Often when a leader nears death, he gathers his closest followers one final time. A general may give final orders to his subordinates. A father may simply express his love and affection to his family. This is especially true for leaders who know their death is near, or their mission is nearing completion.
Although his disciples still didn’t realize what was about to happen, Jesus gathered with his disciples one final time before his death in what we know as the Upper Room. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke only share details of the Last Supper, John shares some of Jesus’ “last words” at this meal. Jesus knows he will soon depart, not only through his death but in his ascension as well. He spends some of his final hours encouraging and exhorting his friends with life-giving words.
In John 15, the beloved disciple shares four final words from Jesus:
- Jesus’ power is in his disciples
- Jesus loyally loves his disciples
- Jesus is united with his disciples in suffering
- Jesus promises to send a Helper when he leaves
First, Jesus shares the nature of his power in his disciples. In John 15:1-8, Jesus teaches his disciples that apart from him they can do nothing through a vivid illustration. Grapes were a popular crop in this area, so Jesus used the example of a grapevine and its branches to explain what he meant. A branch can bear fruit if it is connected to the vine. The vine gives the branches the nutrients they need to produce grapes. In the same way, we must stay connected to Jesus like a branch does to the vine so that we can grow as a Christian and make disciples. This is why Jesus said he was the true Vine.
The power to follow Jesus and lead others to follow Jesus is in everyone connected to Jesus. So, if you are trying to obey Jesus in your own power, you will fail. And if you are trying to lead others to follow Jesus in your own power, you will fail. Branches severed from the vine cannot produce fruit. Neither can you apart from Jesus.
Second, Jesus shares his love for his disciples. He actually calls his disciples friends in John 15:12-17. What an incredible sentiment! The eternal God of the universe calls creatures who have rebelled against him friends. No one has loved more than he who has laid down his life for his friends. If you are in Christ today, you aren’t just his subject, slave, or follower. Jesus is your friend. His affection for you is deep. His loyalty to you is unmovable.
Third, Jesus shares his unity with his disciples. Despite the logic of what Jesus says in John 15:18-25, it’s kind of surprising. Jesus tells his disciples they will share in his suffering. The world hated and rejected Jesus. Likewise, the world will hate and reject his followers. As followers of a suffering and bleeding Savior, we must prepare ourselves to love people who will not love us back. We must be prepared to sacrificially give of ourselves for people who will do nothing but oppose us.
Finally, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to empower his disciples to live the kingdom life. The Holy Spirit will comfort and calm our hearts when we endure suffering, and he will empower us to walk in holiness and make disciples. Jesus is about to leave his disciples. He is going to die, rise, and ultimately ascend to heaven. But he would not leave them alone. The Spirit would come and unite his people to himself and empower all that he has called them to do.
As the true Vine, Jesus unites us to God, so we can be a part of his family. Just as Jesus encouraged the disciples before his crucifixion, his last words are also meant to encourage us. Jesus calls us his friends and wants us to share in the infinite blessing of the gospel and to bring others into this blessed fellowship.
Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.