When I have the time, I enjoy a good hike. One of my favorite hiking areas in Israel is Nahal Arugot near the Dead Sea. Recently, I had the opportunity to see the end of the old hiking path in the Judean Desert– an arduous trail that I used to love to climb and follow back along the dry river bed to a beautiful waterfall that carved a canyon out of the chalk wilderness. Looking longingly at the end of the trail (and recognizing I lacked the time to go there), I saw the familiar three stripes painted on a large brown boulder – the simple markers that pointed to the hiker’s path. That simple, but colorful blue and white marker is a very comforting symbol in the desert. You see, in the desert everything can look the same. It is a dead, brown chalk wilderness to the novice viewer. With more time and a closer inspection, the initiated find that the desert has a life of its own. The truth is that the path markers make the whole experience so much safer, and add a confidence a traveler would not have without their presence. A marked path is not a mystery – because one has been there before.
I mention this because we are studying together a slice of time from the last week of Jesus’ teaching before the Crucifixion – a time in the Upper Room that left significant path markers: teachings that show us both how to FIND and FOLLOW God. The words were from Jesus – and they clearly marked the path – not only to the disciples in the room – but to every follower of Jesus from the time the words were made known by the Gospel writers until today.
As Easter approaches, we need to remember that we cannot take the Savior’s real words for granted in our time. Jesus gets quoted out of context for all manner of purposes today. In fact, over time, many of the clear “path marking words” have been worn into more fuzzy views and politically correct terms – obscuring Jesus’ once clearly expounded teaching. Take, for instance, the movies of the Easter Season like “The Robe” that will again take their place from the archives of the silver screen to the streaming of the web. Movies of that genre offer a “slice of storyline evocative of the Bible” – but are not taken from the Bible – and don’t reflect the Biblical views of following Jesus all that well. They tell OF JESUS – but don’t really represent the crisp and clear echo of His voice. Sadly, the movies and their interpretations of the Savior have slowly displaced the Bible in popular society – especially for the many who do not take the time to examine the text of the Gospel itself. As a result, the longer I spend teaching Jesus’ life and words, the more I realize that many people have only a fuzzy grasp of Jesus and His ministry. They have a blurred focus of His purpose, a softened and muffled sound of His voice in their ears. But if you open the Word, these “last night” sayings of Jesus have a crystal clarity that can snap us into understanding of what Jesus wanted us to know of Him and His Father. A clear picture of Jesus can truly be found in His teaching about Himself and the Father.
Key Principle: Jesus came to offer and explain a walk with God – how God is “found” and how we can “follow” Him. He left a clearly marked trail to God.
Go back to the Upper Room with me. Huddle in the low lamp light and recline against the disciples as they listen to the words of the Master. The place smells of olive oil and lamb sop. As the Master speaks, the disciples lean in from their repose to hear every word. He seems “off” emotionally, and they don’t know why. Yet, if we listen closely, we will hear John 13 and 14 unfolding seven essential teachings of Jesus in the face of the closing hours of His training program for His men. In our previous lesson we looked at three of these lessons, After a brief review of these, we will unfold the rest of that last night address and together marvel at how CLEAR Jesus was about God’s plan and purpose in and through Him:
Consider from John 13 the first three lessons:
Lesson One: Jesus explained cleansing to His men as the basis of our relationship to God (13:4-20).
In the first lesson of the chapter, we were drawn to a basin and a pitcher of water. Jesus got up from supper, and girded Himself with a towel, and began to offer a living picture that flowed into a dialogue with a resistant disciple. Jesus explained the lesson would become clearer with time – and the men should not be frustrated with their lack of immediate understanding. He outlined the basis of our ongoing and growing relationship to God – showing that relationship rests entirely upon the cleansing work He would do for all of us. He called on the men to understand that our acceptance of His cleansing would be the beginning of our personal relationship to God. He wasn’t done with just a beginning, though. He went on to make clear that our continued growth IN God would depend on other cleansing that He was prepared to do as we needed it. The whole living parable of foot washing offered Jesus a way to point to necessary cleansing.
