The Promised Spirit (John 14:15-31)

In John 14, we find ourselves in the first of what will be a two-part “commencement speech” given by Jesus on the night of His arrest.  He knows the fate that awaits.  His desire is to offer His disciples some measure of comfort.

In the first section, Jesus had emphasized the nature of the Church as the true temple of God—the Body of Christ expressed in and through the diverse people that follow Him.  This is important for what comes next.  The original temple was where God was experienced through what was called the shekina glory—an overpowering cloud of smoke that overwhelmed the worshippers.  What was the message?  Every religion believed their god inhabited a building.  But for Israel, their God’s presence would make the rafters shake and the people tremble.

If Jesus equates the Church with the temple, then we need God’s Spirit to once again take up residence among God’s people.  And if the Church is to be Christ’s body, then we need that spark of life to once again animate us and help us grow.  Thus, Christ’s death comes with a most sincere and most significant benefit: the promised gift of God’s Spirit.

THE PROMISE OF THE SPIRIT (15-21)

John 14:15-31   15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Jesus calls His followers to a life of radical obedience.  But how?  Obedience seems impossible.  Our hearts are eternally bent inward.  In the fourth century, St. Augustine famously asked God to “Command what You will, but will what You command.”  We need help.  That’s part of what God does for us.

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,  17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

The Holy Spirit comes through both Father and Son (cf. John 20:22).  It is through this Spirit that God’s presence would be experienced.  Now, Jesus turns His attention from the immediate future (the coming Spirit) to the ultimate future (His second coming):

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.  20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  21 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.”

Jesus knows that there will be a day when all will be made clear; all will be made right.  So vital was this knowledge that Paul would later see the Spirit as a “guarantee of our inheritance:”

Ephesians 1:13-14   13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,  14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Paul is saying that the Spirit is like an engagement ring.  It is a promise of life that will be experienced in the future.  It is a life that has not yet arrived, but it is not a life rooted in fantasy.

INTIMACY > EFFICIENCY

22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”  23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

It’s tempting to wonder why God does not simply make His presence more clear.  More obvious.  That’s what lies at the heart of this disciple’s question.  But notice that Jesus doesn’t even answer the question.  Why?  Because in the first half of John’s gospel, Jesus consistently made Himself known through various signs and teachings.  Instead of widespread success, Jesus found Himself the target of a murder plot.  This tells us something important.  When Jesus addresses the issue, He reveals that the gospel is not found in efficiency or immediacy, but in intimacy. 

Corrie Ten Boom said it best: “Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.”  Sometimes the greatest spiritual breakthroughs happen when we stop looking to God for a product and learn to take comfort in His presence. 

POWER SOURCE

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  27 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.  28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.  29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.  30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me,  31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.

Here, the first part of Jesus’ farewell speech winds down.  Part of this speech helps us understand exactly how the disciples could have known some of what they did.  God’s Spirit uniquely revealed this information to them.  Jesus will soon be gone, but God’s Spirit will be alive and active.

God’s Spirit is the central power source of the body of Christ.  A number of years ago I read an essay by Isaac Asimov.  Asimov had substantial training in my former field—biochemistry—and so I was endlessly fascinated by his sharp mind and clear writing style.  This particular essay was trying to explain the difference between a living body and a dead body.  This was the first time I’d ever seen a scientist flounder in an attempt to explain something as mystifying as death.  I believe strongly in science’s power to explain our world.  But here was something that couldn’t be explained merely in the language of molecules and atoms.  Asimov’s answer left me deeply unsatisfied.   He compared the body to a house.  The living body has its “bricks”—that is, atoms, molecules, cells, tissues, etc.—carefully and deliberately arranged.  But after death the “bricks” crumble; the house falls apart.  I remember thinking: “That’s it?”  Surely we can’t restore life simply by putting our atoms back into their correct positions.

If the life of the human body can’t be understood without referring to the soul, how much less can the body of Christ be understood without referring to the Spirit?  If this body is the temple, then without God’s Spirit we truly are gathering in a house of crumbling bricks.  Without God’s Spirit, we can no more energize Christ’s body than we can a corpse.  If we try, we create a monster.  Instead of the body of Christ, we create a religious version of Frankenstein’s monster—lurching around composed of dead body parts.

All the more reason we need to lift our eyes above the horizon of self to gaze upon the beauty of Christ Himself.  The Church is His body, unveiled not in the spectacular brilliance of earthly success, but in the lowly display of the cross.  If we are to follow after Jesus, if we are to be His Church, then our eyes must be turned away from ourselves.  This is a theme to which we will return as we continue to explore Jesus’ speech to His disciples.

