27 August 2014John 14:15-31
“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (v. 23)
Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for what's to come. He knows that over the hours ahead as he is taken away and killed, and then in the years that follow his ascension, they will have to get used to him not being around physically. He assures them that they will see him again in just a little while (verse 19, talking about his resurrection appearances), but the general sense of this 'farewell speech' is that he is preparing them for the time when he is "going to the Father" (John 14:12). Later, in chapter 20, when he appears to Mary Magdalene in his risen state, Jesus says that he hasn't yet returned to the Father (John 20:17). We know that comes with his Ascension (Acts 1:6-11). And it's around that point that much of this beautiful and awe-inspiring relationship here spoken of plays out: the Son reunited with his Father, the sending of the Spirit, and the layer-upon-layer of love that joins Father, Son and Spirit moving back and forth from the church of the disciples, enfolding them completely. In this way, as they continue in a living relationship with God, in this family of God, the disciples are most certainly not left as orphans.
The Holy Spirit is so important in all that is to come, and the Spirit will provide the comfort needed in the absence of Jesus. Not comfort like you might find in your favourite armchair, but comfort as you might find in the arms of loved ones in times of grief or trouble: the strength to get through day to day, minute-by-minute. In some translations the Spirit is called "the Comforter", in others "the Advocate", and there are many layers of meaning to the Greek word "Paraclete", each with the sense that there is always more to discover. The Spirit comes as comforter, teacher, bringer of truth and the one who seals that commandment of Jesus: to love one another as he has loved us (John 15:12). The Spirit also channels the peace that Jesus leaves behind. It is "the peace of God which passes all understanding", which will "keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).
At the heart of this passage is a question from a little-known disciple named Judas (verse 22). He has the same name as the one who has already left them and will shortly return to complete his treacherous work, but it's another Judas (named in Luke 6:12-16 and Acts 1:13) who speaks here. And it's a good question. Why, or how, is it that Jesus will appear to them and not to the rest of the world? Why, in the resurrection appearances, did he only appear to his disciples? Why does he remain in heaven, out of sight, when it would seem so much easier to appear in glory to the whole world? Why must we go on in faith, relying on the unseen Spirit, to convince the world of the truth of his love? Jesus answer seems cryptic, but it hints at God's great purposes for the world. He speaks of the ongoing witness of those who love him, and of the Father and the Son coming to make their home in the believer, through the Spirit. This is the beginning of the New Creation, expressed in so many places throughout the Bible (eg Isaiah 65:17-25, Romans 8:18-22, Revelation 21-22). The believer being renewed by the in-dwelling of God is what the whole creation is waiting for (Romans 8:18-23) and the start of what God has planned for all (Ephesians 1:3-10). The prophet Zechariah expressed the hopes of God's people in the times following their heart-breaking exile: "Shout and rejoice, O daughter Zion! For lo, I will come and dwell in your midst, says the Lord. Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst. And you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you" (Zechariah 2:10-11). In the New Creation, the loving God will no longer be just a distant idea, but a permanent living reality. It begins with those who make home for him in their hearts today.
Jesus' final words in this chapter point hauntingly to the ordeal to come. He says that "the ruler of this world is coming" (v. 30). This is the power behind Caesar, the power behind the evil empire, the power behind all oppressive regimes - whether 'state' or 'religion' - who will send their representatives to arrest Jesus, using (as they do) the guise of friendship and the notion that 'it's all for the best'. Now Jesus commands the disciples to rise up and follow him. We can assume they go on their way to Gethsemane at this point, but Jesus remains in complete control and complete obedience to his Father's will. It has to be this way. His decisive battle is looming; he goes to confront it.
- Have you ever had a farewell conversation with someone who knew they were dying? How did it make you feel? How might the disciples be feeling as Jesus said all this to them?
- Can you think of a time when frightening or troublesome events were fast approaching but you knew a sense of peace deep down that you couldn't explain? What happened?
- We believe that Jesus reigns in heaven with the Father and sends his Spirit to help us here on earth. Where, however, do we still see the work of the "ruler of this world", and how can we stand firm in the light of Jesus' victory?