Thoughts and excerpts taken from, THE LAST SUPPER OF OUR LORD AND HIS WORDS OF CONSOLATION TO THE DISCIPLES,
Written by J. Marshall Lang
Edited for thought and sense
“Before the feast of the Passover,” the short but wonderful life has been lived…
Only three years of teaching and labour! But if we “count time by heart-throbs,” if we measure existence by the thought, the feeling, the action, compressed within it, what ages on ages do these three years represent ! The Evangelist, with a simplicity which appeals to the heart, closes his Gospel with the sentence, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” –John 20:25
It is to a very brief portion of this life “one night, only a part of that one night” that our attention will be drawn. The night in which the fulness of the Savior’s love is poured forth and His deepest longing is told! The part of that night which was spent in the upper room at Jerusalem, and on the way thence towards the brook Kedron! We join the disciples at the Supper Table where the earthly human fellowship of the Son of God with those who hear His voice is consummated, where also the cloud begins to receive Him out of their sight. Truly “the place whereon we stand is holy; ” let us seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit of Truth, of whom it is said, “He shall glorify me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” –John 16:14
“Before the feast of the Passover” the last words of Jesus to the world were spoken. These words are set before us between the 35th and the 50th verses of the twelfth chapter of John’s Gospel; St John interjecting an explanation, for which he claims divine authority, of the unbelief of the people. Solemn and weighty is the Farewell-testimony of the incarnate Truth! The verses which contain the testimony are regarded by many commentators, not as marking a discourse uttered at one time, but “as a summary of the Lord’s teaching, gathered up in view of the approaching crisis”(Westcott “Speakers Commentaries Pg 187). I can scarcely reconcile the language of the 44th verse with this view. “Jesus cried and said ” is suggestive to me, not of an epitome of many sayings scattered over a period, but of a distinct and definite speech. And I am disposed, therefore, to look on the passage thus introduced as the concluding part of the address broken off towards the end of the 36th verse, to be reckoned among those things of which it is affirmed that when Jesus had spoken them, “He departed and did hide Himself.”
“Therefore they could not believe…”
…sentence is a very strong one. It is a conclusion arrived at from the study of a scripture of Isaiah, “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart: that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” Let us apprehend the point of the Evangelist’s sentence and the Prophet’s Scripture.
The Hebrews never conceived of ” they knew nothing of ” a mere mechanical law. They regarded all law, all sequence, as a mode of God’s power. And as, overlooking intermediate and subordinate causes, they spoke of Him as making day and night, as related directly and personally to all that is, so they spoke of Him as also causing spiritual day and night. In the stolidity which is inevitable when the
soul refuses the report of the messengers of God, and closes itself against the evidence of light, they beheld law; and, beholding law, they discerned God. In the working of the law they did not hesitate to trace the action of God, to declare, ” It is He who has blinded the eyes and hardened the heart.” In point of fact, the blindness is because the necessary conditions of spiritual sight have been traversed.
St John dwells much on cans and cannots. “The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what he sees the Father do.” “I can of mine own self do nothing.” That is,”it is the necessity of the Divine Sonship to do all in perfect sympathy with and correspondence to the Father.” And, again, as to Discipleship: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” ” Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” In these and in other places the can and cannot have a moral significance. They refer to impossibilities which have their root in the presence or absence of certain inward states or dispositions. And similarly,the could not of the passage before us implies the want of the disposition to believe, the operation of a spirit of mind which is wholly incompatible with a loyal and earnest trust in Jesus Christ.
