rewind (part 2)
Today is part two of a series working backward through the gospel of John. We started last week looking at the interaction between Jesus and Pontius Pilate right before Jesus is taken away and nailed to the cross. today we back up one more step to the moments before Jesus is arrested. The setting for this story in John’s gospel takes place between the last supper and the garden of Gethsemane. It is at the last supper where Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples. And it is at Gethsemane where Judas comes with a group of soldiers to have Jesus arrested.
Between those two events, John’s gospel records a number of conversations taking place between Jesus and his disciples. Chapters 15-16 are mostly focused on Jesus foretelling all the ways in which the disciples will abandon Jesus at the time of his arrest, but also Jesus preparing his disciples for the promised coming of the Holy Spirit after Jesus leaves them. Chapter 17 is an extended prayer which Jesus prays to the Father for himself, for his disciples, and for the church which will follow after his disciples.
The story I want us to look at today is the corner between these two chapters—the last words of Jesus in the teachings of chapter 16 and then the first words of Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17. This is intentional because there is a connection between the words of teaching Jesus gives in chapter 16 and the words of prayer Jesus offers up in chapter 17. That will become clear as we go along.
John 16:25–17:5 (NIV)
25 “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27 No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” 29 Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. 30 Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.” 31 “Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. 32 “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. 33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
Let’s start by making a little sense of what this conversation between Jesus and his disciples is about. There is a lot going on here for the disciples to be taking in and making sense of. The Passover meal just ended with Jesus doing this bizarre action of bending down to wash his disciples’ feet (something usually reserved for the lowest of the household servants). He is talking to them about something that sounds like nonsense to them—that he will be killed and all his disciples will desert him and Peter will deny even knowing him. And then Jesus starts talking about this other one who will come after him and take his place—the advocate, or the Spirit. You would think that the disciples would be very confused by the events and words coming from Jesus on this day.
disciples claim that they understand everything Jesus is telling them because Jesus is no longer speaking figuratively
But look at how this conversation goes. The disciples claim that they understand everything Jesus is telling them because Jesus is no longer speaking figuratively. The disciples were used to Jesus teaching in parables, using stories to communicate what the kingdom of God is like. (Just one chapter back Jesus talks about being a vine and his disciples are like branches on the vine.) No more parables here in chapter 16. Now Jesus is taking plainly. The disciples say that now they understand because Jesus is not speaking in riddles and stories. Look what they say in verse 30. We “believe you came from God.”
Jesus asks, “do you now believe?”
You might think that this is a moment of understanding in which the disciples affirm the divinity of Jesus. But look at the response Jesus gives. He questions their statement and asks in verse 31, “Do you now believe?” Let me make a side note about translation here, because the older NIV Bibles that we have in the chairs get this wrong. The older NIV translates verse 31 as Jesus declaring, “You believe at last!” That is not an accurate rendering of the Greek. The newer NIV fixes this and rightly puts the response of Jesus as a question of doubt. You say you understand and believe, but really there is more going on here which you do not understand or believe.
There is a place here for us to enter the story. The disciples declare to Jesus that they fully understand who Jesus is and what Jesus is up to. The disciples declare that now they believe. I suppose many of us might think of ourselves in that same place as the disciples. Sure, Jesus, I know and understand what you have done. Sure, Jesus, I believe that you are the son of God. We shouldn’t rush past these words of Jesus without taking a moment to ponder how the question of Jesus to his disciples might be a question of Jesus to us yet today as well. Do you now believe?
story in the gospel of Mark about Jesus healing a demon possessed boy
There is a story in the gospel of Mark about Jesus healing a demon possessed boy. Listen to the interaction Jesus has with the boy’s father in this story.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 23 “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
confessing that he believes as far as his own faith and understanding take him to believe
faith formation means there is a continuum of growth which always pulls our faith and belief in Jesus
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief. There is something instructive in this man’s response which can teach us all a little something about what it means for us to believe in Jesus. It is as though this man is confessing that he believes as far as his own faith and understanding take him to believe. But the confession is that there is a mystery to the ways of God which extends beyond our understanding. The journey of faith is one in which we as followers of Jesus are always being formed more fully into the image of Christ. To think that belief is something you either have or you don’t have misses the point. It is not quite so black-and-white. Faith formation means there is a continuum of growth which always pulls our faith and belief in Jesus to newer, deeper, and stronger levels of understanding.
