A Deeper Hunger (John 6:24-35)

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I chuckle to myself whenever I read the conversation Jesus had with people in the crowd who are following him in John 6:24-35. It reminds me of some discussions I’ve had in the past with friends from Queensland or New South Wales about football. We were using the same words, but we meant very different things. When I said ‘football’ I was thinking of Australian Rules or AFL. When they said ‘football’ they were meaning Rugby League or Union.

We were using the same language, but were talking past each other because we understood the words in different ways.

That’s what seems to be happening throughout John 6. Jesus had just fed 5000 men, plus women and children. The crowds were pursuing Jesus because they wanted him to keep providing them with free bread. Who can blame them? Imagine how much easier life would be if you had an endless supply of free bread appear on your doorstep each morning!

While they are looking for someone to feed their stomachs, Jesus was talking about providing them, and us, with something to satisfy a much deeper hunger. Jesus wanted to give us something that will feed our hungry hearts and souls, not just our stomachs.

We all have hearts that are hungry for something. For example, I have come across a few authors who say that every person is looking for answers to three fundamental questions: Who am I? Where do I fit? What am I here for? These questions of identity, belonging and purpose can be thought of as hungers we have. We can also be hungry for things like acceptance, self-worth, peace, rest, hope, and the list goes on.

When we try to satisfy these deeper hungers in ways that give us short-term relief, do they ever really satisfy? Our consumer culture offers us temporary solutions that help to distract us from our deeper hungers, but never fulfil them. We can do something similar in the church when we try our best to keep busy, or consume a particular style of worship, or engage in other activities that look nice and ‘Christian’ from the outside but which end up distracting us from our hunger rather than really satisfying it.

One thing that always stands out to me when I read John 6 is that when the people asked Jesus what God wanted then to be doing, Jesus replied that ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’ (v29 NIV). In other words, the one thing God wants us to do is trust that Jesus is the one who can really satisfy our deeper hungers.

Jesus provides whatever our hearts and souls might be hungry for. If we’re hungry for identity, Jesus gives us a new identity as children of God whom he loves and with whom he is pleased. If we’re hungry to belong, Jesus gives it to us by making us members of his body, as brothers and sisters in God’s family, to live out our identity in Christ-centred community. If we’re hungry for purpose, Jesus calls us to participate in God’s mission by being disciples who make disciples and redeeming, restoring and renewing all of creation.

Whatever our deeper hunger might be, Jesus feeds us through the power of his Spirit through the gospel. Jesus accepts us just as we are as a free act of grace. Jesus gives us value by telling us we’re worth dying for by giving his life for us on the cross. Jesus gives us peace as he establishes a new relationship between us, our heavenly Father, and each other. Jesus gives us rest as he carries our burdens for us through prayer and the love we experience in Christian community. The resurrection of Jesus feeds us with hope as he promises that no matter how difficult or dark life might appear, he has given us a life that nothing, not even death, can overcome. No matter what our hearts and souls might be hungry for, Jesus can provide us with what we need.

One of the most important aspects of my work as a pastor is to help connect people’s hungers with what Jesus offers us as the Bread of Life. It begins by honestly asking ourselves what our hearts and souls are hungry for. This can really challenge us and might require some soul-searching because often we’re not too good at admitting our hunger and we can be very good at masking it with superficial attempts at filling the holes. However, when we are able to recognize and admit our deeper hungers, and when we are able to find that Jesus can and will satisfy those hungers, then we are able to share that bread with others.

We become like Jesus’ disciples who received the loaves and fish that Jesus had blessed and distributed them to the 5000 men plus women plus children who had come to hear him speak. When we have fed on the Bread of Life and found his goodness for ourselves, we have something good to share with others – the good news that Jesus offers us life to the full (John 10:10) here and now as we trust in him for everything to satisfy the deeper hungers of our hearts and souls. When we have found this Bread for ourselves, we can distribute it to others who are hungry for the goodness of God in their lives too.

