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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:It's a comfort knowing Christ is in control
Text:John 13:21-30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 33:1-3

Psalm 25:1-2 (after God's law)

Hymn 79

Hymn 68:1,6,7,8

Psalm 33:4-6

Scripture reading: Psalm 55

Text: John 13:21-30

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

I’ll never forget the first time I went tuna fishing off the coast of Tasmania.  It wasn’t the greatest weather.  The sky was gray and drizzly.  For me the worst part was the waves, the chop and the swell.  It was a rough day.  The waves were quite a bit higher than I’d be comfortable with.  They weren’t huge, but the boat we were in wasn’t huge either.  However, I told myself that it’ll be okay because the one running the boat was experienced.  The skipper knew what he was doing.  Unlike me, he’d be out on the ocean countless times.  He was cool, calm, and seemed to have the situation under control.  So even though I wasn’t used to it, I could relax and enjoy the experience. 

It’s always a comfort to know that someone with more to offer than you is in control, especially when you’re in a tough spot.  No one has more to offer than our Lord Jesus Christ.  As we go through life and experience its challenges, our Saviour is also our almighty Lord.  He’s the one who has rescued us from sin’s consequences, but he’s also the omnipotent, all-powerful God.  He’s on the throne.  Our Lord Jesus is in control.

It’s comforting to know Christ is in control.  That’s what we see revealed in our passage from John this morning.  One could read about Christ’s last couple of days in John and the other gospels and conclude that things were just spinning out of control.  It might seem like our Saviour was like someone on a train with a stuck throttle just hurtling down the tracks to death and destruction.  But as we look closer here at John’s Gospel in chapter 13, we see that this isn’t the case at all.  Moreover, when we see that, God is addressing our hearts with gospel comfort as we live in this fallen world.  So I preach to you God’s Word from John 13:21-30.  I’ve summarized the message of the sermon with this theme:  It’s a comfort knowing Christ is in control.

We’ll consider how his control is:

  1. Comprehensive
  2. Caring
  3. Conforming

Just to remind you, here in our passage we’re with Jesus in the Upper Room along with the 12 disciples.  It’s the night before his crucifixion.  Jesus has just washed the feet of his disciples – he’s done a shocking thing, something that only servants would normally do.  And that pointed ahead to the other far more shocking thing he was going to do for his disciples the next day – suffer and die for them on the cross.  He showed his love in this, a love that took him to the end, to death on Golgotha.  Also in the previous verses he spoke of his awareness that he was going to be betrayed by one of the twelve.

Our Lord Jesus knows what’s coming.  And it profoundly affects him.  This is why verse 21 says he was “troubled in his spirit.”  If you want a poetic description of what he was experiencing, Psalm 55:4-5 provides it:  “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me.  Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.”  That’s how Jesus was feeling.  He was deeply unsettled.  The reason was because of the betrayal about to happen and the suffering that’ll follow. 

One thing we see from this is how our Lord Jesus was a true human being.  He’s like us in almost every respect.  The only difference is that he was perfect and sinless – still is.  But like any human being would, he was seriously upset by what was happening.  If you’re experiencing deep trouble in your soul, you have a Saviour who understands it.  He’s experienced it like no one else has.

In verse 21 he explicitly says why his spirit is so troubled.  He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”  He knows it.  When he says this, the disciples are at a loss.  They look at one another and wonder.  Perhaps John thinks, “Could it be Peter?”  Perhaps Andrew looks suspiciously at Thomas, and Thomas at Matthew.  Peter gestures to John who’s laying right next to Jesus.  John is that disciple “whom Jesus loved.”  John caught the gesture and asked Jesus directly about it.   

Christ replied that if they were paying attention, they’d know.  He was going to take a piece of bread and dip it in a sauce.  At the Passover, they’d have a sort of sauce made from dates, raisins, and sour wine.  Jesus would dip the bread in that and then give it to the betrayer.  That’s what he did.  He gave it to Judas Iscariot.  If his disciples had been paying careful attention, they could’ve known it was him. 

After receiving the morsel, the Holy Spirit tells us in verse 27 that Satan entered into Judas.  That reminds you of Genesis 3 and how the devil hijacked a snake.  Here Satan has taken control of Judas in an effort to destroy Jesus.  The serpent aims to crush the head of the seed of the woman.  Satan wants to prove God’s prophecy in Genesis 3:15 wrong.  God had said that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.  Satan wants to turn that upside down and that’s why he enters into Judas Iscariot.

Then Jesus says to him at the end of verse 27, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”  These words are important.  Christ urges on his betrayer.  He tells him not to waste any time.  There’s a cross waiting and a schedule to follow.  Christ is in control of that schedule.  He’s the one moving it along. 

