Sixth Sunday of Easter

This passage is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples on the night before his death, a discourse punctuated by the anxious questions of his disciples about his impending departure.

Gustav Klimt, Nine Drawings for the Execution of a Frieze
Gustav Klimt, Nine Drawings for the Execution of a Frieze..., MAK (Museum of Applied Arts), Vienna. Image by Kotomi_ via Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

May 1, 2016

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Commentary on John 14:23-29

This passage is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples on the night before his death, a discourse punctuated by the anxious questions of his disciples about his impending departure.

First Peter (John 13:36), then Thomas (14:5), then Phillip (14:8), and then Judas (not Iscariot) (14:22) ask for clarification about what Jesus is telling them.

Jesus has promised not to leave his disciples orphaned (John 14:18). He has promised to send another Advocate, the Spirit of truth, to be with them forever (14:16) and continue the work that he has begun. The world does not recognize the Spirit of truth and thus cannot receive him (4:17), just as it has not received Jesus.

Jesus tells his disciples that though the world will no longer see him, they themselves will see him (John 4:19) because he will reveal himself to them (4:21). Then Judas (not Iscariot) asks: “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” (4:22) Our passage begins with Jesus’ response to this question. Perhaps Judas expects that Jesus will give them some kind of secret knowledge, but that is not what Jesus means.

Earlier Jesus had spoken to his disciples of the “many dwellings” (monai pollai) in his Father’s house, where he was going to prepare a place for them (John 14:2). Now Jesus says that he and the Father will come and make their dwelling (monên) with those who love him and keep his word (14:23). In John’s Gospel, “eternal life” begins here and now; it is life in relationship with God through Jesus Christ (17:3). Even while Jesus prepares eternal dwellings with the Father, he and the Father will continue to dwell with his disciples in the present.

It is through the Holy Spirit, the Advocate or Paraclete (the Greek word paraclêtos signifies “called along beside”), that Jesus will continue to be present with his disciples. Jesus says that the Father will send the Holy Spirit to be alongside his disciples, to teach them and remind them of all that Jesus has said to them (John 14:26).

Because Jesus will be present with them through the Holy Spirit, his disciples need not be anxious. Chapter 14 begins with Jesus’ exhortation, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). Now again Jesus exhorts, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid,” after telling his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (14:27).

When Jesus meets his frightened disciples after his resurrection, it will be with a greeting of peace (John 20:19, 21). The Greek word for peace is eirênê, but this is surely a translation of the traditional Hebrew greeting shalom. Shalom signifies more than the absence of conflict; it is a profound and holistic sense of well-being. It is the kind of peace which the world cannot give, but can only come from God. This gift of peace accompanies the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus breathes into his disciples as he sends them out in mission (20:22).

As Jesus seeks to prepare his disciples for what is to come, he tells them that if they loved him, they would rejoice that he is going to the Father, because the Father is greater than him (John 14:28). It seems understandable that the disciples would not be in a rejoicing mood upon learning that Jesus would soon be leaving them. Jesus tries to reassure them that he is not simply leaving them, but that there is a purpose in his leaving; he is going to be with the Father. Later in this same discourse, Jesus will tell them that it is to their advantage that he is going away, so that he can send the Advocate, who will bring further understanding and be with them always (16:7).

I can imagine that the disciples were still not convinced that Jesus’ leaving could be a good thing. Jesus says that he is telling them these things now so that when they occur, they will believe. Indeed, it is only after the resurrection, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, that the disciples begin to understand and believe the words of Jesus (John 2:22; 12:16) and are finally able to rejoice (20:20). The whole of John’s Gospel manifests the fruits of the Spirit’s work among the disciples after Jesus’ death and resurrection in deepening their understanding of Jesus’ identity and mission.

One approach to preaching this text might be to talk about how the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. So often we do not understand what God is up to. We do not understand how certain events could have any meaning or result in anything good. It is only with time and prayer and the aid of the Holy Spirit that we begin to see how God might be working for good even in the midst of terrible and confusing events.

This is not to say that everything that happens is God’s will, for that would be to deny the reality of evil. The crucifixion of Jesus was clearly an act of human evil. But God is able to bring good even out of the worst evil. John’s Gospel sees the death of Jesus in the light of the resurrection, in the light of God’s triumph over evil and death. The incarnation, the ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the sending of the Spirit — all of these events together demonstrate the depth of God’s love for the world.

Above all else, it is this profound love of God that Jesus has made known to his disciples and that the Holy Spirit continues to make known to us. The Spirit assures us that we are never abandoned, even in the midst of the loss, pain, and sorrow that are part of life in this broken world. The Word who became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14) continues to make his home with us (14:23), even as he prepares our eternal dwelling with God (14:2).