What is your heart hungry for? What might be missing in your life that is keeping you from living the life to the full that Jesus promises? If you’re honest answer is nothing, that your relationship with Jesus is strong and you’re finding everything you need in him, then praise God that you have something good to offer the people around you who have hungry hearts. If, however, you have a hunger that you can’t fill, then let me know and let me help you find how Jesus can satisfy that deeper hunger. Or if you’re not connected with our church, look for a pastor, or a Christian sister or brother, who can help you. Search the Bible together. Listen to what God promises you in his word. Bring your hunger to God in prayer and keep pursuing the goodness of God in Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Because Jesus promises that when we trust in him for what our hearts and souls are hungry for, we’ll never be hungry again.

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Laying Life Down (John 10:11-18)

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While I was a full-time student, I worked a few jobs in retail. During our training for each of these positions, we were told that if we were ever to be held up, we were not to argue with the person robbing us but we were to open the cash register and give the money over. Each time the reason was the same: our lives were much more valuable than the money. The cash could be replaced, but our lives can’t.

Given the choice between putting our lives on the line to protect what was in our care and letting it be taken by someone who was threatening us, it makes sense to save our lives and let go of what we are looking after.

However, sometimes it’s not that simple. For example, a few months ago there was a shooting in a school in the USA. A security guard at the school was heavily criticised afterwards for remaining outside the building when he could hear gunshots inside the classrooms. I don’t know why he didn’t go in to confront the shooters, but I wonder if he was possibly following the instructions I received in my retail training – that you don’t put your life at risk because you can’t get it back.

We all have an inbuilt desire for self-preservation. What my retail trainers were telling me and what the security guard at the school in the USA shows is that our natural tendency is to want to save our lives, even if it comes at the expense of others. My intention is not to be critical or condemning, and I do not want to make anyone feel guilty for making a choice like this. Instead, I want to show that there is a stark contrast between our natural human tendency and Jesus, who willingly laid down his life for us.

Jesus makes this contrast in John 10:11-18 when he describes the difference between a hired hand who is employed to look after a flock of sheep and himself as the Good Shepherd. The hired hand follows my retail training by leaving the sheep when they are threatened by a wolf. The Good Shepherd, however, knows the sheep and values each sheep so much that he willingly lays his life down for the sheep.

When you stop to think about it, this is a pretty disturbing image. Jesus isn’t saying that the shepherd he scares the wolf away or fights it off. Instead, the Good Shepherd places himself between the sheep in his care and the wolf that is threatening them. He willingly lets the wolf kill him and, assuming the wolf is looking for something to eat, feast on his carcass so that the sheep can escape to safety. This is not exactly a child-friendly image. But Jesus is wanting to show us the lengths that he will go to for those in his care because he values each of his sheep so much. That is the way he values each of us…

This idea of sacrifice for others is deeply embedded in our Australian culture. Each year on April 25th we pause as a nation to remember the men and women of our defence forces who have died for our country in war. ANZAC Day is an opportunity for us to stop and reflect on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us so we can live in peace and freedom. It is an important part of our culture as a nation and vitally important that we honour those who have given their lives to protect us.

Even though we live in relative freedom in Australia, we still face threats which want to rob us of life. In the verses preceding Jesus’ words about being the Good Shepherd, he talked about thieves who come to ‘steal and kill and destroy’ the ‘rich and satisfying life’ (v10 NLT) that Jesus gives us. We all face wolves in our lives who want to rob us of life. Sometimes those wolves might be fear, guilt, anger or hopelessness. At other times they might take other forms, but their intention is still the same – to rob life from us.

