Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)
“What Festivals of Atonement… Shall We Have to Invent?”
Gott ist Tot. Anyone speak Geman, and know what I just said? Those are the famous words of the late-19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. “God is dead”, he said, “…God remains dead. And we have killed him.” That’s what he said. That’s what he claimed, as he was looking at the philosophical and cultural movements around him in the late 19th century. He looked around and people believing in themselves, in governmental powers, in human progress and science and empiricism. People didn’t believe in God anymore. “Gott ist Tot”—and, those words have rung loudly through the centuries, since he said them.
Although, finish the quote. We often throw that quote around and think Nietzsche thought that was an entirely good and freeing thing, from his secular perspective. Finish the quote. “God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
That’s a different perspective of Nietzsche, for many. I think his quote is thrown around as a sort of sassy victory anthem for the 19th century atheists—but folks, Nietzche was actually saying this with a voice of concern. He was saying, “For all of human history, and more immediately our western society, we have looked to God for comfort and protection and morality and peace and order. Now that he’s dead, where do we go from here?” If we aren’t looking to God for our atonement of sins, for our comfort and forgiveness and peace and strength and morality, then where will we look? Someone’s gotta die to atone for our evils—that instinct is embedded deeply within us. We need some religious festival, some cleansing ceremony, and we’ll have to invent it. Nietzsche, in saying this, was fearful and concerned for the future of the western, newly atheistic world. He knew, deep down, we are inherently religious, and that we need some form of cleansing, some form of higher-than-life strength and peace and morality to keep us going.
“God is dead”, some might think, but it would seem there’s no escaping him. One minister is known for saying that no one is more angry with God than an atheist. There’s no escaping God—he’s our creator, and he made us to be entirely dependent upon him, folks. He made us to worship and fellowship with him—to seek cleansing for our sins, and be necessarily religious.
Why He’s So Important
Now, that may seem like an odd introduction to this passage we’re considering this morning, but folks, this passage is showing us just how much we need God. This passage is showing us why God is so necessary, so important, lest we fall into utter ruin and despair and sin.
Naturally in this passage, there are three movements from one part of the passage to the next, and they certainly fit together. We’ll consider them one by one, seeing how they fit together as we go along, and seeing how they remind us that we need God. We need Jesus.
Reason #1: He's Our Standard (verses 31–35)
Let’s jump into verses 31–35, together, where we’ll see how the first movement of this passage tells us why we need God. Verse 31 begins,
31 When he had gone out…
That is, “when Judas Iscariot had gone out of the upper room where Jesus was having this last supper with his disciples....”,
Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.
So, this is the statement which really sets us up for the whole message this morning. Think about this. What has just happened, here in this story, in John 13? This is the very moment when Judas—at the last supper—gets up and leaves the room to betray Jesus, to have him killed on the cross.
Jesus watches his betrayer leave the room. In fact, he told his betrayer to leave the room. Remember that whole discussion? “One of you is going to betray me. I am telling you this now, before it takes place so that when it takes place, you’ll believe that I am he.” Then, later in the meal, he looks directly at Judas and tells him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Jesus foretold Judas’s betrayal, he told Judas to go, he watched Judas leave, and then what does he do?
He pouts? He gets all mopey and defeated because he’s about to be killed and betrayed? Folks, our passage completely flips human pride and human expectations for glory over on its head. Jesus, at this moment, in our passage, says “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and [now] God is glorified in him.”
Man, this is powerful stuff. Jesus is saying, “The glory of the Son of Man—the glory of the Messiah—and the glory of God is going to be shown forth as that man, right now, walks through that door to betray me and crucify me on a bloody cross.” This is all according to God’s sovereign and perfect plan, even down to who would betray him when.
Are you looking for glory? Are you looking for security, honor, praise, dignity, a good reputation? Look there. Look at the Son of Man (and God through the Son of Man) being betrayed, only to hang out for dead on a cross. That’s glory, for you. Jesus even orchestrated it and spoke of it beforehand, “so that you may believe” (verse 19). This wasn’t accident. This wasn’t, “Oops! I didn’t see the whole Judas thing coming, but I compensated for it and so I’ll be be glorified in it!” That’s not what this passage is showing us. This was all a purposeful, planned pursuit of glory on God’s initiative. And at this moment, it reeked of death and betrayal rather than golden crowns and chariots and big buildings with fancy chairs and lots of money.
