Thursday, May 05, 2022

Traitors at the Table

People: you just can’t count on them.

That’s one of the things you can count on about human nature. We don’t have what it takes to see things through.

Oh, we mean well enough … and we intend to try our best … but often our best is a lot less impressive in the delivery than we thought it was going to be.

And let’s face it: most of us are just not in anything for the long haul. While the idea is new and the fire in us is fresh, we’re all enthused about whatever’s going on. But fires cool, and new turns old, and we lose interest.

A career, a program, a plan, a commitment, a hobby or a marriage … all fine in the short term, but give any of them enough time and everything turns out to be work.

So we quit. And honestly, sometimes by the time we do it’s just as well that we do.

But sometimes not.

Abandoning the Lord

I’m saddened to see what so many churches today are doing. They are cutting what they call communion or the “Lord’s Table” or just the “Bread and Wine”, and reducing it to a smaller and smaller component of what we do.

Firstly, they reduce its length … maybe from an hour to 45 minutes. Then they move it from weekly to once a month. Then it’s only 15 minutes. And then it’s a rushed 5 minute add-on to just one of the monthly sermons. A short reading, a brief prayer, often by a lone clergyman, the bread and wine in hand and at a gulp, and the whole thing is over.

Soon, we may not bother at all.

Who Did This?

Truth be told, this sad story isn’t just about anybody’s church. This is my church. This is what we’ve done. This is who we’ve become. This is what I’ve allowed myself to become.

When I think of that, it’s with profound shame. Hours of services every week cater to our need. Millions of dollars are poured into evangelism, or maybe only into buildings and programs for us. What prayer time we have is spent on petitioning God for things we want. And what spiritual energies we have are channeled off on things that have to do only with our fellow man.

The Lord asked us only for a little bread, a little wine, and a few minutes to remember him. And we can’t find these things.

For shame.

What Are We Doing?

How we have betrayed the Lord! How far we have fallen short of the gratitude we owe the One who poured out his blood to save our sad little souls. How shall we be forgiven for our forgetting?

Ah, but his grace is very great.

You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ …” writes the apostle Paul.

And yes, indeed, we do.

Grace. That was so much his hallmark during his years among us. The Word became flesh,” says John, “and we beheld his glory, full of grace …” John knew. He was the beloved disciple, the one who was leaning on Jesus at the Last Supper, the one to whom all the disciples looked for inside information.

How glorious was that grace.

Well, I can’t imagine a more vivid illustration of that grace than the events of the end of John 13.

Treachery at the Table

The situation is this: the Lord Jesus is about to go to the cross. Around him he has gathered his disciples, and he is trying to help them to understand what he must do for them. He washes their feet. Suddenly he seems distressed and sorrowful. And then he reveals a shocking thing to them: one of them will betray him.

They don’t know who it is. But you can tell they are anxious. It seems that as they look within their hearts, they wonder “Have I been … and am I now … really so committed to him that it couldn’t be me?”

So they call on John. They ask him to ask Jesus who it is. Jesus says, “The one for whom I dip the morsel.” He takes a bit of food, dips it, and hands it to Judas. Then he sends Judas out.

They don’t get it. What was unclear about the gesture? Nothing. But it would seem they’re still worrying about what he just said, and so they just assume that Jesus has sent Judas out for some practical purpose, not because he is the unfaithful one. More importantly, it seems they are still quite anxious about themselves. Who is the betrayer? Is it me? Is it me?

Things Get Worse

Then he gives them the bad news: “I’m going … you’ll seek me … but where I’m going you cannot come … [but] you will follow later.”

What? Why? Where? What is he saying to us? Is he giving up on us? Are we done here?

Peter fights back. He says, “Lord, why can I not follow you right now? I will lay down my life for you.”

Then the Lord drops the bomb: “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny me three times.”

I can’t imagine the deafening silence that followed.

Shock. Horror. Dismay.

If Peter would fail in such a way, then who can trust himself? What do all the oaths of love and fidelity matter if they collapse so instantly? What will the Lord do to those who fail him so singularly? To deny him three times? If the best of us can do that …

Who then is safe?

The Answer

John 13 ends with complete failure. It’s total shame. The disciples are back on their heels, downcast and dismayed.

Ah, but how I wish those men who, in their limited wisdom, have severed our Bibles into chapter and verse had not broken these chapters where they did. How often have I read John chapter 14 as if it were a separate thought? But it is not. It is actually a direct response to the situation I have just described.

And here is how the Lord breaks the terrified silence of the disciples: “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

What? Not troubled? But Lord, you’ve said you’re leaving us. You’ve told us you’re going to be betrayed, and at least one of us is going to do it. You’ve told us even Peter is going to mess this up. What do you mean, “Don’t be troubled?”

“In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you.”

Dwelling places? Lord, for what?

“I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

“But Lord … you said … we would …”


Grace, Grace

Paul would later write, “I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you.”

In that same night in which he was betrayed.

O the unfaithfulness of man!

O the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!

What We Can Do

We gave him treachery. And that very night, he gave us his body as our bread.

And all he said was “Do this, remember me”.

Yes, we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We know it not just as a historical fact, but as a living reality, if we have been saved by that very grace. But if we know it, why do we not tell it? If we know it, why do we not celebrate it? If we know it, how could we forget him?

Maybe it was with this in mind that the traditional Welsh hymn writer challenged us, in words many of us sing but do not always hear:

“Who this love will not remember?
Who could cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heaven’s eternal days.”

Listen to it here:

1 comment :

  1. The de-prioritization of worship IC describes in this post is increasingly common and does not bode well for the church. If we cannot bring ourselves to remember, worship, think about, meditate on or really come to know the One about whom it could be said that "he who has seen me has seen the Father", chances are that we don't know the Father very well either.

    In which case I wonder what it is exactly we are doing when we gather.