SERMON on John 14:23-29

 

Finding Significance in Relationship

John 14:23-29  Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. 24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. 25 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. 26 But the Comforterwhich is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.  

27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. 28 Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come  again  unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.

This week we enter the Sixth Sunday of Easter, with only one more Sunday left to celebrate.  But this Sunday will precede Ascension Thursday, with the story of Jesus departing from the disciples and returning to his Father.  Many churches may choose next Sunday to close out their Easter season celebration with this story, if they do not hold a special Thursday service.  So today gives us an opportunity to prepare for that event.  Hopefully our journey through the Easter season has been one of encouragement and hope.  Recounting the appearances of Jesus to his disciples has given us an encounter with the risen Lord as well.  But with Ascension Thursday around the corner, along with the close of the Easter season, it’s sometimes easy to think, “Well, that was good, what now?”  Have you ever faced a time when you wondered if your encounters with the Lord were over?  It seems to happen right after a spiritual high – a time you know God has been present in your life.  These highs can sometimes be followed by a perceived spiritual low – when we question if God is still present.

You wonder if Jesus’ disciples saw his ascension as a sudden and unexpected end to their celebration of his resurrection.  Very much like we can feel during those times we question God’s personal presence in our lives.

Jesus knew his disciples would not understand his departure with his ascension any more than they understood his departure at the cross.  So, he takes time to comfort and encourage his disciples by helping them understand what he is doing.  Our text for today revisits Jesus spending time with his disciples before his departure to encourage them.  In his words to them, we also can hear him speaking comfort and encouragement to us for those times we question what he is doing.

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.  My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.  These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:23-24 NRSV)

The passage begins with “Jesus replied.”  So, we should look back to see what he is replying to before moving forward.  The context of this passage is the conversation Jesus is having with the disciples at the Lord’s table.  He has told them that he is going away, and Judas (not Iscariot) is puzzled.  He, along with the other disciples, thought Jesus was going to reveal himself as the champion of Israel, restoring the Jews to power.  Judas’ question is, “Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”  Have you ever had that question?  If we know the Lord, we know what truth and freedom really is.  We know the love of the Father for the whole world.  We also know what the world puts forth as “love” is a sad substitute, and often even a justification for hate.

When we know him personally, for who he truly has revealed himself to be, we are set free to live in faith, hope, and love.  But when we look around, it is painfully clear most do not see this reality.   Most are still caught in the bondage of sin, where knowing God is the last thing desired.  The manipulation, the lies, the endless violence and exploitation that plays out day in and day out in our world may drive us to ask the same question: “Lord, why have you shown yourself to me but not to everyone else?  Wouldn’t it be better if the whole world could see you for who you are as well?”  We want everyone to see what we are seeing, and to believe what we believe.

Have you ever wondered how people make it through the really tragic times of suffering without knowing Christ?  Sometimes, we are shocked why everyone wouldn’t see the beauty of the gospel when so much is wrong in the world.  But then we remember our own darkness that we were called out of. We know the Spirit must open their eyes like he did ours.  So, we ask, “Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

We may also identify with the disciples who had gathered around the table with Jesus in this way.  They thought they had signed up for something bigger than themselves.  They thought they were going to be part of Jesus overthrowing Roman rule and setting Israel free.  But, if Jesus was talking about leaving, then their dreams of being part of this historic movement were coming to an end.

Like every other human on the planet, we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  We desire to be part of something that is significant.  We don’t want to just live mediocre lives, we want significanceSo, we search for significance in all kinds of ways that typically just leave us empty and hollow.  But when we meet the Lord, we know we have encountered the most significant person and purpose in all human history.  And it is an exciting privilege to be included in what he is doing.  So when Jesus doesn’t move as fast as we would like, or worse, when he moves in a direction that seems like he is done, or at least done including us, we may feel like he is letting us down.  The original disciples must have been feeling much the same way when Jesus told them he was going away.

Thankfully, Jesus does answer our question.  And he does so in a way to remind us of a much bigger picture.  Like the disciples around the table with Jesus, what they were excited about fell short of what Jesus was actually doing.  How often do we think that we have now finally arrived at something really significant?  We may think, “now, I’m part of something that will give my life meaning, something that others will have to take note of.”  Maybe it’s landing that job you have dreamed of your whole life.  Or, maybe it’s finally having a family of your own, or attaining a level of independence that was once beyond your reach.  It can be any number of things we see as giving us significance.  And they may be very good things, or it could even be something not so good.  But, whatever level of significance we rise to, it doesn’t take long to realize we still have a desire for more.  Deep down we know we are made for more.  Our souls continue to long for an elusive significance we seem unable to give ourselves.  Jesus’ response to Judas may be a good reminder for us as well.

