Sunday 4th February 2015
Last week we saw that Jesus has to be liar, lunatic or Lord. He has not left us any other options. This week I want to include the few verses before our reading today because I missed them out last week and didn’t really talk about them.
John 14:12-14 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
I don't know about you but I sometimes think it would have been so much easier to be a disciple when Jesus was around. He would have explained everything to us, and told us what to do. He would have been so encouraging. I think it's a fairly common perception, but it's wrong in two ways. First, the evidence of the four Gospels suggest that the people who were around in Jesus day didn't see it that way. Some of his closest friends betrayed and denied him. Even John, the writer of this gospel, ran away. Most people couldn't really understand him. Second, in this passage and in several others in the next two chapters, we find that Jesus has promised to be around with his people from that day to this. In fact, he's promised that it will be easier, not harder, in this new era. His people will be able to do things they couldn't do when he was physically present.
But how will he be around, now? He has promised to send us his own spirit, his own breath, his own inner life. In these chapters he uses a special word to describe the spirit. In verse 16 he says, ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.’
The word that is translated here as advocate has other richer meanings. An advocate stands up in a court of law and explained to the judge or jury how things are from his or her client's point of view. The advocate pleads the case. Jesus assumes that his followers will often find themselves, as he found himself, on the wrong side of official persecution he also saw the situation, as centuries of Jewish tradition had done before him, in terms of the heavenly law court with God as the judge. In that court, his people can rest assured that their case will be heard, that God will constantly be reminded of their plight because he will be their advocate.
The word can also be translated helper. Although it does mean simply someone who comes to lend assistance, the spirit also comes to give God's people the strength and energy to do what they have to do. He helps them to live for God and witness to his love in the world.
A third way of understanding this word is comforter. Comfort is a strange and wonderful thing. You may have noticed how, when someone is deeply upset, after a bereavement or a tragedy, the fact of having other people with them, being alongside them, gives them strength for the next moment, then the one after that, and the one after that. The dead person is not coming back but other human support changes or ability to cope with disaster. It gives us strength. There is a section of the Bayeux Tapestry which shows this picture. It says, ‘Here Bishop Odo comforts the troops.’ You notice that Bishop Odo is comforting the troops by waving around his large club. The idea of comforting here is to put strength into, or encourage. When the spirit is spoken of as the comforter this kind of extra strength to meet special need is in mind.
As a result of this promised spirit, the spirit of Jesus himself, Christians now are in a better situation even in the followers of Jesus during his lifetime. Of course, they were sometimes able to do remarkable things even then; Jesus gave them the power to perform healings like his own. But mostly they were following him in some perplexity, and when he wasn't there they couldn't do very much.
But now, by the spirit, they will be able to do all kinds of things. When Jesus ‘goes to the father’ – in other words, when he defeats the power of death through his own death and resurrection – then all sorts of new possibilities will be opened in front of them. The works that he has been doing, as he says again and again, the evidence that the father is at work in him. Now he says that the disciples will do even greater works than these!
It is in that setting, too, that he makes the first of several remarkable promises about prayer. John 14:14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
The all-important phrase ‘in my name’ doesn't, of course, just mean adding ‘in the name of Jesus’ to anything we might think of, however stupid, selfish or hurtful. The name, after all, as in many other cultures, is supposed to reveal the character. You have seen on TV, demonstrations were people are protesting against something and are carrying placards with ‘not in my name!’ written on them.
Praying in Jesus name, then, means that as we get to know who Jesus is, we find ourselves drawn into his life and love and sense of purpose. We will then begin to see what needs to be done, what we should be aiming at within our sphere of possibilities, and what resources we need to do it. When we then ask, it will be in Jesus name, and to his glory; and through that to the glory of the father also. But even with all of that, we must not forget that fantastic word anything. He said it, and he means it. We really need to develop the faith to ask for much more than we currently do.
The last three verses of this section present a wonderful circle of promises that are ours because of Jesus being with us by the Spirit. We will see him clearly through the eye of faith. We will live in his new life. We will know the deepest theological knowledge of all: that he and the father are in each other, and that we are in him and he in us. And we will be joined to Jesus by the father by an unbreakable bond of love. This in turn, leads back to where the sequence began. He will show himself to us. All the main themes of the gospel so far are now revealed for what they are: truths about the inner life of the father and son, truths which turn to fire and love and invite as to warm ourselves within their inmost circle.
Most of us think of us and the world, sometimes in friendly alliance, sometimes in suspicion or confrontation. Jesus speaks of the world John 14:17-19 The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.
This goes back to the prologue of the Gospel John 1:10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
What is the world here? It is the whole created order; but it is also the people who inhabit it, and who have rebelled against their creator. Jesus has, ‘come into the world’, because ‘God loved the world so much’ that he sent his son to ‘rescue the world’. It can be confusing but that confusion comes from the way in which human wickedness has distorted everything. God's answer to this is both that he rejects wickedness and remains totally opposed to it, and that he loves the world, and the people, that he made, despite that wickedness. In coming into the world, Jesus brings both of these answers onto the stage of human history. He comes as the light of the world, so that people can have the light of life; even although many prefer the darkness.
Because of all this, the farewell discourses of chapters 14 to 16 say a lot about the world as the place of danger and darkness, the place where the disciples will find themselves after Jesus has gone. They will know him but the world will not. The disciples will love him and keep his word, helped by the Holy Spirit bringing things back to the memories. By contrast, the world will do neither of these. There is no attempt here to make the kind of compromise that many of us settle for, bending over backwards to discover places where we and the world are not so far apart after all. That can be the right thing to do; but the fact remains that much of the world, to this day does not love Jesus and does not keep his word. There is then a sharp distinction between the followers of Jesus and the world. Only when that is recognised can the next word be heard, which is another spectacular promise. John 14:27 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.
Those who hold fast to Jesus, and refuse to settle for a second best, compromised discipleship, will find that his peace comes to them as a gift that the world could never give. This peace will assure them of his presence and support, encouraging them with the knowledge that the Jesus they know and love is indeed one with the Father.
This peace sometimes comes in the face of conflict and persecution. At one level, the ruler of the world Jesus mentions is Caesar, whose soldiers will take him to his death. At another level, it is the dark power that stands behind even Caesar, the spiritual force of wickedness named so briefly in the previous chapter, now using Judas as a poor, willing accomplice. The phrase the world gets its negative force in John's gospel from the fact that the present world, though loved and claimed by the father, remains under the rule of this dark Lord.
Jesus’ approaching death and resurrection inflict defeat on his rule; but the disciples are to be sent out into the world where opposition is still powerful and deadly. Their courage and confidence is to be sustained by remembering what Jesus had done. He did what he did so that the world might know that he loved the father. Called to follow him, we are to act in such a way that the world will know that we love him.
John 14:20 On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
The phrase ‘that day’ is used in Jewish eschatology…..
Amos 2:16 Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day,’ declares the Lord.
Zephaniah 1:18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.’ In the fire of his jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.
Malachi 4:3 ‘See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.
Zephaniah 3:16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.
Jeremiah 39:17 But I will rescue you on that day, declares the Lord; you will not be given into the hands of those you fear.
Zechariah 9:16 The Lord their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.
Zechariah 12:3 On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations.
Zechariah 13:1 On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.
Zechariah 14:8-9 8 On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter.
9 The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.
John 14:20 On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.