A personal view written a few years ago that may leave more questions than answers!
Something like half of the gospel narratives are taken up by the last week of Jesus’ life. My summary of the gospel message (using John’s gospel) concentrates on what preceded the ‘last supper’.
The gospels were written many years after the events. Each of the gospels was written from a different perspective. Mark seems to have been written for non-Jewish readers – probably in Rome. Luke wrote ‘an orderly account’ that would have appealed to Greek minds. The emphasis of Matthew is on Jesus as the Messiah (written primarily for Jews). The emphasis of John is on the deity of Jesus – an emphasis on what Jesus said rather than what he did.
Jesus gave a great many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God, and that in that faith you may have life through his name. (John 20.31 – J.B. Phillips). (John had been selective).
[Believe in English is a bit weak. Maybe trust would be more appropriate – when trust is seen as the fruit of a friendship].
In the beginning . . . (John 1.1on)
There is none of the mounting tension of the other gospels – Jesus is recognised as the Messiah.
Then the village wedding and the confrontation with the moneychangers in the Temple – “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days”.
Nicodemus and the need to be born again!
The Son of Man must be lifted above the heads of men – as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert – so that any man who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost, but should have eternal life. God has not sent his Son into the world to pass sentence upon it, but to save it – through him. Any man who believes in him is not judged at all. It is the one who will not believe who stands already condemned, because he will not believe in the character of God’s only Son. This is the judgment – that light has entered the world and men have preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil. Everybody who does wrong hates the light and keeps away from it, for fear his deeds may be exposed. But everybody who is living by the truth will come to the light to make it plain that all he has done has been done through God. (John 3.14-21 J.B.Phillips).
I find that this one passage raises a lot of questions – that need to be considered separately.
The Son of man had to be lifted up – the Saviour – just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.
The love of God. Light entered the world – but men prefer darkness because their deeds are evil (John 3.19) – the light of the world.
Those who believe Jesus have eternal life (John 3.36) – but some refuse to believe [unable to trust?].
The precepts of men are useless – the legalism of the Pharisees was being replaced by the love of God (how much legalism has since been re-instated?)
We must worship God in the way that he desires (what is worship?)
Those who listen and trust in the one whom God sent have already passed from death to life – Jesus was the true witness!
The work of God is to believe in the one whom he has sent to you.
The bread of God which comes down from heaven gives life to the world (John 6.33).
I am the bread of life . . . (John 6.35on)
The will of God is that everyone who sees Jesus and trusts him shall have eternal life
John 6.44 &65 – those who hear and learn are drawn by God.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven – unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6.53)
It is the Spirit which gives life. The flesh will not help you. The things which I have told you are spiritual and are life (John 6.63)
Many drew back – but Peter knew that Jesus had the words of eternal life (John 6.69)
The world hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil (John 7.7).
The need to consider the real meaning of sin and repentance.
We are all slaves of sin – slaves have no permanent place in a household – but children do!
Those who are faithful will know the truth – and the truth will set us free! [Adoption!]
We live in a sinful world that is so very selfish and self-centred!
There surely has to be a purpose for life – only those who hear the words of God can begin to understand – the significance of parables! How well do we understand them and how often are they misinterpreted?
John 11.45 on – the raising of Lazarus led to deadly hostility. The Pharisees were concerned about their own position – political expediency! The comments of Caiaphas – “a good thing for us if one man should die for the sake of the people” – can be taken two ways!
How significant is it that people in positions of authority are always vulnerable, and almost always want to hang on to power?
It was six days before the Passover that Jesus came to Bethany – the expensive perfume – many Jews knew where Jesus was and met him with branches of palm on his way to Jerusalem – ‘your king is coming sitting on an ass’s colt’ (Zech 9.9) – something else that the disciples didn’t understand until later.
Jesus told them, “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain of wheat; but if it dies, it brings a good harvest. The man who loves his own life will destroy it, and the man who hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. If a man wants to enter my service, he must follow my way; and where I am, my servant will also be. And my Father will honour every man who enters my service.
Now comes my hour of heartbreak, and what can I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very purpose that I came to this hour. ‘Father, honour your own name!’”
At this there came a voice from heaven, ‘I have honoured it and I will honour it again!’
Then Jesus said, “That voice came for your sake, not for mine. Now is the time for the judgment of the world to begin, and now will the spirit that rules the world [selfishness and self-centredness] be driven out. As for me, if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” (12.23-32).
