John 13:31-38 9.45 & 11.30am 21/10/18
By porthkerryandrhoose, Oct 23 2018 10:16AM
When I was a child, some of my favourite books were the Mr Men. I read and re-read them, and as an adult read them to my children too. One of the ones which made me chuckle was Mr Topsy-Turvy. Let me remind you how the story starts "Mr Topsy Turvy was a funny sort of a fellow. Everything about him was either upside down, or inside out or back to front - topsy turvy in fact. . . . You ought to see his house. The front door is upside down to start with. And the curtains hang upside down at the windows. . . All very extraordinary!" He appears in town one day, falling out of the wrong side on a train onto the railway tracks, and goes on to cause havoc, misdirecting taxi drivers, confusing shop assistants, making people fall all over one another on the escalators, and turning all the art work in the gallery upside down. I used to imagine what the world would be like if it was run by Mr Topsy Turvy. It would be very strange indeed. We're used to things the way they are. That's why it can sometimes be hard to get our heads around Jesus' kingdom, because in lots of ways it is topsy turvy. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, and so on. Today in our passage from John we have another example. As we study it together, we'll see that what appears weak is strong and what appears strong is weak.
Let's look at it together.
What appears weak is strong v31-32. The atmosphere in the room was tense. Jesus had just announced that one of his closest friends was going to betray him, and Judas, after receiving a piece of bread given to him by Jesus, got up and left the room to set the betrayal in motion. Ominously, John comments 'And it was night'. Within a few short hours it would be night across the whole land, in the middle of the day, as Jesus hung on the cross, naked and in pain, dying because of the betrayal of a friend, the hatred of the religious leaders and the ruthless indifference of the Roman authorities. You couldn't get a greater picture of weakness. Yet, as Judas leaves, Jesus says v31 "Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself and will glorify him at once." For Jesus the cross isn't a moment of weakness and failure, but the greatest moment of God's glory, greater even than turning water into wine, or making the blind see or even raising Lazarus to life again. I can do no better than explain it in the words of the great 19th century bishop, J C Ryle "The crucifixion brought glory to the Father. It glorified his wisdom, faithfulness, holiness and love. It showed him wise, in providing a plan whereby he could be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly - it showed him faithful in keeping his promise, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head - it showed him holy, in requiring his law's demands to be satisfied by our great substitute - it showed him loving, in providing such a mediator, such a redeemer, such a friend for sinful man as his co-eternal Son. The crucifixion brought glory to the Son. It glorified his compassion, his patience, his power. It showed him most compassionate, in dying for us, suffering in our stead, allowing himself to be counted sin and a curse for us, and buying his redemption with the price of his own blood. - It showed him most patient, in not dying the common death of most men, but in willingly submitting to such pains and unknown agonies as no mind can conceive, when with a word he could have summoned his Father's angels and been set free. - It showed him most powerful, in bearing the weight of all the transgressions of the world, and vanquishing Satan, and despoiling him of his prey." That's the cross. What appeared to be the most terrible moment of weakness was actually God's most wonderful moment of glory. Never lose sight of the cross. Without it we have no salvation, no future, no friendship with God. With it, we have all the glories of heaven, bought for us by Jesus. What appears weak is strong.
But what appears strong is also weak. v33, 36-38
Jesus said to his remaining disciples v33 "My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come." Simon Peter, always the one straight in the action asked "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus replied "Where I am going you cannot follow now, but you will follow later." Peter asked "Lord, why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Peter, so full of love for his master and confident that he would always be there for him. So strong, as a few hours later he draws his sword and cuts off the high priest's servant's ear as Jesus is arrested. Peter can't imagine that there could be a time when he would let his master down. We can feel like this sometimes too, that our faith is Jesus is strong, and our pedigree is good. Nothing could tear us from Jesus. If we were in North Korea, we'd be holding silent services in defiance of the regime, willing to go to prison for Jesus. But the lesson of Judas from last time should start those alarm bells ringing. Maybe we could fall. But we've not been distracted by money or ambition or secret sins, we'll be OK, surely. Hear Jesus' words to Peter 'Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times!'. It came true. When challenged Peter did disown Jesus, and it wasn't a burly guard with a sword bearing down on him, or the priest of his childhood threatening damnation. It was a servant girl. The least threatening of all people, and Peter's confidence was shattered. "You aren't one of this man's disciples too, are you?" "I am not" Peter replied (18:17). His strong faith turned out to be weak. It's a warning to us.
Just as with Judas, there are clues for us. Did you notice the verses we haven't mentioned yet? In between Jesus saying 'where I am going you cannot come' and Peter asking 'Lord, where are you going?' Jesus says these words v34 "A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Big, significant words, yet Peter passed right over them. He'd stopped listening to Jesus. When we stop listening to Jesus, though our faith can look strong on the outside, it's being eaten away inside by our own pride and self sufficiency. Listening to Jesus is vital. Look what Jesus was telling them. When he was going, they had a special command: to love one another. It wasn't completely new, the command to love goes back to Leviticus 19:18, but the big difference was to love as Jesus loved. That sacrificial love shown in perfection on the cross. Peter didn't listen, and so he wasn't able to love in the way Jesus called him to. Are we people who listen to Jesus? Or do we get so caught up in our own concerns that we don't take the time to read his word and reflect on it, living instead by a combination of half remembered teachings of Jesus mixed up with the philosophy of society? Jesus knew that by living lives that truly put others first, his disciples and those who followed after them, would be able to have a huge impact on the world around them, showing everyone the topsy turvy nature of God's kingdom, pointing straight to the cross. It would take the coming of the Holy Spirit to help them to do it, but when they did, God's influence would begin to change the world.
The funniest thing about Mr Topsy Turvy is that when he leaves, everyone in the town begins to talk topsy turvy. Though he'd gone back to where he came from, his impact remained. Jesus was preparing to leave, but the impact of his topsy turvy kingdom would remain through the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the disciples. That same spirit lives in those of us who believe, and God wants us to show what his kingdom is like by living lives that are different from the lives of everyone else. As we show love and forgiveness and self sacrifice to one another in our Christian community we show Jesus' glorious topsy turvy kingdom to those around us and point them to him. So may God help us to keep listening to Jesus and keep living for him so that all might meet him at the cross and have their lives turned upside down.