That’s when the Good Shepherd steps in. He knows what threatens to rob life from us and he places himself between us and the wolves that threaten us so we can find safety and freedom through his sacrifice for us. When we are threatened by fear, Jesus our Good Shepherd takes the worst of this world’s evils on himself in his suffering and death so we can find comfort in his presence with us. When we are threatened by guilt, Jesus takes all of our guilt on himself and dies with it on the cross so we can find forgiveness in him. When we are threatened by anger or hatred, Jesus takes the full force of this world’s anger and hated on the cross, as well as our Father’s wrath, so we can find peace. When hopelessness approaches, our Good Shepherd who died for us comes to us as the One who is risen from the grave to give us his love and life which are stronger than anything we will face in this world. No matter what may threaten to rob us of life, Jesus our Good Shepherd steps up for us, and takes the full force of the threat so we can live in his protection, freedom, peace and hope.

He does all of this because each one of us is so valuable to him. Matthew ends his version of the Parable of the Lost Sheep with Jesus saying, ‘it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish’ (18:12-14 NLT). Each and every sheep in the flock is precious to the Good Shepherd. It can be easy for us to understand that Jesus would give his life for others, but often it can be more difficult to trust that he did that for me, or for you. This is the heart of faith: trusting that each of us is so precious, so valuable, so essential to our Good Shepherd that he would lay down his life for us so we can live.

It would be easy to go on at this point to how we should also give our lives for others, but I’m not going to do that. We know we should be willing to lay down our lives for others, but we still have this thing within us that asks what’s in it for me, or what do I get out of it, or what is it going to cost me? It is part of our natural human condition. That’s why Jesus’ love still amazes me. He knows us well enough to know that it’s not in our nature to be willing to give our lives for others unconditionally, but he still does that for us. For me. For you. That’s why he’s the Good Shepherd.

And that’s why I reckon he can be trusted and why he’s worth following…

God’s Saving Love (John 3:14-21)

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There is a renovation show on Australian television called The Block where contestants move into properties that are run-down and derelict. Over the following few months, the contestants turn these properties into million-dollar residences. It is quite amazing to see houses, motels and even warehouses, which have been condemned as unfit for people to live in, saved from demolition and made new through hard work, sacrifice and a bucket load of money.

People I know have different opinions about whether The Block is good TV or not, but thinking about this text from John 3:17, what happens on The Block is kind of what Jesus does for the world.

Last year when Australia was debating whether or not to legalise same-sex marriage, one thing that stood out to me in many of the voices I heard from outside the church was that people in our society perceive Christians as being largely judgemental and condemning. I often come across the same sentiment when I perform weddings or funerals. At least one person will often joke that the roof will fall in when they walk into the church. These two examples reflect an attitude which is probably held by most Australians that Christians are judgemental and condemning of others.

The Apostle John says exactly the opposite should be true. He writes that ‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him’ (v17). We can often hear the word ‘condemn’ as a legal term. When a person is convicted of a crime, the judge will condemn the prisoner to a prison sentence, or, either historically or in some parts of the world, to death. However, another way we can think of being ‘condemned’ and ‘saved’ is like those properties on The Block. When our world was run-down and derelict because of sin, when it was broken and falling apart because of neglect and abuse, God made it his home in the person of Jesus. Then this carpenter’s son began the work of saving the world from being condemned by restoring it to its original beauty. In The Message, Eugene Petersen paraphrases John 1:14 as, ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.’ When God entered the world in the person of Jesus, he came to save the world from being condemned, not to tear it down, demolish or destroy it.

As people who live in this world which has been saved from being condemned, we can live as people who are free from condemnation. At one time or another in our lives, in one way or another, we can all suffer from condemnation. We can all see ourselves or feel like those run-down, derelict, neglected houses that are falling apart. The good news of Jesus, however, is that we have been saved from being condemned. Jesus has taken our condemnation on himself and has died as a condemned sinner so we can live free from any and all condemnation. That is why Jesus said to the woman who had been caught in adultery that he didn’t condemn her for her actions (John 8:1-11). That is also why the Apostle Paul wrote that ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). Because Jesus was condemned in our place, we can live free from condemnation every day of our lives through faith in him. When those voices from either within us or from outside us start to judge or condemn us, tell them to be quiet because Jesus was condemned in our place to save us from condemnation. The saving word of Jesus is stronger than the voices that whisper condemnation to us, so shut them up with the promise that Jesus was born, died and is raised again to save you, not to condemn you!

