Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ John 13:33-14:7, 15-17
33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
36Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ 37Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ 38Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.
14‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’
5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’…
15…‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 13:33-14:7, 15-17, NRSV)
Can you think of a time in your life when somebody trained you to do something difficult? Usually, it goes like this. You watch somebody else do it first. Then, you do it together. Finally, it’s your turn to do it on your own.
I think of the teacher who, after months of student teaching, is finally given her own classroom to manage, all by herself. Or the airline pilot trainee who has flown with an instructor for hundreds of hours before he is finally told that it’s time to take his first solo flight.
This is exactly what is happening to the disciples when we meet them in the passage we just read. For three years they have been apprentices of Jesus. They followed him everywhere he went, watched his every move, listened to his teaching, joined him in his work. Every step of the way he has been there, guiding, correcting, helping, instructing, encouraging.
But then the day comes when he breaks the news. “Little children,” he says, “I am only going to be with you for a little while longer. I am going away, and even though you will want come with me, you cannot. I’m going away alone, and you are staying here.”
Furthermore, Jesus tells him that not only is he leaving them alone, he’s leaving them in charge of the mission. In verse 34 he tells them, “I am giving you a new commandment. As I have loved you, now you must go and love one another. And when you do this, the rest of the world will know that you are my disciples.”
At first glance this mission sounds simple and doable. Isn’t this just a mother leaving her children at home with clear instructions to look after one another while she’s gone? Well, not exactly. Because Jesus doesn’t just tell the disciples to love one another, he tells the disciples to love one another in the same way that Jesus loved them.
Think about it this way. It’s as if Jesus were to come to us this morning and say to us, “People of Faith Presbyterian Church, I have a job for you to do. I want you – no, I command you – to share everything you have with one another. I command each of you to put the interests of every other person in this community ahead of your own interests. I command you to make your loyalty to this spiritual family even greater than your loyalty to your own birth family. I command you to be ready to give your very life, to die, for the other people in this church. And I command you to do all this not for your own sakes, but for the sake of the world around you, that they may see that the love I came to bring changes everything.”
Can you begin to sense that the assignment Jesus was giving the disciples was an extraordinarily difficult one, particularly in light of the fact that he apparently wasn’t going to be sticking around to help them accomplish it? Can you begin to have a sense of how these men must have been feeling after hearing this news?
Several years ago I was swimming with my daughter, Isabel, in a mountain lake. We decided to swim out to an island which was about 50 yards off shore. At the time, Isabel was only about six, maybe seven, and so she wasn’t a very strong swimmer. But she was willing to try as long as I agreed to swim alongside her and support her when she needed it.
Swimming together like this was something we’d done many times before so I knew she’d trust me. She knew I’d stay right beside her. She knew she could reach out anytime she was tired and put her hand on my shoulder and that I’d tread water until she was ready to go again. And so off we went. As it turned out, the lake was actually quite shallow and, while too deep for her, I was tall enough to touch the bottom most of the way across.
Imagine, however, what it would have felt like for my daughter if we had got halfway to the island and then I told her that I was going to swim on ahead without her and that she should just continue swimming across on her own? If I had said that to my daughter that day in the middle of that lake, I guarantee you that the ease she was feeling with me by her side would have immediately changed in her to panic.
This is exactly how the disciples react when Jesus tells them he is about to leave them alone and go on ahead without them. Peter, speaking for the rest of his friends, immediately objects, “Lord, where are you going without us? Can I go with you? If you’re leaving, take me with you. Don’t leave us here, Jesus, out here alone in the deep water.”
Now, Peter, of course, has no idea where Jesus is going, no idea what Jesus is about to go through, no idea that the suffering and death Jesus is about to face is something Peter can never face. But he doesn’t care. Peter, along with the others, wants to go anyway. Because being with Jesus wherever Jesus is going will certainly be better then staying here without Jesus.
I know that many you know what this is like. If you’ve been around the church for any significant time, if you’ve read and understood even a portion of the things Jesus taught us in scripture, you know that the mission Christ has given us is so extremely hard that we can’t even begin to imagine carrying it out without Jesus by our side.
We are to love people in this world, all people, with the same love Christ has shown us. We are to love people in this world whether we like them or not. We are to pray even for our enemies, for people who want to do us harm. We are to pour our lives out for others in the same way Christ poured out his life for us.
We are to be ready, on a moment’s notice, to give away what we possess to those who are in need. We are to live pure lives, in our thoughts, in our speech, in our intentions. When we face disease and hardship, we are to rejoice in the very midst of the suffering they cause. We are to face death without fear, without despair. Even when death comes before we are ready, to us or to those we love, we are to praise God unreservedly, and trust God wholeheartedly.
These are the things Jesus calls us to do. As Christ’s followers, this is our mission. When we understand it, we too protest along with Peter, “Jesus, you had better not take off without us. We need you here. There is no way we can do this without you. Do not leave us in the middle of this lake. We will drown out here if you leave us by ourselves!”
