If you could go back in time and insert yourself into any point in history, even if only to be a proverbial fly on the wall, what would you choose? What moment would you wish to observe, or what event would you wish to witness? Would you want to watch God create the world? Would you want to see Elijah perform miracles, David compose psalms, shepherds hear tidings of great joy? As for me, I would have to think long and hard, but in the end I might just choose to observe Jesus and his disciples in the upper room.
It was in the upper room that Jesus celebrated his final Passover, that he washed the feet of his disciples, that he predicted his betrayal, that he gave his new commandment, that he foretold Peter’s denial, that he declared himself the way, the truth, and the life, that he promised the coming of the Holy Spirit, that he prayed a long intercessory prayer for his disciples and for his followers through the ages. Each of these was a sacred moment, each packed with the utmost significance. And each took place in one little room and in one short period of time.
Jesus’ time in the upper room has become known as his Farewell Discourse and it is the subject of Sinclair Ferguson’s new book Lessons from the Upper Room. The book’s subtitle, “The Heart of the Savior,” is significant, for it is in this address that Jesus so wonderfully and clearly reveals his heart. He reveals himself as having a heart that longs to obey his Father and a heart that longs to serve the ones who are loved by his Father. He reveals himself as a Savior who is humble and kind, submitted and steadfast.
While Lessons from the Upper Room is an exposition of John 13-17, it is by no means a dry or academic work. To the contrary, it is devotional and applicable. It did, after all, begin as a series of lessons for laypersons—a teaching series distributed through Ligonier Ministries. Ferguson says he intends it to function somewhat like the “audio description” function on a television—a function that provides a running commentary on what is happening on the screen for the benefit of those who are visually impaired. “I hope there will be moments in reading these pages when readers will feel—as I have in writing them—that they are ‘there’ in the upper room itself, meeting with Christ, watching Him, and listening to Him teach and pray.”
And, indeed, this is exactly the case. Ferguson is a skilled expositor and one who is clearly captivated with his subject matter. He loves the Farewell Discourse and the Savior it so wonderfully reveals. He draws the reader into the events unfolding and the words being spoken, and is always careful not to leap too quickly from the upper room into our own living rooms, from past events to present application. That application comes, but always on the basis of sound interpretation. It’s a powerful package.
Ferguson uses the metaphor of a television’s “audio description” function to describe his book, but I might use the metaphor of a tour guide. Over the course of my life and through my many travels, I have taken a host of tours of locations of special interest and special importance. In Lessons from the Upper Room, he serves as a kind of tour guide who describes what has happened in this room, what it meant at the time, and what it continues to mean today. He offers a guided tour of one of the most significant evenings in human history and tells how and why it matters to you and to me and to the course of events in this world. It’s my strong recommendation that you take the tour.