It's glory, here, in the face of death. It’s a glory that’s completely contrary to the desire and wisdom of our natural desires in victory and money and fame. Jesus, no doubt, is setting a unique precedent—a unique, other-worldly standard—for his people in all this. Jesus is basically saying, “I’m about to redefine the way you think of glory and love.”
So, what’s Jesus going to say next? Look at the next verse, there in verse 33.
33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’
Now, if you’re paying attention, and if you’re one of the disciples in that room, you might start shaking in your boots a little bit at what Jesus just said. “As I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘where I am going you cannot come’”.
Jesus already said this to the Jews, and now he’s saying this to his disciples, “where I am going you cannot come”. In fact, Jesus points out that he’s already said this to the Jews. So when you hear that—in good, bible reading practice—you should think, “when did he say that to the Jews?”. He said it twice, so far, here in John’s gospel.
The first one was back in chapter 7, verse 33. Jesus says—
3 “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. 34 You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.”
So, that’s one occasion—and, these weren’t exactly encouraging words. “You will actually seek me when I leave, but you won’t find me. You won’t be allowed to find me, for where I am you cannot come”. So remember, that’s one instance of when these disciples heard Jesus speak like this.
Then, look at the next time he says this. Chapter 8, verse 21—
“I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.”
That’s stunning, folks. He didn’t just say “you won’t be able to find me”, but even “you’ll seek me, and despite all your efforts to find me, you’ll nonetheless die in your sin”.
So, the disciples were used to Jesus speaking like this. “I’m going away, and you won’t be able to follow me”. They were used to hearing him say that to the Jewish authorities who were opposing him, and they knew that when Jesus had spoken like this, he brought about judgment.
Now, Jesus is saying this at the last supper to his disciples. “Where I’m going, you cannot come”. Imagine how fearful the disciples must have felt at this moment. You almost wonder, when Jesus was saying this to the Jewish authorities, they were thinking “yeah but we’ll go with Jesus. We’ll go where he’s going.” Jesus, here, is saying “nope”.
He’s talking about going to the cross, folks. Going away to that place where God’s infinite wrath against the sins of his people will be completely emptied out. “You can’t come, Peter and John, you’ll be destroyed under the sheer weight of it!” This is where no other human can enter, except for the man who is holy and infinite God in the flesh. No one else can make atonement for the sins of Jesus’s people. No one else has lived the perfect life of righteousness, to be accepted before God. No one else can satisfy God’s infinite wrath except for he who is infinitely God in flesh.
So yes, Jesus says “you can’t come”, just as he said to the Jewish authorities. But, we can thank God that the words Jesus said after this were very different than the words Jesus said to the Jewish authorities who opposed him. Jesus does not say to these eleven disciples, “you will seek me but you won’t find me”. He doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say “I’m going away, and I’m leaving you destitute. You’ll seek me and you’ll die in your sin!”.
In fact, you’ll notice that unlike his statement to the Jews, he fronted his statement to the disciples in verse 33 with the endearing term “little children”. Isn’t that nice? “You’re not my enemies who will die in sin. You’re my little children”. That alone should be a hint that Jesus isn’t leaving them forever, never to be found again. You don’t leave your children in sin, in God’s wrath, alone and in dangerous situations. It’s a good parenting principle. You pursue them, help them deal with their sin, bring them to God’s grace and forgiveness as quickly as possible. “My little children”, Jesus says to these eleven disciples.
Then, keep reading. Verses 34–35. Again, he’s not saying “you’ll seek me and not find me, and you’ll die in your sins”. He says, rather—
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This is a wonderful word of encouragement and instruction. He’s giving his people a “new commandment”. What’s the new commandment? Has this ever bugged you?
It’s easy to read this and think, “Jesus is nuts”. It seems like Jesus is simply commanding them to “love one another”. We read this and think, “that’s not a new commandment, Jesus!”.
