John 13 - The Upper Room Discourse

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*As one reads through the Gospel of John, the shadow of the cross grows longer and darker until now the reader stands at the foot of the cross on the evening before the Crucifixion.  In just a few short hours (somewhere between 15 –24 hours) our Lord would be suspended between the sky and earth as the sin-bearer of mankind:

"And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him" (John 19:17-18)

Before the sun set again he would breath His last tortured breath: 

"Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last." (Luke 23:44-46)

Chapters 13-17 record what we have come to know as the Upper Room Discourse.  In these five chapters we see intimate teaching about Service, Love, the Holy Spirit, Heaven, our Union with Christ, and Prayer.

The disciples had spent many a nights with their Lord Jesus Christ, however this night is going to be different from all other nights.  This is a night that is going to change their lives forever.  If you only had a few hours to live and you knew that you did, what would you tell your friends?  What message would you want to pass on to them?  This is one of those nights, a night where Jesus is revealing His heart and giving them a night of intense discipleship.       

Chapter 13 Forms A Break In The Gospel Of John:

a)                   Chapters 1-12 deal with the entire ministry of Jesus Christ, about 31/2 years, whereas, chapters 13, 14, 15, 16, & 17 cover 1 night.  We can even go further than that.

b)                  Because it says in (1:14) “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” that s when He was born, his birth, his incarnation, you could say this: the first 12 chapters of John cover everything from birth almost to death, 12 chapters 33 years, but 5 chapters cover 1 night.  We can go even further than that. 

c)                   John 1:1 says, “ In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.”  So you could say this: Chapters 1-12 deal with everything from eternity past all the way up until the upper room discourse, but 5 chapters deal with one night.        

A.                  Background

1.                  The Beginning of the Upper Room Discourse.

a)                  A Dramatic Call To Follow Christ’s Example As A Servant.

(1)                 To Be People Of The Towel.  Someone had once said, “The mark of a true servant of God is a towel and not a scepter.  He serves Christ by serving His people, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me (mat.25:40).”  He tells us, if we are to be His followers, where we must begin, what qualities must be in our lives, and what we must do. 
(2)                 This section is so important that John devotes almost one quarter of his gospel to this twenty-four hour period.  So we must realize the importance of this period of the life of Jesus Christ in the attention that John gives to it.  It is well for us to look carefully at these things that are recorded in this particular period of time, and surely we are now being exposed to the very heart of Jesus. The book of Revelation is the unveiling of Jesus Christ, but this unveils him to us as we get this tremendous insight into the heart of Jesus.  However, there is more in the background of this passage than even John tells us.

(3)                 Luke recounted the details of the Lord’s Supper topically, not chronologically.  Luke stated that his knowledge of the events recorded in his gospel came from the reports of those who were eyewitnesses (1:1, 2)—strongly implying that he himself was not an eyewitness. It is clear from his introduction that his aim was to give an ordered account of the events of Jesus’ life, but this does not mean he always followed a strict chronological order in all instances (e.g., see note on 3:20).

2.                  Strife Among the Disciples of Christ (Luke 22:14-27)

If we turn to Luke’s account of the last meal together, we find the tragic sentence: “A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as greatest” (Luke 22:24). 

a)                  Who Is The Greatest?

(1)                 The Dispute May Have Prompted Jesus To Wash Their Feet.  It may well be that on the night of this last meal together they had got themselves into such a state of competitive pride that not one of them would accept the duty of seeing that the water and the towels were there to wash the feet of the company as they came in; and Jesus fixed their error in the most vivid and dramatic way. 
(2)                 Their Only Concern Was For Themselves.  Even within sight of the Cross, our Lord was facing His ultimate humiliation and affliction, and yet their only concern was for themselves: 

"Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3-4)

They were arguing about matters of precedence and prestige, arguing over who would hold the leading positions in the government Jesus was about to set up (Luke 22:24; Mark 10:35-45, esp. Mark 10:41).  The discussion was heated.

(3)                 They Were Caught Up In The Ambition For Position And Power And Authority.  How the heart of Jesus must have been cut!  When the Lord most needed their comfort, encouragement, and support, they acted as if He were not with them.  He had so little time left for them to learn that the way to glory is through service and not through position and authority. How could He get the message across forcibly enough so that they would never forget the truth? It was this that led Jesus to wash the disciples’ feet and to demonstrate what true royalty is: serving others.
(4)                 Jesus Coped With Difficult People and So Should We.  After three years of teaching about love and servanthood, His disciples were arguing about which of them was the greatest.
(a)                 We might think that Jesus should have settled the issue by saying, “Hey, dummies—m the greatest!”  instead Jesus answered their question by what He did (John 13:1-5). 
(b)                Jesus didn’t give up on them.  More than that, He prayed for those who spit on Him and mocked Him at the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (23:34). He wanted His murderers to be forgiven so they could be with Him in Heaven forever.
(c)                 In the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before He was nailed to the cross, Jesus showed His willingness to accept the Father’s plan. He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). He was able to endure unimaginable suffering because He knew it was God’s will.
(d)                We should be very thankful for Christ’s “perfect patience” (1 Tim. 1:16), because our sin has offended Him time and time again. He could have sent us to Hell the first moment we sinned, but His Spirit patiently drew us to repentance. Because of His patience, we must commit ourselves to follow His perfect example.

