Comments, Questions, and Observations
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” These words can apply to so many different situations, but in this particular text, they immediately follow Jesus’s prophetic promise that he is about to be betrayed by one them, will be leaving them, and will be denied by one of the most loyal disciples, Peter. In other words, it is both the disciples’ own actions that will cause them trouble, and what they experience as Jesus becomes absent after being so very present among them.
Jesus’s balm for troubled hearts is two-pronged. First, he simply calls upon them to believe (or as discussed in the Textual Point below, he reminds them in whom they believe). Then, after applying the antiseptic of belief, he binds the wounded heart with a promise wrapped in belonging.
Jesus tells them that though he is leaving them, he is not forgetting them, but is preparing all that is necessary for them to be with him. He tells them he will come back for them and will bring them to where he is going to be, with his Father in their eternal home. Though a domestic image is used to describe what Jesus is doing, the preparation of heaven has much less to do with Jesus serving as contractor of a housing building project and much more to do with Jesus mediating a soteriological project.
Of course, it is the same project that Jesus undertook from the beginning of his time as the Incarnate Word. And, the way to the place where he is going is not just a literal crucifixion, but his entire cruciform life. Jesus tells Thomas as much when Jesus says that they already do know the way because they know him. Like we heard last week, he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” because, as we heard last week, Jesus is the gate for his sheep.
Jesus spends a lot of time intertwining himself with the Father. He knows that their troubled hearts need this anchor tying Jesus permanently with Yahweh. He’s been doing this all along, which is perhaps why he responds to Philip as he does: “Philip! We’ve been together all this time, and you still don’t know me?… You’ve seen all I’ve done, heard all I’ve preached and taught. The Father’s presence is embedded in all of it!” All that is needed to believe is right there, ready to be grasped and clung to.
I actually think that Jesus is describing the Father residing in him the way that Paul will describe Christ residing in us. Understanding that Jesus is deeply connected to the presence of God through the indwelling Holy Spirit helps us understand what Jesus says here about us: we also have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. By the Spirit’s powerful presence connecting us to Jesus Christ—even though Jesus is not literally here among us—we “will do greater works than these” as we seek his assistance in prayer to do the works of God (v 12-14). Whatever we ask of him that will be part of the Father’s glory in heaven, Jesus Christ will empower us through the Spirit to do.
For glorification is also the preparatory work of heaven. As we seek to live Easter lives, transformed by faith and knowledge of our God, living with the fruit of God’s presence as we live in, with, surrounded by, and with Jesus Christ indwelling within us, we participate in the one who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Our lives will be great with God’s glory, will embolden God’s reputation here on earth and Christ’s in heaven. The Father will be pleased to see his goodness and loving purposes for this world coming to be among his people.
Which makes me wonder if we ought to also interpret Jesus’s insistence that he needs to go away so that the Holy Spirit will come and be permanently among us as part of Jesus’s preparation work for heaven. The Holy Spirit, who leads us into all knowledge and faith and who transforms us through the process of sanctification, does perhaps our greatest work of all: the Spirit makes us like Christ, so that, when Christ brings us to the Father and Yahweh looks upon us, God sees the Son whom he loves. In the meantime, we ask and seek to believe and know this reality as much as possible, here and now, doing his works on earth as it is in heaven.
In the second half of verse 1, both uses of “believe” can be translated in a number of ways. They could be imperatives (commanding the disciples to believe), but they could also be indicatives (simply stating “you believe”). Or, the first one could even be a question: “Do you believe in God? Believe also in me.” It seems that most modern translators have decided that a set of commands makes the most sense given the rest of Jesus’s conversation with the disciples.
In the Apple TV show Trying, Jason and Nikki are a young English couple who are going through the adoption process and are matched with a tween girl named Princess. When the time comes for Princess to come home, they find out she has a little brother, Tyler. Unfortunately, Jason and Nikki’s home doesn’t meet the requirements for adopting two children (no third bedroom), so they painfully watch as Princess and Tyler are separated from one another… except Tyler (thanks to the wondrous plot-holes of TV) sneaks into their car trunk! The social worker arranges to come and pick up Tyler during the afternoon on the next day, and in the meantime, Jason and Nikki’s family do everything in their power to convince the social worker to allow Tyler to stay, from trying to make a second bedroom to baking lots of food and gathering all together at the front door to show how much Tyler will be provided for as part of their family. When I think of Jesus “preparing a place” for us where his Father is, I know there is nothing, really, about heaven that is not already ready. But the image and language of preparing communicates more than activity, it connotes caring intent: we belong with Jesus and God in heaven; so much so, in fact, that we have God, the Holy Spirit, already with us here on earth.
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Sermon Commentary for Sunday, May 7, 2023
John 14:1-14 Commentary