Reflections From the Upper Room

“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1 NIV)

On the night before his crucifixion Jesus gathered with his disciples in a room that has become simply known as “The Upper Room”.

Knowing that the events of the next 24 hours would severely challenge their faith and that he had limited time to prepare them to carry on in his absence, Christ poured out his heart to them in a way that is unmatched in all of Scripture.

In fact, some have referred to the Upper Room Discourse detailed in John 13-17 as the “Holy of Holies of Scripture”. As we approach Easter, my next few posts will be anchored in those chapters.  

There are times in our lives when we all need to be reminded of the truths our Lord shares with his disciples that fateful night – times when our faith is being tested; times when God’s ways do not line up with our expectations; times when we need to rest in the perfect love, infinite wisdom, and sovereign control of our Heavenly Father.

In my mind, the Upper Room Discourse contains some of the deepest theology found in God’s Word – theology that is pivotal to understanding and practicing the Christian faith in a world that is often hostile to our message:

  • In Chapter 13, Jesus gives us a new command: “Love one another”, demonstrating his own love toward the disciples in an act normally performed by the lowest slaves – the washing of their filthy feet.
  • In Chapter 14, he speaks of the place he has prepared for us – words that have comforted countless people through the years, knowing that loved ones who have died in Christ are with Him, and that as fellow believers, we will join them there when the Lord calls us home.
  • In Chapter 15, Jesus describes himself as “the true vine”, with the Father as “the gardener”, while we are “the branches”, employing a memorable metaphor to illustrate perhaps the most important key to living the Christian life – staying connected to the vine.
  • Chapter 16 defines the role of the Holy Spirit in maintaining that connection, reminding us of Christ’s words, convicting us when we fail him, and guiding us into even deeper truths than the disciples were able to bear at that time.
  • Chapter 17 contains the longest prayer of our Lord recorded in the Gospels as he prays for himself, for his disciples, and lastly, for all of us who would come to faith through their message. 

Just as these words of Christ were carefully crafted to equip the disciples to carry on in his absence, they equip us to live the life we are called to live as his followers, drawing from the supernatural strength of the Holy Spirit to be bold in our witness, loving to one another, and faithful in following his commands. 

A few blog posts will cover only a small portion of the 155 verses in these chapters, just scratching the surface of the vast treasure that is stored there. I encourage you to find a quiet place and explore further into the depths of the Upper Room Discourse with me. Feel free to add your insights and comments.

There may be no better way to prepare our hearts to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord.

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:17-18 NIV)

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Bible Reading Plans

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. … I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. … Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  (Psalm 119:11,15,105 NIV)

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the entire Bible. Fittingly, it is focused on the blessings of knowing and applying the commands and principles of God’s Word. 

Perhaps some of you resolved to read your Bible cover-to cover in 2017. Countless reading plans are available to keep you on pace toward accomplishing that goal.

Through the years, my personal Bible reading plan has grown increasingly ambitious until it now looks like this:

  • One Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) each month
  • Remainder of New Testament: Every six months
  • Psalms and Proverbs: Every six months
  • Remainder of Old Testament: Once each year

Bible reading plans designed to cover the entirety of God’s Word in a year are not without benefits, especially if you’ve never read the Bible cover-to-cover. Following them will certainly help ingrain the discipline of reading God’s Word into your daily routine.

But annual Bible reading plans are not without their pitfalls either. They can lead to reading hurriedly and mindlessly in order to cover the required material for that day without sufficiently digesting, meditating upon, and applying its content. While you might accomplish your reading goal, God’s greater goal of molding you into the image of his Son often suffers.

Recently, I downloaded a devotional Bible to my iPad. Described as a “cover-to-cover journey through the Bible”, it is organized into chapter readings covering six days a week for a full year, with each reading followed by a devotion. One of those daily readings covers chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel, which detail the events and the compelling teachings of our Lord as he gathered with the disciples in Upper Room on the night before his crucifixion.

Given their importance, I spent two months on those five chapters when I taught the Gospel of John several years ago. While I can certainly read John’s account of the Upper Room Discourse in one sitting, I can’t imagine adequately grasping its content and application for my life in one morning Bible study. A 500-word devotion cannot scratch the surface of the important lessons Christ conveys to his disciples that night.

The written Word is God’s primary means of communication with us. It is too important to rush through in order to accomplish a New Year’s resolution while ignoring its application for our lives. I encourage you to read your Bible daily, but do so prayerfully, patiently, attentively, and systematically. 

Like the psalmist, ask the Lord to open your eyes that you might see and comprehend the wonderful things contained within the Scriptures. (Psalm 119:18) Read with the expectation that God will answer that prayer and respond appropriately when he does. Highlight or underline those passages that particularly pierce your heart. Make notes in the margins or in a separate journal. A marked-up Bible, like the one shown above, is one that has been digested rather than merely read.

As for that Upper Room Discourse in John 13-17, I can’t think of a better place to spend some quality time over the next couple of weeks as we prepare our hearts for Easter, reflecting on the final teachings of our Lord before he went to the cross. I hope you will join me on that journey.

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. … Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.” (Psalm 119:130,133 NIV)

(For quick access to my five most recent posts or archives of older posts, <Click Here>.To receive future posts by email notification, subscribe from that page by clicking “Follow” and submitting your email address.)