Posted by Kevin McCuistion
Nestled in the Gospel of John is a majestic sermon and prayer known to some as the “Upper Room Discourse.” As context, Jesus has gathered the disciples into an upper room similar to the one we visited on Mount Zion during our recent trip to Israel, and he is preparing them for radical changes in the days and years ahead. Most of them are still thinking that he is on a path to become a “physical” Messiah, a king who will take over leadership of Israel from the hated Romans and who will bring back the “glory days” when his forefathers David and Solomon reigned over all of Israel and Judah. In fact, we see in a parallel passage in Luke 22:24 that they “begin to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them.” Jesus knows that His Father has a different path for Him and that it will lead to a startlingly different fulfillment of all the Old Testament passages about the coming Messiah.
Beginning in John 13 and continuing through John 16, Jesus rocks their world views and future expectations about Himself and what it means to be one of His followers. In a sermon packed full of eternal wisdom, I see 3 “life-changers” that Jesus highlights to help His disciples (and us) to grow in relationship with Him:
“Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant (Luke 22:26):” Jesus illustrates this principle by washing the disciples’ feet and he responds to Peter’s objections by telling him, “unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” After he washes their feet, he teaches them about the importance of service as a new lifestyle by telling them, “And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.” If you’re like me, you like the idea of being a servant but it gets much harder when you actually start serving people and you find out that it’s messy and sometimes thankless. Jesus knew this would be brutally hard for us so He modeled it for us by living among messy humans and ultimately dying for them.
“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me (John 14:6):” With these words, Jesus completely redefines their concept of “religion” and He provocatively invites them into an exclusive relationship with Him which will radically change their lives and which will empower them to “do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. (John 14:12)” Many of us who have followed Jesus for a long time know how incredible it is when we are walking in the freedom of a relationship with Jesus rather than trying to prove to God that we deserve the salvation that He has so graciously given to us just like we’re reminded in Ephesians 2:8-9 that, “…salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (aka “Counselor” or “Helper”), who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth (John 14:16-17):” Jesus now begins an extensive discussion of the importance of the Holy Spirit and explains that the world won’t recognize Him but that they will “know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.” He introduces an amazing metaphor of Himself as the Vine and his followers as the branches who will “abide” with him and produce abundant fruit by obeying his commandments and relying on the Holy Spirit (the “Spirit of truth”) to “guide you into all truth. (John 16:12-15)”
There is so much rich insight in this sermon and these “life-changers” may feel like too much to digest in one sitting. How can we apply this teaching simply in a way that truly helps us to be transformed by the Holy Spirit so that we can bear the fruit that Jesus has promised us?
For me, this leads to a very simple devotional tool that I learned many years ago while living in London called “Palms Down, Palms Up.” On so many mornings, before even opening the Scriptures, I will begin my conversation with the Lord by placing my palms down in front of me and surrendering all of the burdens on my heart and the sins that the Lord brings to mind from my prior day’s journey with Him. I will ask Him to reveal to me anything that I’m holding onto that would keep me from abiding with Him today. Depending on the day, I can spend many minutes wrestling with the Lord about my sins and burdens and asking Him to help me truly let go of them. After I’ve finished emptying myself with my palms down, I turn my palms up and I invite His Spirit to fill me with His power and wisdom and peace. I ask Him to help me to abide with Him throughout the day and to love even the hardest people that He will bring into my life today.
During these difficult and uncertain times, I’m spending more and more time talking to Jesus with my palms down and my palms up. I’m so thankful that He taught us how to seek Him and how to abide with Him through this transformational Upper Room Discourse.
Discussion/Application: With your palms down, what might be some of the burdens or areas of sin in your life that you need to surrender to the Lord? Is there anything you’re holding onto that is keeping you from abiding with Him? With your palms up, have you ever invited the Holy Spirit to fill you with His wisdom and peace and other “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22-23)? Is there a particularly difficult problem or relationship that you will encounter today where you need His supernatural intervention?
Bullet Prayer for the day: LORD, thank you for entering into our human frailty and teaching us the importance of a relationship with You! Thanks also for sending your Holy Spirit to advise us and to help us and to comfort us. Help us today to abide in You and to bear the fruit that You have called us to bear, not in our own power but through Your Spirit!