In a world that is quick to judge and condemn others for a whole lot of reasons, this is good news for everyone! The challenge that we face as the church is how to help our society understand that, as the living, breathing body of Christ in the world, we are here to save people from the condemnation they experience, not to add to it.

This is the fundamental mission of the church: to join with Jesus is saving a broken world from being condemned, no matter what the cost!

So how do we do that? It starts with each of us living in ways that are free from condemnation. I talk with too many children of God who suffer from feeling judged and condemned for a range of reasons. We need to be pursuing the saving love of God in Jesus that frees us from condemnation and living in that freedom every day of our lives. It might sound simple, and often it isn’t, but this is the foundational purpose of Christian community – to give people a place where they can find freedom from condemnation through the saving love of Christ.

Which leads us to the second way we can bring the good news of Jesus’ saving love to the world: we need to stop condemning each other. When we are speaking well of each other and speaking grace to each other, we give life to each other as members together of the body of Christ. To often we judge or criticise others in the church because we don’t like what they are doing or the way they do things, and too often this results in condemnation. We need to be speaking words of grace and love, hope and joy, peace and blessing to each other in the church. Yes, there might be times when we need to speak ‘the truth in love’ to each other, but we need to be doing it to build each other up in love, not tearing each other down (Ephesians 4:15,16).

The third way we can change our culture’s view of Christians is to speak these same words of grace and love to the people we meet every day of our lives. Each and every day we are with people who suffer from feeling condemned in lots of different ways. Instead of criticising others who think or behave differently to the way we think they should, what if we loved them as people who are part of the world that Jesus came to restore? We might not be able to change the perspective of our society as a whole, but if we can show Jesus’ saving love to one person today, and tomorrow, and the next day, then we are doing our part to work with Jesus in restoring a broken and condemned world.

I don’t think I’ll watch The Block the same way again. I used to see it as people who were desperately trying to make fast money by pushing themselves to the physical and emotional limit. Next time I’m watching it, though, I’m going to see these contestants as people who are willing to do whatever it takes to save a condemned house and make it new again, no matter what the cost.

Just like Jesus did to save a condemned world…

A Personal Invitation (John 1:43-51)

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At our congregation’s general meeting last November, we adopted the following Discipling Plan as our theme for 2018 and our strategic direction for the future:

Following Jesus and making disciples by connecting, growing, equipping and sending.

As we begin a new year of ministry and mission in Tea Tree Gully, I’m intending to listen to God’s Word through our Discipling Plan when I prepare my messages each week to learn what Jesus might be teaching us about connecting, growing, equipping and sending as his followers in the world.

This story from John 1:43-51 talks a lot about connecting with others in relationships. Jesus connects with Philip by calling him into a discipling relationship with him. Philip then uses an existing connection he has with Nathanael to tell him that he had found the person that Moses and the Old Testament prophets had promised, and that person was Jesus from Nazareth. Philip then invites Nathanael into a relationship with Jesus by asking him to come and see Jesus for himself. The surprise in the story is that, as Nathanael comes to Jesus, he states that he had already seen Nathanael under the fig tree, even before he came to him.

What stands out to me in this story is that Philip didn’t need to be trained or taught how to bring Nathanael to meet Jesus. Neither did he invite him to attend a program or an event, or ask him to join a roster or a committee. Philip didn’t even ask Nathanael to go to church. Philip’s invitation was simple and personal: come and see Jesus for yourself.

We need to hear this because sometimes it seems like the aim of many people in the church is often to try get people to come to church, and we think that once we’ve done that our work is done. We can assume that if people are coming to church regularly, or semi-regularly, or participating in the organization of the congregation by being on a roster or in a committee, then they are connected to Jesus. However, just because we come to church or are part of a church organization, it doesn’t mean that we know Jesus. Over my years of ministry, I have met people who have been very faithful in attending church or active in the organization of the congregation, but their words and actions have made me wonder whether they have actually met Jesus.

