“Where I am going, you cannot come.” (John 13:33)
The night before Jesus was arrested he sat down to a meal with His disciples. It wasn’t like other meals, it was a festival meal. Jews call it “Seder,” a traditional meal that is of the most important Jewish celebration of the year, the festival of Passover. Besides just eating, the main point of the meal is to recount the story of God saving the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. Our congregation will replay this meal in mini form on Friday night as we take communion together.
A few days before Jesus ate this meal with his disciples he had entered the city of Jerusalem to a crowd of Jews hailing him as the one who would free them from Roman slavery. “Hosanna” they shouted, which means “save us.”
Here was the moment, it had finally come, the meal marking the salvation of the Jewish people: surely this would be the time. Jesus gathered those closest to him, the would-be generals of his revolution, those prepared to follow him to death. The anticipation, stress, fear and excitement for them must have been overwhelming. There they sat deep in the center of the capital of Roman occupied Israel, on the cusp of what they must be thinking is a new and somehow final religious and national revolution.
All that build up, and Jesus launches into a few choice phrases like “Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 13:33) and “you will be scattered” (John 16:32).
Not exactly confidence inspiring. If I were a disciple, at this point I think I would be a little worried. Luckily that’s not all Jesus says.
The John account really draws this moment out in detail. In fact from John 13 all the way to 18 is presumably one account of Jesus prepping his disciples for the final push before he is handed over. Of course our English Bibles don’t really make that clear, that single exchange is broken up into 5 chapters with 13 sub titles (in my NIV). But remember, when this was written, those chapter markings didn’t exist, and those 13 sub titles were added by English translators later to help us quickly identify familiar texts and stories. I dare you to go and read John 13 which begins with Jesus washing his disciple’s feet in a pre-Passover ritual and keep reading all the way to 18 when Jesus is arrested. You’ll see it’s one section, one story, Jesus’ final words to his fellow revolutionaries.
Typically Jesus wraps his stories up in parables and word pictures, and he does a little of that in this section of John, but for the most part he does something different: he tries to give some good old-fashion advice. Some very practical “how-to” and a lot of encouragement. For instance, he says, when I am gone, how are you guys going to carry on this revolution, this work that we have begun, how are people going to know you represent me?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
How about some straight encouragement:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
It’s Thursday of Holy Week. Jesus would have been sitting around a table with his disciples having this discussion tonight. (Passover would start at sundown, kicking off with the Seder meal.) I want to invite you to read the John account as if you were in the room that night. Put yourself in the shoes of the disciples, think about the weight of that moment. The disciples thought they were about to embark on a revolution that would free them and the rest of the Jews from Roman oppression. Jesus knew they were about to embark on a revolution that would free everyone from every oppression. This is one of the most important moments of human history. On the eve of the conquering of the sin, hell, death and the devil the conqueror issues final instructions, encouragement for his troops, advice for his friends, and he ends the whole thing by praying first for his disciples, and then for all believers everywhere (that means you and I).
Read it. Read as Jesus prays for you (yes – you) before you were ever born (John 18:20-26). Put yourself in those shoes. It shouldn’t be hard to do, because the truth is we really already are in those shoes. You and are smack dab in the midst of that very revolution. We are freed from all oppression, even death, by the person and work of the revolutionary Jesus Christ, but we live in a world that is still in bondage. His words that night are as true now as they were then, and we would be wise to listen.
It is Thursday, tomorrow Jesus will go to the cross for you, and before he does he has a few simple things he wants to say to you: Love one another, stay true to my teaching, the Holy Spirit will be with you, it won’t be easy but the battle is won, I am the way, your grief will turn to joy, all this that all the world will know God.
May that encouragement and advice ring in our ears as we gather around the table Friday night; one last meal before the revolution is on us anew.
Noah can be reached via email here.