As we look at this scene, we have to consider what the Holy Spirit is telling us about Jesus.  The Spirit is telling us that not only is Jesus aware of what’s happening with Judas Iscariot, he’s also in control of it.  To put it in theological terms, Christ is not only omniscient, all-knowing, he’s also omnipotent, all-powerful.  You might look at this picture and see a helpless victim.  Poor Jesus has this crooked disciple who’s about to stab him in the back.  But out of his love for us, Jesus is willing to steer his way down this road.  He’s not a helpless victim.  Christ has a comprehensive control over his situation, over his suffering.

Make no mistake, Satan bears full moral responsibility for his wicked actions here.  So does Judas Iscariot.  Judas isn’t an innocent pawn, but a willing participant in everything that happens.  Yet behind it all is the sovereign power of God, and therefore also the sovereign power of Christ.  Christ is in full control of his circumstances, despite what it will cost him, despite the intense trouble he already feels in his soul.  

You could think of it like being on a ship, a big ship.  The captain is on the bridge.  He’s at the helm.  The ship goes where he wants it to go. However, as you’re looking out on the deck, there’s this passenger who is walking in the opposite direction of the ship’s travel.  The ship is sailing south, but the passenger is walking north.  Does it matter?  Nope.  The captain is in control of the situation and even the passenger walking north is still heading south, according to the direction of the captain.   Similarly, Satan and Judas may be conspiring together against the LORD and his anointed one.  They may be aiming to destroy Christ, but they’ve forgotten that he is in comprehensive control.  Nothing and no one will overturn his power.

Loved ones, let’s remember that as we travel through this world.  Satan is still raging against Christ.  He can’t destroy Jesus anymore, but he does seek to destroy his work.  Satan wants to annihilate the church of Christ.  Like he did with the serpent, like he did with Judas, today he still has those in his grip whom he seeks to manipulate.   But rejoice, because the Lord is King!  His control over the situation is always comprehensive.  Satan is on a chain held by God.  As Martin Luther once said, “Even the devil is God’s devil.”  By that he meant to say that Satan is not outside of God’s power.  And in the end, Satan will be completely destroyed and defeated and cast into the lake of fire.  His doom is sure.

So, Christ’s control is comprehensive.  It’s also caring.  Here we can think back to the first verse of this chapter.  We’re told that Jesus “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  That really stands as a heading over everything in chapters 13 to 18.  The love of Christ for his disciples is the theme of this section of John. 

So when we look at verses 21 to 30, we need to see the loving care of Christ here too.  There are three ways in which his loving care stands out here.

Notice first how Jesus has a disciple he loves in a special way.  He had a close bond with John.  This is why John is seated next to him, even leaning back against him as it says in verse 25.  Christ loved all his disciples, but John had a special place.  Now you might say that it isn’t fair.  You might say Jesus should love all his disciples to the same degree.  But he’s in control of his own love and no one else has a right to dictate how it should go.  He can love whomever he wants to whatever degree he wants.  He’s the Lord, you’re not.  In his commentary on this passage, John Calvin points out that this special love of Christ for John shows how it’s okay for believers to love some people more than others.  We’re to love everyone whom God puts on our path.  However, you’re not going to love someone you’ve just met to the same degree that you’re going to love your husband or wife.  That’s okay.  As Christ shows us here, love can legitimately have varying degrees.  There’s nothing wrong with that.

Next take a look at Judas Iscariot.  Like the other disciples, Judas had his feet washed by Jesus.  Judas didn’t deserve this loving act of humble service.  But Jesus did it.  Judas is still reclining around the table with the twelve.  He doesn’t deserve a place there, but Christ makes a place even for his betrayer.  When Jesus finally sends Judas away, he does it in such a subtle way that none of the other disciples even catch on as to what’s happening.  Since Judas was the treasurer, they thought Jesus must have been sending him out to buy stuff for the Feast of Unleavened Bread or to give alms to the poor.  Judas has a purely evil intent against his Master, he has murder in his heart.  Jesus had been so kind to him.  Jesus acted like a caring humble servant with him, now Judas is going to hand him over to death for 30 pieces of silver, the price of a servant.  That’s how Judas repaid the love of the Lord Jesus.  Isn’t that wicked?  Repaying love with betrayal is reprehensible in any case.  Repaying the love of the Son of God with anything less than love is the dirtiest, wickedest, most heinous sin imaginable.  We’ve been loved by him so deeply – that calls for love to be shown back, to be reciprocated.       

Finally, there’s the care for all disciples of Jesus, past, present, and future.  Christ is in control of his circumstances.  Why?  Because this is the way to the ultimate expression of his love at the cross.  Our Saviour travels this road willingly to rescue those who have been given to him by the Father.  We were under God’s wrath, doomed for hell.  But Jesus took this road to avert our doom and calm our dread.  He did it out of pure unmerited love.  This is also the revelation of the Triune God’s love for us.  Listen to what it says in Romans 5:6-8 [read].  God’s love is seen not only at the cross, but also in the Upper Room leading to the cross.  Christ is in control, God is in control – all out of love for us, to rescue us from sin and its eternal consequences in hell.

