Thursday, April 13, 2006

God's Purpose in "Unfortunate Events"

John 13:18-32

Daniel Handler is an author who writes under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket. Some of his books were put into a movie called A Series of Unfortunate Events. In this story three children of the Baudelaire family (Violet, Klaus, and Sunny) find themselves orphans after their house burns down and they are left without parents. They are soon placed in the custody of a family friend, Count Olaf, who really has no use for them except to steal their family inheritance. After revealing this sinister plot to the executor of the parents’ will, the children are placed in the care of their Uncle Monty, but Count Olaf finds them, disguising himself as Stefano, and successfully removes Uncle Monty from the picture. Next the children are placed in the custodial care of strange Aunt Josephine who has a penchant for grammar. But again, Count Olaf tracks the children down and does away with Aunt Josephine after her house falls into Lake Lac LeMond. By the end of the movie, you get the sense that nothing can go right for the children except for their determination and resourcefulness in the face of tragedy.

The passage of scripture that was read today was a very brief event in real time but it was very significant. In the life of Jesus, you might call it an unfortunate event. What does God do with these unfortunate events, especially when they show up in the middle of his plan of redemption? Does it catch him off guard? When an unfortunate event happens in your life, does God have to call an audible? Change His plan? Does He find Himself scrambling to figure out what to do next? This morning, we shall see. What Judas did and thought in his heart was not so important to you and me as what it accomplished and how it fits together in God’s plan.

If you look closely at John’s Gospel, you will see that he devotes about half of his text (10 chapters!) to the last week of Jesus’ life. That tells you by the amount of space devoted to that week that it was very important! John 11 and 12 set the scene for what we read in chapter 13. We find that Lazarus has died and his sisters send word for Jesus to come but he delays. He delays so much so that there is no chance that Lazarus can be helped – or so it seems. Mary and Martha learn an important lesson from the Savior – he is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in him though he die, yet he shall live! Taken back by the power and compassion displayed by Jesus, a few days later Mary takes a jar of nard, breaks it open and pours it onto the feet of Jesus. Remember Mary – the one who wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus and fellowship with him? The one who could find time out of her busy day to learn from him? This Mary anointed Jesus for his burial. This Mary did a beautiful thing to him. But at the same time we learn something about Judas. We learn of his greed and thievery into the common purse that the disciples kept. At the beginning of chapter 13, Jesus has a private moment with his disciples. He begins to wash their feet – an act which is misunderstood by Peter and shows their true resistance to the plan that God has. After the washing, Jesus shares a meal with his disciples, an intimate meal of fellowship. But all is not well and he must tell them some disturbing news: one of them is about to betray him. It is indeed a very unfortunate event.

On Friday, one of the biggest headlines in the news stated this: Judas is No Traitor in Long-Lost Gospel. The National Geographic Society has published the translation of a document dating from the year 300 AD which has been called the Gospel of Judas. The ancient document lay hidden in the Egyptian desert for nearly 1,700 years until some looters discovered it in the 1970s. An antiquities dealer in New York purchased it and kept it in a safe-deposit box until the year 2000 when it was purchased and subsequently restored.

In this gospel, if we may call it that, Judas is portrayed very differently than the gospels of the Bible. According to Bart Ehrman, a religion professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “He’s the good guy in this portrayal. He’s the only apostle who understands Jesus.” Rather than betray Jesus, Judas actually does was Jesus wants him to do, which is turn him over to the authorities so he can be crucified and thereby released from the prison of his body into the enlightenment of spiritual existence. Later, when Judas sees what has happened to Jesus, he commits suicide, which, in this interpretation, is good because he too wants to be freed from the prison of the body and be with Jesus.

The Gospel of Judas is actually a gnostic document which valued hidden or mysterious knowledge as a means to salvation and spiritual existence over a physical existence. Of course, the timing of the release of this information is very interesting, on the eve of Holy Week. I am afraid, however, that those with a weak faith and do not understand how we got the final version of our Bible, will find their trust of church history and what was handed down to use eroding. This same thing will be happening with the release of the major motion picture The DaVinci Code which essentially says that everything you have been taught about the Jesus and the Church is wrong; it is a scandal; it is a coverup. This is why we must know why we can trust the Gospels in the Holy Bible. This is why we must know how God Himself gave us the books of the Bible as he worked through a long process of scriptural canonization.

When all the hoopla dies down, Judas will still be who he was. On the one hand he was exercising his free will to be greedy and covetous; on the other hand he was fulfilling a plan.

I. God ordains that some “unfortunate events” would happen as part of his plan. (13:18-20)
A. It is hard for us to grasp how God can ordain bad things and still be a good, loving God.
B. God chooses some men to fulfill good purposes, some to fulfill bad purposes. (18)
1. Judas was a person who had evil intent in his heart and demonstrated it with his covetousness. (12:6; cf. John 6:64, 70)
2. Judas may have been in league with the Zealots to betray Jesus as part of a larger plan to throw off the Roman government.
3. Judas succumbed to Satanic influence. (13:2, 27)
C. We cannot presume to know the infinite mind of God.

II. God utilizes these “unfortunate events” to bring about greater good for man. (13:21-30)
A. Jesus shared with his disciples the troubling truth that one of them would betray Him.
1. Jesus was distressed in his heart because of this.
2. The disciples sought to know who it was.
3. Jesus prompted Judas to quickly do his business.
B. Jesus could do this because of the great benefit to man Calvary would bring. (Heb 12: 1-3)

III. God utilizes these “unfortunate events” to secure greater glory for Himself. (13:31-32)
A. God gets greater glory when men recognize what He has done for them. (Subjective)
B. God gets greater glory in the act itself apart from man’s perception of it. (Objective)
1. The cross would vindicate God’s justice in the overlooking of sin for so many years. [like carrying a credit card balance forward for years but finally paying off the balance in full]
2. God demonstrates power over sin, death, and the grave.
3. God solved the problem of how to keep the standards of His holy law and yet freely offer forgiveness in Christ.
4. The cross gives unhindered access to God by faith in Christ.
5. The cross makes unrighteous men righteous by the merit of Christ.
6. The cross satisfies God’s wrath for man’s sin.

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