More encouragement

We learned last time that the disciples were in a confused and disturbed frame of mind. They were rightly convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, they were right the Messiah was to come and set up an eternal kingdom on earth, they were right to believe that they would be given top jobs in the kingdom. But things were not going as they had anticipated.

The Jews had formally rejected the unmistakable coming of the Messiah. You will remember when Jesus rode into Jerusalem riding on a donkey in direct and literal fulfilment of the prophecy of Zechariah (ch. 8) – the religious leaders called for Jesus to rebuke his disciples who declared ‘Hosanna (Save now!), blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Jesus told them that the stones would shout out if the people were not permitted! Nothing would prevent the nation seeing in full clarity what this event was about.  Not only had the Messiah been rejected, the religious leaders had determined to arrest Jesus and kill him. If that wasn’t bad enough, the disciples themselves were in disarray. Judas was about to betray and Peter was about to deny. And now it was becoming clear that Jesus would die at the hands of the Jews.

A gloom hung over that upper room. But Jesus had new information that was to bring encouragement.

As we look back on these events we can see (as the apostle Paul taught in Romans 9-11) that God’s plans for Israel were about to take an unexpected turn. Israel was the eternal chosen people of God (2 Samuel 7:24), they were described as God’s treasured possession (Deuteronomy 7:6), they were the people through whom God would display his glory! (Isaiah 49:3). In spite of all of this, Israel had rejected Jesus and were about to crucify him. They would go on to reject the message of Peter and Stephen following Pentecost. God’s response to this turn of events was to do something that had not been foreseen by the Old Testament prophets: he would temporarily set Israel aside and create a new agency on earth composed of both Jews and Gentiles in the form of the church. The disciples had no trouble in believing God’s revelation about Israel (‘you believe in God’), now they would have the opportunity to believe what Jesus would say about this new set of circumstances (‘believe also in me’). The destiny of the church would be different to that of Israel. In the first part of John 14 we discovered some of this new information and how the disciples would now look for a day when Jesus would return to take them to the rooms he had prepared for them in his father’s house.

  1. Greater works

In the conversation Jesus had with the disciples he encouraged them to recognise that he, Jesus was acting in complete synchrony with the Father, in fact as Philip looked at Jesus he was looking at the Father – they are one. There may have been a new turn of events, but Jesus was not acting in isolation of the Father. He said, ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me. (v 11)’ The disciples were invited to believe the words of Jesus and if they had trouble believing this they ought to look at the works Jesus had done to help their unbelief. Remember that Jesus is keen to encourage the disciples and he next says something that is somewhat puzzling but that would certainly have been a boost to the disciples’ morale: ‘whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do greater things than these.’ Some people have taken this statement to be a promise to all believers that they will be enabled to perform greater miracles than Jesus ever did. The problem with this view is that whenever anyone has attempted to put this belief into practice the results have been disappointing to say the least. Two questions arise, what sort of works was Jesus talking about and to whom was this statement addressed. I suspect that this statement was primarily directed to the disciples in the room. Jesus was speaking privately to them and it seems right to at least to start with this assumption. So how could the disciples do greater works that Jesus? If we look back at the book of Acts we see that these pretty ordinary disciples doing some pretty amazing things! They spoke with a fearlessness and effectiveness that seemed way beyond their natural abilities and inclinations. 3,000 were added to the number of believers in one day – it certainly seems as though nothing quite like this had happened in the time of Jesus – many lives were being transformed on a daily basis. Later, the disciples would take the message to the Gentiles, this was specifically a task for Paul, but he was in some senses included in this group as one ‘abnormally born.’ So probably the disciples indeed did do greater works. The question arises as to whether Jesus could have intended these words for a wider audience – to us? I think the answer to that is quite possibly yes. DL Moody the great American evangelist of the Victorian era was challenged with the statement ‘the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.’ Whether Moody fulfilled this goal or not is a matter for the historians to debate but there is no doubt that the gospel work of DL Moody was on a scale and scope that was not observed in the time of Jesus. One cannot help but think that ‘greater works’ have tended not to be the norm because of the condition of individual Christians in particular and the church in general.

Jesus also said that he would do whatever is asked in his name so that the Father may be glorified in the son. This at first sounds as though the disciples and subsequent Christians have been handed a blank cheque to do whatever they like with. But note two conditions, ‘in my name’ and ‘so that the Father may be glorified’. I was given a corporate credit card by my company. It has my name on it but it also bears the name of my company. I can use it to pay for activities that are consistent with the mission and goals of the organisation – as much as I would like to, I cannot use it for any other purpose! So it is with the rights we are given by the Lord Jesus. He will provide according to his name and according to whatever brings glory (or good reputation) to the Father through Jesus. Remember this the next time you pray!