Last of all, we want to see briefly how his control conforms to God’s will.

We have to start at the beginning.  We have to start with the Triune God in eternity past.  You’ve heard about the covenant of grace.  That’s the special relationship God has with believers and their children.  Behind the covenant of grace in eternity past is another covenant, the covenant of redemption.  This was a pact between the persons of the Trinity.  It was an agreement between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to carry out the salvation of certain human beings whom the Father chose.  In that pact or covenant of redemption, the Son of God agreed to come into this world and suffer.  He agreed to be betrayed and crucified.  So as we see Jesus in control of his circumstances here, we see the Son of God being faithful to the covenant of redemption.  He’s doing what he said he would do so we could be rescued.

So that covenant of redemption was in eternity past.  But in time, God gave his revelation to human beings of the plan he made.  Christ’s control here in John 13 is conforming to that revelation as well.  I mentioned Genesis 3:15 – that’s what we call the “mother promise” of the Bible.  It’s the promise from which all others are birthed.  God promised that the Messiah would come and smash the skull of the snake.  Jesus is conforming his life to that promise – setting himself up for the ultimate death blow to Satan on the cross.  It doesn’t look like a victory is on the horizon here in our passage.  The passage even ends on that ominous note in verse 30:  “And it was night.”  It sounds like disaster.  What good can come from the night, from the dark?  But appearances can be deceiving.  It turned dark on the cross too – God made it dark for three hours.  Still, this was the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15 – and Christ’s control over his circumstances here in our passage lines up with that, prepares for it, anticipates it.

We can also think here of the quote from Psalm 41:9 back in verse 18, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.”  Jesus said, “The Scripture will be fulfilled…”  And then it was, right there and then.  Jesus literally took a piece of bread and gave it to his betrayer.  Not by accident, but to fulfill the Scripture.  Not because things were spinning out of control, but because he was in control, bringing everything to happen in conformity with God’s will.

Loved ones, the betrayal and subsequent suffering of Jesus was a unique moment in world history.  Any trouble or grief we experience in our lives as Christians doesn’t compare.  Our suffering doesn’t compare in intensity with what Christ experienced in his suffering.  His suffering had an infinite intensity we can’t begin to understand.  And his suffering was also infinite suffering for our sin.  His suffering was suffering the infinite wrath of God against our sin.  He’s already experiencing that in the Upper Room as he deals with Judas, his betrayer.  He’s the Son of God who ought to be loved and trusted.  Instead, he’s stabbed in the back by one of his closest friends, one of the twelve.  The fact that he chose to go down this path and the fact that he’s in control over the circumstances, those facts don’t take away from the truth that it’s still deeply painful for him.  It still hurts. 

We don’t choose suffering in our lives, that’s true.  We don’t have control over the trials we face.  But God is sovereign over our suffering and Christ is King.  Christ is in control.  He was in control of his circumstances and he’s certainly in control of yours.  That’s comforting to know because his control is comprehensive.  Nothing falls outside of it.  It’s comforting to know because his control is caring.  He loved you in the Upper Room.  He loved you to death on the cross, so he’s not going to abandon you now.  And his control conforms to the will of our good and wise God.  In his goodness and wisdom, God has mapped out our lives too for how he wants them to go, and Christ’s control will ensure that they go the way he wants them to.  

Imagine being out in a small fishing boat with an inexperienced skipper.  He has no idea what he’s doing.  The weather is rough.  The waves are getting higher.  I don’t think you’d want to be in that situation with that kind of a person “in control.”  It’d be more like out of control.  Then imagine if that skipper didn’t care about anyone on his boat.  He doesn’t care about your welfare.  Whether you live or die doesn’t matter to him.  He doesn’t even care about his own life.  That would be petrifying.   But that’s not our situation.  Praise God, we have someone at the helm who cares, we have someone who has proven his power, and someone who’s committed to our well-being.  Loved ones, it is truly a comfort to know our Lord Jesus is in control, just as he was in the Upper Room.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  AMEN.


Our Lord Jesus,

We do worship you as our sovereign God.  You were in control there in the Upper Room, and you’re still in control today.  Your control is infinitely extensive, covering everything.  Your control is infinitely loving, directed to our welfare.  Lord, your control is always in accordance with the divine will.  We praise you for the comfort we have from knowing you as our Saviour.  Thank you for being willing to go all the way to the cross for us.  Please continue to hold onto our lives in your good and wise way.  Please help us always with your Holy Spirit to trust your power in our lives.                                              

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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