Wednesday, March 7, 2012

John 14, part 3

A week ago I gave a lecture for my local Bible study on John 14.  In this third, and concluding, post of the series I want to share the things I learned from John 14 and taught to the class.  (Here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2.)

If you have missed the first two parts, or to review for those of you who have read them, John 14 is the beginning of Jesus’ farewell to his disciples.  They are gathered in the Upper Room and have shared a meal, shared in the Lord’s Supper and experienced the foot-washing.  Judas has left the group, putting in place the process of Jesus’ betrayal.  Chapters 14, 15 and 16 make up Jesus’ final teaching session for those who have walked so closely with him for three years.   

The broad theme I believe is present in chapter 14 is that it was Jesus intent to prepare his disciples for the time when he would be absent from them by giving them a firm sense of hope and assurance in their future.  He wanted to give the disciples a perspective that looked beyond the present and cast their vision on eternity.  And I believe that this same intent is true for us as we read and study John 14. 

Chapter 14 briefly considers Jesus’ teaching on six different topics.  In Part 1, I talked about Heaven and God, the Father.  In Part 2, I reviewed Prayer and the Holy Spirit.   In the last part of the chapter Jesus talks about the Father’s love and God’s peace.  He then closes with an enigmatic, but meaningful phrase.

In verses 19 through 24 Jesus talks about the love that God, the Father, has for the disciples.  Verse 21 says,

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.  And he who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and manifest myself to him.

Despite the way it may sound here, I don’t believe that Jesus is teaching that the presence of God’s love in their lives is dependent on their keeping the commandments.  Instead, Jesus is teaching them that God’s love is present to them because they love Jesus.

The disciples grew up and lived in a culture where there was a precisely calculated system of sacrifice and atonement in order for one to experience forgiveness by God.  But even with the performance of the sacrifices I don’t think that a Jew would claim to know God personally, or to experience God’s love intimately.

But in these verses Jesus is teaching a radical truth.  He is teaching them that God’s love is known personally by them in the very presence of Jesus.

We can take great comfort in this too, because we can’t possibly be perfect in living within God’s commandments.  The radical truth is that God loves us nonetheless.  He has promised to love us no matter what the circumstances of our lives may be. 
There may be times when God seems distant, and in my experience these are times when the distance has been due to my own bad choices in relation to godly living.  And the misery I may know at these times is actually God’s merciful action towards me, driving me back to him, where in repentance I clearly know his presence and love.

The last thing that Jesus assures his disciples of, in verses 25 through 31, is that they will experience God’s peace.  In verse 27 he says,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Throughout chapter 14 Jesus has been preparing his disciples for the time when he will no longer be with them, a time that he knows is very close.  But while he will be physically absent he wants to assure them that they will know peace, a deep and true peace.  The world’s peace is transient and imperfect but the disciples will know God’s peace, which is perfect.

God’s peace is something that they are hearing about in the Upper Room but that they won’t be able to really grasp until he is gone and they are living without him.  It is a peace in which they will have no reason to be troubled or to have fear. 

The disciples will experience persecution, but they won’t experience it on their own.  They will have the Holy Spirit and the deep comfort of God’s peace.  IN the presence of persecution they will have full faith in God’s promises. 

In the book of Acts we see something of the violent persecution of the church by Saul.  But later, writing as Paul, he tells the church at Philippi that God’s peace is one that surpasses all understanding.    

We, too, will know times of struggle.  Physical struggle.  Emotional struggle.  Spiritual struggle.  Struggles that can take us to our breaking point.  But we can go through those struggles knowing that in each and every circumstance of life we have the promise of God’s peace. 

Jesus has given his disciples assurance of God’s promises and hope for their future.  It may not have been fully known in the short-term but it is certainly true in the long-term, when they cast their vision on eternity.

And eternity is where we should cast our vision as well.  John 1:4 says,

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

We will certainly see and know periods of darkness but God’s light, in Jesus, has already overcome darkness and shines eternally.

John 14 ends with the phrase “Rise, let us go from here.”  The curious thing is that there is no action that follows the phrase, as chapter 15 begins with Jesus continuing to talk, something that lasts through chapter 17.

This phrase is something that biblical scholars have differing views on, with some believing it to have been added in error, while others completely ignore it.

Because my lecture was only on chapter 14 I believed that it was of significance for our study, because it reminds us that the reason we study God’s word is not merely to learn it more deeply, but to live by it in the world.

We were gathered in a Bible study and were fed on God’s word.  And being nourished we were then sent out by him to serve him faithfully and to make his glory known through acts large and small in the places we live our daily lives.  In our homes.  In our places of work.  Through our recreational activities.  Through the seemingly chance encounters that occur each day. 

And this is true each and every time we draw from God’s word.

So let us rise, and go from here, out into the world, making the glory of God known wherever we are.

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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