Here’s the point: You and I cannot find God on our terms. We cannot work through any series of religious or benevolent acts to earn favor with God. There is only one payment that God will accept – the work of Jesus as our substitute. He came as the Lamb to be slain for my sin, and anyone’s sin that will believe and trust what He has done. When we find God, the basis of our initial relationship with God is the continual cleansing work of Jesus. As we follow God, our growth and intimacy is dependent upon our willingness to confess our sin to Him and to one another. He cleanses – that is His primary work. He sweeps away the dirt that hinders us from falling into the Father’s arms – and makes it simply disappear. Not only that – but He alone has the ability to do it! There is no other way! That is why He clearly and undiplomatically said – “No man comes to the Father but by Me.” Cleansing from sin is the essential precursor to a relationship with God, and the necessary maintaining act to enable us to follow the marked path for life God provided.
Lesson Two: Jesus removed the cloak over the battle with His enemy (13:22-30).
During the meal, Jesus told the men that Satan was going to draw away one of their fellows, pulling him to betray Jesus and the disciples. Not all of the men were truly with Him, He warned. Darkness would have its moment soon. Betrayal was at hand, and it would come from one that shared their bowl, their boat and their business together. No one else detected the presence of the WICKED ONE as he slithered into the heart of Judas Iscariot, but Jesus felt his evil presence. Jesus knew the deceiver was at work, and the powers of darkness were weaving a web to ensnare Him.
Herein is the lesson. The men were eating and drinking, but they were NOT able to peer beyond the veil into the spiritual world. They could understand comfort and wine, food and fellowship – but not the true spiritual battle that was firing darts into the heart of one of their closest companions. They saw the physical, but ignored the spiritual. They grasped the human, but snubbed the eternal. Jesus pulled the cloak from the enemy and announced his ugly presence. The Master knew that men would need cleansing, but they would also need to recognize the incredible truth: LIFE IS NOT AS IT APPEARS. We are not simply a string of DNA passing through the strands of a randomly interactive universe. We are, as we have ever been, created and temporal physical beings with an eternal soul. Our body is our TENT, not our PERMANENT HOME.
Jesus knew that for His people to follow God, they would need to be shown the markers of the spiritual struggle. They would fight constantly, but not against mere flesh and blood. They would stand against the powers of darkness – and they would need to learn to see what they were really fighting.
Lesson Three: Jesus explained His course – it began with a departure (13:31-38).
Jesus knew His men would have a fight on their hands, but He also knew it was about to get harder for them. They could not count on His physical and embodied presence to guide them, or keep them together. In fact, they needed to recognize that He needed to depart the scene for the rest of the drama of human history to play out as it was designed by the Father. He warned them of His departure to assure them that it was not a surprise to Him. He also pressed two essential truths. First, He told them the marker that defined them before men was to become their LOVE for one another. His desire was NOT for them to scatter – but to draw more close to one another in His absence. Second, they needed to be careful about one other terrible enemy, potentially as harmful as their spiritual FOE- their own EGO. Jesus wanted them to know that NO WILL POWER was sufficient to carry them through the days and hours ahead. They would NEED each other. They would need to care for one another in their wounds. They would need to be HUMBLE and not BOASTFUL, other person centered and not self-centered.
Let’s progress past the first three lessons, for there are yet FOUR MORE that we have invested no time in yet. Not surprisingly, they build on the last chapter – because it was the same speech, the same room, the same night – just a bit later…
Lesson Four: Jesus proclaimed His coming – leaving had its purpose (14:1-6).
John 14:1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, [there] you may be also. 4 “And you know the way where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
Every disciple in the “Upper Room” understood what Jesus was talking about when He said those famous words – but the meaning is less obvious to many of us today – especially if you are unfamiliar with ancient wedding customs of the Jewish people. If you opened the Encyclopedia Judaica and looked under “ancient wedding customs” – you would see a scenario that was just like what Jesus said in John 14.
He referred to the common custom of marriage as it was practiced at that time. If a man found a woman that he desired to marry, the proper form of the day required that he approach, not the woman, but her father. When the father found his request tolerable, they would begin to bargain for the “shidduchim contract” value of the woman – a compensation for the family’s loss of their daughter and her contribution to the family income. The family was about to lose one of their valuable field hands and helpers, and the family would need to be compensated. A ceremony followed to “cement” the engagement – including a presentation of bread and wine. Following that engagement, the man left to add to his father’s house. In a period within the specifications of the shiducchim contract, the man returns to take his bride. He has been away, but he has been preparing a home for his bride – the point of Jesus’ saying. In fact, the bread and cup engagement symbol is employed in the same setting by Jesus.
