What would you have said, to the people you knew and loved most, the night you were to be betrayed?
On the eve of the most unjust day anyone will ever suffer, Jesus sat with his disciples, knowing that he would be betrayed by someone close to him. He knew how his friends would abandon him within a few hours, leaving him to be wrongly arrested, unjustly convicted, and brutally executed — alone. What would he say to these men, men he had known and loved for years, men who would go on to build his church and be persecuted for his name, but men who, on this night, through fear and confusion, would desert him?
His last words on that awful Thursday are words we so desperately need to hear. Believe, even when faith feels impossible and seems to cost you everything. Love, even when you want to walk away. Abide in my love by diligently and persistently doing what I have told you to do. Take heart, even when your heart begins to fail. And be at peace, even when your life feels like war.
1. Whatever may come, believe.
Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). And again, “Now I have told you [what is about to happen] before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe” (John 14:29). Before he went to his death, he wanted them to know that, whatever horrors may come and whatever might make them feel otherwise, God can be trusted — to, and through, the bitter end.
Many of us might miss the sobering power of these words, because we think believing is easy. We may have wrestled on and off with doubts, but we have not been forced, in life-or-death moments, to decide if we’re truly ready to stand with Christ, whatever may come. That’s what the men in that room were about to face — no freedom of religion, no right to assemble and worship; just hatred, condemnation, and eventually torture. Every man who heard Jesus say “Believe in me” eventually died for believing.
We may not have to face what the disciples suffered (some do around the world today), but it can still, at times, be intensely hard to believe. Our suffering, of various kinds, can throw unsettling shadows on our thoughts about God. And yet right here, in the darkest, most painful days in history, knowing what he would suffer, knowing what they would eventually suffer, Jesus can say to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”
Whatever darkness lies ahead of you, expected or not, he says the same to his friends today.
2. Love one another, especially when it’s hard.
Believing wouldn’t be the only mountain these men would face ahead. The most repeated and memorable charge that night might be a surprising one to hear:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34)
He rehearses the same anthem over three chapters (John 13:14; 15:12–13), climbing to the summary: “These things I command you, so that you will love one another” (John 15:17). Jesus was on the brink of execution, preparing to go to war with Satan, hell, and death, and yet he spent many of his last breaths reminding them to love another. Why? Because he knew, very painfully and personally, just how much that love would cost them — just how hard it would be to keep loving sinful people.
When Jesus kneeled down to wash their feet that night, he knew what horrors those feet would experience along the path of love — assaulted by rocks and worse, left beaten and bare in prisons, hung on crosses. Yes, he would go to the cross in their place, rescuing them from the horrible wrath they deserved, but his death would not spare them from deep agony in this world. As he took and carried the cross they could not bear, he called them each to pick up their own (Matthew 16:24) — one they could not carry alone, but one they would nonetheless carry, with his help.
Love one another. The command is not simply a plea to keep peace, like parents might give to bickering children. The command is a blood-earnest cry into the battle lines of the greatest war ever fought. How we love one another is not incidental or peripheral to the universe, but at the very heart of what God means to say in the world. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
3. Abide in my commands.
Jesus did say, “Believe,” even in the valley of the shadow of death, but he did not only say to believe. He exhorts them to remember and to do all that he had told them to do, including his charge to love one another. If their faith was going to survive the dangerous road ahead, they had to be utterly committed to do whatever he had commanded. “If you love me,” he says to them, “you will keep my commandments. . . . You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 14:15; 15:14).
As he was about to leave this world, he looked his disciples in the eyes and told them to obey. He says the same to us as we walk into our own troubles. “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9–10). The secret to standing firm through terrible circumstances is abiding in Christ by trusting and keeping his word.
The strength we need to press on and bear fruit, especially in suffering, springs from God’s love for us — and we abide in that love by heeding his voice. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). If we try to navigate the darkness without listening to Christ, we will flounder and fail and accomplish nothing, but with him, we can do and endure all things — a promise Jesus himself would cling to, in prayer, as he went to the cross (Mark 14:36).
4. Take heart in any storm.
That Thursday night was anything but peaceful. The war for the cosmos, thinly veiled for most of human history, was now breaking into Jerusalem — and the disciples were caught at the epicenter of the conflict.
And yet Jesus could still say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). These men had no earthly reason to have peace, and yet they had been supplied a peace birthed in the perfect wisdom and all-powerful authority of God himself. Jesus did not just give them peace; he gave them his peace.
As he held out peace, he did not downplay the fires they would face. “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). The world will hate you. You too will drink the bitter cup of suffering (Matthew 20:23), “they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9). Yet, let not your hearts be troubled.
Only a God in utter control of all things could hold out peace in days like these — in days like ours.
Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). When life begins to overwhelm you, remember all that Christ overcame for you — and have peace. Believe in all he is for you. Love one another relentlessly. And abide in his great love, a love on display in each painful step he took to have you.