God’s people waited hundreds of years for the Messiah. So, too, we wait for the return of Jesus as our coming King. While there are times when we wait with eager anticipation, there are other days when it seems much more like getting weary of waiting. Before Jesus was crucified, he spent some time with disciples, informing them that he was leaving, and giving them some important tasks for his time away. Today we spend time in John 14 looking at this conversation to better understand what to do while we wait.
It’s always an exciting time when we get to break out the Christmas carols, and whether for better or for worse, I’m sure many of us have our own memories associated with each of them.
My church growing up always had a “candlelight” service on Christmas Eve, and I remember the Sunday before-hand going to find the box filled with the carol booklets. Booklets that were wrinkled with age and caked with drops of wax from the days when we got to use actual candles, before that year when someone’s hair caught on fire. My dad always used to lead the singing on Christmas Eve, and I remember little snippets like the way he would warn everyone to take a deep breath for the chorus of Angels We Have Heard on High every single year. Or the way we would start at a whisper and build to almost yelling in the chorus of O Come All Ye Faithful. And for me it’s hard to sing songs like we sang today, Joy to the World and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, without cracking a grin of excitement from the lyrics contained, and all the memories associated with this season.
Now, that’s not to say that this is an easy season for everybody, or perhaps even a happy one. I’m sure this year more of us than usual are confronted with the difficulty of acknowledging that things aren’t as they once were.
It’s easy to be weighed down by the longing for life to be better, wondering when difficulties will be fixed, and wrestling with hope for problems to be resolved.
And while this year, more than most, perhaps doesn’t feel very Christmassy, I would suggest that times like these can help us better appreciate and understand the advent season.
The time before Jesus was born was not easy. God had been silent. It had been 400 years since a prophet had uttered the words “Thus sayeth the Lord.” While the Messiah had been prophesied for thousands of years, and we know there many who still waited with eager anticipation, it’s not so hard to imagine that some of God’s people had given up hope. Just as there comes a point for many of us when we aren’t seeing promises fulfilled that we just start to shrug our shoulders and move on.
Like that TV series on DVD I leant a friend before Natasha and I even got married. There comes a point where I just acknowledge that it’s gone. But the promises of God are not to be ignored, forgotten, or given up on; and sure enough, centuries of silence was broken by God revealing that the time had come to send his Son, the long-awaited Messiah.
What’s interesting is we often tell the Christmas story focussing on the fact that everything changed on that day—and it did! But for many people at the time, it also didn’t. Sure, the shepherds got their glimpse and the magi from the east. Mary and Joseph understood bits and pieces, and King Herod heard just enough to take some drastic action. But for the majority of the people, it would seem that not a lot changed in their day-to-day when Jesus was born. They’d have to wait another 30+ years until He started his active ministry for things to really start to shift.
But even then, as we’ve been learning about from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ entry onto the scene didn’t exactly look like people were expecting. This carpenter’s son from Nazareth sure didn’t look like the vanquishing king on his white war horse, come to defeat the oppressive Roman regime.
And things took an even stranger turn when Jesus told his followers that rather than immediately establishing his kingdom on Earth, he was going to leave them. Even his closest friends, those who actually believed he was the Messiah, were confused, disheartened, or just straight-up in denial.
And as I think about our current situation, I think the same is often true of us, when God doesn’t operate the way we want him to, or think he should. We can begin to doubt. To question his promises. To wonder. To get discouraged.
So in the spirit of Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the Messiah; as we await the return of our coming King, whether with eager anticipation, or weary of waiting; we’re going to look at Jesus’ own response to his confused and questioning disciples.
Text and Context
I’ll invite you to turn in your Bibles with me to John 14. I’m going to be reading from the NASB today. Before we start reading the text, I want to go over two quick notes.
First, our framework for today. There is a verse that is central in this passage; it’s well known, in fact I still remember learning this verse as a child from the VBS song. It says this:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.”John 14:6
We’re obviously going to look at this verse a little more closely when we get there, but we’re also going to use it as our framework or blueprint as we study the text. The first section we’re going to look at contains verses that reference places, and following Jesus. The path laid out before us. It’s directional, and so we’re going to call it “The Way”. The next section is “The Truth”, and that’s not to suggest at all that the rest of these verse aren’t true, but this is where Jesus specifically makes some very important truth claims. It’s direct, informational, fact statements. And finally, the verses we are going to finish with today talk about how to move forward living “The Life” that is walking in the way, and influenced by the truth.
Second, it’s important for us to consider the context. If you listen to our podcast you’ll no-doubt remember a couple weeks ago when Dr. Bing emphasized “Context, context, context!” because we don’t want to just start reading a passage of scripture as though it’s disconnected from what comes previously.
Today’s passage comes from the upper room discourse, where Jesus is having his final Passover meal with his disciples before being betrayed and crucified. Jesus has just told his disciples that he is leaving, and when Peter stepped in and asked about it, it says this:
Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.”
Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.”
Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.”John 13:36b–38
So picture the scene. The disciples are reclined together. They’ve had their feet washed by Jesus, they had a meal together. But then Jesus starts predicting his betrayal, talks about leaving, tells one of his most dedicated followers that his dedication will be tested and he will fail that very night. No doubt seeing the looks of confusion and fear on their faces, he addresses then the group with the first verse in our passage today, John 14:1.
“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”John 14:1
Honestly, this first verse is the one that caught my attention when I was deciding what to preach on today. “Do not let your heart be troubled.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been talking to a lot of people recently whose hearts are troubled right now. I don’t even know how many times I’ve been talking to Natasha over the past year and used the phrase “Something just felt off today.” Most times it wasn’t about anything specific other than the general state of the world, but it seems like I’ve had many days where something just didn’t feel right. If that’s not a troubled heart, then what is?
“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”
Now, depending which translation you’re reading from, your Bible may have a little star or a footnote here connected to this verse, that if you follow it, most likely tells you it could be phrased a different way. That’s because the meaning from the original language is somewhat uncertain, and it could actually be rendered in a number of different ways. Given the clues in the context, the most likely two are listed here. In the NASB it’s “Believe in God, believe also in Me” with the footnote that explaining it could be “You believe in God, believe also in Me.” The NIV explains the same thing, but flips them and presents it the opposite way.
Why do I bring this up? Well partly because I’m a nerd and thinking about this sort of stuff is interesting to me. But more-so it’s because this is a great example of why it’s important to focus on the meaning of the text, what the author is doing with what he’s saying.
Because whichever way you translate this phrase, John’s meaning couldn’t be clearer: Jesus is equating himself with God. And belief in one is belief in the other.
In fact, one commentator I read suggested that perhaps John purposely chose a phrase that could have multiple renderings to draw attention to this oh-so-important point in his gospel.
So the solution or response to a heart that is troubled is belief in God which is belief in Jesus himself.
Think of another famous passage where John discusses belief in Jesus. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
Not coincidentally, this is the topic that Jesus focuses on next.
“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”John 14:2–3
So to recap: Jesus has told his disciples he’s leaving. He explained that they can’t follow him, at least not yet. They’re confused and disheartened, so he comforts them by reminding them of the importance of believing in him, as well as giving them some details about his journey. He’s going to prepare a place for them. To make a way for them so that one day they will be together again.
When I was a young kid, I liked my life very structured and routine. Now, I still tend to prefer structure as an adult, but I’m at least slightly less likely to cry about it when my routine gets shaken. But when I was young, things had to be the way they always were, and that’s just how it was. Part of that routine involved going to my neighbour’s house every day before and after school. My mom drove a school bus so I needed somewhere else to catch my own bus. My best friend lived there and his mom babysat me. Every. Single. School day. After my mom was done her route, she would come and pick me up, at roughly the same time every single day.
Well one day, my mom showed up, and I knew something was different because my dad was with her. That’s strange. Dad’s usually working still. Next thing I know they’re pulling out a bag and a pillow and passing them to my babysitter, and they weren’t telling me to get in the car to go home (keep in mind I grew up in a rural area, so even though they were my neighbour, they lived about half a kilometre away down a country highway). It wasn’t long before they told me that I was actually going to be spending the night and having a sleepover at my neighbour’s house. Now for little routine-based, afraid-of-everything, change-is-bad Andrew, this was just unacceptable. I was mortified. I felt hurt, abandoned, confused, and scared.
I don’t remember most of what was said next because admittedly I was wailing. How could they do this to me? How dare they force me to hang out with my best friend for a whole night? What I do remember is eventually when I calmed down enough to listen, my parents explained why they were leaving me. See unbeknownst to me my mom had had some tests done, and she had to go away to a bigger town with a better hospital for an emergency surgery. I believe she actually had to use the phrase “If mommy doesn’t go, mommy could die.” What I eventually had to understand, as much as I didn’t like it, was that she had to leave me behind briefly and go somewhere I couldn’t so that we could actually, Lord willing, have many more years together.
That is not so different in concept, albeit on a much smaller and less eternal scale, from the comfort our Lord offered to his disciples. I’m leaving, and you can’t come with me. But I’m preparing a place for you so that one day we will spend forever together. What an incredible statement!
“And you know the way where I am going.”
Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”John 14:4–5
What’s a little bit easier for us to pick up now with time, study, and hindsight, was evidently not yet clear to the disciples. Thomas, no-doubt voicing confusion beyond just his own, confesses that he does not understand what Jesus is saying. We don’t even know where you’re going, so how can we possibly know how to get there?
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”John 14:6
Connecting back to verse 2, Jesus clarifies that he is going to Father. And by knowing him, they know the way to the Father, because Jesus himself is the way, the truth, and the life. As we were reminded about last week, our access to eternal life in the kingdom of God isn’t something we earn or accomplish; it’s not weighing of divine scales. It all comes down to whether or not we know the Way, that is, do we believe in Jesus Christ, the one who went before us to prepare a place for us so that one day we can spend eternity with him.
Now that he has made clear the way, Jesus starts making clear the truth. That is to say, he starts to explain in more detail the implications for the claim he just made.