3.                  The Meaning and Source of Strife?

a)                  The Meaning—“Strife” (philoneikia) means being eager and ready to argue and contend; being alert to strive for one’s position. It conveys the idea of giving no ground, of standing up no matter what, of being stubborn, of resisting regardless of circumstances.

b)                  The Source of Strife—What Causes Strife:

(1)                 Selfish Ambition (Luke 22:24; Phil.1:15-18 cf. Gal.1:6-9; 1Tim.6:3-5,10; 1Jn3:9-10)
(2)                 Carnal-Fleshly (1Cor.3:1-3; Gal.5:19-20)
(3)                 The Heart (James 3:14)

4.                  Avoiding Strife (Genesis 13:1-3)

a)                  Contention Between Abram’s and Lot’s Hired Workers (v.5-7). 

(1)                 God had commanded Abram to leave his family behind when he came to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:1), but Abram brought his nephew Lot along with him. Trouble like this was the result.  Abram should have obeyed God in the first place. 
(2)                 This conflict comes now, when Abram is doing the right thing.  Oftentimes, when we get right with God, we should expect attack from the devil. 
(3)                 Something had to be done about this strife between the estates of Abram and Lot, because they could not continue a conflict like this before the unbelieving inhabitants of Canaan. 
(a)                 When the Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land (v.7c), and saw the men of Abram and Lot fighting, they must have thought, “Oh, they’re just like us. They say they worship another God, a God they say is the true God, but I see they are really just like us.” 
(b)                “Many people will never listen to what any believer says because of what some believers are.” (Barnhouse)
(c)                 Their possessions were so great is the first mention of wealth in the Bible. What a difference between the riches of Abram and the riches of Lot! They both had great wealth, but Lot’s wealth possessed him. Abram had great possessions, but they did not possess him.

b)                  Abram’s Generous Offer To Lot (v.8-9). 

(1)                 Since Abram was the eldest, and since God had given all the land to Abram (not to Lot), it was pure generosity on the part of Abram that caused him to make this offer to Lot. 
(2)                 Abram was quite able to fight when the occasion demanded it.  He is not yielding to Lot out of weakness, but out of love and trust in God.  A few acres of grazing land didn’t seem worth fighting for to this man of eternal perspective. 
(a)                 God was glorified when Paul, out of love, surrendered his right to be supported by the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14-18).
(b)                God was glorified when Jesus, out of love, gave up his right to an existence which knew no human suffering or trial by experience (Philippians 2:5-11).
(c)                 God is glorified when we give up our rights (Phil.2:7; 2Cor.8:9).  Just as Jesus “emptied Himself” we to ought to “empty ourselves” of all desires of self.  
(d)                Abram fulfills the New Testament principle of love: Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)
(3)                 Abram can do it for one reason: he has learned God will provide for his needs, and he does not have to worry about being too generous. Abram knows whatever Lot chooses, God will make sure Abram comes out all right.
(a)                 In Egypt, Abram thought he had to take his fate into his own hands. He had to look out for “number one.” Now, he is wiser and is willing to let God look out for his interests.  Right or left, it didn’t matter to Abram, because God would be there.  
(b)                Because he trusted in God, Abram did not have to be obsessed with his own “rights” and neither do we. The only right we truly have is the right to go to hell. Everything else is the free gift of God and has nothing to do with our “rights.”

5.                  Serving Others (Luke 22:24-27; John 13)

a)                  The Dispute of Who Should Be Considered The Greatest (v.24).

(1)                 It’s almost frightening to think that after Jesus has poured three years of His life into these men; after they have seen the character of Jesus on display in almost every conceivable circumstance; that now, at the final hours before His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, they are arguing - about which of them is the greatest!

(2)                 This seems to be a common topic of conversation among the disciples: 

"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”" (Matthew 18:1)

"Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She *said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They *said to Him, “We are able.” He *said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant," (Matthew 20:20-26)

"They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest." (Mark 9:33-34, NASB95)

"An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest." (Luke 9:46)


b)                  The Kings Of The Gentiles Exercise Lordship Over Them (v.25-26). 

