Picking up where I left off last week, I did spend some time trying to wrap my mind around our God, His plans and His love. Couldn’t begin to get it done. And then, in my mind I heard, “Stop trying to wrap your mind around Me. Just open up your heart; and let– it– soak– in.” Probably the best advice I’ll ever get.
Now, to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. I’ve often heard people say that in chapters 13 through 17 of John, Jesus is teaching about love – and He is. But, to me, it seems Jesus had a considerably more complex agenda in mind. That agenda was to prepare the disciples for the events of the next 54 days, and beyond: His arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. All that to be followed by their ministries and the writing of their books. Jesus knew that even after this nights teaching His disciples would still not have true and complete understanding; but, He knew it would be enough – until the Holy Spirit would complete the job.
That preparation had two different, but related, themes. (Note: Reading these four chapters of John reminds me of looking at an intricately woven tapestry. Each element of Jesus’ message is interwoven and supported with, and by, the other elements. Trying to study each element separately is difficult; and requires that I skip around in the chapters to organize the material into these otherwise tightly inter-connected themes.)
The two themes are: (1) Teaching about Jesus, His role on earth and what it meant to the world; and, (2) teaching about love’s role in forming unity among the disciples and ultimately, all believers.
First, let’s look at Jesus’ teaching about Himself and why He came to earth. Jesus was giving the disciples a more complete understanding that He is the Son of God; that He and the Father are one and the same; and further, the only path to God is through belief in Jesus.
In Jn 14:6-7 Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Then in verses 10-11 Jesus says, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? …Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” And then, in verse 12, some instruction, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”.
At the same time, He gives them more complete information about the Holy Spirit (or Counselor) who will come to them. In chapter 14:16,17 Jesus tells His disciples, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of Truth”. Then, picking up in verse 26, (the Counselor, the Holy Spirit) “…will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Jesus also tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of their guilt (sin) and bring complete understanding of Him (Jesus) to the disciples.
Later in chapter 15 Jesus tells the disciples that the world will hate them for the message they deliver. That they will be persecuted, put out of the synagogue, scattered and killed. (Of the twelve original disciples only John died a natural death. Judas hung himself, all the others were killed).
Throughout the meal and the teaching/discussions, Jesus predicted and explained upcoming events. Even then the disciples only partially understood what was going to happen and what it would mean. Only after they received the Holy Spirit did they fully understand the significance of the events that had happened between the Last Supper and Pentecost.*
Now, let’s turn to love and unity. After gathering in an upstairs room of a house (for the Passover meal) Jesus starts to wash the feet of His 12 disciples. He wished to demonstrate that while they considered Him their lord and teacher, He was in reality a servant of God, His Father. Further, that they should adopt a servant’s attitude toward one another, helping and supporting each other and those they would come into contact with. In this way they would support one another while maintaining the unity of the message.
In Jn 13:34 Jesus tells them to, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Our need to love others wasn’t a new commandment per se; but, Jesus expanded the commandment when He said to love others as much as God loves us). Such love would bring others to a saving knowledge of Jesus; and, would also build and protect unity in the body of believers. The commandment is repeated in chapter 15: 12,17; The last verse being very direct, “This is my command: Love each other.”
Jesus wraps-up His teaching with these words, “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (Jn 16:33) What a positive and powerful way to end His instruction.
There is more. Jesus then began a three-part prayer. (Jn 17:1-26). He prays for Himself, that He may serve and glorify His Father; and, asks that He (Jesus) be restored to His former glory when He returns to His Father. [I found that very cool.]
Next, He prays for His disciples and asks His Father’s protection over them while they complete their work in the world. He also, asks God’s blessing on them and their work.
Then starting in verse 20, Jesus prays for everyone who will come to believe in Him through the work of the disciples! You realize, of course, that includes you and me. Wow, that hit me right between the eyes. Jesus, while on earth, actually prayed, to His Father, for me.
In verse 23 Jesus prays, “…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” So, we are in the process of being brought into complete unity with God.
This entire prayer is something you absolutely need to read carefully, for yourself. Then we all need to re-read it from time to time. Unity with Jesus, unity with the Father and unity with the Holy Spirit. It is this unity with our great triune God that unites us with one another! Can we, as God’s Church, please work on that?!
* Pentecost is also called the Feast of Weeks. This would have happened 50 days after the resurrection and 10 days after the ascension.