And Jesus says to us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” This is what Jesus says to his disciples. This is what Jesus says to us. “Don’t be troubled. Trust me. In the same way you trust God, trust me.”
Then, understanding our panic, understanding our desperation, Jesus speaks in this passage some of the most beautifully assuring words we will ever hear God speak to us. Specifically, Jesus gives us here two reasons why our hearts do not ever have to be troubled.
First, in verse 2, Jesus tells us where he is going. He is leaving, but he is going to his Father’s house, a house which is apparently so vast that there is room for everybody who wants to go and live there. And Jesus is going there to prepare a place for all those who love him. And one day, Jesus promises, he will come back and take us there to live with him.
This is one of many instances where Christ gives his followers a brilliant vision of the end. It’s a vision of God’s Kingdom which will one day be established on earth, at a time when everything in the world will be set right again.
This is a vision which we catch glimpses of all through scripture. One of the more beautiful examples is in Revelation 21 were we hear John describe the end this way:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home* of God is among mortals.
He will dwell* with them;
they will be his peoples,*
and God himself will be with them;*
4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
5And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
Jesus leaves us in the middle of the lake with an impossible mission but does so only after assuring us that he is leaving us to go and prepare a place for us on the other side. He promises us that life is waiting for us there. Life with God. Life where God makes his home with us and calls us his people. Life where the only tears ever shed again are tears of joy. Life without death, forever without death. Life without sadness, or pain, or trouble. Life where everything old, or broken, or used up, or lost, or worn down, has been made, through Christ, new again.
This is the living hope that we have as followers of Christ in this life. And Jesus gives us this living hope for the end because Jesus knows that hope in the future becomes endurance in the present. Those who have hope for some day can endure this day.
I recently heard an illustration which vividly makes this point. Once there were two men who lived in a nation overcome by brutality and corruption. In an act of violence one day, both men were captured and sentenced unjustly to 10 years of hard labor in a work camp. It would be a decade of the most miserable existence you could imagine.
To make matters worse, as they were locked up the first man was told that his whole family – his wife, his parents, and all his children – had been killed in the violence. This meant there would be nobody waiting for him when he finally got out of prison one day.
The second man, however, was told that his family had survived. Unlike the other man, he would one day be reunited with those he loved most.
It is not hard for us to imagine that the experience of those two men in that work camp over those ten years was dramatically different. Day to day, their circumstances were identical. Same rotten conditions. Same back-breaking, endless, mindless work. Both of them stripped of all the same freedoms. Same exact circumstances, and yet, while the first man was crushed by those circumstances, the second man found he could endure them. The only difference, of course, was hope. One man had a living hope in what was to come some day. The other man had no such hope.
I do not know what hard thing Jesus has left you to face in your life right now. I only know that if you are seeking to live the mission of Christ, you will find parts of that mission to be extraordinarily hard. If following Jesus is not difficult for you, chances are you’re not following Jesus.
For those of you who are seeking to follow Christ, hear him say to you this morning, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. If you trust God, trust me. The journey will be difficult but the destination will be worth it.” We have a living hope. The kingdom will come in the end and all things will be set right again. This is the first reason Jesus tells us that our hearts, in the meantime, do not have to be troubled.
It’s not the only reason, however. And it’s not the only reason because it’s not enough. The disciples themselves knew that it wasn’t enough. Thomas, speaking for the others, says to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. And if we don’t know where you are going, how can we find the way without you?” In other words, “It’s wonderful to hear, Jesus, that you’re going to your Father’s house to prepare this wonderful place for us, but we don’t know how to get there. And if you leave us here alone, we will never find our way!”
Jesus responds with words many of us know by heart. “I am the way,” Jesus says. “I am the truth. I am the life. If you come through me, you will come to the Father.”
Notice, Jesus does not say, “I know the way.” Neither does Jesus say, “I can show you the way.” Jesus says, instead, “I am the way.” Which immediately raises a question. How can Jesus be the way to the Father’s house if Jesus is leaving us here behind? How can Jesus be the way across the lake if he’s leaving us here alone in the deep water to swim for ourselves?
The answer comes later in the passage. In verse 15, Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
There is great mystery here in Jesus’ words, but if we trust what he says, even without fully understanding what he says, we will find ourselves to be the recipients of the most wonderful news of all.
Jesus, just as he said he would, left us here on earth and ascended to heaven. As you know, Jesus is not here with us this morning. Today Jesus is in the Father’s house preparing a place for us. And he left us behind to complete the mission he came to initiate, an extraordinarily difficult mission. However, he did not leave us alone. On the day of Pentecost, the Father, at the request of the Son, sent the Spirit to be for us an advocate, a friend, a comforter, a guide, a source of life and power. When God the Son left us here for a time, God the Spirit came to be with us until the end of time. It is through the Spirit of Christ, therefore, that Christ becomes, for us, the way, the truth, the life. He doesn’t tell us the way; he is the way.