Here is the point: Jesus didn’t leave the men because He was tired of teaching them. He wasn’t abandoning them – He was working on their behalf in another place – preparing for their coming. He promised to rejoin them and bring them home to a wedding feast. Paul clearly caught the picture, because his instruction for the bread and cup recalls:
1 Corinthians 11:23 “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way [He took] the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink [it], in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
The return of Jesus, as well as His reason for departure was explained in advance of His arrest, just as the promise of His return was given PRIOR to the event of it. In the same way that the early promises were literally fulfilled – a literal death, burial, resurrection and ascension – so the return will be physical and literal. It will not be fulfilled in some indiscernible “spiritual return” to the world. Jesus is coming back. He promised it, and He will deliver on His promises – just as He did in the past.
Lesson Five: Jesus described His connection between Him and the Father in Heaven (14:7-15).
How can we make the bold claim that Jesus will return? How can we elevate this builder from ancient Nazareth to the level of one that can surpass time and space, and even conquer death? Jesus shared that His power came from His position – and that was ONE WITH THE FATHER. He said:
John 14:7 “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” 8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and [yet] you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how [can] you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater [works] than these he will do; because I go to the Father. 13 “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do [it]. 15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
Take apart what Jesus said:
• To know Him was to know the Father (14:7).
• To see Him was to see the Father (14:8-10a).
• To hear and observe Me is to see the Father’s hand and power at work (14:10b-11).
• To believe in Jesus and His place is to be set to access great power (14:12).
• To speak to the Father in Jesus’ name offers us Divine access (14:13-14).
• To follow Jesus is to place Him above our will, and follow His commands (14:15).
No religious Jew could make a claim to have such a relationship. No rabbi ever did. It was unthinkable to place their binding rules at the level of the Father in Heaven. Jesus unflinchingly claimed a relationship with God that was a direct reflection of the Father’s will, the Father’s power, the Father’s access. The point is simple: Because Jesus was an “expressed image of God’s person” as the writer to Hebrews wrote – He can and will fulfill His word on our behalf. A human Jesus, a humble teacher, an honorable actor on humanity’s stage – leaves man LOST and UNFORGIVEN. Only one who is fully a MAN but yet God in HUMAN SKIN could fulfill the work of the Savior. He needed to be BOTH!
Romans 5:6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. …8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath [of God] through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
The disciples were not UNSURE of His two natures. Go back and visit them after the Resurrection, and watch as Thomas kneels. The scene is from John 20:
John 20:26 “After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace [be] with you.” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed [are] they who did not see, and [yet] believed.” 30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
Just in case some cult comes knocking on your door and claims that what Thomas was doing was exclaiming “My God!” out of shock and not exaltation, take them to Jude 1:25 and remind them that early believers weren’t sheepish on the point:
Jude 1:25 (KJV): “To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
Let me press the point to be absolutely clear. Jesus wasn’t just a good guy that loved God. He was the very One who walked long before in the Garden of Eden. He was the very One who spoke the world into being (according to Colossians 1:16 and 17). He isn’t just some martyr and example – He is the expressed image of God Himself. To see Him is to see God. To hear Him is to hear God. To know Him is to know God. To reject Him is to reject God. He couldn’t have been clearer:
Mathew 28:16 “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped [Him]; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.“
- If Jesus isn’t the Living Image of the Father – He is a liar.
- If Jesus isn’t the embodiment of God Himself – He is unable to save us, and He won’t return for us.
Resurrection Day was a hoax, and our faith is a crime against an unsuspecting humanity. We are promising a bogus Heaven based on a fake Savior. You are all still in your sins, and Christianity should be outlawed and banned. Every martyr that ever died for the message was delusional and misguided.
But wait… what if the New Testament account is TRUE.
What if Jesus possesses the power to speak all things into being? What if He can make the promise of a return and then COME BACK? Are you prepared for that? Will you celebrate at the prospect or shrink back in guilt?
Lesson Six: Jesus explained the Comforter to come (14:16-25).
Jesus also claimed that His departure would not leave the disciples alone. He said:
14:16 “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 [that is] the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, [but] you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. … 25 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 “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 said to you.
