The Gospel of John is the only gospel to record the various teachings Jesus gave to his disciples during the Last Supper, the day before he was crucified. Isn’t it true that we tend to especially remember the “final words” someone gave? During this Holy Week, I’ll provide a daily devotional with an overview from each of these Last Supper Lessons, including a couple questions to consider. Hope it’s an encouragement:
Monday: Serving and Loving One Another
Tuesday: I Am the Way, Truth, and Life
Wednesday: Promise of the Holy Spirit
Thursday: Persevering Through Suffering
Friday: A Prayer for Unity Amongst the Body
Monday: Serving and Loving One Another
John 13:1-20; 31-35
As Jesus and his disciples came to the upper room for the Passover meal, it was a servant’s job to wash everyone’s dirty feet before the meal. Well, they all settled in around the table, and no one’s feet were washed. The disciples had recently been arguing amongst themselves who is the “greatest”, jockeying for high status within their core group, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that no one offered themselves up to do the job. Who would want to stoop that low?
With that, Jesus stands up from the table. He lays aside his outer garment, ties a towel around his waist, pours water into a bowl, and works his way around the table, washing the feet of each of his disciples one by one. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
The meal went on. I imagine some of the normal conversation and jockeying for status as muted, even if just temporarily, and Jesus cut into the awkward silence with this: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Here’s the reality: we simply will not choose to humble ourselves in our own strength. We need Jesus’s help. I see myself often in the disciples as they got to the upper room, with their minds focused on themselves, analyzing how they can be put in the best possible situation and be seen in the best possible way. And yet, Jesus flips it on its head. You want to be greatest? You must be a servant. You want to be the best? Be willing to be seen as the least. Lay aside your garment, roll up your sleeves, and start washing. You were made to serve, for if the Lord of the universe washes feet, you ought to as well.
Jesus is preparing them for what’s to come before they even knew what would hit them. If they want to remain together, unified in their mission to make disciples and have a positive impact on this world after Jesus is gone, they must commit to service and love. Jesus came to give of himself, not so we can just take, but so that we, too, may follow the path of giving of ourselves to others. We love, because He first loved us. We serve, because He first served us.
Question #1: If this world were to decide whether you were a disciple of Christ purely by your love and service for others, what would they say?
Question #2: In this pandemic, when the church can’t be known for their awesome worship services, talented programs, and impressive buildings, but rather just by the love and service we have for one another, how will we stand?
Tuesday: I Am the Way, Truth, and Life
“Let not your hearts be troubled.” Jesus was a great anticipator. As he spoke and taught about hard topics, he compassionately anticipated the responses and emotions his teaching would bring about. When Jesus predicted his impending death, and not to mention the disciples’ abandonment of him in the process, they were grieved. This grief was partially due to the prediction of their own failure, but it also included the news that Jesus wasn’t going to be the next political and religious king over the nation Israel, which they held out hope for all along.
“Let not your hearts be troubled.” How could he say this, after all the troubling things he just told them? The reason, Jesus says, is that where he is going, they will eventually end up as well. He is going to “prepare a place for you.” Thomas, the most practical of the crew, says what everyone else is thinking: “umm, we actually can’t go to this place you speak of unless you tell us the way” (paraphrase). And to this Jesus says the famous line that may very well get quoted more than any of other of his words:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
For all the beautiful diversity there is within the human race, there is a sameness to us at our core. One piece of evidence of this is the fact that when we get anxious, when “our hearts are troubled”, we immediately search for something to provide assurance. We all need some kind of remedy to take the angst away, the only difference is where we go to find it, which ironically, makes all the difference.
The postmodern way of thinking says you need to go on a quest for assurance by finding “your truth” deep within yourself. No one else can tell you where to find it, your truth is your truth just like my truth is my truth. It’s the philosophical buffet line – from all the options out there, I form my truth plate, you form your truth plate, and we can’t claim ours is any better than yours. Many reflect on Jesus’ life, which was one of compassion, serving others, challenging the power structures, and never turning someone away, and assume he would have said something similar. Just choose your own path, believe in yourself, and be your own guiding light.
This, however, is Jesus with an Enlightenment-inspired makeover, not the Jesus of the Bible. The most important words in Jesus famous line are not even “way, truth, or life”, but rather the small article that goes before them. Jesus said he is THE way, THE truth, and THE life. He is not one option amongst many that brings assurance and eternal life, he is THE option. And he’s not keeping it a secret, he’s telling it to all who have ears to hear. The way is not a certain job, hobby, or literal path of life. It’s a person. The truth is not a contextualized philosophy bound to a culture and time. It’s a person. The life is not a form of subjective happiness where we echo, “now this is the life!”. It’s a person. His name is Jesus, and he did not come to condemn the world (including you), but in order that the world (including you) might be saved through him.
No one chooses to be anxious, to “have their hearts troubled”, whether it’s situational or clinical, and the feeling of angst is not something to feel ashamed of. We do, however, choose where we turn to once it happens, and it’s not so much about “where” but “who”. He has overcome all trouble, he already stands at the end of your trouble, and he has prepared a place for you. The only true antitode to anxiety is assurance, and the most foundational assurance we have in this life is Jesus Christ.
Question: Where do you turn when you feel anxious to try and gain assurance?
Question: What are ways you may be relying on your performance or being dejected by your failure as opposed to looking to Christ?
