Sermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden
Easter 5 2005
Sermon John Chapter 14
Why the disciples have reason to fear
It is important before we look at the passage today, to think about what has taken place as the background for the words which Jesus speaks in Chapter 14.
Picture the scene, described by John in Chapter 13, the previous chapter, the Last Supper. The meal is over and Jesus starts to wash the disciples feet. It was a scene of humility, and it makes a great story for us. But it is not what you would necessarily want from your leader as you approached a time when it was hoped that he was going to demonstrate that he was God’s chosen one, the one who would liberate the Jews and establish his kingdom.
In this act of servanthood Jesus even washed the feet of Judas. Then his betrayer goes out to arrange for him to be handed over to those who wanted him dead. It is just as well that the disciples do not know that Judas has such a terrible deed in mind when he leaves, but Jesus does. The mood would therefore be anything but triumphant.
Then in John 13:33, Jesus says that he is about to leave the disciples. Can you imagine how the disciples would be feeling? Humility is compounded by departure. They are going to be worried. The scene is one of anxiety, indeed Jesus himself uses the word ‘orphans’. The disciples had expected that they would be following Jesus until he established his reign and they would share in that. A future without Jesus was a shattering thought.
It gets worse, Jesus then tells Peter that he will deny him, not once but three times. This was truly dreadful, not just for Peter but for all the disciples. Peter was not a bad disciple, quite the opposite. The disciples would know that if Peter denied Jesus, then there was no hope for any of them.
Jesus answer to their fear
Perhaps in the light of such events we can understand the words of Jesus
‘Let not your hearts be troubled.
Believe in God, believe also in me.’
Jesus encourages the disciples to move from their fear to faith. Jesus makes it clear that the disciples must believe. And that belief must be not because of circumstances, but in spite of them. Worry is to loose its power because the human spirit trusts in the one who has the destiny of the whole world in his hands.
This is what Paul meant when he spoke these words in Romans Chapter 8:31
Romans Chapter 8:31
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Worry looses its power when we are in the presence of Jesus. The answer to anxiety and troubled spirits is to trust. To the disciples, what is about to unfold is a disaster. Jesus realises that the events which will take place are necessary not a disaster.
John 14 and Romans Chapter 8 are both readings which we use at funeral services because they encourage us to trust in God at the most dreadful time any of us can find ourselves, in the presence of death itself.
Jesus is going to die, he will not be around, the disciples will be left . But Jesus wants to reassure the disciples that they cannot be separated from him even by death. Jesus tells the disciples that he is not abandoning them, rather he is going to prepare a place for them.
The reading in the AV uses the phrase
‘In my father’s house there many mansions’
Mansions is a lovely word, it comes to us from Tyndale’s translation of monai, but it means dwelling places. We could think of it as
‘in my Fathers house there are many rooms,’
or for those of you who are not into community and would prefer more independent living,
‘in my Father’s apartment block are many self contained homes.’
These are words of comfort and reassurance to desperate disciples. They are words spoken to followers to give the faithful reassurance and comfort they will be alright. It is important to remember this because very often today they are used for an entirely different purpose. They are sadly sometimes used by people inside the Christian community to castigate, and make others feel uncomfortable. Instead of providing a guarantee that we are accepted and loved by God, they become a statement of exclusivity and exclusion.
So let’s examine what this means -
We know that Jesus does not simply point us to the Father, he is more than a route, he is God. Jesus says that if you have seen me you have seen the Father. Many Christians are offended by what is seen as the exclusiveness of this statement. But Jesus is thinking in terms of reassurance not doctrinal exclusivity. He is not telling his disciples what will happen to faithful Muslims, Hindus, Bhuddists or indeed to the majority of people who have never heard the Christian Gospel. Jesus is talking to his Jewish followers and re-assuring these faithful disciples.
When Jesus says, I am the way the truth and the life and nobody comes to the Father but by me, he is effectively saying that he has the authority to let in whoever he likes. Jesus is not making a statement about who cannot get in, he is rather making a commitment that he is able to pull off what he is promising to dispirited disciples who have a terrible couple of weeks ahead of them
For us the message is clear, that Jesus must be proclaimed as the one way to God to whoever is willing to listen, while leaving the faith and the fate of those who have never heard the gospel to a God who is equal to the problem.
I have been accused of being a universalist in saying this, being somebody who believes that ultimately everybody is going to be saved by God. That is demonstrably not what I am saying. I am simply making the point that it is up to Jesus who is God, not me or anybody else.
There was once a statement that all religions are like different pathways leading up the mountain to God. Those who follow Jesus are therefore following one pathway, Christianity. In this passage today that is not what Jesus says about himself. Jesus tells the disciples that he and the Father are one. This is extraordinary, Jesus claims to actually be the top of the mountain, he is God. Other faiths never aspire to make that claim about themselves. As Christians we may believe that other faiths offer their devotees to ascend the mountain and faithfully seek to approach God. Some religions might seem to be stuck in the foothills and some are much nearer the summit. As Christians we believe that Judaism is one such faith, for whilst Jewish believers have reached a long way towards God and pray to and worship the same God as we, nevertheless they can only go so far in their understanding of who Jesus really is.
Jesus is making a bold claim and there is no way that we would ever be able to diminish the exclusive claim of Jesus. As Christians Jesus is God, not just the way to God, so the revelation which we have of God in Jesus Christ must be superior to anything else, if what Jesus says is true. Jesus is the way and in his life and death we have the reconciliation of God with human kind.
Hear the passage today and hear the words of comfort that Jesus speaks. His words are meant to reach out to us in whatever kind of distress we might find ourselves and speak reassurance. There is nothing of which we need be afraid. The disciples would face the most shocking situation immediately after Jesus had spoken these words, but they would find that Jesus was true to his word. He did pass through death to life. At first they did not understand the events, they appeared as though everything they had longed for had been lost. Eventually they knew that Jesus had everything under his control. Just like the disciples we can find that our fears and disappointments can be trusted to Jesus