“in this world you will have trouble”
belief in Jesus does not magically take away troubles of this world
Some things are hard for us to understand. Jesus says this in today’s passage. “In this world you will have trouble.” Because we are all broken sinners, we experience the hardship of a broken and sinful world. Belief in Jesus does not magically take away those troubles. Faith does not cancel out the struggles of this world. But Jesus gives us these words so that we may know and have peace even in times of trouble. The disciples needed that peace which comes from God. And so do we. How does that peace from God come to us? How can we find a faith and belief in God that comes with peace and assurance?
turn the corner from chapter 16 into chapter 17
This is where I want us to turn the corner from chapter 16 into chapter 17. In chapter 16 Jesus talks about the coming of the Holy Spirit as an advocate for the church after Jesus returns to the Father. It is the Spirit who will comfort and guide God’s people of the church after Christ returns to the Father. And look again at the beginning to this prayer from Jesus in chapter 17.
John 17:1–5 (NIV)
1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
in the middle of the disciples’ faith we find the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt all working together
There is something trinitarian happening here and woven right around this whole discussion Jesus has with the disciples about their limited faith and belief. In the midst of the disciples’ faith we find the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirt all working together. And what is it that the Trinity is working on? The Father glorifies the Son. The Son completes his task to bring eternal life to those called by God. In so doing, the Son glorifies the Father. The Spirit comes as an advocate to comfort and guide God’s people.
Holy Spirit works in the hearts of people to turn us toward God Jesus purifies us before the heavenly Father heavenly Father receives us and the worship we offer in glory and joy
Even as the disciples (and we) struggle to more fully believe, look at what God is doing. The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of people to turn us toward God. Jesus purifies us before the heavenly Father so that we appear before the throne of heaven clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ. And the heavenly Father receives us and the worship we offer in glory and joy.
God is the one doing all the action
Here’s the point. God is the one doing all the action here. Even though it is a sinful and broken world in which we experience troubles, it is not up to us to be the ones to overcome that brokenness and fix what’s wrong with the world. Jesus is the one who has overcome the world; that’s not our job—it’s God’s job. You can have peace because defeating sin is not your job—Jesus has already done it. You can have peace because finding your way to salvation is not your job—Jesus has already found his way to you; and he is the one who brings salvation. A faith that has peace is a faith that rests in the assurance of who God is and what God has done and what God will continue to do. A faith that has peace is a faith that learns how to let go of all the ways we try to do God’s job for him.
In this step back towards the cross in the gospel of John, we are reminded this week that God invites us to walk more closely to him in faith by letting go of all the ways we may have been trying figure out how to save the world on our own, and do on our own what God has already accomplished for us.
Jesus summarizes all the commands of the entire Bible with one word — love
loving God and others the way that God loves me and others is the greatest response my faith can give
One more thing. If God is the one who saves the world; if God is the one who overcomes the troubles of the world; if that’s God’s job and not our job; then what exactly is our job? There must be something for us to take away from all this. You hear me say this almost every week—it works its way into just about every sermon I give. I hope you know the answer to this question by now, but I will keep saying it anyway. Jesus summarizes all the commands of the entire Bible with one word. Love. Jesus gives us just one job. Loving God and others the way that God loves us and others is the greatest response our faith can give.
we can still respond in love even in a world of troubles — we can still respond in love even to those who seem unlovable
by seeing the cross of Jesus, we point other people not to who we are and what we have done, but to God and what he has done
Maybe it’s easy to respond in love when everything in life is going our way. Jesus reminds us today that we can still respond in love even in a world of troubles. It’s easy to respond in love to all the people who love us and are easy to love. Jesus reminds us today that we can still respond in love even to those who seem unlovable, because God loves them. The cross of Jesus reminds us of just how much we are loved by God. And when we respond by loving as God loves, we open the door for others to see God’s love for them too. By loving others, we help point others to see the cross as well. And by seeing the cross of Jesus, we point other people not to who we are and what we have done, but to God and what he has done.