I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. … I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. [John 16:1,33 (NLT)]
The “Last Lecture,” a tradition at many universities, is given by a professor as if it is the last one delivered in the speaker’s lifetime. Hoping to inspire the audience to become better versions of themselves, the lecturer usually reflects on his life’s journey and shares his hard-earned wisdom. New meaning was given to this tradition in 2007 when Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, gave what truly was his last lecture. Terminally ill with pancreatic cancer, he was dead less than a year after giving it.
In chapters 14 through 17, the Gospel of John records another last lecture. Having only a few hours left with the disciples and less than twenty-four hours to live, Jesus delivered it. As far as last lectures go, Jesus’ is no match for that of Randy Pausch. The professor addressed his prognosis of less than six months to live within the first minute. His audience knew they were hearing the words of a dying man but the disciples didn’t. Pausch explicitly stated what issues he wouldn’t tackle (cancer, his family, or spirituality and religion) and then clearly addressed his topic of achieving childhood dreams. There was no ambiguity in his speech and no one was confused when his lecture was over. Jesus’ words, however, must have seemed confusing to the disciples. He said their joy would overflow and then warned them they’d be persecuted; He said He was leaving but would still remain. If the disciples had known they were listening to a last lecture, they may have listened more carefully, asked more questions, and stayed awake in the garden that night.
Although Jesus told them not to let their hearts be troubled, there would have been fewer troubled hearts if the disciples had truly understood that He’d rise again. Jesus knew how the story would end but they didn’t! Yet, it wouldn’t have taken much faith or trust if they’d known what Sunday morning would bring. How could Jesus distill three years’ worth of teaching into one speech? What could He say that would keep them strong while He hung on the cross and then lay in a tomb for three days? Jesus told them just enough to hold them over until His return, sort of like tossing them life jackets but leaving them in the stormy sea. They had enough to stay afloat but needed to have faith that a rescue ship would arrive.
There are similarities in the two lectures. In spite of its title, Pausch’s speech wasn’t about achieving dreams; like Jesus’ lecture, it was about how to lead our lives—about love, teamwork, perseverance, faith and trust. The second similarity is that Pausch’s lecture wasn’t just for his audience; like that of Jesus, it was for his children. Knowing His words would not end with the eleven men in the room, Jesus concluded with a prayer for future believers. Those words were for His children, the generations of new believers that would come to Him through the ages.
What we learn from Jesus’ last lecture is simple: we don’t have to know the future to have faith in God but we do have to have faith in God to face the future with untroubled hearts.