“Jesus knew that the hour had come for Him to leave the world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” John 13:1
Of all the events of Easter week, I am most fascinated by how Jesus spent Thursday night. His last night on earth.
We make our bucket lists – things we want to do before we die. We share our family accounts of loved one’s last words with reverence. I’ve attempted to follow author Stephen Covey’s wise advice to “Begin with the end in mind.” And several years ago, my church studied a book called, “Live Like You Are Dying.” Why the great fascination with the end of earthly life?
I think it’s because all the surface and the peripheral are distilled out. Given the opportunity, we try to extract the essential meaning. We’re left with our pure filtered selves. Or at least what we wish we had been.
So how did Jesus – God in the flesh – spend His last free hours on earth? What mattered to Him?
The short answer is … us. Those who love Him. The reason He came in the first place.
The Book of John gives us the most detailed insight into this night in Chapters 13 through 17. I read these chapters over and over because they burst with God.
The last night. When heaven was heavy with a mix of dread and victory. When men’s actions betrayed their hearts.
And at the center, Jesus.
Carrying sorrow, anguish, love, and purpose inside Him with unmatched courage.
Troubled for the friend who would betray Him and take his own life.
Choosing to be with those who were closest to Him instead of teaching a large crowd.
Seeing right through His dearest friends’ promises to lay down their life for Him.
Washing their filthy feet, setting a loving example of service in His greatest hour of need.
Sharing the Passover meal with them, remembering a blood sacrifice that was offered to save lives.
Jesus. Inviting them to eat His brokenness and drink His suffering.
And all the while, every moment, He knew the hours were closing in and death was patiently waiting in the darkness.
In His last hours, Jesus poured Himself out all over again. His last hours were no different than the rest of His hours: loving, teaching, serving, praying.
Jesus plainly showed His deep love for His followers … the protective love of a father or brother. I cannot read these chapters without being overwhelmed with the love of God for me.
“Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
“And when everything is ready, I will come back and take you to Myself so that you will be where I am … I promise that I will never leave you helpless or abandon you as orphans – I will come back to you!”
“I call you my most intimate and cherished friends, for I reveal to you everything that I’ve heard from my Father. You didn’t choose me, but I’ve chosen and commissioned you to go out into the world to bear fruit.”
“Father, I have manifested who You really are and I have revealed You to the men and women that You gave to Me. They were Yours, and You gave them to Me, and they have fastened Your Word firmly to their hearts.”
“So with deep love, I pray for my disciples. I’m not asking on behalf of the unbelieving world, but for those who belong to You, those You have given Me.”
Jesus shared His last critical insights with His friends as He prepared to leave them – setting a radical standard that is inside-out and the opposite of our world’s. He laid down the challenge …
- To put others above ourselves.
- To tear up the hard ground of our own hearts to create a fertile field of honesty and humility.
- To be like Him in our choices to serve and sacrifice.
- To love the way He loves – loving for the good of the other person rather than for what we receive from it. Acting out of a loving character rather than because someone deserves it.
Jesus made it clear that He was God Himself in flesh.
“I am the Way, I am the Truth, and I am the Life. No one comes next to the Father except through union with Me. To know Me is to know my Father too. And from now on you will realize that you have seen Him and experienced Him.”
“Philip, I’ve been with you all this time and you still don’t know who I am? How could you ask Me to show you the Father, for anyone who has looked at Me has seen the Father. Don’t you believe that the Father is living in Me and that I am living in the Father? Even My words are not My own but come from My Father, for He lives in Me.”
Jesus continued to teach that He is all about the heart: first knowing, loving, believing, and then serving out of love. Our actions are not the first thing, not the main thing. Being “a good person” isn’t the point at all. Rather loving, committed actions are the evidence of a heart filled with love for God.
“Those who truly love Me are those who keep My commands. Whoever passionately loves Me will be passionately loved by the Father. And I will passionately love him in return and will reveal Myself to him.”
“Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”
And in one of my favorite parts of all scripture, Jesus says,
“Loving Me empowers you to obey My Word. And My Father will love you so deeply that We will come to you and make you our dwelling place. But those who don’t love Me will not obey My words.”
