Preaching Articles

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.

Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

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Rev. Phyllis Pottorff-Albrecht, United Brethren Communi

commented on Apr 1, 2015

I have noticed that, quite frequently, pastors who quote Matthew 10 - when Jesus warned His disciples that those who denied Jesus before men would be denied by Jesus before His father - fail to go on with the REST of the story. Jesus was speaking to the Twelve Disciples when He told them - Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven -- Matthew 10:32-33. However, the REST of the story is that, when Jesus was arrested, every single one of those who was present when Jesus discussed denial - ALL of the disciples abandoned Jesus when He was arrested. During the Last Supper, Peter specifically insisted to Jesus that Peter would NEVER deny Jesus. However, all four Gospels record the fact that, before dawn on Friday, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. The Rest of the story is that, in spite of the fact that ALL of His disciples deserted Him when He was arrested, and in spite of the fact that Peter denied even knowing Jesus before dawn on Friday, Jesus STILL met with all of His disciples following His resurrection. When the angel spoke to the women at the sepulchre, he specifically mentioned that Peter should know that Jesus had risen - But go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you. - Mark 16:7. When Jesus met with His disciples at the sea of Tiberias, John 21 tells us that Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to reaffirm his love, and entrusted Peter with the task of feeding the sheep. The REST of the story is that, even AFTER the twelve disciples abandoned Jesus when He was arrested - and Peter specifically denied even knowing Jesus - Jesus STILL returned to meet with His disciples and reassured all of them, including Peter, that His love and guidance for them was steadfast and enduring! Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:50, Luke 22:33-34, John 18:25-27, John 21. Maunday Thursday is the best possible time for pastors everywhere to remind their congregations of the REST of the story about denial - and forgiveness.

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