You Cannot Follow Me Now

The last time we looked at the Gospel of John Jesus had just washed the disciples’ feet. The greatest person in the universe had just acted the role of a servant. And then he said, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15). So, follow me. Do what I do. A servant is not greater than his master (verse 16).

Now, we come to the end of today’s text and Jesus strikes a different note. Not: you should follow me and do as I have done; but: you can’t follow me now. Verse 36: “Where I am going, you cannot follow now.” And as it turns out this is bad news and, in another sense, very good news.

Where We Can Follow

But before we go there, let me give you the big picture of where we’re going in this message. We’ll make five stops.

  1. We’ll make a brief stop in verses 23–25 to ask why John includes the details of who is sitting where at the last supper and who leans where. It’s relevant for the whole story.

  2. At the end, verses 33–38 (saving 34–35 for next week), we’ll ponder what’s behind Jesus saying: You can’t follow me now. Why? Is that good? Or is that bad? Or both?

  3. We’ll look at verses 27–30 and notice that night and darkness not only swallow up the Light of the world, but also serve its brightness.

  4. We will look at verses 31 and 32 where Jesus says that in this darkest hour the time has come for him to shine with brightest glory.

  5. Finally, we will look at verse 21 where John says, “Jesus was troubled in his spirit.” And we will ask: What does this have to say to your own troubled spirit today?

And we will end there on that very practical, personal, emotionally critical note, not just because it’s helpful for sermons to end with personal application, but because John makes the connection between the troubled spirit and the ultimate aim of his book. He says in John 20:31, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). So the point of the book is to help us believe and have life.

“When we read the Bible, we are not dealing with myth or fiction.”

And right at the end of today’s text in John 14:1 Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). The word for “troubled” is the same as in verse 21: “Jesus was troubled in his spirit.” And Jesus says to us: Don’t be troubled. Believe me. Trust me. And what I will say when we get there at the end is that there is a troubled spirit that is sinful and we should seek to overcome it by trusting the promises of Jesus. And there is a troubled spirit that is not sinful, because Jesus had it, and it has a place in the life of his followers.

So that’s where we are going. Let’s make these five stops on the way there.

Judas in the Details

Jesus is at the last supper and he had just said in verse 21 one of the disciples would betray him. They didn’t know who he was talking about (verse 22). Then verse 23:

One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?”

Notice the details. The disciples and Jesus are lying on the floor around the table, typically leaning on their left elbow with a cushion, eating with their right hand. The disciple whom Jesus loved (the evidence suggests it’s John) is next to Jesus, maybe to his right. From wherever Peter is, he signals John to ask Jesus. John, as verse 25 says, leans back against Jesus and asks him. Evidently, Jesus says very softly to John, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it” (verse 26). I am guessing that he said this softly because the other disciples don’t know what he said, because when Judas leaves they don’t know why he’s leaving.

What do these details say to us? What they say is that these things are the testimony of an eyewitness. John, the beloved disciple, wrote this book. We know that because of what he says later. In John 21:24, referring back to the disciple whom Jesus loved in verse 20, it says, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things” (John 21:24). And again, in John 19:35, “He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth — that you also may believe.”

In other words, the reason the author calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is not because Jesus didn’t love the others (John 13:1; 15:9), but to make clear what a close and personal role he had so that his eyewitness testimony would be seen for what it is. What John wants us to know when we read these details is: I was there. I know what I am talking about. These things really happened.

We are not dealing here with myth or fiction. “He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true.” Let that flag fly over your heart as you read this gospel and listen to this message.

‘You Can’t Follow Me Now’

“Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come. . . .” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”

There are two reasons why the disciples could not follow Jesus this night. One was bad news. And one was very good news. The bad news was this: they couldn’t follow because they were morally unable to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him. You think you can follow me, Peter? You won’t even make it through the night! And it wasn’t just Peter who failed. They all failed. John 16:32: “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone” (see Mark 14:50). That’s the bad news. They were not ready to make the sacrifices necessary to follow a crucified Messiah. They needed a greater power from the Holy Spirit.

But there was another reason why they couldn’t follow Jesus that night, and this was very good news. Jesus was about to do what only he could do. And what he would do is die not mainly as an example to inspire them, but as a substitute to save them. We can see this if we keep reading into chapter 14:2b–6. Where is Jesus going that they cannot follow:

“I go to prepare a place for you . . . And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

In other words, we don’t go to heaven — to the Father — beside Jesus, assisting him; or behind Jesus, imitating him. We go to the Father through Jesus, depending on him. Where am I going this night that you cannot follow? I am going to die for you, and thus become the way to God. You can’t follow now. Only I can do this. This is my work alone.

“We will follow Jesus to the Father, because he made a way. He paid for our sins.”

But you will follow afterward, because I will make a way. I will pay for your sins — all your failures. Then you will come — through me. Trusting me. No one comes to the Father except through me. That’s what I am doing tonight. I am making a way for sinners to come to the Father. And only I can do it. You can’t follow me now. And that is very good news. For us.

The Darkness Swallows Up and Serves the Light

I don’t think the reference to night in verse 30 is merely to tell us what time of day it is.

