Apostle Barbara Childress

The Son affirms the Cross: the upper room

Roger Ellsworth

John 13-17

We have seen the Lord Jesus affirming the cross at various junctures in his life and ministry.  He never swerved from it or sought a detour around it.  That cross was necessary to purchase the redemption of those given him by the Father, and such was his heart of love for the Father and for those given him by the Father that he wholeheartedly endorsed and embraced that cross.

Chapter 13-17 of John's Gospel bring before us the consoling truth that the Son of God faithfully affirmed that cross until the very end.  There is a sacredness and an awesomeness that hovers over these chapters.  It is now the night before the crucifixion.  From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus had spoken about the cross in terms of an appointed 'hour' (John 2:4).  That 'hour' was never far from his thoughts (7:6; 12:23).

As we join Jesus and his disciples in the upper room, that appointed time is only hours away.  The dark storm clouds of the cross have gathered around Jesus and are about to break with fury upon his head.  But even the close proximity of the cross is not enough to make Jesus swerve from it.  That resolute, unrelenting approach continues here.  The darkness deepens, but the Saviour marches straight ahead.

John's powerful, measured opening says it all: 'Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come that he should depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end' (John 13:1).  'To the end' - thank God, Jesus didn't stop short of the cross!

How did Jesus affirm the cross during those hours with his disciples in the upper room!

A vivid picture of Jesus' redeeming work

First, he vividly portrayed the essential meaning of it (John 13:3-5,12).

The details of what Jesus did that night were clearly and indelibly etched on John's mind.  As he looked back on it, he was able to recall seven distinct stages.

  1. Jesus rose from supper (verse 4).
  2. He laid aside his garments (verse 4).
  3. He girded himself with a towel (verse 4).
  4. He poured water into a basin (verse 5).
  5. He washed the feet of the disciples (verse 5).
  6. He put his garments on again (verse 12).
  7. He sat down (verse 12).

Is this not a very precise picture of what Jesus did to provide redemption?  He rose from his throne, laid aside his glory, girded himself as a servant, poured out his life's blood, cleansed us from the defilement of sin by that pouring out, took up his glory again and sat down at the right hand of God.  The disciples did not understand this picture until later, but Jesus understood what he was doing, and by doing it affirmed once more his glad acceptance of the cross.

A challenge to the adversary

The third way in which Jesus affirmed the cross during these hours in the upper room was through prayer to the Father (17:1-26).

Some think this prayer either had to be offered on the way to the garden of Gethsemane or as part of Jesus' praying there.  They take Jesus' word, 'Arise, let us go from here' (14:31), to mean Jesus and his disciples immediately made their way out of the upper room.

The contents of the prayer suggest, however, that Jesus intended all his disciples to hear it, and that there must, therefore, have been a lapse of several minutes between Jesus' announcement of their departure and the departure itself.  Or it could very well be that Jesus paused along the way to the garden and offered this prayer.  Whatever the precise setting of this prayer, it is another clear affirmation from Jesus that he gladly accepted the work of the cross.

The prayer itself falls into three parts.  First, Jesus prayed for himself (verses 1-5), then for those disciples who were there with him (verses 6-19) and finally for all those who would become his disciples in the future (verses 20-26).

Embedded in this prayer are certain distinct evidences that the Son heartily endorsed the cross and wholly submitted to it.

First, there is Jesus' repeated reference to God as 'Father' (a total of six times in this prayer and, by the way, over a hundred times in John's Gospel).  This is enough in and of itself to convince us that Jesus approached the cross without sullenness or resentment.  He was going there because the Father whom he loved had placed that cross before him, and he saw that cross as the means by which he could glorify the Father (verses 1, 4-5).

Then there is his repeated use of the word 'given' to refer to his disciples, both present and future (verses 2,6,9,11,12,24).  Here on the night before going to the cross, Jesus looked back to that time 'before the world was' (verse 5), and that love-gift that the Father had given him.  The cross was the means by which the Lord Jesus Christ would redeem those given to him by the Father, and he was obviously ready to go forward.

A third evidence is his explicit statement:  'And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth' (verse 19).  To 'sanctify' means to set apart, and the Lord Jesus was here expressing his consecration to the task given him.

A final evidence of Jesus' commitment to the cross is the way he speaks of it as an accomplished reality: 'I have finished the work which you have given me to do' (verse 4).

As we come away from the account of that memorable night in the upper room, we surely must pause in awe and wonder to contemplate the undiminished faithfulness of Jesus Christ to dying on Calvary's cross to purchase our salvation.  He was mere hours away from all its untold anguish and agony, and yet he still embraced it and affirmed it.  And he did so out of love for his Father and for those whom the Father had given him.

Deep calls unto deep.  It is to the extent that we understand and appreciate his loving faithfulness and that we will be lovingly faithful to serve him.



JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.





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