The Forty-Fifth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
As the Upper Room discourse continues to unfold in John 14, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going away, and that he will prepare a place for them. The disciples are confused by Jesus’ words, and several of them have questions for Jesus. Thomas wants to know the way to the place which Jesus is preparing for them in his Father’s house, while Philip wants Jesus to show the remaining disciples the glory of the Father. In answering Thomas’ and Philip’s questions, Jesus utters some of the best known and most profound statements in all the New Testament. For nearly three years, the disciples have traveled with Jesus, witnessed countless miracles, and heard Jesus say things which nice Jewish boys do not say, unless he is God incarnate. In their last evening together, Jesus reveals much new information about the nature of his messianic mission (which is about to end), but he also speaks about the disciples’ future ministry (which is about to begin).
When we left off last time (the closing verses of chapter 13), Jesus is with his disciples in a rented upper room in Jerusalem celebrating the Passover. It is early Thursday evening–the Passover began at sundown. With the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday quickly fading because of the gravity of the Passover celebration, the disciples surely sensed that this Passover was going to be different from anything they had ever experienced with Jesus before. Jesus is troubled, and is speaking like a man about to die.
The reason for the somber nature of the evening is that Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure–he will suffer and die upon a Roman cross the next afternoon, and after being raised from the dead, Jesus will ascend into heaven and return to his Father. Because his long anticipated hour has come, Jesus must now explain to his disciples that he is about to leave them, as well as explain to them why. The disciples stand at the brink of a new age in redemptive history, and in order to understand what is soon to come later that evening and next afternoon, Jesus must teach them about the nature of his messianic mission, explain why it has come to an end, why he must now leave them, and why his departure will be better for them. To do this, Jesus will explain to them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Understandably, his disciples are struggling to understand the significance of Jesus’ words, and it is only in hindsight that the things Jesus tells them during this discourse will finally make sense to them.
Although Jesus is their teacher and Lord, soon after sundown Jesus opened the Passover celebration by washing the feet of his disciples–something never done for servants in the ancient world by someone of Jesus’ authority, since it is the disciples who ordinarily would be washing Jesus’ feet. Jesus told them how this washing with water pointed ahead to a spiritual washing–a washing with the blood he was about to shed for his people upon the cross as Israel’s true and spotless Passover lamb.
But there were other difficult revelations to be made as well. Jesus announced to the twelve that one of them (Judas) would betray him, and that another of them (the leader of the group, and the most exuberant of them all, Peter) would deny evening knowing Jesus. In fact, Peter would do so three times before the rooster crowed (i.e., at first light the next morning). Peter was brave and loyal and could not begin to understand how he would come to do such a thing. The news of a satanically-inspired defection by the group’s treasurer (Judas) was also difficult to understand, so much so that even when Jesus identified Judas as his betrayer when he handed him a piece of bread dipped in sop, the disciples could not get their minds around such an act until Judas showed up with an armed mob later that evening bent upon arresting Jesus so that he might be put to death. Judas had been with them from the beginning, and although they figured out later on that Judas was a thief and a liar, on this night the eleven remaining disciples simply could not understand how one of their own could so such a thing.
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