Not long ago I was in the grocery store looking for shish kabob skewers. Anybody here know where shish kabob skewers are found in the grocery store? I had no idea. I searched and searched and searched. Finally I gave in and asked one of the clerks, which, I admit, I always hate to do. It seems like an admission of failure. I did it anyway. I just could not find those stupid skewers.
When I asked, I expected this young woman to give me an aisle number which wouldn’t end my search but would, at least, narrow it down considerably. So you can imagine my surprise when this she says to me, “Come with me, sir. Let me take you to where they are.” And she proceeded to take directly to the secret hiding place of the shish kabob skewers. She led me right over to aisle 7, and then about half way down she stopped and pointed to them right there on the shelf. She even reached up and grabbed a package for me. Then, to top it off, she asked me if there was anything else I needed her to get for me. I handed her the rest of my shopping list and asked her to meet me in the checkout line when she was done.
Here is the beautiful thing about what Jesus promises us. Jesus does not just tell us the way. If he did, we’d never find it. The way is too hard, the mission too difficult, our weakness too great. Jesus does not tell us the way, Jesus becomes the way. Through the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of Christ, God has come to be with us, to live within us, to walk beside us, all the way to the end, all the way to the Father’s house.
There are so many things that the Holy Spirit does for us, and within us, and through us. We could spend all day, this Pentecost Sunday, talking about all that the Spirit of Christ does in the lives of Christians. In the few moments I have left, however, I just want to remind you of one. Perhaps the most important one.
Because the Holy Spirit is with us, always with us, that means that God is with us, always with us. And if God himself is with us, always with us, suddenly the mission to which we have been called is no longer so impossible. Suddenly the living hope for which we yearn is no longer so unattainable.
I was talking to a friend of mine in our church this past week who is going through a very hard season in her life. She is being asked by God to do some things, to face some things, which any of us would consider extraordinarily difficult.
This week she told me that she was recently alone praying to God about these things and telling God that she does not know how she can make it. It’s just so hard to trust. There is fear. There is doubt. There is trouble ahead and she doesn’t know how she can face it. In the middle of her prayer, however, God spoke to her. In a whisper, but as clear as the voice of a friend sitting next to her, she believes she heard God speak these words, “I will not leave you.” That’s all God said, nothing more. Just those five words. “I will not leave you.”
Now, I know that lots of people don’t think God ever speaks that clearly to us. I, however, am not one of the skeptics. I have no doubt those words came from God because I believe if God were going to speak to my friend in that particular moment, those are exactly the words God would say.
You see, we’re out there in the middle of the lake and it seems, at times, like Jesus is nowhere in sight and we pray for answers, but I’m not so sure God often gives us answers. We pray for guidance, but I’m not sure God is prone to us give guidance. We ask God what is going to happen next. I’m not sure God will ever tell us what is going to happen next. That’s not his way.
Instead, what I think God gives us when we come to him in those times is, simply, himself. Mostly, I think God says to us, “Don’t let your heart be troubled. I will never leave you. I will be with you. By my Spirit, I will be with you, within you, among you. In whatever you face, I will be with you. In your time of need, I will be with you. Even when you have no answers, no direction, no sense of my presence, trust me, I will be there. I will not leave you. And one day I will come to get you. I will take you where you have always longed to go. I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. And I will be enough.”
In whatever it is you face this morning, or will face in the days ahead, can you hear God say to you, as he said to the disciples, as he said to my friend, as he wants to say to us all, “I will never leave you. I will be with you.”
The Next Step - A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read the text from John 13-14 again. What stands out to you from Jesus’ words here?
Do you ever feel like Jesus has left you alone? Has he?
When Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit he refers to the Holy Spirit as “another Advocate.” What do you think he means by that?
What hard thing is God asking you to do right now in your life, something that is so hard that you will not be able to do it on your own?
Do you believe God is with you always? Either way, how do you know?
If you truly believed that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, was with you at all times, how would you live your life differently than you are living it now?
Read I Peter 1:3-9. Peter here talks about a “living hope” that we can have through Christ. What is this living hope? Do you have it?
How does this message make you want to worship Jesus?
Further ScriptureReadingsfor the Week:
Monday: John 14:18-31 – The Advocate
Tuesday: Acts 2:1-13 – The Spirit comes
Wednesday: I Peter 1:3-9 – A living hope
Thursday: Psalm 104 – God our provider
Friday: Romans 8:18-30 – Future glory
Saturday : In preparation for worship tomorrow, read John 6:1-15.
 Revelation 21:1-5 (NRSV).
 I heard this illustration in a wonderful sermon by Tim Keller entitled “New Heaven and New Earth. Listen to this, and other sermons, from Tim Keller at http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/timothy-keller-podcast/id352660924