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.
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.