Then after [Judas] had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

This gospel began with the triumphant words in John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” And Jesus said in John 9:4, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” There was a work they could do together while it was day. And they did for three years. Jesus completed that work. And now the night has come. No one. No one but Jesus can do this work.

And he does it not in spite of the darkness, but with the unwitting, God-appointed help of the darkness. Only Jesus can destroy the darkness by being enveloped by darkness. Only Jesus can abolish death by being swallowed up by death, like Jonah in the fish. Only Jesus can disarm Satan by surrendering to his servants.

Do you remember the words of the Lord a few hours later in the garden, when the mob came for him? He said in Luke 22:53, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Notice the limitations put on the darkness: This is your hour, not your century, or your decade, or your year, or your month, or your week. God has appointed the boundaries of your hour. And it will last until Sunday morning.

And then I am coming out. I will break the chains of death. I will dispel the darkness. And I will nullify the power of Satan. And my redeeming work will be finished. All the sins of my people will be paid for. All my Father’s wrath against his elect will be satisfied. The judgment and condemnation of my church will be over, and a flawless, gorgeous robe of righteousness completed for my bride.

Jesus Shines Through the Night

That is the glory of the Son of Man and his Father as turn to verse 31 and 32, our fourth focus in the text.

When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.”

Remember, showing the glory of Jesus in this Gospel is the main way that John is awakening and strengthening our faith. John 1:14: “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And the brightest display of this glory — the glory of this grace — was in the darkest hour of the gospel when Jesus died.

When he was doing what no one else could do — dispelling darkness, abolishing death, disarming Satan, paying for sin, completing righteousness, absorbing wrath, removing condemnation — this was his most glorious achievement. In one sense, his brightest moment is the darkest night.

And Jesus says in verse 31 that God was glorified in him. And in verse 32 he says that God himself is the one who glorified the Son of Man. And that the Son of Man would be glorified in him. In the middle of verse 32: “God will also glorify him in himself.” So the Son of Man is glorified in God. God is glorified in him. There is more going on here than you might think.

Evidence of Jesus’s Deity

Look back at John 13:18–19. Jesus is already predicting Judas’s betrayal. Only here Jesus says why he is so concerned to talk about it before it happens. At the end of verse 18: “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me. I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am [he].”

It simply says, “That you may believe that ‘I am’” just like John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus was saying that his knowledge and his authority over his own betrayal by Judas is evidence of his deity. “I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am.”

So when he says that the Son of Man and God are glorified in each other we are to understand that God the Father was glorifying God the Son, and God the Son was glorifying God the Father. And the glory of that night was the triumph of a salvation they had plotted together, with the Holy Spirit, from before the creation of the world.

And yet, in spite of all that authority, foreknowledge, and all that glory, Jesus was troubled in his spirit.

Jesus Troubled in His Spirit

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”

Every one of us in this room has a troubled spirit from time to time. The word means agitated or disquieted or unpeaceful. The reason I move from Jesus’s agitation to our agitation is that John makes that move in the following paragraph. John 14:1: “Let not your hearts be troubled [same word as verse 21]. Believe in God; believe also in me.” So in John 13:21 Jesus is troubled in spirit. And in John 14:1 he tells us not to be troubled, but to believe.

So here’s the main thing I want to give you: there is a sinful troubled spirit, and there is a holy troubled spirit. Jesus is experiencing something like we experience. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted [or tested] as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). There is disquiet of heart without sin. There is an agitation of soul without sin. There is a kind of troubled turmoil in the spirit that is not owing to sin.

Two Kinds of Troubled Souls

What’s the difference? I’ll mention what I think the difference is in this text. The sinful troubled soul is owing to unbelief. That’s what John 14:1 seems to say: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe. . . believe.” But the holy troubled soul is owing to love. Jesus isn’t only troubled by the prospect of his own agony. That happens, to be sure, in Gethsemane as he sweats blood.

“The darkness of night did swallow up the Light, but it was destroyed by the Light.”

But here in John 13:21 it’s his friend (Matthew 26:50), Judas: “Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” That’s the pain. One of you. The ones who have been with me for three years. After all we’ve been through. After all I’ve done for you. After all the wonder you’ve experienced.

So I want to encourage you with this: Part of Christlike Christian living is turmoil of soul. Not sinful turmoil that comes from lack of trust in the promises of God, but holy turmoil that comes from love for someone who is about to destroy himself and defame God (see Romans 9:2).

Jesus’s life was not ruined or made miserable by this holy disquiet. The same faith in God that dispels sinful turmoil, keeps holy turmoil in its proper bounds. It doesn’t overwhelm you. It can be subordinate to seasons of great joy.

  1. This story is true.

  2. You can’t follow Jesus in the night when he does the saving work that only he can do. And that’s really good news.

  3. The darkness of that night did swallow up the Light, and was destroyed by it.

  4. The Father and the Son were glorified in that hour, accomplishing their most glorious work of salvation for sinners.

  5. Therefore, trust the Father. Trust the Son. And triumph over sinful turmoil, and keep the holy turmoil of your soul — the turmoil of love — in its appointed bounds.