Jesus responds with a picture of his relationship of belonging to the FatherA relationship of obedience grounded in love and not duty.  Then he goes on to say that this is the relationship the Father wants to share with the whole world.  The disciples wanted Jesus to give Israel a place in the worldBut Jesus was up to something far greater.  He is giving the world a place in Israel, a place in himself as the Son of God who is in relationship with Father and Spirit.

The disciples may have felt their significance was at risk, but in truth they were settling for far less than what Jesus had in mindOften, we do the same.  We see Jesus as a way to fulfill our dreams and goals and miss the fact the Jesus is our dream and goal.  We overlook the relationship Jesus brings us into and then set our sights far short of the goal.  In knowing Jesus and his Father by the Spirit, we will find a significance that we cannot give ourselves.  It is a significance, a relationship of love, that is to be received as a gift of grace.  Only, it is so wonderful, so beautiful, that we find it hard to believe and difficult to grasp.

Jesus’ departure is a gift that provides the means of growing into and receiving more of the relationship he has brought us into.  Jesus’ leaving is his way of being more fully with us.  Jesus locates this gift as the gift of the Holy Spirit.

“All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:25-26 NRSV)

Notice the Holy Spirit is not bringing something new or different than what Jesus has already given.  Jesus is the Word of God already spoken to us.  But the Spirit will continue to teach us, to help us unpack the significance of who this Word, Jesus, is to us and who we are in relationship to him.  The Spirit not only teaches, but also reminds us of what Jesus has already said.  The picture here is a significance we never move from.  The Spirit aims to move us deeper into this truth, but he is not moving beyond it, as if there was something more that Jesus held back.  Sometimes we may be tempted to think of Jesus in this way.

We may think to ourselves that now that we know who Jesus is, we can move on to deeper waters.  Now, perhaps that we got our theology right, we can get to the real business of doing ministry, doing something significant with our lives.  But when we think like that, we are revealing that we don’t fully know who Jesus is.  By God’s grace, the Holy Spirit is sent to help us know him more.  We will discover that there is nothing more to move on to, nothing more significant than what we have in Christ.  Note that I did not say that we have nothing more significant than what we already experience.  Our experience of Christ has a lot of room for growth, in this life and in the next, and we will find it the most significant thing in the universe!  The Son’s relationship with his Father is the most significant and eternal relationship there is, and we are invited to participate in that relationship.

In that relationship we will find that our longing has been answered, fully satisfied in Jesus.  The striving for significance will cease.  In light of the great significance our inclusion in the Trinity gives us, we can trust that what the Spirit is doing in our present lives is of great value and significance.   Even the mundane is majestic.

On top of this, Jesus also shares with us his peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.” (John 14:27-29 NRSV)

Jesus contrasted this peace with the peace the world offers.  The best the world has to offer is a “cease-fire” or temporary peace of conflict avoidance.  But Jesus gives us a peace that continues even in the middle of our conflict and chaosThe significance we gain in belonging to Jesus is one that is accompanied with peace, because nothing will ever separate us from the Father.

Jesus knows the disciples are discouraged and afraid because he had told them he was going away and coming back.  He seems to indicate that their fear and discouragement has something to do with their love for him.  If they loved him, Jesus says, they would be glad that he is returning to the Father.   It appears that the love the disciples have for Jesus is a possessive love.  They can’t think of him going away as a good thing because they want to keep him around for their own purposes.  But love for Jesus means we trust him in what he tells us.  If he needs to go away, we can even be glad about it, even if we don’t fully understand why, because we know in the end it will be for our good.  This doesn’t mean we are not sad at his departure, but it is a sadness that is fitting to the undergirding peace and joy that comes in trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Jesus and his Father don’t do anything to our harm.

To love Jesus and his Father is a peace and freedom on a scale the world can never offer.  And even this love is a gift of God’s grace.  And notice how Jesus ends this passage.  He is telling the disciples that he is leaving for a good purpose.  He intends to build their faith.  How often do we hold back telling someone some news they don’t want to hear, but need to hear for their own good, simply because we do not want to upset them or hurt their feelings?  Thankfully, our Lord loves us enough to upset our feelings, which are fleeting, in order to build our faith in that which is permanentJesus is committed to bringing us into his significant peace with his Father, that he shares with us by the Spirit.

 


 

 

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