The Forty-Third in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
With less than twenty-four hours remaining before his agonizing death upon the cross, Jesus celebrates his third and final Passover with his disciples. Although Jesus knows what lies ahead, the disciples are blissfully ignorant about the events which will take place later that evening, and the next day (Friday). Jesus will use his last evening with his disciples to prepare them for what is soon to come. But before they share their last meal together–hence the “last supper”–Jesus will wash their feet, exhort them to live and act in humility (just as he has done) and then reveal that one of the twelve is a traitor, who is about to commit one of the most diabolical acts in human history. Jesus must prepare his disciples for the momentous events he knows are coming.
We have made our way as far as chapter 13, which marks the beginning of a lengthy section of John’s Gospel (which runs from 13:1-17:26) in which, having ended his public ministry, Jesus must prepare his disciples for his imminent departure from them. As we read in the closing section of John 12, “when Jesus had said these things [the discourse at the end of John 12], he departed and hid himself from [the crowds]. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.” Jesus has said and done all that he was going to do in terms of his public ministry. Although God had called many people to faith in Jesus, the sad fact is that the people of Israel, by and large, have rejected Jesus’ messianic mission (as Savior from sin). Our Lord’s hour is at hand because the Passover has come. It is time for Jesus to say his final public words to the people of Israel (which John recounts at the end of chapter 12), before our Lord withdraws from the public eye to begin instructing his disciples in the privacy of a rented “upper room.”
The events recounted in chapters 13-18:11, likely take place during the early evening of Thursday of the Passion week, which is the beginning of the Passover which ends at sundown on Friday. If you know anything about the Gospel of John, and its relationship to the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), then you know there seems to be a difference (if not a contradiction) between John’s chronology of the events surrounding the timing of the death of Jesus, and the chronology found in the synoptics. There are volumes written on this topic, and virtually every commentary on John devotes a number of pages to this debate, along with the various solutions which have been proposed to resolve it. A sermon series such as this is not the place to resolve such complicated issues, so let me give you a brief summary of the matter, and explain my take on how best to resolve it as we proceed.
We start with critical scholars, who contend that John’s overriding purpose in composing his gospel is theological–that is, John wants to prove that Jesus is Israel’s Passover Lamb, so it does not really matter if John describes Jesus dying on Thursday afternoon when the Passover lambs are being slaughtered, while the synoptics place the death of Jesus on Friday afternoon. Critical scholars do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, so any apparent discrepancies between John and the synoptics are not a problem to them, so long as we consider John’s reason for composing his gospel–which is to convince people that Jesus is a messianic prophet.
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