The Forty-Fourth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Jesus is about to depart from his disciples and return to his Father. But there is much for Jesus to reveal to them before the Passover celebration comes to an end, when Jesus leads the disciples to an olive grove known as the Garden of Gethsemane, where he is arrested, and then crucified the next afternoon. As the Passover celebration began, Jesus did the unthinkable–he washed the feet of his disciples. Jesus then spoke of how washing the disciples’ feet pointed ahead to a much more important washing–with the blood he will soon shed upon the cross for all those given to him by the Father. As the Passover celebration continues to unfold, Jesus reveals more and more about why he is leaving, and how this will impact his disciples. In the next phase of the discourse, two of Jesus’ disciples (Judas and Peter) will be shocked at predictions made by Jesus, and that one greater than Moses (Jesus, the true Israel) will give the disciples a new commandment.
We are working our way through the Gospel of John, and we have come to the so-called “Upper Room” discourse which is found in John chapters 13-17. As we saw last time when we covered the first half of chapter 13, Jesus’ public ministry to Israel has come to an end. With the arrival of the Passover (sundown on Thursday evening of Passion week), Jesus gathers his disciples in a rented “upper room” in the city of Jerusalem to celebrate his third and final Passover with the twelve. Jesus knows that with the coming of the Passover, so too, his dreaded hour has come. Our Lord also knows that this evening will end with his betrayal (by one of his own disciples sharing the Passover meal with him), his arrest and trial (before the Jewish high priest, Caiaphas, and then before the Roman governor, Pilate), the agony of a Roman scourging and crucifixion the next afternoon, followed by his bodily resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. Jesus knows that all of this is just ahead–hours away, in fact. Accordingly, our Lord speaks with a solemnity and seriousness of someone saying his final goodbyes. But his disciples do not know what is about to transpire, and they are struggling to understand what Jesus is telling them.
We know from the synoptic gospels, Jesus has been openly speaking of his death and resurrection in the days before his entrance into Jerusalem. Yet, despite the many miracles which Jesus has performed (especially raising Lazarus from the dead just a week or so before), followed by his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus’ disciples surely sense that the atmosphere of celebration and triumph which marked Palm Sunday, has given way to the solemn finality of the Passover. Jesus is giving his final instructions to his disciples–although they do not comprehend what it is for which Jesus is preparing them. But this will all become clear in the days ahead when Jesus appears to them after he is raised from the dead, before he returns to his Father in heaven. As we read in John 2:22 (and which applies here as well), “when therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”
But on this night–the Passover–Jesus explains to them that he must depart from them and why. With the momentous events of his death and resurrection at hand, Jesus has much to teach them, but not much time to do so. This explains the length and attention to detail of the discourse which John sets out in these chapters. Jesus is going to leave his disciples, and then send them to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. He must explain to them his messianic mission and why it has come to an end. He must explain to them the nature of the new mission he is about to assign to them, as well as explain why it is good for him to depart. Jesus also tells them he will give them the blessed Holy Spirit, who will equip them to preach the gospel fearlessly and with great clarity in the face of hostile audiences. These are the men who will soon “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), although you would never know it from the events which take place on this night in the upper room.
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