When we are stressed, we can feel it: headache, do not sleep well, stomach problems, tight chest, thoughts racing, getting distracted, cannot remember everything you need to, easily irritated, frustrated, negative . . .
Everything is affected, even our relationship with God.
Jesus and the disciples were heading into what was going to be the most stressful experience they had yet known. And Jesus had some important teaching for them to help them handle it.
A Shift in Tone
As the air settled after Judas’ hasty departure, and Jesus had taken a few moments to recompose himself, he turned to address the remaining eleven disciples.
They still did not understand what Judas had rushed off to do. Since Judas was in charge of their money, they thought maybe Jesus had sent him to buy what was needed for the festival. Or maybe, to give something to the poor, the ministry Judas had so heatedly defended a few nights before, when Mary had anointed the rabbi.
Why in the middle of dinner?
Well, Jesus regularly did and said things they could not make sense of. If they had learned anything, it was just to go along with whatever Jesus initiated.
Like they had with the footwashing.
Jesus now explained everything that was about to happen was going to be to God’s glory. Jesus would glorified as the Son Man, he was going to take the sin of the world into death with him, then would be raised into new life, glorified as both God and man, something new.
You Cannot Go With Me
Jesus’ next words must have hurt deeply. For the first time since they had joined him, Jesus told them they could not go where he was going.
With the grief, Jesus gave them a source of comfort and something to do. While he was gone from them,
A new commandment I give to you, that you all would love one another, just as I loved you, so that you all would love one another. In this all would know that you are my disciples, when you all have love in one another.Jesus to the Eleven, John 13:34-35
The greatest comfort they would have was each other’s love.
Genuine love is something every person longs for.
Jesus defined genuine love by being vulnerable with them, showing them tender and humble care in washing their feet.
In reading about the first generation church, I think they understood what Jesus was saying. Although it would take Jesus’ death and resurrection, and his ascension and the giving of the Spirit, for them to even begin to grasp what Jesus meant.
All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple,
they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,
praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.The early church, Acts 2:44-46 (NRSV)
If we were to combine Jesus’ words with how the disciples and the early church interpreted them, what would our fellowship and assemblies look like today?
Think of the ways that you and I can love one another, praying for each other, being forgiving of each other’s failings and being encouraging towards each other. Think of the love we can show each other by listening to each other, helping each other, being gracious towards each other, being patient and forgiving, slow to take offense, eager to take care of one another.
These are the hallmarks of Jesus’ love.
Up until now the disciples had gone everywhere with Jesus, even facing death as they headed back towards Jerusalem with him. So Peter’s declaration came from a sincere heart,
“Sir! Why am I not able to follow you now? My life I will lay down on our behalf!”Peter to Jesus, John 13:37
His heart was there, but Peter did not realize his fragilities. Instead, surely with empathy, Jesus told Peter what would really happen.
This was the second time that night Peter found himself the uncomfortable center of attention, having said things his teacher gently but firmly corrected.
You will lay your life down on my behalf?
Amen, amen, I say to you, not until a rooster crows what you will deny me three times.Jesus to Peter in the hearing of all, John 13:38
This is how John remembered it, as did Peter, though Mark’s gospel adds Peter was very emphatic—as were all the other disciples—that he would never disown Jesus, even if it meant dying with Jesus. Whoever Luke interviewed about this night also remembered Jesus telling Peter Satan had come to sift him like wheat.
Who of us can see our blind spots? That is why we need each other, to help us see what we cannot learn on our own. And Satan, surely without intending to, was going to help Peter see his own weaknesses in just a few short hours.
But, Jesus reassured Peter, he was praying for him, that his faith would remain firm, and that after his ordeal he would encourage and strengthen the rest of Jesus’ followers.
Peter would later draw on this experience when he wrote,
And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for
“God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.”
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.
Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, steadfast in your faith,1 Peter 5:5-9 (NRSV)
The evening had gotten off to a troubling start, and now their table fellowship was becoming ever more somber.
I see them, chins on hands, worried expressions, dishes pushed to the side, appetites gone. Perhaps others had now joined them, the women who had been cooking and serving, others who lived at the house, devoted followers and disciples, sensing Jesus was now going to teach.
I imagine more wine was poured, and water, that dishes were being cleared, food sent to others, servants and children perhaps. The wicks must have been trimmed, the oil replenished, pillows shifted so they might lean against the wall.
Jesus’ face, surrounded by the glow of flickering lamp light, must have seemed both sad and transcendent, as Isaiah had once described him, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and therefore able to comfort the downcast. I see the Lord smiling gently, as he looked at his troubled disciples. What was he thinking about, as he prepared to teach them this one last time, before the cross?
[Rooster | Piqsels]