John 14:5

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”-John 14:5

So far in the upper room, Jesus, Peter, John, and Judas have all been named. Familiarity with the gospels gives us clues to the personalities of several of the disciples. I think Peter was impulsive. He was the type of guy who would blurt out answers without raising his hand. John was a lover. His gospel and letters reveal a man overwhelmed by Jesus’s love, but that had not always been the case. He and his brother James had been nicknamed Boanerges—“son of thunder” (see Mk. 3:17). Judas was the betrayer—calculating, judgmental, and greedy.

In 14:5, Thomas entered the story. If I asked you for one word to describe Thomas, I suspect most people would respond, “doubter” because in John 20:25, Thomas would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he actually saw and touched his physical wounds. However, in this passage Thomas was a scoffer. Jesus had been explaining that he was going away, but that they would know the way to him. As I picture Thomas in this scene, I imagine him standing with arms crossed and rolling his eyes, becoming more agitated as Jesus continued talking. Finally, he had enough. Irritation bled into his words: “We don’t know the way. How can we know the way?” I don’t think he was asking for clarification, he was voicing his exasperation.

Impulsive Peter, passionate John, scheming Judas, and scoffing Thomas—Jesus loved them all. He did not call disciples with the right theological credentials or right personality. The twelve proved that Jesus can, and does, use everyone.

Jesus, I am grateful that your circle of friends included all kinds of people—the intemperate, the passionate, the impulsive, the angry, and the self-righteous. You are able to see beneath the surface of our masks to the inherent worth in every one of your image bearers, including me. Help me to remember that everyone can be used for your kingdom. Amen.

John 14:3-4

“And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may also be. And you know the way to where I am going.”-John 14:3-4

Jesus was leaving, but he was also coming back. His disciples could not clearly see God’s plan for redemption; they had only heard that he was leaving. For those of us who grew up in the West in the last 100 years, we don’t have a great sense of someone going on ahead to prepare a place, but generations past knew. A father would leave his wife and children behind while he went on to establish a job and a home. Although the immediate loss was difficult and painful, the future home offered so much more promise. 

Yet don’t miss one detail here. Jesus did not say to them “I will come again and take you to my home,” even though he was telling them about his Father’s house. Rather, he told them, “I will take you to myself.” Jesus knew that their deepest longing was for him, not stuff.

If we are honest with ourselves, many of us like things—nice cars, large libraries, or beautiful homes—but material possessions do not fulfill our deepest need. We are tempted to chase after second thing blessings, but when we place our hope in those things, we are left wanting more. C.S. Lewis said, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first & we lose both first and second things” (2007, p. 111).

What we all most deeply desire is relationship: First, union with Christ, and second, though no less important, relationship with others, which is why in the Father’s house, the value is not in the stuff, but the people who are there.

Jesus, I am so often out of touch with my deepest desire, which is relationship with you. I chase after many other things, hoping for fulfillment, but stuff never satisfies. You never promised stuff; you promised yourself. Help me to rest in the reality of my union with you. Amen.

John 14:2

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?-John 14:2

The disciples were filled with confusion and fear. These restless young men had made a life with him. He was their stabilizing force and their solid rock. In response to their disorientation, Jesus offered a calming presence. After telling them not to be afraid, he said that his Father’s house is filled with many rooms. He wanted him to know that they would always have a place with him.

As a child, I remember hearing this verse and thinking that Jesus and the Father lived in a huge mansion and I wondered where it was located. I focused on the incidentals rather than the main thing. What does the mansion look like? How big will my room be? Will I have to share my room? How far down the hall will God be? How about my friends and family?

I still think a lot about incidentals. I wonder who will I meet in heaven and whether there will be bacon. Even as an adult, I miss the point. Heaven is not about what, but who, is there. In heaven, our greatest gift will be dwelling with the Trinity forever.

When Jesus told the disciples that his Father’s house had many rooms and that he was going to prepare a place, he wasn’t talking about making up the beds. He wanted them to feel secure in their belonging with him.

In the depth of our souls, many of us harbor fears that we don’t belong anywhere. We go through our lives wearing different masks, trying to cast the right image so that we might fit in, but just like the disciples, Jesus looks at each of us and says, “Don’t worry. You belong.”

Jesus, if I am honest, I fear rejection, abandonment, and having no place to call home. I fear not belonging. Help me to know the truth that one day, I will dwell with you in your kingdom and that right now, your Spirit dwells in me. Amen.