This becomes critical as we discuss ministry with our young people. At times I have conversations with parents whose children have disconnected from church and they ask me why their children don’t come to church anymore. Of course, this is a complicated questions and there are many, many reasons why people might stop attending worship. Over recent years, however, as I have reflected on my experiences in the church but also my own family, I have been wondering whether the main problem is that too many of our young people just haven’t met Jesus in our churches. We can be so immersed in the busyness and business of church that maybe our focus has drifted from Jesus and know him through faith.

Maybe we need to be asking more how we can follow Philip’s example by helping our young people and others meet Jesus.

This is largely what our Discipling Plan is about. It adopts a relational understanding of church and emphasises the importance of meeting Jesus and growing in our relationship with him through participation in our community of faith. Our Discipling Plan begins where Jesus begins: by connecting with him in a discipling relationship and connecting with others with Jesus at the centre of our relationships with each other, just like Philip and Nathanael.

When we see church as a community where we can meet Jesus and through which we can help others meet Jesus, a major shift happens in our thinking. We become more of the living, breathing body of Christ in the world where people encounter God’s love for them through our love for each other. When we are living Christ-like lives by preferring each other’s needs over our own, doing what’s good for others even if it comes at a personal cost to ourselves, and being willing to sacrifice for each other rather than just working for what benefits ourselves, then people meet Jesus in us. I regularly hear people in our congregation pray that the Holy Spirit would make us more and more like Jesus. This is a good and vital prayer because when the Spirit transforms us into the image of Christ, and this transformation is evident in our words and actions, in our relationships and how we treat each other, then people meet Jesus in us.

It is also important to see that at this stage of his journey as a follower of Jesus, Philip didn’t knock on someone’s door or approach a stranger to tell them about Jesus. Instead, he went to someone with whom he already had a relationship. In the same way, mission begins with the people we already know. God wants to work through the connections we already have to connect with others, including our families, friends, people we work with or with whom we spend our leisure time. When he met Jesus, Philip found us someone he had been waiting for. Then, he naturally wanted to share who he had found with someone he knew. When we find what our hearts are waiting for in Jesus, then inviting others to meet Jesus will be a natural thing to do.

So this story leaves me with two questions. The first is, how might our congregation be different if our main goal was to introduce people to Jesus? My personal hope and prayer is that by implementing our Discipling Plan, we might all meet Jesus as the real, living person that he is, that we might grow in our relationship with him, equipping us through the power of the Holy Spirit as he sends is into the world to participate in God’s mission of redeeming, restoring and renewing creation.

My second question is, where are you in this story? Do you identify with Philip as a follower of Jesus who has found in him what your heart has been waiting for? Then our Discipling Plan is about equipping you to invite others to meet Jesus. Or are you more like Nathanael, someone who is still waiting to meet Jesus? I hope and pray that through your connection with our congregation this year you might meet the crucified, risen and living Jesus, and grow in your relationship with him to find everything your heart is waiting for.

The good news is that whether you are more of a Philip or a Nathanael, Jesus already sees you, knows you, and is waiting for you.

More to think about:

  • Do you like meeting new people? Can you explain why you like or dislike it?
  • Why do you think Philip was so quick to tell Nathanael about meeting Jesus? What does that tell us about what meeting Jesus can do for us?
  • Do you feel like you have met Jesus in Christian community? What has helped you meet Jesus or has got in the way of you meeting Jesus?
  • Do you agree that we can help people meet Jesus when we love them in the same way that he loves us? Who could you introduce to Jesus today by loving them like Jesus loves you?
  • How might your Christian community or church be different if your main goal was to help people meet Jesus and grow in their relationship with him?

Disciples Forgive (John 20:19-23)

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Six weeks ago, on the Sunday after Easter, we looked at this same story from the perspective that Jesus sends his disciples into the world. Discipleship is about Jesus preparing and equipping us to carry on his work in the world on his behalf by the power of his Spirit.