“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”John 14:7
Some versions say “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.” It’s the idea that if you truly understood what I was saying, you would realize that you already know the Father because you know me. Well now I’m spelling it out for you, so you do understand, so now you’ll realize you’ve seen the Father because you’ve seen me.”
Not wanting to be left out as one who asks a question that’s just been answered, Philip pipes up: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us” (v 8).
You know those discussions or arguments you have with people, where no matter how much you explain yourself, they just don’t seem to get it? You try to rephrase, test a metaphor, switch to analogy and nothing is working.
I remember a scene from a show where an accountant is trying to show the budget to someone. The listener doesn’t really understand it so they suggest “Why don’t you explain this to me like I am an eight-year old.” So the accountant switches tactics and starts trying to actually explain what’s on his printouts, about the surplus they need to spend. After a pause with a blank face, the listener asks “Why don’t you explain this to me like I’m five?”
I sometimes wonder what Jesus’ face would have looked like here. I mean, he literally just said “you have seen the Father” and immediately Philip responds “show us the Father.”
So to make sure he is abundantly clear, Jesus explains with as much precision, specificity, and detail as he can.
Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.”John 14:9–11
Jesus explains what he needs to explain, then rounds out by basically saying “if you don’t believe or understand my words, then look to my actions!”
When he talks about “works” here it isn’t just his miracles, which John typically refers to as “signs”. But rather the entirety of that which he has, is, and will accomplish in his ministry. All of what he does points to the Father because it was the Father in him doing the works.
And this is not the first time Jesus has had to explain this. Turn with me a few pages back to John 10. Jesus was surrounded by a group of Jews in the Temple and they asked him,
“How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?”
The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”John 10:24b–33
A few verses later in verse 37 Jesus responds,
“If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”John 10:37–38
In both cases we have a picture of Jesus explaining himself and laying it out as logically as possible, trying to get them from point A to point B. I am not against the Father. I am not pointing away from him but to him, because he and I are one.
What we see in John 10 from the people in the temple is a refusal to listen to reason. The response of the disciples in John 14 remains to be seen.
Before they can respond, Jesus adds a little more. Having revealed the way, and spoken the truth, he now turns to directing their life.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”John 14:12
When Jesus talks about greater works, he isn’t referring to better miracles. He fed thousands with next to nothing, healed countless diseases, and raised the dead. It’s hard to get greater than raising the dead.
But remember that John uses the word “works” to refer to much more than Jesus’ miracles. We know from the book of Acts that Jesus’ disciples would do many miraculous signs and wonders, but they also fulfilled this statement of doing “greater works” through their evangelism and bringing people to faith in Jesus. As every single commentator I read pointed out, more people were recorded coming to salvation on the day of Pentecost through Peter’s one sermon than were recorded in the entirety of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Peter. The man Jesus just said would deny even knowing him. That’s the power of belief in Jesus.
We’re forced to ask ourselves the question, what sort of impact does belief in Jesus have in my life? Is it leading great works?
Having given the direction, he adds in the means:
“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”John 14:13–14
This is a promise to empower believers to do the work of the Son to the glory of the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is why we talk about there being power in the name of Jesus!
However this verse can be taken to mean something it’s not. I like how one commentator explains it:
“This does not mean simply using the name as a formula. [Saying “In Jesus’ name” does not guarantee everything we pray for will come true. He’s not a genie.] It means that prayer is to be in accordance with all that the name stands for. It is prayer proceeding from faith in Christ, prayer that gives expression to a unity with all that Christ stands for, prayer which seeks to set forward Christ Himself. And the purpose of it all is the glory of God” (Morris 646).
In his first epistle, John builds on this idea:
This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.1 John 5:14–15
And to drive this point home and what this looks like on a practical level for his followers, verse 15 says this:
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”John 14:15
It doesn’t get more plain and simple than that. Believe in Jesus, and share in his works. Pray for the power to do so in the name of Jesus, trusting in him to provide. And as you do so, demonstrate your love for him by keeping his commands.
Now I started this sermon talking about Christmas, and made the claim that times of difficulty can actually help us to better understand and appreciate the advent season. The people of Israel were waiting thousands of years for their Messiah, and so too we continue to wait for the return of our Lord. But what we see today in this little passage of John is an important glimpse into just what Jesus is looking for from his followers as we wait.
For those of us who have believed in Jesus, we know the way, we’ve believed the truth, and we are invited to live a life that is forever changed by those realities.
Imagine what would have happened if Jesus had left, promising to return, and the disciples just sat around waiting. Imagine if Peter, ashamed by his denial, did not return and did not stand up in front of that crowd of thousands.
It doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard. It doesn’t mean there weren’t times when they felt like giving up. We know from tradition that many of the disciples were martyred for their faith and the work they were doing spreading the message of the way. But they had encountered God in flesh, Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and it forever changed them as they eagerly anticipated his return, and worked hard in the meantime.
And a similar situation is before us now. Sure we’re waiting for this virus to end, but that’s just indicative of a bigger issue: Our world is marred by sin and we are longing for Jesus to return, to call us to the place he’s prepared for us, so we can spend eternity in his presence. And the choice before us is the same: what are we doing while we wait?