This idea of God coming to live with me – right here and now – is astounding to me. That God would so love me that He would choose to live with me … to share 24/7 spiritual ground. It is the thing that keeps me going many days. The thing that I repeat to myself in wonder.
Jesus said we can’t do anything good unless we remain in Him continuously.
“As you live in union with Me as your source, fruitfulness will stream from within you – but when you live separated from Me you are powerless.”
“I love each of you with the same love that the Father loves Me. You must continually let My love nourish your hearts.”
Jesus plainly told them that His way is the opposite of the world’s way. The disciples would need to remember this later in life when the world hated them.
“Just remember, when the unbelieving world hates you, they first hated Me. If you were to give your allegiance to the world, they would love and welcome you as one of their own. But because you won’t align yourself with the values of this world, they will hate you. They will treat you this way because you are Mine, and they don’t know the One who sent Me.”
“A time is coming when you will be put to death by misguided ones who will presume to be doing God a great service by putting you to death. And they will do these things because they don’t know anything about the Father or Me.”
Jesus assured them He was not going to leave them all alone – that the Spirit was coming to speak for them and work for their best interest, to teach them more.
“The Father will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.”
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.”
“The Spirit will guide you into all the truth.”
Jesus gave them the gift of peace and joy. Not by assuring them of a happily-ever-life and a problem-free existence, but because of what they would carry around inside them … the Spirit of God Himself.
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in Me.”
“I leave the gift of peace with you—My peace. Not the kind of fragile peace given by the world, but My perfect peace. Don’t yield to fear or be troubled in your hearts—instead, be courageous!”
“My purpose for telling you these things is so that the joy that I experience will fill your hearts with overflowing gladness!”
“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.”
Jesus warned them about the reality of Satan, while assuring them that what was about to happen to Him was because of God’s plan, not Satan’s. Satan (the “prince of the world”) would be allowed to appear to be victorious temporarily. God was willing to suffer and die in humiliation at the hands of mere men – arrogant men who believed they were right, whose minds were confused by selfishness and evil.
“The prince of the world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what My Father has commanded Me.”
Jesus hadn’t come to talk about love. He came to BE love. He came to show us who God is. He came to show what love is.
“So this is My command: love each other deeply, as much as I have loved you. For the greatest love of all is a love that sacrifices all.”
And finally, He prayed for His dear friends. And for us. Notice His concern in this setting was for those who knew and loved Him, His beloved friends, and not for the world in general. He told God His friends were still going to be in this dangerous world and He prayed for God to protect them. The world would hate them because they wouldn’t fall for its way. He prayed for their protection from the evil one. Prayed that God would sanctify them so they would live in accordance with God’s truth. He prayed for those who would believe in Him through the disciples’ message, so that they would be one with Jesus and God. He said, “Father, I want those you have given Me to be with Me where I am and to see My glory.”
“I am not asking that you remove them from the world, but I ask that you guard their hearts from evil, for they no longer belong to this world any more than I do.”
“And I ask not only for these disciples, but also for all those who will one day believe in Me through their message … They will see that You love each of them with the same passionate love that You have for Me.”
I am struck this Easter by the thought that Jesus prayed for me on His last night. And that maybe His prayer is a heart-check for me.
Do I want for me what Jesus wants for me?
Do I pray these things for myself and for those I love?
- That, in a world characterized by deception, I’ll be protected from falling into the spiritual trap of the evil one?
- That God will sanctify me by His truth and allow me to live with that truth guiding my actions?
- That I will be united with the Father and Son – that I will occupy the same spiritual space with them – remain rooted in God day by day?
- That I will see God’s passionate love for me?
- That I will love others as Jesus loved? Out of a loving character developed from a desire to imitate God? Rather than on emotion or on whether others deserve it?
- That I will be where He is and see His glory?
I have so far to go … but these are my prayers.
And having poured Himself out in words and prayer, Jesus went on to pour out every earthly thing He possessed. He poured it all out and then He kept pouring. His safety, His loved ones, His dignity. His every-day moments with friends. His compassion for the lost people He saw everywhere. His matchless wisdom. His power that could bring the dead to life. The respect He deserved. His body surrendered to punishment, to be broken. His blood that ran rich with redemption. He poured out every drop. Held nothing back.