Wednesday: The Promise of the Holy Spirit
John 14:15-31; 16:1-15
Jesus never gives a command to do something without also giving the ability and power to obey it. God provides what God demands. After telling his disciples to not be anxious, he then provides the power to do so: the sending of the Holy Spirit.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with your forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you…These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
There’s a phrase that we learn as children, and so teach our children in turn. “Actions speak louder than words.” Don’t just tell someone you care for them, show them. Words matter, but actions expose words to be either empty or full. Faith without works is dead, one famous author once wrote. This is what Jesus does at the Last Supper – he teaches with words (“don’t let your hearts be troubled”), and then he loves with actions by promising to send the Holy Spirit as a means of grace that will enable the disciples to heed his words.
Have you embraced the promise that Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within you? I don’t want to paint with a broad brush, but by and large Christians and churches have downplayed the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We wish Jesus was in the room with us, having a face-to-face conversation with us, especially in these difficult times. And yet, we have the opportunity to do this through the Spirit. We can be strengthened to replace our angst with love for Christ, and walk in obedience that he commands because of the Spirit he provides. In fact, Jesus clearly says it is BETTER that the Spirit comes.
In John 16, Jesus returns back to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, calling out the things he does: he convicts the world of sin, he unveils our eyes to righteousness, he guides us in all truth, he declares to us and assures us of what is to come, and above all, he bears witness to our souls the glory of Christ.
Jesus didn’t mix his words. A true love for him and others is manifested by obedience to his commands, but he doesn’t leave us out to dry in our striving for obedience. We obey him not so that he’ll love us back sometime in the future, we obey him because of the love he has already shown us. Jesus gave his life for us at the cross, he declared victory over death at the empty tomb, and he sent the Spirit to dwell within us upon ascending to the throne. God provides what God demands. This is grace. This is your triune God, the Father who sends, the Son who gives, and the Spirit who indwells. Embrace this promise, walk in it each day, and be encouraged that he will never leave nor forsake you.
Question: Do you ever fall into the mindset of thinking you’re on your own to obey God in your strength? How can you be reminded daily that it is God’s Spirit within you that will sustain you and equip you to walk in holiness?
Question: How does the Holy Spirit equip you to glorify God and love others in the practical, daily rhythms of life?
Thursday: Perseverance in Suffering
John 15:18-26; 16:16-33
When Jesus exhorted his disciples to not be troubled, he didn’t mean they wouldn’t face trouble in this world. In case they thought that’s what he meant, he says with stunning clarity, “In the world you will have tribulation.” In a moment of practical teaching and simple logic, Jesus reminds them that since the world opposes Him, and a servant is not greater than his master, the world will also oppose and persecute them.
He says this not to scare them, but to help them prepare them for the times of suffering that lay ahead. So how can Jesus’s disciples not be troubled, when they will inevitably face trouble? How can we make sense of these things? Here’s how:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
This may be the most contextually-relevant of the Last Supper lessons for us this year, as we navigate a global pandemic together, yet apart. Here are three observations to apply:
1) The promises of God do not exempt us from trouble and suffering in this world; rather, they equip us to suffer with hope.
God’s design for equipping us to persevere in this world is not by keeping us from suffering and hardship, as if he is a divine helicopter parent keeping us in a bubble. Instead, he promises to always be with us through the times of hardship. God loves us, and yet we still suffer. Some of the strongest Christians I know in this world have known deep sorrow for prolonged seasons, and yet cling to God’s promises that give them the hope to persevere.
2) We can still praise God in the midst of hardship and suffering.
We aren’t called to pretend like things aren’t hard when they are. We don’t pretend that everything will be “ok”, when they may not. But the victory of Jesus over the grave tells us this much: it’s always time to praise the Lord. Sometimes praising God occurs with smiles on our faces, and other times it occurs with tears down our cheeks. When Jesus conquered the grave and overcame the world, it’s always time to praise His name. Ligon Duncan puts it this way: “Praising God in the midst of pain is one of the most profound testimonies that a believer can ever give to the Lord.”
3) The Cross Comes Before the Crown
Death always precedes resurrection, trouble always precedes victory, the valley comes before the mountaintop. The reason we can endure suffering without our hearts being troubled, is because trouble is not the end of the story. The new heavens and the new earth is the end of the story, with God’s people united to him for eternity by faith in the Son. When Jesus said he overcame the world, he meant it, so when he says we can have peace, he means that too. Take heart church, Jesus wins.
Question: What promises of God do you cling to and bring to mind during difficult times and moments?
Question: With this truth in mind, how can you help minister to others who are suffering?
Friday: A Prayer for Unity
After speaking on various topics throughout the meal, Jesus concludes by speaking to the Father in prayer on behalf of he and his disciples. Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him, which is to say that his goodness would be seen and celebrated, and then he lifts up his deepest desires for the disciples:
“Holy Father, keep them in your name…that they be one, even as we are one” (v11)
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (v15)
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (v18)
“I ask…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (v21)
Contrary to popular opinion, the original disciples did not have a ton in common outside of their relationship to Jesus Christ. They were not a group of friends before Jesus came, but rather Jesus was the glue that kept them together. This is why Jesus is asking the Father, that once he is glorified following his death and resurrection, that He would keep them unified.
…Unified as they embrace truth, plant and form gospel-centered churches, and resist the persecution of both the Jews and Romans. You can tell a lot about a community when things get difficult, as true unity is revealed in tribulation, not prosperity. Those who are “kept” by God are the ones who unified with fellow believers, especially in the difficult times. Pride, ego, bitterness, and resentment are the death knells to Christian community, and it leaves a terrible witness for the world to see. On the contrary, humility, selflessness, service, and carrying one another’s burdens are the fruitful soil of Christian community, and this is the witness that draws many to the name of Christ.
Jesus taught many things during this meal that we affectionately remember as the Last Supper. And now the hour has come (John 17:1) for him to give his life up for the sins of the world. This is why he came, this is where the victory will be won – at the cross and empty tomb – and this is where he will model once for all, the things he has taught this whole time.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”