitor.” I imagine we’d like to think the disciples’ had a similar sentiment—or, maybe if they really did like the guy, they felt deep remorse or grief. But folks, do you know what I think was really planted in their minds as they thought of Judas? “Jesus planned it all to be, commanded it all to be (what you’re going to do, do quickly), and it was.” Jesus set this all up to magnify Jesus’s sovereignty and power and self-sacrificing purposes, and it certainly must have increased their faith mightily. They weren’t thinking of being embittered against Judas after that. They were thinking about Jesus’s sovereign, perfect, fearful, saving purposes which no enemy can thwart. 


And folks, if you’re filled with that sort of faith—you really believe that Jesus sovereignly orchestrates even his enemies like Judas—what do you think that does to you? You become courageous. I think that’s why Jesus says what he says in the next verse, there in verse 20. It’s kind of an odd transition, and you have to think about it a bit. Verse 19: “I’m telling you about the looming traitor now so that when it takes place, you’ll believe in me”. Then, verse 20, he says something that you’d expect him to say to a bunch of evangelists and missionaries. 


20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send [i.e,. my apostles and missionaries and evangelists] receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”


So, that sounds like Jesus is giving some missionaries a little pep-talk, an word of encouragement. “Hey, I’m sending you out—and if someone receives you and your message, they’ve received me and the one who sent me.” It’s an awesome thought. If I go out and proclaim Jesus, and people receive me and my words, Jesus is literally saying that they’ve received God (and I think Jesus is implying, there, that God has mutually received that person through Jesus). It’s a crazy thought, to be in a missionaries’ position. If people reject you, they reject God for eternal damnation. If they receive you, they receive God for eternal life. Then again, you’re presenting yourself as a crazy person. It takes guts to be a missionary—the stakes are high and the message is hard. It takes courage.


Well, again folks, Jesus is seeking to give them courage in our passage—even in this passage wherein Jesus is literally about to be betrayed. “Let’s not talk about me right now. I’m about to be betrayed—and, I’m telling you this for your own good, for your own salvation and courage.” Jesus isn’t thinking about himself, there. He’s thinking about them! Again, he’s still washing their feet, loving them to the end, even as he’s about to take the lead in the path through utter darkness.


So, what does this tell us about Jesus’s sovereignty, here? Again, this is all helping us see Jesus’s nighttime sovereignty. How does he work his sovereign hand when the night is dark, and we can’t make sense of anything? Right here, folks, Jesus is sovereignly orchestrating dark, hard events to prepare his disciples for what’s ahead. His nighttime soverighty, you might say, is preparatory. He’s anticipating what he has ahead for them, and he’s preparing them to believe in him as the Sovereign lord who calls the shots, who is willingly betrayed, who sovereignly orchestrates betrayal and darkness into victory and life. His nighttime sovereignty is a sovereignty in service to you. It’s preparatory—preparing you for a greater faith, greater courage, and what Paul calls a greater “weight of glory beyond all comparison”. When it’s nighttime, rest on his nighttime sovereignty and know that it’s always preparatory, preparing you for a greater faith and glory ahead. That’s certainly what we see in this passage, as Jesus is serving his disciples with this dark, troubling matter at hand.


His Costly Sovereignty 

What else does this passage tell us about Jesus’s sovereignty? Keep reading in verse 21. “After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit…”. Stop there. Just sit on that one for a moment, folks.


Jesus just predicted the betrayer, telling the disciples about it. He went so far to say that this is in fulfillment of Psalm 41, that it’s part of his plan, that he specifically didn’t choose everyone to be blessed. In a moment’s time, he’ll literally tell Judas to go, do it “quickly”. At this point in his ministry, he has already predicted his death and his resurrection several times. So, he’s sovereignly got this under control—and yet, here, as events are beginning to unfold perfectly according to his plan, he gets “troubled in his spirit”. 


Folks, he was a human—and, I’d venture to say he did not have an iron stomach. His inner emotions and bodily stress factor must have been through the roof. But to be clear, we aren’t just talking about some bodily jitters. It says he was “troubled in his spirit”. His spirit—his soul—was shaken up. As the time drew more and more near, folks, we’ll see Jesus’s stress factor spike as the night grows darker, and as the next day dawns. 


Just because he was sovereign and in control doesn’t mean he was impervious to a troubled, distressed soul. God’s sovereignty is a thing to be felt, folks, and Jesus felt it. His sovereignty is costly, because his sovereign purposes are costly. He. Wants. To save. Sinners. That’s his sovereign purpose, folks—and that’s a costly, weighty task when we’re talking about a holy and just God. Someone’s gotta die—and Jesus is the only answer. Someone’s gotta absorb God’s infinite, holy, just wrath against sinners, and satisfy his demand for justice and righteousness. Jesus is the only one who can do it, folks. God’s sovereignty is costly—and, to keep the theme going, his nighttime sovereignty is costly. His dark, hard providences are costly, as he sovereignly works the darkness together for your good and for the light of his glory. Someone has to bear the night, right? It can’t be you. You may be called to walk through the night—but, you’ll never be asked to truly bear the night as Jesus did. Only Jesus could do that, and he did it so that he might be able to walk you through the night, and into his light. 


Jesus’s nighttime sovereignty is preparatory, but it’s also costly. Jesus paid the price, folks. He bore the weight. He sovereignly paved the path through night to glory, that we might follow him freely. When you’re in the dark, folks—in a hard time—remember that. You may be asked to walk through the darkness, but you’ll never be asked to bear the darkness.


