In his book, The Last Word: Jesus’ Teaching in the Upper Room, Wallace Benn focuses on the final words of Jesus before the cross as recorded in John, chapters 13-17. As Benn is quick to point out, a person’s last words can have a profound and lasting effect on those loved ones who hear them. All the more so with Jesus. Benn is surely right when he says, “As the final words of Jesus, the essence of all that he wanted his disciples to know, these chapters need to be taken very seriously by every Christian” (KL 106-107). Through this book, then, the author seeks to unpack and apply this precious words for Christ’s people.
The book is divided into five main sections: The Last Demonstration, The Last Question Time, The Last Gift, Last Perspectives, and Lasting Joy. Each of these section is made up of an exposition of part of the chapters in focus. In the first section, Benn brings out the great love with which Jesus showed his followers, from this humility in foot-washing to his sacrifice on the cross. Next, Benn helps the reader understand Jesus’ explanation of himself and his relationship to God the Father. Then, in the third section, Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit to his people is brought out from three passages from chapter 14-16. Fourthly, the reader is led into the final concerns Jesus expressed for his disciples—those there with him and all who would believe–in what is coming known as “The High Priestly Prayer.” Finally, Benn explores a theme that runs through all of the Upper Room Discourse: joy, both in Jesus’ life and the desire that it be part of the disciples’ lives.
We are rightly told in the Preface that these verses are regarded by many as “Holy of Holies” for John’s Gospel. These chapters are precious to many Christians, not because they are more important than any of Jesus’ others words, or any words of Scripture for that matter, but because they are some of the most tender, encouraging words that Jesus gives to his disciples—all on the eve of his brutal, atoning death on the cross. Thankfully, Benn is a steady and sure hand in walking us through these words.
The great strength of this book is the balance it maintains between clear theology and pastoral care. Benn never descends into banal sentimentality or fluffiness in trying to connect to the readers (or hearers of these sermons, originally). Neither does he allow the deep theology of the passage to become dry, boring, or distant. Instead, Benn draws us into the events of those final hours and the teaching of Christ, making the rich teaching there compelling for us. He shows the glory and gravity of these chapters with the skill of a seasoned shepherd of souls.
In the end, The Last Word, would make an excellent addition to the pastor’s library—an example of moving from text to sermon. It would also be helpful to use as a resource for small group learning and discussion.
*Note: I received this book for review from the publisher, though this has not affect the content of this review.