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Commencement Address (John 14:1-14)

I’ve been to my fair share of graduation ceremonies—for myself as well as for friends and family.  All of them have featured some sort of “commencement speech.”  Most of it is the standard inspirational, get-on-with-it, we’re-just-here-for-my-kid kind of variety.  Every so often someone will pull out Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You Go as if they’re the very first people to ever read this at commencement (really?).

Commencement.  The root word “commence” refers not to an ending but to a beginning.  And that’s what commencement ceremonies are meant to do.  Students have spent all the time they need (or can afford!) with their instructors.  Now it’s time to test their knowledge in the crucible of the real world.

So when we turn to John 14-17, we find what Dallas Willard calls Jesus’ “commencement address.”  If you have one of those Bibles where Jesus’ words are all in red, you can easily see that most of these chapters consist of Him teaching.  We find two distinct speeches—one in John 14 and another in John 15-16.  Both “speeches” are concluded with a prayer.

In this opening section, Jesus is comforting His disciples.  He is about to return to the Father; He wants them to know what it means to stay connected to God.  In broader terms, we can see these chapters as describing what it really means to be a “church,” something new that would begin after Jesus’ death.

THE TRUE TEMPLE

John 14:1-14  “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  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.  4 And you know the way to where I am going.”  5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus returns to an earlier theme.  He refers to His “Father’s house.”  But do you remember what “Father’s house” referred to in John 2?  Jesus “was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21).  Jesus’ death would secure His followers a place in the body of Christ.

And do you remember the actual function of a temple?  A temple was a place where God was encountered—a kind of “cosmic crossroads” if you will.  Jesus is saying that what took place in a building would now take place in a body—referring to what would later be called the church.  So it’s interesting that Philip would take this moment to ask Jesus about seeing God.

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”  9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  10 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.  11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

Today’s world is more spiritual than ever.  Many, like Philip, long to see God up close.  But far, far fewer expect such a radical encounter to happen within the walls of a church.  Instead of finding Jesus in a church, many people find themselves disillusioned, disheartened, disgusted.  Still others are content not to find Jesus—at least not the Jesus of Scripture—but are satisfied with moral lessons and self-help seminars. 

But Jesus is saying that if you want to truly know Me, if you want to truly know God, sooner or later you have to get real with this whole thing called “church.”  Too often we look at church as a building, the sum total of its canned programs and a martyr to its own shortcomings.  Jesus says that the church is more than that—it’s a body, a living, breathing organism, rich in life and saturated by His gospel.  This is why church can never merely be a service to be attended but a community to be embodied.  It was a gift—purchased through the blood of Jesus (John 14:3) and given to His people.

DO BIG; DREAM SMALL

Jesus begins to describe the mission of the church:

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.  13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

It’s easy to get lost in the extravagance of Jesus’ words.  Whatever I ask?  Anything?  But let’s not forget the most immediate context.  Jesus had displayed an attitude of a humble servant by washing the feet of even those who would betray Him.  When Jesus is talking about “greater works,” I somehow can’t imagine He’d taken the towel  from around His waist to put on a royal robe.

Again, as I think back to commencement addresses and other such inspirational moments, it’s always been within the context of “dreaming big.”  Success means chasing after your dreams—no matter how larger, no matter how foolish they are in the eyes of others.  Do you see how dangerous this could be to our spirituality?  Think about it.  If we only view God as One who accomplishes “big things,” only moves mountains, only causes the sun to stand still, we have placed Him in a very confined box.  We have limited His power.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I believe in a God powerful enough to accomplish these “big things.”  But do you really think that God has a separate category for “big things” and “small things?”  If God’s “glory”—His significance, His importance—is  about to be revealed in a humiliating death, what does this say about the tasks that lie before us?  Is it possible that the power of God is revealed not when we accomplish much, but when we are simply faithful?  Is it possible that like Jesus, God’s power is revealed not only in our achievements but in our scars, our wounds?  Is it possible that like Jesus, God’s power is manifested in us when we humbly serve others in simple, small ways?  Is it possible that like Jesus, God would use our lives to impact only a few people—but carry on a movement that would stretch into eternity?

That’s what church really is.  That’s why one’s experience of church can never be fully evaluated on the basis of a Sunday morning experience alone.  “Doing” church starts with “being” church.  In the next few chapters, Jesus will reveal all the more what this will look like when we throw our hats in the air.