No believer can afford to ignore the teaching of Jesus concerning the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of truth – and He is unavailable to those who will not follow Jesus (14:16-17). He is our constant companion until our Prince returns. Snow white was RIGHT all the way back in 1937: “Some day my Prince will come!” Until He does, I have a helper.
• He convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).
• He guides us into all truth (John 16:13).
• He glorifies and testifies of Christ (John 15:26; 16:14).
• He leads us (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18; Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:1).
• He sanctifies us (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; Rom. 5:16).
• He empowers us (Luke 4:14; 24:49; Rom. 15:19; Acts 1:8).
• He fills us (Eph. 5:18; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17).
• He teaches us to pray (Rom. 8:26-27; Jude 1:20).
• He bears witness in us that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).
• He produces in us the fruit or evidence of His work and presence (Gal. 5:22-23).
• He distributes spiritual gifts and manifestations of His presence to the body (1 Cor. 12:4, 8-10; Heb. 2:4).
• He washes and renews us (Titus 3:5).
• He seals us unto the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).
• He is our guarantee and deposit of the future resurrection (2 Cor. 1:22; 2 Cor. 5:5).
• He reveals the deep things of God to us (1 Cor. 2:10).
• He dwells in us (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Tim. 1:14; John 14:17).
• He speaks to, in, and through us (1 Cor. 12:3; 1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 2:11; Heb 3:7; Matt. 10:20; Acts 2:4; 8:29; 10:19; 11:12, 28; 13:2; 16:6,7; 21:4,11).
• He brings us liberty (2 Cor. 3:17).
• He transforms us into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).
• He enables us to wait on God (Gal. 5:5).
• He strengthens our spirits (Eph. 3:16).
• He enables us to obey the truth (1 Pet. 1:22).
And someday, one day soon… He will shout out the great words that all Creation awaits:
• He exclaims: “Come, Lord Jesus” along with the bride (Rev. 22:17).
Lesson Seven: Jesus outlined the call to follow Him (14:27-31).
Don’t skip the final lesson before Jesus said: “Let’s get up and walk out of here”. The rest of the sayings are apparently from the walk to Gethsemane, as He journeyed out into the night. Linger in the room. Listen to the CALL to follow Jesus. It was the last place He shared this before the Cross that loomed only hours ahead:
14:27 “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. 28 “You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 “Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe. 30 “I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me; 31 but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here.
Jesus gave a deliberate call:
• The call included walking in peace (14:27). His followers aren’t supposed to live a life that is shaken by the news and stirred by politics. They are to walk in certainty that His control cannot be outvoted or overpowered.
• The call included rejoicing in Jesus’ work (14:28). His followers are supposed to celebrate the joys of His work, His return to the Father, His preparation of our place in Heaven!
• The call included recognizing the greatness of the Father (14:28b). Real believers ADORE the Father in Heaven! They hunger to PLEASE HIM with their lives, and ache at the lostness of men and women. He is worthy of praise, and they LOVE to bring it to Him!
• The call included trust in His Word (14:29). True followers of Jesus believe His Word about the past reality of sin, the present of opportunity for intimacy with God, and the future return of the Prince of Truth!
• The call included moving out from the protection of the huddle (14:31). Our job IS NOT to become so comfortable that we forget to GET OUT! Walking through LIFE with Jesus is what should bring us joy. Ours is not to build a higher wall and more secluded monastery – the ministry is OUT THERE!
Jesus came to offer and explain a walk with God – how He is found and how we can follow Him. He left a marked trail to God.
In the Upper Room, Jesus offered seven clear statements about His work and its impact on our lives:
• Jesus came to build a bridge back to God by offering Himself for cleansing, then becoming our constant Intercessor.
• Jesus came to make sure His followers look PAST the physical battles and struggles into the SPIRITUAL ones that were fought in Heavenly places.
• Jesus came to offer Himself and then to implant His message in the church – His body is to be found in US – a thriving manifestation of His way of living.
• Jesus left a promise to COME AGAIN for His people – a real and physical sweeping of His people away as a bride to the wedding feast.
• Jesus came to explain and expose the Father in all His tenderness and power.
• Jesus left behind not only His people and His promises – but His indwelling companion of the Holy Spirit.
• Jesus left us with a CALL to follow Him in our everyday life.