By the way, just so we can further appreciate this point and marvel at Jesus, here’s a little something I read recently. 


It has been common to contrast the calm and serene death of Socrates [you know, that ancient Greek philosopher?], condemned to drink the poisoned cup, with the agony of Christ at the prospect of death. Socrates faced death fearlessly and stoically because he had mastered the art [through his philosophy] of suppressing his emotions, but in this… he lived only a half-life and died only a half-death. Christ, on the contrary, suppressed nothing either in life or in death, and in the cold shadows of Gathsemane he gave full vent to his feelings, full rein to his emotions. Indeed, he brought in to witness (however briefly) his agony and, by his Spirit, had a detailed account of his sufferings recorded


Folks, God made us human with emotions and feelings because God’s holiness and goodness and wrath are worth feeling. We need to feel dread and awe at God’s holiness in order to understand it as God would have us. Jesus didn’t hold back before God’s holiness and wrath. He really, fully endured the night of God’s wrath in every humanly way possible in order that he might be the human savior of a new human race. Yes, he was sovereign. Yes, he was human. 


So yes, his nighttime sovereignty was costly—and certainly a thing to deeply trouble Jesus’s spirit. Praise God that he faced the dread of night so fully and completely, that we don’t need to.


So again—his nighttime sovereignty is preparatory, and it’s costly—costly to him. 


His Calculated Sovereignty 

Now, let’s keep reading for more ways Jesus’s sovereignty might encourage and serve us, here. Again, verse 21 (we’ll keep reading this time)—


21   After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?”


See how Jesus seems to be intentionally dangling a carrot in front of them? It’s not like Jesus was ignorant to what he was doing. You can’t just say that and not expect people to be murmuring, “who is he talking about?”. Jesus is making this tense and dramatic, he’s making it memorable for them. Again, he wants them to remember it so they might later believe upon him and what he said. “Lord, who is it?” This is an agonizing moment. 


Although, I think it’s also quite calculated. In that moment, everyone felt extremely vulnerable—as they should have felt. If Jesus said that at your dinner table—“one of you will betray me”, what’s going to first come to your mind? Probably “man, I hope it’s not me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was me”. The vulnerability in that moment, folks. The fear, the dread, the self-awareness. It must have been unbearable—and I think we see that in the question. The room was so quiet that the disciples resorted to gestures. Peter, of all the blabber-mouth disciples in that room, was the disciple to resort to hand gestures. Verse 24, “Simon Peter motioned to him [presumably to John] to ask Jesus whom he was speaking”. That’s all Peter could get out at that moment, and so John mustered up the courage to ask. 


Do you see how calculated Jesus is, here, in the way he works his sovereign purposes? He’s leaving them in the dark, because they probably needed that moment of tension and humility. It probably didn’t hurt them to be wondering, “who among us would betray Jesus? Boy, I hope it’s not me, but I know myself”. Jesus’s nighttime sovereignty often leaves us in the dark to humble us. “Am I going to get through this? Do I have it in me? I don’t think so—Lord Jesus, help me.” Is that not where he wants us? Is that not the situation that will produce greater faith in the end, after he does help you through it?


Now, verse 26—


26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.


So again, why the antics? Why this dramatic movement of dipping the morsel and giving it to Judas—but all the while, never mentioning Judas’s name? 


Folks, it’s all reinforcing everything we’ve been seeing. Jesus is going out of his way to show that a friend whom he dined with over supper betrayed him. Culturally, as you may know, meals back then were much warmer and cozier. You’d recline on the floor together at a low table, even reclining upon one another, and the meals were often much more communal. To show honor and friendship, you might dip an herb or a piece of bread into a bowl, and give it to your beloved friend. When I was in Ethiopia, where they shared a similar communal practice at the table, it was incredibly honoring to a friend to actually feed him with your hand. I think Jesus is pointing out just how crude and ruthless this betrayal was.


Allthough, I promised we’d circle back to Psalm 41, which Jesus quoted earlier when he first brought up this betrayal in verse 18. Again, Jesus quotes Psalm 41 saying “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me”. Or to say it another way, “he who at my bread has betrayed me”. Then, Jesus reveals the betrayer by giving him his bread. 


We’re getting quite literal, here, aren’t we? Jesus is putting Psalm 41 right before them, on that dinner table. This is a friend betraying a friend, even after they had a good meal together. Again, it’s all in service to his disciples, to his own. One day they’lll look back at this and see the preparatory, costly, and calculated sovereignty which Jesus worked on their behalf, for their faith and courage. He fulfills Old Testament promises. He makes promises to his own harm, for our good. He controls his enemies. He’s willingly betrayed, only to come out in the end with an eternal weight of glory. He can’t lose, even when it’s the darkest of nights. It’s his nighttime sovereignty, folks.


As we might keep reading through the story, we’re only going to keep seeing these same matters reemphasized. In verse 27, we find that Satan enters into Judas, and Jesus tells Judas “what you are going to do, do it quickly”. And, Judas leaves immediately. Chaos and confusion ensues. Judas is betraying his Jesus, stealing money, taking part in murderous plots. The devil has literally possessed him—only hastening the dark chaos of the night. And of course, the disciples have no idea what’s going on. Verse 28 and following—


no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.



It was night, it was demon-possessed chaos and confusion. But folks, Jesus’s calculated and purposeful sovereignty was at play, just as we can trust it always is when things get dark and confusing. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, as Hebrews 13 reminds us. So do not forget him, his promises, and his nighttime sovereignty. It’s preparatory, it’s costly, and it’s calculated down to every detail for your good and your salvation. He’s serving you through it.

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