John 14:1

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”-John 14:1

Anxiety filled the room. Judas had gone off into the night after a tense interaction with Jesus. They were all left wondering what had happened and what was going to happen. Jesus told them he was going away and that they could not follow, even though they had been following him for three years. They looked around at one another, filled with confusion.

Jesus looked at them, his eyes filed with compassion. Knowing their hearts, he said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” In other words, Jesus was telling them, “Men, I see your anxiety and confusion. Don’t worry. I’ve got this.” He knew that they did not need a lecture on the theology of justification; they needed to know that he understood their anxiety and that he would not let them down.

Too often, we provide intellectual rationalizations for people’s hurts, but in our pain we do not need a well-reasoned theology of suffering; we need a person. Any theology that is not based upon the person of Jesus Christ is useless. Jesus did not minimize the severity of what was happening; that would have been disingenuous. Rather he said, “Guys, I know you’re scared, but the father and I, we’ve got this.”

Jesus, fears assault me again and again–fears of abandonment, fears of loss, and fears of hurting people, or being hurt by them. When I feel afraid, I clamor for answers and explanations, when what I really need is you. Let me rest in your presence, knowing that your strong arms will never fail me. Amen.

John 13:37-38

Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly I say to you, the rooster will not crow three times till you have denied me three times.”–John 13:37-38

When I read Peter’s words here, I wonder what was stirring in his soul. The first thing I imagine was fear. Peter was afraid of losing his best friend. He was confused because he did not know exactly what was happening, so he asked Jesus if he could come along. They’d been through a lot together. Peter gave three years of his life to following this man, his closest ally. He offered a courageous response to suggest that he would never leave Jesus’s side.

“I will lay down my life for you.” Was this irony? Divine foreshadowing? Peter was saying that he was willing to die for Jesus, which was the only thing he could not do. He needed Jesus to lay down his life for him. It was only Jesus—perfect in life and perfect in death—who was able to truly lay down his life for another. It says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that “He became sin, who knew no sin, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.”

But Jesus did not simply tell Peter, “No, you cannot come.” He told him that by morning, Peter would deny him three times. Peter was his most loyal disciple and one of his dearest friends, yet he was still a human who was susceptible to human frailties and inconsistencies.

Like Peter despite our greatest intentions, we lack the capacity to love perfectly. We are fickle, fragile, frail creatures, yet thanks be to God, we are loved by the one who has no shadow of inconsistency.

Prayer
Jesus, I am like Peter. I confidently promise to give my life wholly to your cause, and yet I can barely make it past breakfast before I have denied you three times. Forgive my frailty and let me lean once again upon your Spirit, who dwells in me. Amen.

John 13:36

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, but you will follow me afterward.” -John 13:36

Jesus had given his disciples his crucial command, to love as he loved. He wanted them to practice love after he left. Peter was not trying work out the nuances of Jesus’s command; he was worried about where his friend was going. Peter could not have cared less about theology at the moment, he cared that his friend was leaving. Jesus was not an abstract concept to Peter; he was flesh and blood. Jesus was Peter’s best friend.

Without giving away the next several hours completely, Jesus told Peter, “I have to go this alone my friend. As hard as it is to understand, I must go by myself.” Like Peter, I think we can miss the importance of isolation to Jesus’s mission. He would go to the cross feeling isolated from his friends and his Father. As excruciating as the cross was physically, the relational isolation would be far worse.

Jesus also knew that Peter would spend his life for the sake of the kingdom, not yet, but after. Jesus called his followers to come after him regardless of what pain the journey would bring. For some, it was martyrdom; for some it was rejection.

We each must grapple with the interplay between right understanding and right relationship. It can be good for us to understand theological nuances, but we cannot dissociate theology from our relationship with him.

Prayer
Jesus, your words in John’s gospel are so powerful. You called us to lives of love with your words, yet by your life and death, you also showed us how to love. Help us to listen to you and love like you. Amen.

John 13:35

“By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”-John 13:35

Verse 35 is continuation of verse 34. Francis Schaeffer wrote some of the most amazing pages about these two verses in The Mark of the Christian (1970). Following Jesus, Schaeffer said how we carry out Jesus’s commandment is the key criterion by which the world may know what Christianity is all about.

We often assume that people make their determinations about the truth of the faith based upon well-reasoned apologetics, culturally relevant messages, or great facilities (or shabby facilities). We stress secondary issues and we miss the main point.