  1. The Spirit of Truth

Jesus had encouraged the disciples with the prospect of enabling them to great works and with the promise of future living accommodations at his Father’s house. Now he encourages them with the thought that the disciples themselves would provide a dwelling place for God!

I remember shortly after I joined my previous company, the managing director announced that he would be leaving. He was a much respected and highly regarded leader. He could be fatherly as well as stern and demanding, he was intelligent and perceptive. There was a feeling around that office that things would ‘never be the same again’ and that no one could adequately replace him. The disciples were learning that Jesus would leave them and they could not imagine getting on with things in his absence. As we read the gospel accounts we can understand this: the disciples without Jesus were not exactly a formidable force! But Jesus assured them that they would not be alone! He said ‘And I will ask my Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth.’ I remember when I first started secondary school. My family had just moved from the city of Glasgow and my two brothers and I had our first introduction to the school via the deputy head; Mrs. Fletcher. Mrs. Fletcher was a sort of red-headed version of Margaret Thatcher. She was a formidable lady and we soon discovered that she was feared across the school. At that time almost all the pupils took ‘school dinners.’ We paid each week and were handed a dinner card with a box marked out for each day of the week. A hole was punched for each meal taken. I don’t think I had been in the school for long, but I had forgotten my lunch card, and guess who was on ‘dinner duty’ that day! With much fear and trepidation I informed Mrs. Fletcher that I had forgotten my lunch card. I always remember what she said: ‘I’ll vouch for you!’ and she marched me up to the front of the queue and did indeed vouch for me! She stood alongside me and spoke up for me! There was no question of a missed lunch that day.

The disciples were not to be left alone, they would have one who would vouch for them: the Spirit of truth. Jesus refers to him as an advocate. The Greek word is parakleton and is literally translated ‘beside-caller.’ He is one who is called to be alongside. The disciples would indeed not be alone, they would have one to stand alongside them. There would be days when they would be called to give account to the highest court in the land and to face better educated and more powerful men who opposed their work. The disciples were ordinary, relatively unschooled men, but they would not go alone! The system that is the world, which is fundamentally against God and is under the control of Satan would not overrule or overawe the disciples, because the Spirit of Truth would live with them, would be alongside them and would be in them.

Although Jesus would leave the disciples, they would not be left as orphans. He would return: ‘I will come to you’ said Jesus. I think in this statement Jesus is letting the disciples know that his departure from them will be for a significant period of time and thus significant arrangements would be made for this period of absence. The world will not see Jesus but in some sense the disciples would still see him – in what sense could this be true? Here’s what Jesus said: ‘because I live, you will also live. On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me and I am in you.’ This is a truly remarkable statement. The disciples would see Jesus in the sense that he would be in them and they would be in him. The apostle Paul would later teach that we are in Christ when we believe. The benefits of this position are far reaching – read Ephesians chapter 1 and note the repetition of the phrase ‘in Christ’ or ‘in him.’ To be in Christ means that we are chosen, predestined to son-ship, redeemed, forgiven and blessed to name a few of the benefits mentioned in Ephesians 1. The key question is how can one be in him? There was a time when Paul was not in him (Romans 16:7) – and there was a time when we were not chosen or predestined or forgiven. We are placed in Christ when we hear the message and believe (Ephesians 1: 13).

Judas (not Judas Iscariot) spoke up: ‘Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ I suspect that Judas was still adjusting to the new situation. The kingdom would be clearly a public thing – all would see the king and indeed all would be required to worship the king. But this new thing was different. It will be dependent upon individual response. Jesus said, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home in them.’ Those who respond will become the dwelling place of God!

The next hours in earth would mark a time of solemnity and darkness. ‘The prince of this world is coming.’ This is a title of Satan and it seems that Jesus is talking about the immediate future when Satan would seek to destroy the Messiah in an effort to bring about his false kingdom. The process had already begun as Judas was about his work of betrayal and the religious leaders made their plans for arrest and murder. But Satan has no hold over Jesus, the sinless one. It would be in these next few dark days that the defeat of Satan would be secured. Difficult days for sure but Jesus offered great encouragement to the disciples and indeed to all believers – a room in his father’s house, and room for the king of kings in our very being!