(1)                 The world exercises authority and power with a certain style, all of it ultimately self-exalting. But Jesus wasn’t like that, and neither should His followers be. In fact, the greatest should be like the younger (the one who didn’t have a chance in the system, the outcast), and the one who governs should be like one who serves
(2)                 The idea of being called benefactors is really the idea of getting credit. Many people only will “serve” if they can be assured of getting proper credit. 
(3)                 “In the ancient world it was accepted that age gave privileges; the youngest was, by definition, the lowliest.”  (Morris)

c)                  For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves (v.27)? 

(1)                 The world regards the one who is served as greater, but Jesus showed us that true greatness is in serving, more than in being served. 
(2)                 Cultures have always envied the person who has many people serving him. In ancient China, the rich grew long, long fingernails, so long they could do nothing for themselves - and this was seen as a sign of status. 
(3)                 But the people who are really great in our lives are the servants. If the President took a month off, no one would really miss it; but if all the trash collectors in the country took the month off, we would miss it! Jesus is trying to re-arrange our thinking, our priorities. 
(4)                 Living as a servant really is the best way to live. We are no longer concerned for our own honor and credit; we don’t walk around with hurt feelings and disappointed expectations, because all we want to do is to serve. We can always do what we want to do, because we can always serve somehow. 
(5)                 Don’t we think that Jesus knew the best way to live?  Jesus isn’t saying that if you serve in a lowly place, you will be given a great place. He is saying that in God’s eyes, the lowly place is the great place. 
(6)                 How much of a servant are you? We should measure ourselves against Jesus; but another good indicator is to see how we react when we are treated like a servant.


Jude 12–16 (continued)

(ii) These wicked men revel in their own cliques and have no feeling of responsibility for anyone except themselves. These two things go together for they both stress their essential selfishness.

(a) They revel in their own cliques without a qualm. This is exactly the situation which Paul condemns in First Corinthians. The Love Feast was supposed to be an act of fellowship; and the fellowship was demonstrated by the sharing of all things. Instead of sharing, the wicked men kept to their own clique and kept to themselves all they had. In First Corinthians Paul actually goes the length of saying that the Love Feast could become a drunken revel in which every man grabbed at all that he could get (1 Corinthians 11:21). No man can ever claim to know what church membership means, if in the church he is out for what he can get and remains within his own little group.

(b) We have translated the next phrase: “They have no feeling of responsibility for anyone except themselves.” The Greek literally means “shepherding themselves.” The duty of a leader of the Church is to be a shepherd of the flock of God (Acts 20:28). The false shepherd cared far more for himself than for the sheep which were supposed to be within his care. Ezekiel describes the false shepherds from whom their privileges were to be taken away: “As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep. … Behold I am against the shepherds; and I will require my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep” (Ezekiel 34:8–10). The man who feels no responsibility for the welfare of anyone except himself stands condemned.

So, then, Jude condemns the selfishness which destroys fellowship and the lack of the sense of responsibility for others.

(iii) The wicked men are like clouds blown past by the wind, which drop no rain and like trees in harvest time which have no fruit. These two phrases go together, for they describe people who make great claims but are essentially useless. There were times in Palestine when people would pray for rain. At such a time a cloud might pass across the sky, bringing with it the promise of rain. But there were times when the promise was only an illusion, the cloud was blown on and the rain never came. In any harvest time there were trees which looked as if they were heavy with fruit but which, when men came to gather from them, gave no fruit at all.

At the heart of this lies a great truth. Promise without performance is useless and in the New Testament nothing is so unsparingly condemned as uselessness. No amount of outward show or fine words will take the place of usefulness to others. As it has been put: “If a man is not good for something, he is good for nothing.”

before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world going back to the Father, having loved his own which we were in the world, he loved them unto the uttermost."   He loved them unto the completion, he loved them unto the end.  "Teleios" is the Greek word, and it means unto the completion; that is, unto the completion of their redemption.  He loved them to the point that he was willing then to complete their redemption, which cost him his own life.  "...loved them to the uttermost."  In a couple of chapters we're going to read where Jesus said to his disciples, "Greater love has no man than this than a man will lay down his life for his friends."  That's love to the uttermost, and that's how much he loved his own.  Now, it's glorious to realize that we are numbered among his own.  How much does he love you?  He loves you to the uttermost, He loves you to the completion of your redemption.  And so, this is just before Jesus is going to observe the Passover feast with his disciples, knowing that the hour was come.  Now, you remember from the beginning of the gospel of John, we've been dealing with the subject, "My hour is not yet hour is not yet come"?  When they were "by force going to make him king, he hid from them for his hour was not yet come"?  That hour was always a reference to the hour when he would make that supreme sacrifice for your redemption.  That was the hour in which he was to be glorified.  Glorified by his submission to the Father by going to the cross and dying for our sins.

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