As we celebrate God’s gift of his Holy Spirit to his people at Pentecost, I want to look at this story again from the perspective of the work the Spirit empowers us to do.

I have had lots of conversations with Christians over the years about how the Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer. One aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work that doesn’t seem to get talked about a lot, however, is the Spirit’s work of forgiveness. Yet here, at the end of his gospel, when Jesus appeared to his disciples in the evening of his resurrection, John makes a strong connection between the gift of the Holy Spirit with the forgiveness of sins.

Maybe one of the reasons we don’t talk about forgiveness a lot is because our culture doesn’t like talking about sin. We still suffer from the effects of sin, though, even if we want to try to deny its existence. So many people that I talk to describe how they feel guilty, or have regrets in life, or carry a sense of shame. The remedy for these afflictions rests in the gift Jesus gave to his disciples in this story: forgiveness.

Another reason talking about forgiveness can be difficult is that it doesn’t come naturally to us. We tend to find it hard to believe that we can be forgiven for the wrongs we have done or the guilt that we carry. We can also find it hard to forgive people who have wronged us. That is why the gift of the Holy Spirit is so important for us. The Spirit of God works in us what we can’t do for ourselves. The Spirit creates forgiving hearts within us by giving us the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross and the empty tomb. Then, having experienced forgiveness, we are more likely be forgiving people. That is why Jesus taught his disciples, including us, to love others like he loves us (John 13:34). To love someone means forgiving them and not keeping a record of their wrongs (see 1 Corinthians 13:5).

This isn’t a gift that is just given to pastors, priests, or whatever your name for the professional clergy might be. Just as one of the emphases of the festival of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit is given to all of God’s people, so all of God’s people have the authority and the privilege to lift the burdens of guilt, shame and regret by forgiving others. We all pray ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’ in the Lord’s Prayer. The sad reality is that some people never hear words of forgiveness outside of worship, so I consider it a high priority each week to tell people who live in a harsh, judging and condemning world that they are forgiven for Christ’s sake. It is my constant prayer that the Spirit of the living Christ will use these words to breathe life into people’s hearts so they can believe they really are forgiven children of God whom he loves and with whom he is pleased (Mark 1:11 etc), and they can in turn extend God’s forgiveness to the people in their lives who need it.

Obviously, forgiveness isn’t all the Holy Spirit does in the life of a believer, but it is a vital and life-giving aspect of the Spirit’s work. As we celebrate the festival of Pentecost, it is good to remember firstly that Jesus’ disciples are forgiven people and to ask the Spirit of Christ to give us a bold faith to hang on to the forgiveness he gives to us. As Jesus’ forgiven disciples, then, we are also empowered by the Holy Spirit to extend that same forgiveness to everyone in our lives, especially those who deserve it the least but need it the most.

More to think about:

  • Why do you think some people find it hard to accept forgiveness? Why do you think some people find it hard to forgive others?
  • Do you find it easy to believe that you are a forgiven person? If you are living with guilt or shame or regret, where do you think these feelings come from?
  • Why do you think John connects Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit to his disciples with the forgiveness of sins? (It might help to go back to Jesus promising the Paraclete [someone who stands beside us and speaks God’s truth to us] in John 14:16,17)
  • Who is someone that you find difficult to forgive? How might the gift of God’s Holy Spirit help you to forgive that person?
  • Who do you know that might need the gift of forgiveness? How might you be able to extend Jesus’ gift of forgiveness to them?

Jesus in You (John 14:15-21)

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Last week we heard Jesus say that we see the Father when we see him, and we get to know the Father when we get to know him, because Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus (vv1-14). From Jesus’ words we can think of discipleship as following him into a deeper and closer relationship with God the Father so we can participate with God in his work of redeeming, restoring and renewing the world.

But what about the Holy Spirit? As Christians who believe in and teach the Trinity, we believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one. So what is the role of the Spirit of God in this new relationship we have with the Father through the Son?

