The Last Supper: More than history, more than a painting, it’s the living example of how to go through stressful times. There are at least five diamonds shining out from the darkness of John 13. I’m sure you can find more, but these five points are crying out to be preached:
He showed them the full extent of his love (v1). Jesus demonstrated that sometimes the grand gesture is important. What more perfect love is there than the love of God? Yet Jesus determined that night to show them the “full extent” of his love. He washed their feet. Earlier in the week Mary had broken open a jar of fabulously expense perfume and covered his feet with the sweet-smelling ointment. He had received extravagant love and now he showed the same. The service due him he gave to others. In the middle of incredible stress Jesus lavished his attention on others.
The devil had already prompted Judas to betray Jesus (v2). The backdrop of the evening was betrayal. Jesus washed Judas’ feet as well. The very one who objected to Mary’s outrageous act of love was apparently willing to receive the full extent of the Jesus’ love. Jesus knew the score and chose to serve even Judas. But should we be surprised? Before sunrise all the disciples except John would flee for safety. Peter would deny the Lord again and again (and again). Jesus served them all. In a setting of betrayal, Jesus determined to pour forth his love and care. Under incredible pressure he met betrayal with love—he cared even for his oppressor. Perhaps that’s why the early church sang, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power (v3). Does it seem strange that set in between love, betrayal and service that the gospel reminds us of Jesus’ power? In stressful situations, many people think of power as the ability to make things happen, to gain control of the situation. Yet Jesus allowed the events of the night to play out completely. On that difficult night, Jesus did not grasp for control, even though he had power to do so. What if true empowerment expresses itself in terms of the confidence to obey the Father?
Jesus took off his outer clothing (v4). Jesus was secure in his identity. He had been given the Father’s power. Accordingly, he took off his outer garment, stripped to the waist and strapped a towel about himself. Can we understand the shock of the moment? Jesus became a picture of transparency, humility and service. The Jewish culture of the day associated nakedness with shame—we have no equivalent emotion today. The most powerful man in the room was the one engaged in the work of a slave, bare to the eye, bowed before those who would worship him in just a few days. Of course, it was too much for Peter, who could not comprehend that a leader leads by serving. While the pressures of life may tempt us to cover up our real selves, Jesus demonstrated the way of transparency, humility and service.
He asked them, “Do you understand?” (vs 12-17). Still, Jesus did not abandon his role as a leader that night. After he put on his clothes again and returned to the table, he resumed his role as Rabbi: this moment was too important to be left to mystery. He instructed them in the meaning and importance of his actions. Having led by serving, he served them by leading as well. Jesus was about to give a “new commandment” that would only make sense in the context of a servant’s heart. He explained the example he had set and clearly expected his disciples to attain to the same standard. Jesus’ answer to the worries of the night was to display power clothed in service. He became the standard for “love one another as I have loved you.”
These five gems shine for us. As preachers, we can share that good news that the stress of everyday living can be met with the example of Jesus, who conquered not only the grave but earth-bound responses to betrayal and hard times. Who could be content with learning about Jesus without the deep desire to become like him? Can we imitate the Master? His love in the face of betrayal is a call for us to love as he loved; to lead by serving and to serve by leading.