For example, the people, we are told, meet the Lord with the objection,” We have heard out of the law that Christ abides for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man? ” Two difficulties have been raised in their minds by the saying, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” The one; the law speaks of a king whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion.” Yet Jesus speaks of being “lifted up from the earth.” The other; Jesus assumes the title Son of Man, yet they knew the Messiah as the Son of David. Was then the Son of Man other than the Messiah? If not other, if the same, why use the non-national term? Now, Christ does not deny the reality of these difficulties. He does not find fault with them for having, and for expressing, such difficulties. That is not His way. He is no brow-beater of honest doubt. But what He urges is,” Do not thrust the difficulties between you and the testimony which God has given to this Son of Man. If you cannot see who He is, if you cannot discern the inner glory of His being, at least recognize the force of Divine life that is in Him. You have not forgotten Lazarus called by Him out of the grave and raised from the dead. You know how many signs of this life have been set before you. Yield your minds to this evidence. Leave the perplexities for solution in the future. Take the blessing of the light that is now with you.” They would not do so. They determined that they must have an answer to their hows. Intellectual cavilings were allowed to intercept spiritual light, to prevent spiritual vision. And such being their temperament, they could not believe.
Is it too much to say that, for the same reason, there are many amongst the people of the nineteenth century who cannot believe? I do not allude to the occasions of unbelief which are part of the deeper spiritual history of a man ; I allude to a type of mind which is often praised as the sign of intellectual smartness –disputatious, so occupied with little points that the effect of the conjunct testimony is lost, so constantly posing as a debater or a critic, that the light cannot get fully into the heart which, by its own shining, would illumine what seems to be doubtful.
Farther, the passage is suggestive of a spiritual inaction which involves the loss of faith. For, let us note what is said as to the chief rulers. “Many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the Synagogue. For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” Compare this statement with that contained in a previous chapter of this Gospel. At the Feast of Tabernacles, the Priests and Pharisees sent officers to apprehend Jesus. The officers failed to do so, excusing themselves by saying, “Never man spake like that man.” “Have any of the Rulers or of the Pharisees believed in Him?” was the immediate retort. One alone, Nicodemus, ventured to protest against the summary procedure of his colleagues, and by so doing aroused their suspicion. Now, we have the assurance that, even in the Sanhedrin, there was a considerable party in favor of the Prophet of Nazareth, although prudent considerations prevented them from confessing Him. No doubt, it was cowardly conduct.
It is dangerous to play with convictions, dangerous even to delay the expression of them in appropriate action. All persons, indeed, are not alike. There are peculiarities of disposition which must be respected. Some are reserved in any indication of feeling, reticent in speech, afraid, sometimes morbidly so, of any exaggeration, and thus it happens that they rather conceal than reveal their true selves. A stranger is apt to misjudge them. But it is well to remind such persons that they run the risk of both weakening their own faith and love, and hiding, as the Psalmist puts it, the righteousness of God. Their witness for the Lord may be muffled, their service may be hindered. What Christ Himself insists upon is, that he who is but a fainthearted believer, who is not truly with Him, is, for practical purposes, really against Him. Alas! do we not all need to be warned of the two great enemies, cowardice and indolence? ” the coward which shrinks from “the offense of the cross;” the indolent which is the parent of faithlessness. In the parable no turpitude is charged against the servant who hid the talent. The indictment is: “Thou wicked and slothful? From him the talent is taken.” The word of faith which we preach is, that if thou shalt confess with thy month the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation?
What then is the action in which faith is preserved and perfected? For the answer, we shall listen to Jesus only. The substance of His instruction is contained in the two sentences, “Believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” “Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you.” In other words, no question is to be allowed to divert the mind from that which is its present and immediate duty, which is the free, unreserved, acceptance of the light that is shining on the soul. “Whatsoever doth make manifest is light:” where God is manifested in the righteousness which is so narrow, and the charity which is so broad: where human nature is manifested in what is worst and in what is best ” the depths disclosed and the heights revealed; where there is “truth followed in love:” there is light.
“While ye have light” is the cry of Jesus. It is the last opportunity. He is about to depart. And the farewell is solemn, pathetic, gentle. “If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”
One hour –then, “He that rejects Me, and receives not My words, hath one that judges him. “Who?” The word that I have spoken the same shall judge him at the last day. Thus the Lord, the “swift witness” of the kingdom shakes off the dust of His feet as He leaves the unbelieving world. Shortly hence it will marvel at His silence. For His own followers –as may it be ours to see! –the best speech has been kept until now.