In John 14, Jesus continues by promising that he will ask the Father who will give us the Paraclete (v16). This word means someone who stands beside us to speak for us and to speak to us, which is why it can be translated as Advocate, Helper, Comforter, Encourager or Counsellor. This is the Spirit of Truth (v17) which, Jesus promises, is with us and will be, or is already, in us (depending on how we read the verb).

We need to pause at this point because of our post-modern culture’s difficulty with the word ‘truth.’ Our society has a tendency to want to make all ‘truth’ relative so that there is no one, absolute truth. Instead, post-modernism argues, we live with many truths, yours being different than mine, with the end result that there is no one ‘truth’ we can rely on.

I understand and agree that we need to respect and value what people hold as ‘truth’ for themselves. However, we then need to ask, what is the ‘Truth’ that Jesus talks about, and is it possible for us to find a ‘Truth’ in him that we can trust enough to build a life on?

Earlier in chapter 14, Jesus said that he is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (v6). One way we can think of the ‘Spirit of Truth’ that Jesus promises to give us as not an idea, a concept, or even a doctrinal theology to be discussed, debated or even defended. Instead, if Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, it is possible to think of the ‘Truth’ as a person – Jesus himself. This would mean that the Spirit of Truth that he promises us is his own Spirit, which will be with us and even in us!

This is what Jesus seems to mean when he says, ‘When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you’ (v20 NLT). The role of the Spirit of Truth that Jesus is talking about here is to bring us into the relationship that exists between the Father and the Son by living in us so as we live in him, he lives in us, and together we are one with God in perfect relationship.

There are times in life when this can be hard to believe. Especially when life is difficult or challenging, when we suffer from physical or mental illness, grief or loss of any kind, we can start to wonder where God is and why he is letting us go through pain or emptiness. This is where we need the Spirit to lead us deeper into the Truth. We can find in Christ that, even in the darkest times of life, we are one with the Father through Jesus by the power of the Spirit, and nothing can separate us from his love for us as his children whom he loves and with whom he is well pleased (Romans 8:38,39; Matthew 3:17 etc). We can understand the work of the Paraclete, then, as speaking words of grace and truth to us when we need them the most, and leading us into a deeper relationship with the Truth of God who is made a human being in the person of Jesus, so that, as people who are in the Father through the Son, we can live the life Jesus came to give us (14:19; 10:10).

As disciples of Jesus, following Jesus can mean living each and every day in this Truth, no matter what our circumstances might be, no matter whether we feel it or not. Living in the Spirit of Truth can mean that whether life is good or bad, whether we are cruising or battling, even if we struggle to get out of bed in the morning or to put one foot in front of the other, the Spirit of the living Christ gives us the ability to trust that God is with us, for us and in us. As the Spirit of Truth lives in us we share in the life of Jesus, and nothing, not even death, can overcome it.

Obviously there is a lot more we could say about the work of the Spirit of Truth in the lives of God’s people. There is good teaching on the Holy Spirit, and there are some ideas about the Spirit’s work that I struggle with based on what the Bible teaches. In a lot of ways, however, our understanding of the Holy Spirit needs to be founded on what Jesus says to us in this passage. The gift of the Paraclete is to bring us into God’s Truth – that we are one with the Father through the Son by the power of the Spirit. In this new relationship, we can find a God who loves us, that we can love in return, and we can live in ways that bring life to ourselves and to as we follow Jesus’ commands in faith, hope and love.

More to think about:

  • How do you picture the Holy Spirit? What do you think of the picture of the Spirit as Paraclete – someone who stands beside us to speak for us and to us? What do you like about it? What is difficult for you?
  • How do you understand the idea of ‘truth’? Do you believe there are absolute truths (always true, no matter what)? What might they be? Are some truths relative (different for different people at different times)? How do you work out what truths are absolute and which are relative?
  • Some years ago I came across the idea that the Spirit of Truth Jesus talks about is his Spirit because Jesus is God’s Truth. What do you think of this idea: that Truth from a biblical point of view is more about a person with whom we can have a relationship than an idea to be discussed and debated?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to believe that you are one with God the Father through Jesus the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit? What makes it a challenge? What helps you to believe it?
  • How might you live tomorrow differently if you were to go into it believing that you are one with God through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit? How might that faith shape what you do & say to others?

