It Was Night - A Meditation in John 13
K. T. C. Morris, Southampton
At the first God divided the light from the darkness, and the darkness He called night. Night was mercifully given that man might enjoy rest after his labours. But fallen man often uses night as an opportunity to carry out his evil deeds without detection. It is the time the thief is active, and often the time of danger when precautions must be taken.
"It was night", John 13. 30, the greatest of all nights; the night that saw the foulest act of treachery that has blotted the page of human history; and the night that saw the clearest and sweetest example of love shown to the unworthy. It was the last night that the Lord Jesus was to spend with His own before He went to the cross. How vividly John the apostle remembers the details. Now the Holy Spirit uses him to pen the record. The passover night was probably relieved by the moonlight; but the moon goes down, and it was a night of blackest darkness in the heart of Judas, to be followed by the blackness of darkness forever. "The devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him", v. 2. John will not let us be mistaken. There were others called Judas; but this is particularly "Simon's son". There will be no necessity for identity parades in the day of judgment. Each man's sin will find him out. Every man will bear his own burden.
It is most serious to be a petty thief, as Judas was. We have all been guilty of what men call petty sins. But every sin requires the suffering and death of Christ for its expiation. How widespread is the love of money! It is a root of all kinds of evil; and what evil could be worse than the treachery of Judas? Moreover his covetousness was bound up with the sin of hypocrisy. The traitor moves in the guise of a most devoted disciple. Till the very last kiss which he gave the Lord in Gethsemane, Judas was pretending to be what he was not. And how common is that sin.
"It was night". When Paul was giving instructions about the Lord's Supper, he was moved to designate that night as the night in which the Lord was betrayed, delivered up, 1 Cor. 11. 23. It is not the cowardice of the disciples fleeing from Gethsemane, not the threefold denial of his Lord by Peter; it is not even the devilish plotting and callous cruelty of the priests which supremely marks that night. It is the unreliability, the treachery of the human heart. Every time we take the Supper we are sobered by this. And is it not a night of betrayal by professing friends still?
"It was night". But the Light of Life was in no wise obscured. The Light shone on in the darkness and nowhere was it as bright as in that upper room where the Lord Jesus was gathered with His own. And surely the light seemed brighter still as gracious actions gave place to gracious words, words ending on that note of realism and triumph: "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation : but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world", John 16. 33. How brightly shines the unwearied service of our Lord to His people! "Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; he riseth from supper", 13. 3-4. He is about to depart to the Father in all the dignity of divine sovereignty. Earlier, as He faced the dread desolation of the cross, He had said, "what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name", 12. 27-28. Nowinthe calm consciousness of universal dominion and coming glory, He rises to serve His own. He pours water into the basin and begins to wash the disciples' feet. Thus He shows His love to the uttermost. Now it is not His imminent suffering and shame that is His great concern, but the well-being of His own. This is love looking not on its own things but on the things of others. That shining selfless service and those words of comfort have cheered the hearts of His people through the centuries.
"They that sleep sleep in the night", 1 Thess. 5. 7, but the Lord knew that there was to be no sleep for Him that night; nevertheless He rises from supper, lays aside His garments and girds Himself as a slave. It is the calm, determined and orderly action of One who came not to receive service but to give it. He will minister to His disciples even if they fail to minister to Him. So He does still. The water, the basin and the towel were all in the room ready for use. Feet-washing was not an empty custom and certainly not a ceremonial. It was necessary for the cleansing and comforting refreshment of the guests.
But not a disciple moved. So the blessed Lord moves. Others were too full of their own importance. What privileges of service we miss because we heed not the apostle Paul's appeal, "I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think", Rom. 12. 3.
It was night. There were going to be tears shed that night; strong crying and tears in Gethsemane such as heaven had never heard before. Yet God gives songs in the night. The ministry in the upper room would enable them to sing a hymn before they went out to the mount of Olives, Matt. 26. 30. Weeping may indeed endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning, Psa. 30. 5. That night was the prelude to a morning without clouds, a day when God will have wiped every tear out of every eye, a day of joy unalloyed and eternal.
"The night is far spent, the day is at hand", Rom. 13. 12. But for
the moment the night of treachery and the night of tears persists, while our Lord's unwearied service to His people persists also. With that reassurance we see that, whether in the upper room or in Gethsemane, the Lord is no helpless Victim of satanic malice. John shows Him in full control of the situation, To the traitor, Judas, He says, "That thou doest, do quickly", John 13. 27. This indeed seems like signing His own death warrant. But it is that the will of His Father might be done, and that the Scripture might be fulfilled. How pent up He is till all is accomplished, Luke 12. 50. And Judas goes out into the night.
The Lord Jesus had voluntarily entered a world where men loved darkness rather than light. The inevitable result for Him was a path of suffering. His rejection and betrayal by His own familiar friend, Judas, was but part of this path. He was experiencing to the full what the godly have experienced in measure ever since sin stained this fair creation. It was night when Daniel was consigned to the den of lions, and while the emperor Darius restlessly paced his palace in fear because he had listened to his flattering courtiers, Dan. 6. 18. But darkness and light are both alike to the God of our salvation. He sent His angel; the mouths of the lions were stopped, and Daniel was delivered.
"They that be drunken are drunken in the night", 1 Thess. 5. 7. It was night when Belshazzar held a feast with a thousand of his lords, sacriligiously using the sacred vessels of the temple of the Lord, and praising gods which are no gods, Dan 5. 30. But his bleary eyes see the writing on the wall, and his fuddled mind is suddenly sobered. The message is brief and painfully clear. "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting", v. 27. That night king Belshazzar was slain.
The Lord Jesus told His disciples of the rich farmer who was contemplating his plentiful crops—God-given, like all crops. He was planning to build larger barns as he looked forward confidently to years of comfort, Luke 12. 16-21. God speaks once, yea twice, to check man in his purpose and to save him from his pride. It is vitally important to listen to such a patient God. But this was the last time that God spoke to the foolish farmer. Again the message was tragically brief. "This night thy soul shall be required of thee". See Job 33. 14-18.
It was night when the apostle Peter, the object of Herod's hatred, was incarcerated in the inner prison, closely guarded at the command of the king, Acts 12. 1-10. But through the night prayer was made without ceasing by the church unto God for him. Meanwhile Peter, trusting in his God, slept. Then God sent an angel, Peter was set free, and the night of prayer became a night of praise.
It was night when Paul and Silas, unjustly accused and condemned, were in the dungeon with bruised and bleeding backs, and feet fast in the stocks. But they prayed, and God gave songs in the night. This time an earthquake was His servant. The result was the conversion of the jailer's household and the further progress of the gospel, Acts 16. 23-35.
Still saints feel the chill and darkness of an evil world. Still many are in prison and need our prayers. Still it is night. Still God works wonders. And even when faith is sore tried we are assured that the Saviour's love for us is unchanged. He ever lives to cleanse and comfort His own by His word. He ever lives to make intercession for us as He did in the night in which He was betrayed.
"Watchman, what of the night"
Isa. 21. 11. The watchman answered clearly, "The morning cometh". The night is far spent; the day is at hand. Let us then who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet the hope of salvation, 1 Thess. 5. 5-8. We look for a city which has no need of the sun or moon to shine in it; "for there shall be no night there", Rev. 21. 25. Born of God who is Light, we belong to, and shall dwell in the realm of light for ever. Treachery gone, suffering past, failure unknown, the Saviour ever present, there shall be no night there, 22. 5.