These other considerations are not unimportant, but that they are not ultimate. Every person desires to be loved and accepted. They don’t principally desire wealth or emotional highs. What they want to know is that they are valued and that they belong.

Jesus told his disciples, “Look…you have seen how I have lived my life. I have loved the unlovable. I have healed the broken. I have crossed cultural lines, even with those most people consider morally deplorable. That included some of you. I have sought to serve rather than be served. Do that yourselves and when people are able to see the love that you offer, walls will come down.”

Jesus called us to his way of living, asking us to love recklessly, move toward other people we would otherwise hate, worry less about offending religious people, and think more about being his hands and feet.

Prayer
Jesus, you have called us to a radical journey. What you are asking us to do runs contrary to the culture and it runs contrary to the church. Teach us to love as you love and to serve as you serve, all to the glory of the Father. Amen.

John 13:34

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, so you also are to love one another.” -John 13:34

Even now, as Jesus felt the shadow of the cross shadow darkening, he continued to instruct his disciples in how to live as citizen of his kingdom. Remember, Jesus is not only our Savior, but teacher. John 13:34 captures the heart of Jesus regarding how to live.

Jesus gave them a “new” commandment: to love one another as he loved them, yet the command to love was not new, but ancient. In the Law of Moses (see Lev. 19), the Israelites were commanded to love their neighbors as themselves. So what could Jesus have meant by calling this a new command?

It seems the difference is in understanding how Jesus loved. First, he was largely indifferent to the divisions the religious leaders were so committed to highlighting. The scribes and Pharisees believed there were good people (them) and bad people (i.e., non-observant Jews, Gentiles, the infirm, women). Jesus loved those who didn’t fit the religious mold. His love was all inclusive.

His love also turned roles upside down. The economy of the kingdom of God was not give to get, but one built on true service by putting oneself lower. He called them to deny themselves by making much of others, practicing radical other-centeredness.

We are also called to his other-centered economy. He asks us to love the unlovable, to cross the borders of our comfort zone, and become conduits of his ever flowing river of love.

Prayer
Jesus, the command to love is the heart of your message, the absolute center of what you have called me to do yet I still live in sinful, self-centered ways. Forgive me for my selfishness, and by your Spirit, enable me to grow in love in ways that would not be possible apart from your power in me. Amen.

John 13:33

Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.'”-John 13:33

Jesus continued preparing his disciples for the days ahead. He told the men, “In this I am glorified by my Father.” In other words, what is happening is a big deal. In fact, the next few days would be the biggest deal of all time. Jesus would willingly go to his brutal torture, cruel death, and a descent into hell. What was his hell? Separation from the Father.

He knew he had to go alone, but he also knew the confusion that awaited his disciples. He used a term of endearment, calling them “little children.” He recognized the childlike innocence in his disciples. He knew that they were going to be afraid and confused and that they would long for comfort, his comfort. If you have ever seen the image of a young boy, trying to be brave as his daddy goes off to war, I think you have the right image. Jesus was saying to each of them, “Buddy, I have to go away. You cannot come, but I’ll be back soon.”

Jesus knows that our deepest longing is to be with him. He knows that we can be scared and lonely. He knows that humanity was separated from him, which is why he went to the cross, where his friends could not come along, so that he might make a way for us to be with him eternally.  

Prayer
Jesus, Fears are often treated by well-meaning Christians as indicating a lack of faith. But you know me, Jesus. You know that without you, I am afraid and confused, even when I try to act brave. Help me to bring my childlike fears to you, as you embrace me tightly in your love. Amen.

John 13:31-32

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.”-John 13:31-32

The word glorify appears five times in these two verses. Jesus did not want his followers to miss what he was saying. But do we understand what glorify means? Many of us have heard that word but never really given much thought to what it means. Glory can have multiple meanings—splendor, magnificence, radiance, worth, or light. To “glorify” is to assign glory to another. Jesus was saying that what was happening would highlight the magnificence of the Father, and the Father in turn would ascribe infinite worth to the Son and his work on the cross.

I think John intentionally contrasted the end of verse 30 (and it was night) by repeating “glorify” five times. He wanted to remind his readers that in spite of darkness, the light of Jesus prevailed. He is the light in the darkness, and darkness would not overcome him (see Jn. 1:5).

Prayer
Jesus, when everything around us seems impossibly dark and when we do not know where to look for hope, you shine a light. Let us behold the radiance of your beauty even in darkness so that we might behold your glory forevermore. Amen.