Know the Son, Know the Father (John 14:1-14)

babushka dolls 02

If you were to draw a picture of God, what would it be? An old man with a long, white beard sitting among the clouds? A nature scene? A burst of light? Or something else…?

I think Philip, one of Jesus’ Twelve Disciples, must have been a visual person, because asking Jesus to show him the Father (v8) could have come from a desire to have some sort of picture about what the Father looks like. Instead of drawing him a picture, though, Jesus points to himself as the visual representation of the invisible God.

This is consistent with other parts of the New Testament that points to Jesus as the visible face of the invisible God (for example see Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). What they are saying is that if we want to see God, the best place to look is at Jesus.

However, this is more than a picture of God. In Jesus we see the character and nature of God. Especially when we follow Jesus to the cross and empty tomb, we see the depth of God’s love for us and the power of his love which is stronger than death.

In seeing God in Jesus, we also get to know him (v7). Jesus says the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father (v10,11). The relationship between the Father and Son is so close that they exist in perfect relationship with each other. One way we can think of this relationship is like a mystical babushka (or matryoshka) doll. The mystery of the relationship between the Father and the Son is that not only is the inner doll nestled within the outer doll, but the larger outer doll also exists within the smaller inner doll. It defies logic and messes with my head, but this is basically what Jesus is saying – the relationship between himself and the Father is so close and intertwined that we cannot separate them from each other.

Jesus tells us this so that we can know the Father through the Son (v7). In our current culture, we usually think about ‘knowledge’ as an intellectual activity based on information. From a biblical perspective, however, knowing someone was a lot more than an intellectual exercise. Knowing someone meant having a relationship with that person. For example, there is a big difference between knowing about the Queen of England and knowing her well enough to drop into her palace for a cup of tea and scones with her and the corgis. Through Jesus, we can know the Father in a close and intimate relationship where we are participating with Jesus in God’s work of redeeming, reconciling and renewing the world (v12), and where Jesus promises that he will give us whatever we ask for to do his saving work and bring glory to the Father (vv13,14).

So, how is your relationship with God? One of the challenges we face in our time and place is that we can tend to over-intellectualise our faith. God want us to love him with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27 etc), and so our intellect plays a part in our faith. However, the language of faith that Jesus uses in this passage is about relationship. As we follow Jesus, he leads us deeper into a relationship with the Father. The more we get to know Jesus, the more we also get to know the Father. And the more we get to know God who is the author and sustainer of all life, the more we get to know his life in us (see John 10:10).

We’ve talked a lot about the relationship between the Father and the Son, but I’m guessing there will be people who will be pointing out that a Christian understanding of God is Trinitarian, and so we need to include the Holy Spirit in this relationship as well. Jesus goes on to talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in the next few verses, which we’ll look at next week…

More to think about:

  • How do you picture God? Spend some time drawing how you visualise God…
  • How does your picture of God compare with Jesus, given that he says that those who see him also see God (v9)? In what ways is your picture similar to Jesus? In what ways is it different?
  • This isn’t just about the way God looks, but his character and nature which we encounter in Jesus, especially when we follow Jesus to his cross & empty tomb. What does Jesus’ cross & empty tomb say to you about the character & nature of God?
  • Do you tend to think of faith is more an intellectual activity or a relationship? What might it look like to have ‘a personal relationship’ with Jesus? (think about other significant relationships you have in your life; what keeps those relationships strong? how can you do those things with Jesus to keep your relationship strong with him?)
  • What do you think about the idea that discipleship is following Jesus into a closer & deeper relationship with the Father? What do you like about this idea? What might be challenging or uncomfortable about it for you?