Jesus kept saying it, kept repeating it that night: Let not your hearts be troubled. But it’s difficult to imagine a more troubling context in which to try to say such a thing! Jesus kept talking about peace, but all hell was about to break loose on Jesus and on his band of followers. In fact, the mayhem at hand had already begun. Judas had already fled the table by the time Jesus said the words contained in this lection from John 14. What’s more, Peter’s impending denials of Jesus had also been foretold. The atmosphere was as taut as a snare drum. It was also unspeakably sad.
As I have noted elsewhere concerning John 14, it would not surprise me in the least if the words Jesus spoke in verse 1 had been spoken even as Jesus’ lips trembled and as tears formed in the corners of his eyes. The Bible almost never tells us how a given line was spoken—unlike novels or short stories or movie scripts, the Bible does not have descriptive adverbs like “He said sternly” or “She said softly.” So we’re left to imagine in what tones of voice various lines were spoken.
In the case of John 14, we often assume Jesus was speaking confidently, strongly, bravely. But what if—having just seen one disciple flee to betray him and having just told another disciple he would soon deny him—what if Jesus’ tone were more sorrowful, a bit fraught with emotion in a tone of voice not unlike the way some of us may speak at a funeral when we’re struggling to keep our own voice from breaking in case the emotion of the moment catches up with us?
If we can imagine Jesus speaking these words of comfort and peace in a tone of voice that matched the acoustics of that room on that dark night in which he was betrayed, then the poignancy of it all hits home in a new way. After all, even Jesus said he did not give peace as the world gives, and it’s a good thing, too. This world is, after all, anything-but peaceful most of the time. And so what little peace it has to offer us is always provisional, always suspect, always precarious. The world cannot finally give what it does not firmly possess itself. A poor man can promise you all the money in the world but he has none to give you in the end. A world in love with war can promise you peace but in the end there’s seldom enough real and lasting peace to go around.
Barack Obama came into office on wings of peace, or at least the prospect of less war and more peace. He was even given the Nobel Peace Prize because that was how great the expectation of peace was. But although we got out of Iraq, it’s not stable. Afghanistan remains a problem. And then along came war in Libya, in Syria, and then came ISIS and then Russia messed with the Ukraine and well . . . “peaceful” is not an adjective we will be able to use to describe the world when also the next President comes into office.
If there is to be peace at all, it has to come from somewhere else. That’s where Jesus comes in, of course. But the fact that he can proffer even this lasting peace in perhaps a broken voice and with a tear or two streaming down his face lets us know for sure that the very features to this world that make us most pine for peace cannot ruin or snatch away that peace. It is possible to embrace Jesus’ peace in the midst of turmoil and woe, and we know that for certain because even the time and place and manner in which Jesus spoke about such peace in John 14 was proof positive that the terrors of- this world cannot cancel the shalom Jesus brought. It didn’t do so that night. You really can believe in lasting peace AND cry in sorrow at the same time.
Nor does the presence of hardship in our lives, therefore, mean that the Holy Spirit that Jesus also promises here has abandoned us. The two can and do co-exist: the Spirit and our hurts, Jesus’ peace and our hardships.
And I suspect we all know deep down in our hearts exactly why that fact is such very good news indeed.
The NIV translates it as “Counselor” but in the Greek of John 14:25 the word Jesus uses is parakletos, or “Paraclete” as we sometimes transliterate it. (But pay attention because Microsoft Word will keep trying to auto-correct that into “Parakeet” and although avian imagery can be used for the Spirit . . . that’s not the bird we’re looking for!) Literally this is the one “called alongside” of someone else. We’ve all heard various iterations of how to understand this, one of which is an attorney who stands next to her client in a court of law. But in this context the meaning does feel—as alluded to elsewhere in this set of sermon commentaries—a bit more like a tutor or a prompter on the wings of a stage while a play is going on. The Paraclete stands next to us or near us so that we can be reminded of Jesus’ words and teachings as the Spirit whispers those things into our hearts, prompting us to remember what we might otherwise forget. It’s a dark and difficult world, after all, fraught with sorrow and uncertainty (even as was true in that very room on the night when Jesus spoke these words). The sorrow of it all can make us lose our place, forget what we know. So how good to have a Spirit come alongside us to remind us of the dearest things Jesus said and taught.
As C.S. Lewis once said, we too often substitute religion for God. But that is like substituting navigation for arrival or wooing for marriage. Getting to your destination is wonderful but the trip itself is also valuable. Courtship, dating, the thrill of romance you experience when you are wooing someone to marry you is thrilling, unique, scintillating. But the journey toward a whole, wholesome, and goodly marriage continues long after courtship ends.
The building of a marriage continues as surely in the pots and pans of everyday life as it did in the candles and roses of your early romance. That’s why there is something more than a little shaky about couples who describe their married life as a never-ending string of sizzling romance, pyrotechnic sex, or star-struck gazes at one another across the dinner table at every single meal. What are they trying to prove? Couples who talk like that are either a sign that the rest of us have bad marriages after all or it is a hint that these couples are casting their lives in false ways in the mistaken idea that this is the only way to present a genuinely happy marriage.
As Craig Barnes once wrote, many of us spend far too much time trying to become something we are not instead of just being who we already are. Of course, I realize that this could quickly become an excuse not to pursue the spiritual things of God. But the goal here is not to foster complacency but a greater awareness of how God in Christ is already at work in you and how, by becoming more aware of that, you can become more intentional in following Jesus along the way which you are already traveling with him.
As it turned out, Jesus was the very autobiography of God. He was the Son who was his Father all over again. It’s just that the disciples assumed that being with the Father would introduce them to something quite different from the road they had been walking up to that point. Jesus had a different idea about that. In and through everything they had seen in Jesus–the very obviously spiritual and almighty things he had done as well as the very typical and everyday things he had done–they had seen the Father. Jesus had been so completely lost in his Father that, as it turned out, everything he did was transformed. And it was all about love in the end, as Jesus made clear in John 14. Once that love engulfs you, everything is different. Everything!
Sign Up for Our Newsletter!
Insights on preaching and sermon ideas, straight to your inbox. Delivered Weekly!
Sermon Commentary for Sunday, May 1, 2016
John 14:23-29 Commentary