Chapters 13-21 focus on the sign of the cross, the climax of Jesus’ life. Today’s reading is the last time Jesus spent preparing His disciples for that. Jesus is glorified through each event of these momentous days. His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection all evoke responses of awe. On the cross Jesus is elevated in glory before the world. The setting for the first 18 verses is Jesus’ final Passover meal on Thursday evening when Judas betrays Jesus. The first three gospels record the meal but John takes a different tack. He has emphasized other activities here, such as the foot washing, Judas betrayal, and the predictions of Peter’s denial of Jesus. Judas had refused to believe. He was engulfed in the darkness that only the evil one can bring and he had become the evil ones pawn. Foot washing was a common activity in the ancient world and was typically done by the lowest of the slaves. It was a daily routine and a sign of hospitality. When Jesus began to wash the feet of the disciples He assumed the position of a slave. Though the disciples realized what He was doing none of them offered themselves to help. Servant hood was not on their minds. Remember these are the same men who had been arguing about who was the greatest. Still, Jesus loved them all, even the one who was about to betray Him. As was often the case Peter neither understood or could keep quiet. Based on the depth of his devotion to Jesus, it is understandable that Peter protested but Jesus wasn’t just giving Peter a model of service. This was a symbolic Pre enactment of His greater act of sacrifice on the cross. Receiving Jesus’ spiritual cleansing is a condition for discipleship. If Peter could not accept this act he could not be Jesus’ disciple at all. Peter’s misunderstanding meant he thought that having more water meant having more of Jesus. It was only after Peter and the others received the Spirit that everything became clear for them. Jesus only needed To wash the dust of the road off their feet. This is symbolic. The believer has already been cleansed. The cleansing daily is that of the confession of sins. So, Jesus’ washing of the disciples feet is not only a model of service but it represents the ultimate in service, the forgiveness of sins. Jesus wants similar servanthood and sacrifice to characterize His followers even today. Jesus intends for the sacrifice that was modeled by the master to be seen in the life of the servant. In verse 18 the subject of Judas’ betrayal enters in for the third time. No doubt this weighed very heavy on Jesus. Jesus chose Judas just like he did the others and gave him every opportunity to believe. But Jesus also realized that Judas had embraced darkness instead of light. Eating together was a cultural symbol of personal intimacy which made Judas’ betrayal all the more treacherous. On the one hand Judas’ betrayal should not have taken the disciples by surprise because he didn’t seem to quite fit with the others. On the other hand Jesus didn’t treat him any different.
For the third time Jesus was troubled, deeply troubled this time. Judas’ betrayal brought profound grief. And the disciples were once again left wondering who and what was going on. John, the disciple Jesus loved, was sitting next to him and Peter asked John to get clarification. John appears at the cross, the tomb, and at the resurrection. They were reclining at the Passover table which meant they were around a U shaped table, reclining in their left sides on couches. They would have supported their bodies by their left elbows and eaten with their right hands. Their feet were extended away from the table. Meals were eaten with flat bread that people would then dip into a common bowl. If the disciples were not listening closely they would have missed Jesus telling them who the betrayer was…the one to whom He would give the bread He had dipped into the bowl. They may have thought Jesus was honoring Judas but in all probability they didn’t understand what was really happening. Even Judas’ departure didn’t seem out of place for him. Perhaps there was more that was needed for the feast. When the evil one entered into Judas he became an example of what happens to those who are consumed by darkness. Jesus instructed Judas to hurry, a command that showed that Jesus was still in control. Remember Jesus said that God had given all power to Him. Judas’ departure was emblematic. The darkness had completely swallowed him. Not only did Judas go out into the darkness of the night, he had also entered into spiritual darkness, separated from Jesus who is the light of the world.
We have seen several times throughout scripture someone about to die, gathering people around them for a final blessing. Jesus is no different. He had His disciples gathered around Him. The rest of today’s reading is what is known as the upper room discourse. As soon as Judas left Jesus told the rest that the time had come. The hour of glory was beginning to dawn, beginning with Judas’ betrayal and ending with the resurrection. Jesus addressed his disciples as children, a term of tender affection used nowhere else in the gospels. That the disciples were to love each other was not a new commandment but they were to love one another with the same sort of love Jesus modeled. This was dramatic because Jesus’ love for God was expressed in perfect obedience. The command was new because Jesus gave it new meaning. Moses said love your neighbor as yourself but Jesus said love as I have loved you. That meant committed obedience. Peter was ready to die for Jesus if need be, a somewhat prophetic statement that would eventually come true.