Folks, keep in mind what has been happening at this last supper. Jesus is forming his new covenant people. He’s laying the groundwork for the new covenant to fulfill and take the place of the old covenant. He’s washed his disciples’ feet—certainly a shocking show of service and love. Then, as the other gospels remind us, he instituted the Lord’s Supper. “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood”. He’s saying that the blood poured out to establish the covenant between God and God’s New Covenant people is his blood which he poured out for the forgiveness and fellowship of his people. This is all New Covenant stuff, folks, and it all centers around Jesus going to a place of betrayal and death which cannot be trodden by anyone else but him. He’s the supreme lover. He’s the supreme sacrificing servant. He’s the blood of the covenant which unites his people. It changes everything, folks—even the very definition and standard of love between God’s people.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Loving people is not the new commandment. Loving just as Jesus loved is the new commandment. The standard has changed. The covenantal bond between God’s people has changed.
Folks, we have Jesus in all his glory, now. “We love because he first loved us.” He’s the standard for our love, and he frees us to love one another. It’s a love that’s completely self-sacrificing, self-abasing, that will love to the death. As Jesus will flesh this out again in chapter 15, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” You’re free to love this way because Jesus laid his life down for you. You’re free to humble yourself and think of others before your own needs because Jesus secured your identity and worth and hope at the cross. You’re free to know what love looks like because, well, Jesus laid his life down for you. He lived a full life of this sort of love.
If you’re curious—later this evening in your personal or family devotions, you could look at First John 2:7–11, and you’ll see how the apostle John himself explains the newness (and oldness)of this commandment in his epistle. It’s a great study, to compare this passage in John 13:34 with First John 2:7–11.
So, here’s the deal. We need this, folks, lest we start defining love on our own terms. Do you know how easy it is to make love all about yourself? We need Jesus. We need God, folks, lest we completely miss what love is all about. How many ways has mankind defined what “love” is? This question fills philosophy books, theology books, Facebook posts, newspaper clippings, Instagram memes and reels. It doesn’t take long to find radically contradictory definitions of love, folks. “Love is being true to yourself and what you want”. Is it? Or, is it dying to what you want, in the service of others? “Love is love.” Is it? “Love is a feeling, a passion”. Or, “Love is a decision, a commitment regardless of feelings.” “Love is deferring to what the other person wants or feels.” Is it? What if that person wants to harm himself, even kill himself? In the name of love, folks, physician-assisted suicide is gaining traction. It’s not love. Biblically speaking, it’s sending people to hell. It’s increasing misery, not easing it.
We need God, folks, to define love for us, lest we destroy ourselves. We need Jesus to define love for us. He sacrificed his life for sins, that we can justly forgive one another at the cross. He preached truth to us, so that we might have a standard of right and wrong. He gave us an example of self-sacrificing service, that we might follow his example. Without this guide and sacrifice, folks, we’ll destroy ourselves looking for love. We need God—we need Jesus—because he’s our standard. He’s the way, the truth, and the life.
Now, the question is, is this possible? Can we love as he loves, and meet his standard for us? Let’s consider the next phase in this story.
He’s Our Salvation from Sin (verses 36–38)
Look with me at verses 36–38.
36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?”
So, remember that Jesus just said “Where I am going you cannot come”, and then he follows that up with, basically, “while I’m away, love one another as I have loved you.”
Does Peter listen? Does he listen to all that teaching about a “new commandment” and “love”. He’s not interested in it. He wants to know where Jesus is going. It almost has a pious, spiritually noble ring to it, doesn’t it? “I just want to be where you are, Jesus! Forget all this love stuff you’re talking about! I want to be where you are!”.
It is a noble thing, folks, to want to be with Jesus—to know where he is and to follow him. Although, it’s possible to put up a religious, noble, spiritual front with wrong motives. It’s possible to seek Jesus pridefully. It’s possible to pray in a way that’s prideful (think of the Pharisees praying loudly in public, and how Jesus called them out for it).
Folks, spiritual pride blinds us from actually listening to Jesus. Peter’s missing the point, in asking “where are you going?”. Jesus has already said at this point in his ministry—several times—where he’s going. John’s gospel doesn’t emphasize that as clear as the other gospels do, but it is in John’s gospel. Jesus has said very clearly that he’s going away to the Father. He’s going to die. If Peter was truly humble, trusting that Jesus’s ways were better than his ways, Peter would’ve kept his mouth shut. “Ok, he’s been saying for some time now that he’s going to die. He just sent a betrayer out of the room. He’s saying he’s going away, and while he’s gone we need to love one another as he loved us.”
