Friday, March 2, 2012

John 14, part 1

John 14, part 1

This week I had the privilege of giving a lecture on John 14 for the local class of Community Bible Study (CBS).  CBS is a non-denominational Bible study with this goal:

“To make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in our communities through caring, in-depth Bible study, available to all.”

Our class meets weekly, roughly following the calendar for the school year.  After a short devotional time we spend time in small groups, discussing a lesson that we have studied during the previous week.  Then we gather as a class to hear a lecture on the week’s Bible passage.  And as we leave we receive a written commentary on that same passage, along with questions to consider as we study the passage for the next week.

My history with CBS goes back about 10 years.  I started in 2001 and for three years I was a member of a small group.  Then for 5 years I was a small group leader.  The leaders met together once a week as their own small group and those years in leadership were a time of much growth for me spiritually.  Not only did we review the week’s lesson but we also spent time in devotion and prayer.  As a part of the leadership I took advantage of the opportunity to lead the devotional time for our leader’s group study, and also about once a year I led the devotional time for the larger class.

I took two years off from CBS when we adopted Kat and this year I was able to return.  We are studying the Gospel of John.  There was a need for someone to substitute for the regular lead teacher and provide a lecture on John 14.  I was asked to do so and now want to share, over several posts, some of the things that I think that are going on in that chapter and the meaning they have for us today.

The setting of John 14 is in the Upper Room.  It is after the disciples have shared a meal and instituted what we now know as the Lord’s Supper in the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and after the foot-washing of John’s Gospel.  It is after Judas has been identified as Jesus’ betrayer, and he has left the room.

This is the time of Jesus last teaching opportunity with the disciples as a group, a teaching that is spread out over chapters 14, 15 and 16.  Soon he will be leaving his disciples and the “teaching” that will occur then will be as they witness his arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection.  This chapter has 31 verses and includes many verses and ideas that are very familiar to many Christians.  A preacher can draw deeply from the material here and one pastor whose work I admire, James Montgomery Boice, preached 17 sermons as he worked his way through the chapter.

I was provided with about 20 minutes for my lecture, so I gave an overview of what I felt to be six key ideas in the chapter, all of them collected around the theme that Jesus primary purpose is to prepare his disciples for his departure by giving them hope and assurance for their future, both in the short-term and eternally.

The first thing Jesus talks about, in verses 1 through 6, is heaven.  Jesus doesn’t tell them specifically what heaven will look like.  He doesn’t given them visual images.  He does tell them that in order for them to go to heaven that he will have to leave them and go there first to “prepare a place,” saying in verse 3,

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Jesus gives the disciples assurance that heaven exists, that he will prepare a place for them there, and that he will return to take them there.  And that seems to be all that Jesus thinks the disciples need to know about heaven.

The Bible gives us other images of heaven, particularly in Revelation, and I love those descriptions, particularly the images of vast multitudes of people engaged in worship of God.  But the relatively sparse information found in John 14 is really enough.  Heaven exists, God prepares our place, and one day God will take us there. 

The chapter then shifts to the topic of God the Father, in verses 7 through 11.  While the disciples, particularly Philip, take Jesus’ talk of God the Father very literally, and ask to be able to see him, Jesus tells them something radically different.  He tells his disciples that his identity and the identity of the Father are intertwined.  In verses 10 and 11 he says,

“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 authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” 

All the things Jesus has said and done are not on his authority as a human, or as the Son of Man, but are because he and the Father are ‘in each other,’ or as he said earlier in John 10:30,

“I and the Father are one.”

When I think about the culture that Jesus and his disciples lived I imagine that this claim of unity with the Father must have shocked their senses.  They lived in a culture where the very name of God was considered too holy to speak aloud or write.  It was only made known in their worship through allusion.  They knew the circumstances where the word “Adonai” was being used because the more correct name for God, “Yahweh,” was too holy, too sacred, to even speak.  For them to speak the name of God was considered a violation of the commandment to “Not take the name of the Lord God in vain.”

Yet here they were, in the very presence of one who bore that most holy name in his own person.  The name that was too holy to speak was in a body and speaking to them.  And he speaks to us today.

And because he speaks to us we can know his presence and his love as deeply as the disciples who walked with him for three years.  Like the disciples we feast with him at his table, in the Lord’s Supper.  And as with his first disciples, we who follow in the footsteps of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, have the same assurance that he is who he says he is and that one day he will carry us to the place he has already prepared for us, our eternal home with him.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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