The disciples world was about to be turned upside down. And Jesus knew that. He also knew they didn’t yet fully understand what He had been teaching and showing them. Now Jesus sets outs to calm his disciples. Jesus Himself had been troubled and now He told them not to be troubled but to trust in Him. His confidence in God’s power made it possible for Him to face these crisis. Only trusting in God would help them through His hour of need. Here is the reason not to worry. There is more than enough room for those who believe in Him. Jesus promises that His followers will have a place to dwell alongside Him. Everybody has a longing for a permanent and secure place. Such places have already been set aside for all of God’s children. Later this place of dwelling becomes a place of indwelling as Jesus makes His home in His follower’s hearts through the Holy Spirit. There is debate as to Jesus coming to get His followers. Some believe this means the second coming and others after the resurrection. The bottom line is, Jesus was returning from the grave. Jesus promised to come and get them and they knew the way to where He was going. This time it was Thomas who spoke for the group. They didn’t know where Jesus was going so how could they know the way. In a few short words, words a that ring loud and clear today, Jesus told all of us that He is the way and the truth and the life. The only way to the Father is through Him. Period. End of discussion. Other religions and philosophies propose different avenues to God but Jesus is clear. We come to the Father through Jesus and Him alone. Jesus is the truth because God is the truth and He is the revelation of God. Jesus is the source of eternal life. At Lazarus’ tomb Jesus showed His divine power over life and death. Jesus is the communication of God to us.
Philip didn’t yet understand that in Jesus he was seeing the full embodiment of God. So Jesus explained again. Since they had seen Jesus, they had seen the Father. Jesus came to reveal the Father to them. It is impossible to escape the claim Jesus was making. Jesus was claiming to be God. Jesus is God in the flesh which explains His capacity to do divine works. Jesus didn’t just teach about God. In Him God can be found. At Hanukkah, Jesus had said He and the Father are one. This is the basis of the world’s opposition to Him. Jesus’ claims were astonishing, but true faith recognizes Jesus’ union with God the Father. Jesus promised that anyone who believed in Him would perform great miracles and experience answers to their prayers. This would be possible because when Jesus went to His Father they would send the Holy Spirit to empower these works. They will not outdo Jesus works but there will be many more who are empowered to do them. Because Jesus loves the Father, He is obedient to what God directs Him to do. If we love Him, we will obey Him too. Jesus promises to send the Advocate, also known as the Holy Spirit. But advocate can also be defined as comforter, counselor, and encourager.
The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth because He is truth and He guides us into all truth. He communicated the truth about God and maintains Jesus’ presence in the world, duplicating and sustaining Jesus’ work. Jesus had already promised they would not be spiritual orphans and that He would return to them. While He is away, they will be filled with the Spirit, who will sustain them with His presence. Jesus’ resurrection inaugurated His spiritual union with His disciples, which is parallel to the union He enjoys with the Father. The disciples had expected the Messiah to come publicly and deliver Israel from Rome and the corrupt priesthood of the temple. Jesus said that the disciples would see Him, but the world would not. Judas, not Iscariot, wanted to know how that could be. His question wondered, if Jesus planned to return mightily from death, why not use the opportunity to reveal Himself to the world and validate His power and identity. Jesus’ answer? His coming would be a profound spiritual revelation beyond the world’s grasp. Jesus’ coming would occur in three experiences: His resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and His second coming. When He comes in the Spirit, He and the Father will reside within believers, making a home with each of them. The Spirit will teach them everything, recalling Jesus’ words and clarifying their meanings. John experienced this power as he wrote his gospel. Christians experience this work of the Spirit as they read the scriptures. The Jewish greeting peace, or shalom, captured the spirit of Jesus’ work on earth to restore humanity’s relationship with God. The resurrection and the Spirit were instrumental in achieving this work. Sometimes verse 28 is problematic. Jesus is subordinate to the Father yet also one with Him. This doesn’t mean that Jesus is less than deity. Greater indicates a difference in rank. As the humble submissive Son, Jesus submitted Himself to the authority of the Father. Jesus then let the disciples know that the events unfolding in Jerusalem that led to the cross were not controlled by the ruler of this world, meaning the evil one. The cross was not an accident, and Jesus was not a helpless victim. Rather, Jesus was obedient to God’s plan. Telling them the evil one has nothing in me indicates Jesus’ sinlessness.
Chapter 15 begins with the last of Jesus’ I AM statements. This too is part of Jesus’ preparation for the disciples and for us. It is a call to remain in close fellowship with Him. The image of a grapevine illustrates both intimacy and fruitfulness. To sustain genuine spiritual life in the world, believers must remain intimately connected to Jesus Christ. The grapevine and vineyard traditionally represented God’s people, planted and tended by Him in Israel. When Jesus used this image He made an important change. He declared that He is the true vine and that a relationship with God requires attachment to Him. As with many plants, they need to be pruned so that they grow fuller or bear more fruit. And fruitfulness is the result of life giving connection to the vine. The key here is to remain connected. Connection with the vine allows the life of Jesus to flow fruitfully through the disciple, but those who claim to be connected to Christ but yield no fruit are useless and will be burned. True disciples will experience transformation and a fruit bearing life because they live in a relationship with Him. And as Jesus demonstrated His love for the Father by obeying His will, Jesus’ disciples exhibit their love through obedience to Him. Jesus demonstrated His ultimate love for us on the cross. Jesus now called His disciples friends, saying there is no greater love than to lay ones life down for your friends, which is what He did for us. Abraham and Moses were called friends, the highest relationship possible between God and a person. Usually the disciples of a rabbi were considered his servants or slaves but again Jesus changed the rules.
