With just a few hours left before Jesus’ suffering and death on a cross, the Gospel of John shows him still at work: washing his disciples’ feet, teaching them about his unity with the Father, and praying for them and for those who would know him by their testimony. If you and I were given only hours to live, I imagine that our mind-set and our activities would be quite different from this. Jesus, however, faithfully fulfills his priestly ministry—right up until the moment he becomes the sacrifice.
John 13–17 contains some of the most beloved passages of Scripture. There is an intimacy here to Jesus’ words and actions that has drawn in readers from the very beginning. Even in our voyeuristic age, where every word and movement of “celebrities” are celebrated, analyzed, critiqued, and copied, it seems almost improper to be granted the kind of access John gives us to Jesus and the disciples. In these chapters, he describes the scene when they are out of view of the crowds that had flocked to Jesus early in his ministry; when they are beyond the reach of the religious authorities who (with naked ambition) are plotting to arrest and try Jesus; when they are by themselves on what probably seemed (to some of them) like a normal Passover night, enjoying the meal that generations of faithful Jews before them had enjoyed. But this night, of course, is different. Before dawn breaks, Jesus will be betrayed, arrested, and condemned to die.
In this issue of Modern Reformation, we’ve asked three friends to tackle three important parts of Jesus’ final night with his disciples. First up is Darlene Böcek. Böcek, a writer in a Muslim-majority country, helps us understand what Jesus was doing when he washed his disciples’ feet in John 13. Along the way, we learn how to obey Jesus’ “new commandment” of love for one another and the world. Next, Episcopal priest and cohost of the Same Old Song podcast, Jacob Smith, looks at Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches in John 15. Too many of us, Smith argues, see these verses as one last gasp of law before Jesus dies on the cross—when, in fact, they are powerful and compelling word pictures of his gracious work on our behalf. Finally, our good friend Hywel Jones, a minister in the Presbyterian Church of Wales and retired professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary California, takes us into the heavenly temple itself, examining the intricacies and implications of Jesus’ “High Priestly” prayer.
Now that we’re more than halfway through our journey this year in the Gospel of John, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org to fill us in on what you’re learning and how you’re putting it into practice in your church or community!
Eric Landry executive editor