Lessons from the valley of the Shadow

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Jesus was a wanted man. He was aware His time of ministry was fast coming to an end. He had set His face toward Jerusalem and the showdown that would take place there with the forces (both natural and supernatural) that wanted to put an end to Him. The Gospel of John gives us an insight into how Jesus was feeling and teaching at this time but our own human experience can reach out across the divide of time and space to imagine. 

I’m sure you’ve experienced the calm before a soul-crushing experience. A deadline approaches, bad news is coming. A trail difficult and devastating is before you and you’re not sure where you’ll find the strength for it. Perhaps it’s the funeral of a loved one, a doctor’s appointment to receive test results or a court date. Darkness and fog swirl around the corners of your perception as you fight to put one foot in front of the other or to fight back tears or to fight for breath. 

In John’s recounting of events, he—more than any other disciple—puts flesh on the bones of those hours between the ominously named “last” supper and the events of the cross. Many of us find ourselves in those uncertain hours of waiting for the hammer to fall, as Jesus did in the garden and as the disciples did during the dark Sabbath hours. God feels distant or even dead and we don’t know where to find the strength to carry on. 

How Jesus spent those hours is informative and, if we meditate here for a moment, possibly even transformative.

Serve others:
Jesus chose this time to wash the feet of His disciples. It was a common practice in a dusty, rural setting to wash your feet before dinner or when coming in from wandering, but Jesus took it upon Himself to wash everyone else. If you or I knew we were about to face what He did, we might be a bit self-absorbed, wrapped up in our own thoughts, eager to skip the service aspect. Let everyone deal with themselves, we might think. We’ve got to prepare what we’re going to say at this important dinner. But no. To Jesus, this was important, serving others even in the shadow of death. “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:15,16).

Pray for others:
The worst challenges in my life usually bring me to my knees. My prayers are more regular and seem more desperate when things are not going well. Just before an important decision or after a disheartening disappointment, I’m seeking wisdom, answers and help. Yes, Jesus prays for Himself, but only that God will be glorified through Him. He spends much more of His time praying for others, first for His disciples and then for all who believe. In His most difficult moments, Jesus prayed for me, that I would be with Him and see His glory (John 17:24). It’s amazing.

Be with others:
Many of us withdraw from others when the going gets tough. Stress and pressure can cause us to isolate from others, a vicious cycle that breeds loneliness and poorer health outcomes. I’m guilty of this myself. I tend to try to carry every heavy load alone. And stress is exacerbated by isolation. Jesus did spend time in His last moments alone but He also made sure He was surrounded by His closest friends. He urged them to love one another (John 15:12), He encouraged and comforted them (John 14:1–3; 15–30), He prayed for them, ate with them, and even made provisions for His mother to be looked after when He knew He would no longer be able to (John 19:26,27).

Jesus spent His darkest hours with a focus on others. If I live my life with the same focus, perhaps the next time I face trials, I will be better equipped to face them like Jesus did.

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