It's a scary thought, folks. The master—the Messiah—is going away, and if they were listening, they’d know he’s going to the Father. He’s going to die, it’s according to plan, and it’s for their good. “Do you have the faith to trust and listen, Peter?!” Well, Peter was too busy being all spiritual and zealous. He kept asking—he kept probing—where are you going? What’s about to happen? It’s pride, naval-gazing, fretting over the things of this world and the desires of the flesh.
It’s having the wrong standard of love and of glory. Folks, we must commit ourselves to God’s standard, lest we destroy ourselves.
I’ll remind you that at this last supper, as Jesus was washing his disciples’ feet, Luke tells us that a quarrel arose between the disciples concerning who was the greater disciple. Who would sit at Jesus’s right hand when he’s anointed as the King over Israel? You see, the disciples were looking for a political savior, a political Messiah, who would bring them glory before men as they would get an opportunity to sit in his royal counsel. That praise of man—that pursuit for worldly glory—filled the room as Jesus was washing their feet and establishing a new covenant in his blood, and giving them a new commandment to love as he loves.
Spiritual pride is a scary thing, folks. Yes, Peter’s love for Jesus I was genuine in many ways. Although, it waa mixed with enough worldly desire and enough confusion and distraction with himself and the world, that it led to devastating consequences. He setting Jesus’s standard for love and glory as his own standard.
Keep reading, verse 36—
Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”
Isn’t that a wonderful contrast to what Jesus said to the pharisees? To the pharisees, he says “you cannot follow me, and you’ll die in your sins”. To the people he chooses to save, “you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”
But of course, again, Peter wasn’t having it. He wouldn’t trust Jesus at his word. He wanted to argue with Jesus, to find the qualifier and be the exception. Verse 37—
37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.
Pride goeth before the fall, folks. When I worked with folks in drug and alcohol rehab, I saw this time and time again. A person would get all “high on Jesus”, and “filled with the Spirit”, and excited about doing awesome things for the kingdom—only to fall into devastating sins months later. We should be weary of misplaced zeal, or what Jesus calls the seed that fell on rocky ground.
I’m all for zeal and passion for Jesus—but, it must come out of a deep understanding that “I am nothing, and Jesus is everything.” It must be rooted in an understanding that “I am a worm, the worst of sinners ever prone to wander and susceptible to the most heinous sins, if Jesus does not show up as everything to me.” If he’s everything, and you’re nothing, then your zeal for him will be tempered with a self-sacrificing humility that makes everything for Jesus and nothing for yourself. If he’s everything, and you think you are something—even in the smallest sense—then he’s no longer everything. You’re no longer passionate for Jesus being everything. “Jesus is my only hope in being a good father or mother.” “Jesus is my only hope in finding peace, or strength in this moment.” “Jesus is my only hope if I’m to endure and be faithful in the Christian life, to death.” “Jesus is my only hope for wisdom and direction.” Keep going with that, folks.
Peter wasn’t thinking that. “I will lay my life down for you. I got this Jesus! Let me follow you to where you’re going! Don’t worry about me, I’ll fight for you to the death!”.
You see that spirit in Peter when he takes his sword out to defend Jesus in Gethsemane, don’t you? He cuts a man’s ear off without the instruction of his master. He probably thought he was about to prove Jesus wrong, right there in that moment. “I’ll show him. I said I would defend him to my death, let the battle begin!” He was the first to draw his sword, to follow Jesus. He probably thought that was the moment of a political revolution, which would end with the Messiah rising to the throne, and Peter would be the first one to die in the Messiah’s name. “I won’t betray my master”. Peter, you betrayed him the second you thought you were something, and refused to listen to him. “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” Peter thought he was something, didn’t he?
What did that lead him to? “The rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” Folks, it’s a hard lesson on spiritual pride. It’s a hard lesson on not listening entirely to Jesus, and receiving his word at face value by faith.
