Lessons from the Upper Room: The Heart of the Savior by Sinclair Ferguson. Ligonier Ministries. 237 pages. 2021
In this book, respected theologian Sinclair Ferguson, in his distinctive warm writing style, takes us through chapters 13 through 17 of John’s gospel, John’s description of events in the upper room on the evening before Jesus’ crucifixion. In five chapters, 155 verses, and less than four thousand words we are given what the Puritan writer Thomas Goodwin called “a window into Christ’s heart.” Ferguson tells us that in some ways, chapters 13–17 are a gospel within the gospel; in fact, they reflect the shape of the whole.
I had previously benefitted from Ferguson’s twelve message teaching series Lessons from the Upper Room that was released by Ligonier Ministries in 2014. This book contains significantly more content than the original teaching series, though Ferguson tells us that the book is by no means a complete exposition of John 13–17.
Ferguson invites us to climb the stairs leading to an upper room on a house in Jerusalem. Here we can eavesdrop on what transpired during the late afternoon and evening of the day before the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. He tells us that thirteen men have come together for a Passover meal. One will leave early on a mission of betrayal. The remaining twelve will later make their way to the garden of Gethsemane. From there they will be scattered. One will be taken by force on a nightmare journey. By this time tomorrow, Friday, the lifeless body of Jesus of Nazareth will be carried to a garden tomb. But this is not the end, just the end of the beginning. For early on Sunday morning, He will rise again from the dead. He now lives forever as a Prince and Savior.
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Ferguson writes that as Christians, we are no longer what we once were by nature, but we know we have not yet become what Christ has called us to be. We want to know, trust, and love Him better. These chapters help us do that by moving Him to the center of our vision and showing us His grace.
As a word of caution, Ferguson tells us that we inevitably read these verses from within our own context. But we also need to learn to read these chapters within their own context. We cannot assume that everything our Lord said applies to us in the same way it applied to the Apostles.
In less than twenty-four hours, the Savior will be dead—crucified. Well aware that this is His certain destiny, He wants to show His disciples that He loves them to the end.
My wife and I enjoyed reading and discussing this book together, and I highly recommend it to you.
Below are 20 of my favorite quotes from the book:
- The foot-washing is a picture of what Jesus does for our cleansing and justification.
- The message of the acted parable of the foot-washing was that the Lord of glory became the servant of sinners, took our shame, and now is Lord of all, exalted at the right hand of the Father.
- There are no exceptions to the feet we are called to wash. We should never forget that the Lord Jesus was willing to wash the heel that was lifted up to crush Him.
- He is going to be humiliated and crucified. But He is laying down His life voluntarily, and He will take it up again sovereignly and return to His place of eternal honor.
- Our calling, shared with every Christian, is to see how and where and to whom we can serve as bondservants.
- Accepting God’s grace is an indication that you realize there is nothing you can do to compensate. With Him it is not a matter of doing better but of acknowledging our helplessness and asking for His saving grace. That is humbling.
- If we follow the logic of John’s gospel, we see the crucifixion of Jesus not as an event that evokes a sentimental sadness but as the beginning of His glorification.
- We are His Father’s reward to Him for all that He has done for us.
- There is glory in the cross. He is not the victim there, but the Victor.
- Here, then, is a fundamental principle of Bible study: we reflect first on what the words communicated to those who heard them; then we work out, with the help of the Spirit, how they apply to us.
- This is an amazing promise. The disciples fear that if Jesus leaves them, their relationship with Him will come to an end. But the reverse is the case. When He leaves and the Spirit comes, they will mutually indwell each other.
- This—our union with Christ—is the heartbeat of the Christian life, and here, in John 15, Jesus is helping His disciples to understand what it means.
- To have the Holy Spirit indwelling us is the equivalent of having Jesus Himself indwelling us.
- The Word of Christ is the instrument of Christ, used by the Spirit of Christ, to nurture union with Christ and to transform us into the image of Christ.
- Growth in holiness involves our doing what God’s Word tells us. But more fundamental than our doing God’s Word is what God’s Word is doing to us!
- When the gospel bears fruit, there will always be opposition to its fruitfulness.
- He cleansed His disciples’ feet by pouring water over them; He cleansed their lives by pouring His word into them
- Through what the Spirit enabled them to write, He would continue to illumine darkened minds to recognize the face of Christ revealed in His written Word and enable deaf ears to hear His voice and come to trust in Him.
- Jesus is teaching His disciples that suffering becomes the raw materials in the Father’s hands, and from it He means to create glory. Sorrow will lead to joy.
- We are of eternal value to the Lord Jesus. Not because of our inherent worth—for we have none now—but because we are the Father’s love-gift to Him.
- Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold. My wife Tammy has published a book about HOW to study the Bible. The book is available on Amazon in both a Kindle and paperback edition. She writes “Maybe you’ve read the Bible but want to dig deeper and know God and know yourself better. Throughout the book I use the analogy of making a quilt to show how the Bible is telling one big story about what God is doing in the world through Christ. Quilting takes much patience and precision, just like studying the Bible, but the end result is well worth it.”
BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?
Providence by John Piper
The providence of God is his purposeful sovereignty by which he will be completely successful in the achievement of his ultimate goal for the universe. God’s providence carries his plans into action, guides all things toward his ultimate goal, and leads to the final consummation.
John Piper draws on a lifetime of theological reflection, biblical study, and practical ministry to lead readers on a stunning tour of the sightings of God’s providence—from Genesis to Revelation—to discover the all-encompassing reality of God’s purposeful sovereignty over all of creation and all of history.
Exploring the goal, nature, and extent of God’s purposes for the world, Piper offers an invitation to know the God who holds all things in his hands yet remains intimately involved in the lives of his people.
You can download the PDF of the book free from Desiring God.
Watch this six-minute video as John Piper talks about the book, and this interview with Dr. Joe Rigney of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
This week we look at Chapter 33: A Wickedness God Especially Abhorred. Here are a few quotes from the chapter:
- Throughout Scripture, God regularly expresses how fitting it is that punishments correspond to crimes not only in severity but also in kind.
- When I consider the final display of God’s justice at the day of judgment, I see God exercising a standard of judgment that opens the door for infants who die in this world to be saved from condemnation.