by Pastor Cherie Dearth
For the last several weeks, we have been looking at the very Early Church and what it did. This was after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and after they are received the Holy Spirit. We have been looking at when they moved out of hiding and began speaking out and living out the message of Jesus publicly. They were talking about the gospel of the kingdom and what Jesus did for us. They shared it with anyone who would listen.
Our Scripture passage for today moves back a bit to the night of the Last Supper. It was the night that Jesus prepared the disciples for his departure when they would have to move forward without his physical presence when he would be gone from their sight.
By this time Jesus has already washed their feet. He has identified Judas Iscariot as his betrayer. He has given them the “new” commandment to love one another, and he has announce that he is going away. Not only that, but they cannot go with him, these people who have practically followed his every step for the last several years. Then, he announces that their leader, their spokesman, Peter will deny Jesus.
The disciples have had this confusing, perplexing, downright disturbing information given to them, one right after another. Then Jesus says this:
John 14:1-14 NIV
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
The name of our current sermon series is Church Has Left the Building. That title is a take-off of the phrase “Elvis has left the building.” How many of you are familiar with that phrase? I was interested to learn that it came from an announcement used at the end of Elvis concerts to let the people continuing to linger after the show hoping for another encore that the concert was over. It was time to go home. It has also come to mean departing a place in a dramatic fashion. Elvis had died before I became acquainted with that phrase, so it has come to have another meaning for me. That someone famous or important has passed.
Our Scripture passage for today comes from the Last Supper when Jesus was preparing to “leave the building,” and these are his parting words to the disciples. It is known as the Farewell Discourse, and it continues through chapter 16. In it he explains why he is leaving, where he is going, and what he wants, what he expects the disciples to do while he is gone.
Soon God will also be leaving that other building in Jerusalem, the Temple. That place where, for the Israelites, heaven and earth meet. During the crucifixion, the curtain is torn (cf. Mt 27:51); the barrier is removed.
While on earth, Jesus was the place where heaven and earth meet. With the giving of the Holy Spirit, we become the dwelling place of God, the place where heaven and earth meet. This mutual indwelling that Jesus refers to here. We have that too. “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me” (vs 10); we have that through the Holy Spirit. We will talk about this more next week as we continue to the next part of John 14 next week.
Throughout the Gospel of John is demonstrating, illustrating the incarnation of God in Jesus. He is the Emmanuel, God with Us. If we go back to the beginning of John, he tells us immediately who Jesus is, even if he uses some different names for him.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3)
If we go down to verse 18, it tells us something very important. “No one has ever seen God.” A very few have seen God’s glory. Moses saw it and was in the presence of it, and it made his face glow. That so disturbed the Israelites in the desert that they had him wear a veil, so it wasn’t so unnerving. Elijah was near it, but God protected him from the full impact. To see God directly would be too overwhelming, and we would die. However, we learn in verse 18 that “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” Before Jesus there was no way to have a direct relationship with God. Jesus is that, has made that conduit.
So, Jesus says he is going away, and that the disciples know the way. And Thomas says, No. Wait! Time out. We don’t know what you are talking about. “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” They think that he’s going to some specific geographic location like Damascus to the north or Alexandria in Egypt. They are looking for a path, a truth, a life.
And Jesus answers, “I AM the way and the truth and the life.” He is the way of having a relationship with God that has never been possible before.
Up to this time, people’s interaction with God was through the Temple. Sacrifices were made, and one day of the year, just one, a single person, the high priest, went behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place, a special room in the Temple. That is where the Glory of the Lord dwelt. That one day of the year the high priest went in there to be in the presence of the God’s Glory. That was the extent of direct contact.
Now, we all have access to God through Jesus. The curtain has been torn. Jesus makes God accessible, approachable in a way that God was not before.
All through his life, especially in his ministry life, Jesus shows us who God is. God is the one who wants to have a personal and close relationship with each of us, the way he had with the disciples. He is the one who will come looking for us when we are lost no matter how long it takes. He will run to us and welcome us without shame when we return home, like a loving parent, no matter what we have done or how far we have wandered (Luke 15:1-24).
Jesus is the one who wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and washed the disciples’ feet. Through these actions, Jesus is showing us God. When Jesus sacrifices himself to save us, he is showing us who God is. Jesus says to Phillip, “Don’t you know me?” “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” Don’t you see me Phillip? Don’t you recognize me?
This God is one who is interested in restoring relationships, one that will go to any lengths to bring people into relationship or restore relationships.
In verse 12, Jesus says perhaps the most surprising thing yet. “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.”
To which we may say, “Really? Greater? Right.” I know that I have prayed for things that have not come to pass. Maybe some of them were frivolous or selfish, but many of them have involved healing of hurts both physical and mental. We praise when we get the outcome we are looking for, hoping for, but we all know of times when the storm came anyway, our loved one did not get well, or the person did not get what they thought they needed. Because of this verse, we think we didn’t pray hard enough or do it in the right way. When we hear Jesus say that we will do greater things than Jesus, we think of the miracles because we think the miracles are great. They are, but the miracles were never for their own sake. They were never for the sake of putting on a show. In every case, their purpose was the building and restoring of relationship with God. Sometimes it involved the forgiveness of an individual, restoring that person’s relationship with God. Sometimes it was to communicate, to show the people who Jesus is and who Jesus is for you.
This is who Jesus is calling the disciples to be after he is gone. They are to show people the way of having access to God through Jesus. They are to show the way that restores humanity’s relationship with God.
And you will do greater things than these. Jesus influenced perhaps hundreds during his time on earth. Through the disciple that number became thousands and millions all over the world.
And we get to continue that. As disciples of Jesus, we get to show the world, or in more relatable terms, the people around us, the love that God has for them. We get to show them how God wants to be in relationship with them, and we get to be the conduit. We get to be Jesus in the world. That’s what it means to be the Body of Christ. This is what we do when we are in mission and ministry. When we send a cleaning bucket into UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), and they deliver it to a family that has experience a disaster, we are showing them that they are not alone. Despite the situation they find themselves in, God loves and cares for them. When someone goes to the food bank, they know that in a difficult time, they can have something to eat. When Imagine No Malaria provides a mosquito net to someone or digs a new well for a village to provide clean water, they may or may not realize it, but God is providing them a way to be healthy and whole. When we help others learn about God in the Bible or learn more about God ourselves, we see a love story that our Creator has with the Creation and what lengths God will go to save it. We see this decisively through Jesus Christ. Jesus has shown us the heart of God. How might we show God’s heart to others?