It’s a hard lesson on our natural, sinful nature—and, we need to understand this very clearly. Jesus providentially orchestrated this lesson for Peter, to help Peter know that he needs God. He needs Jesus. Without Jesus, he’s no different than Judas—and this passage does well to help us all see that in ourselves.
Folks, it should be telling that Jesus predicts Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s betrayal at the same dinner table. Did you catch that? Jesus predicts Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s betrayal at the same dinner table.
If you really parse it out, there’s very little difference between Peter’s and Judas’s sins. Jesus foretold both of them. Both were denials—or betrayals—of Jesus. One minister said rightly that “Peter sins just as greatly as Judas did.” I think that’s true—they’re both denying the same God, the same Lord, and doing it publicly. Yes, Judas’s betrayal put Jesus on the cross, although Peter went ahead and did it three times after saying so boldly that he’d never deny Jesus. Peter sins just as greatly as Judas did. Think of how humiliating that must have been, for Peter to realize he sinned in the same way Judas did—that Peter was intimately involved with the betrayal of Jesus “on the night he was betrayed”.
But we’re missing the glory of this, folks, if we don’t see the difference between Peter and Judas. What’s the difference? Judas kills himself at the end of the story, condemned and ashamed before God. The other becomes an apostle. There’s clearly a difference between the men—but what made one man kill himself and the other repent? Folks, the answer is not “Peter was just a better dude than Judas”. You’re gravely missing the point of this story if that’s what you think. The answer is Jesus.
Remember how Satan entered Judas, and Judas went ahead with his plans? In Luke’s gospel, we read a little bit more of what Jesus said that night concerning Jesus’s betrayal. Anyone remember what Jesus said? Luke 22:32, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…” See more connections between Judas and Peter, there? Satan is after them both—he got into Judas. Why not Peter? “…but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Folks, Jesus prays for those whom he has chosen to save, and his prayers are effectual. He’s the great high priest. He’s the savior. The only difference between Judas and Peter is that Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith may not fail.
Does this mean that Peter was untouched by the devil? Does it mean Jesus didn’t allow Satan to tempt Peter? Not at all. The devil did press upon Peter. He did tempt Peter, but not without Jesus’s sovereign direction. Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. He released the devil upon Peter just enough—like a dog on a leash—for Peter to be nipped at three times. That’s all it took, three nips, three denials. Although, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” God has the devil on a leash, folks. It’s like in Job, when the devil could only go so far as God permitted, and the devil necessarily fulfilled God’s purposes in teaching Job a lesson. Peter, here, got his lesson. “I need Jesus. I am nothing, Jesus is everything. Help me, Jesus.” That’s an apostle in the making. That’s a Christian in the making, folks.
Folks, Jesus is our standard for Christian love and glory. Then also, he’s our Savior from the devil and all the sins which we are so naturally inclined to. Without him and his intervening grace, we’ll betray God everytime to our own destruction, just as Judas did. We need our standard, we need our savior. Last, we need our security.
He’s Our Security (verses 1–4)
We’ll consider this more at length next week, but I figured we’d touch on it quickly this morning. Think of how wonderful Jesus is to his people. What might you think, or feel, if Jesus said to you “you’re going to deny me three times”. That’d be so disheartening, folks. But, Jesus doesn’t waste a breath. Read right along into the next verse, chapter 14 verse 1—
1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
These are amazing words, folks, especially when we remember how Jesus said them immediately after predicting Peter’s upcoming denials. “I know you’re going to sin. I know you’re going to struggle, be ashamed, be discomforted and distressed.” He knows, folks. He knows every one of your future sins—but he’s made the sacrifice. He’s prepared a place for his people, and he paid for it with his blood. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” In other words, “trust me. I’m in control. I got you.” He’s our security, folks.
This all reminds me of the beautiful words of Psalm 73:23 and following. The Psalmist, frustrated by the pains and sorrows and sins of this world, finally confesses out of a simple trust—
Ps 73:23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
That’s the sort of confession that moves mountains, folks. We need God. We need Jesus. He's our standard, he’s our savior, and in the most ultimate and eternal sense—he’s our security. Without him (and in this sense, Nietzsche was on to something), we’d be completely lost.