“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. The he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
John’s Good News Story (Chapter 13:3-5) ESV
The Upper Room Experience
There is so much I could write about today. All four of the Good News Stories (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) talk about the final week of Jesus. In the days leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus becomes very intentional with his words and actions. There is something we must experience as we watch Him enter into what is know as the week of His Passion. We need to be able to see the expressions on His face, hear the steadfastness in His voice, and watch the interaction with his disciples.
And so, Jesus invites us in. The most detailed account of this experience is written by John, also known as the “beloved” disciple. Not much is know about the reasoning behind John’s description of himself as the “beloved”. We do know that John was one of three of Jesus best friends on earth, alongside Peter and James. We also know that it was John who attended to Jesus’ mother Mary at the crucifixion when all the other disciples fled in fear.
Eugene Peterson notes that it is John who devotes half of his Good News Story to writing about the final week of Jesus. John crams three years of ministry into the first ten chapters of his gospel. And then he zooms in on the final week of Jesus in chapters 11-21. He then spends five chapters (John 13-17) on one very important moment in the life of His ministry and His disciples: The Upper Room. The final five chapters John zooms back out a little bit to tell the story beyond the Upper Room experience, the story we will be exploring the rest of this week.
But today I want to make a few observations from these five chapters about what the Upper Room Experience was and why Jesus words during this time were the most significant words spoken to his apprentices. Perhaps as we explore these together, you will find yourself leaning in to the edge of the dinner table, listening to His words, heeding His voice, submitting to the ways of His Kingdom.
5 observations in the Upper Room
- Chapter 13: Jesus Shows Us How God Leads. The time of the meal is Passover. Jesus is sharing a meal with his disciples (i.e. his apprentices). This is not the first time they have sat down to a meal together. But they know that there is something significant about this meal. They have given up everything to follow Jesus in hopes that they will be a part of a revolution where they will see their Jewish homeland freed from tyranny and oppression. But Jesus paints with different brushstrokes than any revolutionary they’ve ever heard of. And after the meal, he stands up, takes off his outer garments, and stoops down to serve them as a slave would…washing their feet. Jesus teaches them that leadership begins, not with recognition and revolution, but with simple acts of humility and service. This is how God leads, by serving.
- Chapter 14: Jesus Speaks Peace over them. Jesus words are life itself. He teaches them that the life that exists, the truth that is needed, and the path forward all lie within Him and His ways. He offers them hope. He tells them that this is no easy path, but that He will be with them in the form of the Holy Spirit. He talks about belief and faith and action and mission. He reminds them of the reality of the battle they face and the trouble that lies in front of them. And he speaks peace to them.
- Chapter 15: Jesus Gives Them a Tangible Way to Remember. It is likely that Jesus was either holding a chalice of wine at the table or walking along the edge of the garden with his disciples when he began to illustrate for them the metaphor of Him being the vine and they the branches. The way out of the upper room on the path to the Garden of Gethsemane was filled with places for object lessons. Perhaps Jesus was actually holding a grapevine in his hand as he spoke of His father, the Vinedresser. Whatever it was, Jesus offers to them a tangible way to remember Him. It is likely that right before this walk to Gethsemane, Jesus told them about the wine and the bread. He reminded them that He must die for them. His body the bread and his blood the wine. He also calls them friends. Three times he uses the word “friends” to get his point across. This is directly in the middle of this long conversation Jesus is having with his disciples. There is something here that we must stop and reflect on.
- Chapter 16: Jesus Offers Security in the form of a Promise. Again, Jesus goes on a long discourse talking about the things they must suffer as they follow Him. He speaks about the Holy Spirit again and reminds them of how He will lead them into the truth. The promise is His presence, wherever they may go. These are words of security and confidence. Likely the disciples heard this and were fearful. But Jesus doesn’t quit there.
- Chapter 17: Jesus Prays His Longest Recorded Prayer in Scripture. We could easily camp out here in this passage of Scripture, but I want to just give you a taste of what Jesus really was trying to communicate here. In verse 3 of this chapter, Jesus makes a mind-blowing statement. He says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Do you see it? Eternal life isn’t only a place we go to when this life here on earth is over. It is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That they may know You. Do you know Him? Do you know Jesus? This is more than religious language about God. This a conversational, intimate, and ongoing relationship with Him. You cannot know someone you only spend a few moments a year with. You must meet with them everyday, acknowledge their presence in your life, and live in relationship with them.
An Invitation to Relationship
The Upper Room Experience is more than just a moment in history. It is an invitation into a relationship with God. It is a wooing of your soul into something more than what the world around you offers. Knowing God and knowing Jesus are about joining Him in the work He is doing here and now. His Kingdom is breaking through. And we must not be unaware of it.
The Passion Week of Jesus is about God revealing Himself to us in the person of Jesus. Not only so we know who He is, but also so we can learn how to live. Jesus is the model. He is what we are chasing after.
Come and experience this relationship. It’s not too late.