You must believe in the light while you have the light, that you may become the sons of light (12.36). But although Jesus had given so many signs the people (who were and still are blind and with hardened hearts) did not believe (Isa 53.1; 6.10) – nevertheless many even of the authorities did believe in him but would not admit it for fear of the Pharisees, in case they were excommunicated. They were more concerned to have the approval of men than to have the approval of God.
Later Jesus cried aloud, “Every man who believes in me, is believing in the one who sent me; and every man who sees me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that no one who trusts in me need remain in the dark. Yet, if anyone hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him – for I did not come to judge the world but to save it. Every man who rejects me and will not accept my sayings has a judge – at the last day, the very words that I have spoken, will be his judge (this suggests to me that this is only referring to those who have heard the truth and rejected it – I would also want to question when that judgment takes place). For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and what to speak. And I know that what he commands means eternal life. All that I say I speak only in accordance with what the Father has told me” (12.44-50).
Before the festival of the Passover began, Jesus realised that the time had come for him to leave this world and return to the Father. He had loved those who were his own in this world and he loved them to the end (13.1).
Then comes the “last Supper” and all that followed.
At this point it might be appropriate to pick up a few points from the other gospels:Jesus taught in parables such that their minds could take in; everything explained to the disciples; some would see and hear and not understand (compare this with Romans 1).
Consider the parable of the sower!
Sheep without a shepherd! Beware of the traditions of men. What is our role?
Healing is from the inside out! We need God’s perspective.
Are we prepared to take up the cross and follow – and aim to glorify God in all that we do?.
Listen to Jesus! Don’t disturb the faith of others!
The importance of marriage (Mark 10)
Jesus came to serve – the servant of all – we have to accept like a child.
Jesus would expose the secret thoughts of many – not welcome!
The prophesied redeemer who would baptise with the fire of the Holy Spirit – separating the wheat from the chaff and burning the chaff – liberty and release for the captives.
We have an example to follow – the need to be building on a proper foundation – unless we realise our own desperate and helpless position without Jesus we will not be much good to others. Once we put our hand to the plough we cannot look back.
Lambs amongst wolves – a great harvest but only a few are working in it. The need to count the cost.
Remember Mary and Martha
Allow God’s Spirit to guide what we say when opportunities arise, but be prepared for persecution.
Life does not depend on material possessions – but as stewards we need to be responsible for what we have been given to look after (the parable of the pounds). Are we preparing for the banquet?
The parable of the lost sheep – what about those who have fallen away? The Challenge!
The kingdom of God never comes by watching for it – the kingdom of God is inside you!
When Jesus returns life will be as it was in the days of Noah – the example of Sodom and Lot – all will be destroyed – no time to turn back – whoever tries to preserve his life will lose it.
The parable of the vineyard – to be handed over to others – directed at the Pharisees – but then what happens to the dry bones?
The warnings of what would happen before Jesus returns!
From Matthew: Jesus as the prophesied Messiah – the virgin birth – John the Baptist – the voice in the wilderness – Satan’s challenge – ‘Man shall not live by bread alone”.
There is so much in Matt 5, 6 and 7 (a separate consideration!)
Beware of preaching to those who do not appreciate it – the need for a sure foundation. Jesus had authority and compassion – sheep without a shepherd – the harvest is there but the reapers are few – the need for a living sacrifice – Jesus didn’t come to bring peace but a sword.
Come to me all who are weary and overburdened and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke!
It is when we are struggling – maybe depressed and discouraged – that we are invited to ‘rest’ and told that the yoke is easy – a time when perhaps we are open to God’s Spirit.
We are what we think – out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Beware of careless words!
Part of the family if we follow obediently.
The parables of Matt 13 – it could be that only those who continue to be defiant will be thrown into the blazing furnace – with tears of bitter regret as they realise what is happening? but then destroyed?
Old and new wine – knowledge of the old and new covenants?
The parable of the lost sheep – it is not the will of my Father that one of these little ones should perish.
The importance of praying together.
The labourers in the vineyard.
The landowner who planted a vineyard – the need for proper fruit.
Invitations to the wedding feast!
Beware of those who ‘lead’ – we only have one leader – Jesus!
The importance of humility. Beware of blind guides.
There will be many false teachers.
A time of tribulation when many will fall away – love will grow cold.
The separation of the sheep from the goats when Jesus returns.