We are called to be like our master in every respect, showing both love and obedience. And if the darkness is exposed to the light, and if Jesus’ followers are bearers of light in the world, then they should expect the world to hate them in the same way they hated Jesus. Jesus’ disciples share His separation from and conflict with the world. Jesus’ ministry provided both words and works as evidence that point to God. Once people have heard and seen Him, they are now held accountable. No longer can they plead ignorance. Now there is no excuse. Jesus promised to send the Advocate, the Spirit of truth. As the disciples spoke the Holy Spirit would bring inner conviction to unbelievers concerning Christ. This in turn would make the disciples witnesses for Christ. The disciples are not alone when they testify about Christ. That means we are not alone either when we are called to share Christ with others. Jesus had outlined the coming conflicts so that the disciples would not abandon their faith, stumble and fall. That would be their biggest challenge, to stumble and fall in front of their Jewish opponents. There would be dark days ahead and Jesus was trying to prepare them.
The Holy Spirit was a gift that awaited the disciples, but it would be given only after Jesus was gone. One of the Spirit’s roles is to convict the World. This is a legal term here. The World had conducted its trial against Jesus and now the world would stand trial before the Spirit, and its guilt would be proven. The Spirit unveils to the World the nature of its sin, the truth about the righteousness only found in God, and the coming judgement which has already begun as the light penetrating the darkness. The evil one has already been judged. The Spirit says only what He has heard from the Father and together the trinity works in perfect unity. The disciples could expect to hear things they had not heard before about the present and the future. Jesus assured the disciples that His departure (on the cross) would be short and his return (the resurrection) would be soon. When they saw Him again they would experience overwhelming joy. At the crucifixion the World thought it had won a victory over the light. The shock of the cross would cause the disciples to weep and mourn, but their sorrow would change to joy when Jesus defeated the grave. Two effects of the resurrection are the joy of understanding and the joy of successful prayer. And, the disciples would no longer be so confused. When the Spirit came, the disciples would finally understand. Verse 33 brings great hope to those who follow Jesus, both the early disciples and us today. It is both a warning and a promise. Jesus warns that we will have troubles but we can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world. Jesus promised peace even when we are surrounded by threats. We can know peace even surrounded by those hostile to our faith.
Chapter 17 is called Jesus’ high priestly prayer. This prayer provides an intimate glimpse into His heart. This closes the farewell that began in chapter 13. In this prayer Jesus expresses His concerns to His Father and then He turned to His concerns for the church and it’s future. Jesus prayed assuming the traditional posture for prayer. He looked heavenwards and raised His hands. And He would have prayed out loud so His followers could hear what He was saying. Jesus typically addressed God as Father, reflecting his intimacy with God the Father. God has given Jesus all authority so He can give eternal life just as the Father can. Jesus spoke of coming from heaven and now preparing to return there. His miracles displayed God’s glory for all the world to see and this task was finished. Jesus’ life and obedience had glorified God. Verse 6 summarizes Jesus’ mission. He revealed the true person of God to the World, gathered up God’s people into the flock, and instructed them in obedience. The result of this work is the church. And then Jesus prayed for the disciples who had to carry on after His departure. And, just as the Son brings glory to the Father, so the disciples bring glory to Jesus. Jesus’ first concern for
His disciples was that they be united with an intimacy similar to that shared by Jesus and the Father. Up to this point Jesus had guarded His followers but now He was concerned for their strength and survival in His absence because the world would be hostile to them as their mission. Now the Spirit would protect them and bring them joy. The Spirit would also preserve and recall God’s Word in the church for its encounter with the world.
Being made holy refers to purity that is gained by separation from the World and living a life aligned with God such that the life reflects His passions. Disciples are set apart by God, equipped by the Spirit, and readied by God’s Word to enter the world without being victimized by its darkness. Jesus recommitted Himself to His mission, acknowledging that He was set apart for the purpose of the cross. Jesus also prayed for other sheep who were not yet part of His flock. This includes us! These are believers who through the centuries who have come to faith in Jesus Christ. And Jesus prays that all believers would be one like He and the disciples. He reminded the disciples of Jesus that they represent Him so their conduct and relationships with each other reflect the credibility of Christ in the world. When there is disunity, testimony about Jesus is ineffective because followers are not truly reflecting Jesus and His glory.
Here is the big if. IF the church lives in the Spirit, reflects God’s glory and love, and shows unity sustained by a shared knowledge of God, then it’s testimony will astonish the world.
All who accept the Son and embrace the Father will experience the kind of love known only between the Father and Son. Jesus wants to love His followers and indwell them with glory and joy unmatched by anything in the world.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W