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The peace - John 14:25-32

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 30th January 2011.

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The American Comedian Woody Allen once pulled out a pocket watch, very much like this one, and said to his audience, ‘This watch is very precious to me. It used to belong to my late father; he sold it to me on his deathbed.’ The whole idea of bequeathing something to someone is one with which we are all very familiar. Ensuring that loved ones  receive an inheritance once we  have shuffled off this mortal coil is not just a matter of passing on family heirlooms like watches and broaches, but making sure that those left behind are actually provided for. Of course this is especially important in those societies where no proper provision is made for widows and orphans, there being no welfare state for example. That is when you are especially dependent upon the deceased having given some forethought for their dependents they will leave behind so that they can simply get on with living. Well, that was the kind of culture in which Jesus lived and those were the kind of questions which were anxiously gnawing away at the disciples minds as Jesus spoke about his leaving to go ‘back to the Father’, they were one the edge of a bereavement process which is why earlier in verse 18 Jesus says, ‘I will not leave you as orphans’- children whose parents have died, that is what they were afraid of becoming with a whole host of  questions swirling around their minds: How were they going to cope? Who was going to guide them? Who was going to protect them? For nearly three years now Jesus had been the one to meet all of those needs, he was their guide and their guard. But as Jesus was about to leave, so was the disciple’s confidence. And maybe, if the truth be known, that is the way you are feeling at the moment. There are some new challenges looming on the horizon which appear daunting. There is a change in circumstances which leaves you wondering how you are going to cope. It could be that you are here tonight and for a while you have been standing on the outside of the Christian faith, looking in, but the one thing that has been holding you back is fear, fear that if you take that step of commitment you will fail, the dread that you will never be able to keep it up. If that is you, then take heart because you are in very good company indeed, the company of Jesus’ first disciples.

If it is the case that the extent of the provision is a measure of the love of the provider, then from what Jesus says in this passage, we can say that Jesus love for his followers knows no limit. There were many things troubling the disciples on that fateful evening before Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion, not least his strange and perplexing language- all this talk about ‘going away’ and in same breath saying, ‘I will come to you’ (vv18 and 28). Which is it- a coming or a going? Well, it is both. The eternal Son, Jesus, is about to return to share his Father’s glory in heaven. In that sense he will be absent- he is going. But he will send his own Spirit, this Counsellor, to be with his followers. In that sense he will be present- his coming. We can put it like this- the presence of Jesus is mediated to his disciples by the Spirit of Jesus. And in John’s Gospel this Spirit is given a distinctive name- the Paracletos, translated here as ‘Counsellor’ but which means ‘the one who draws alongside to strengthen and to help’. So what Jesus is bequeathing to his followers is his very self- the one who embodies the character of Jesus and the power of Jesus. That is one mighty gift to pass on to people isn’t it- the reality of your presence? And it is from this overwhelming reality that Jesus provides three precious things to those left behind.

First, he provides his truth-vv25-26, “All this I have spoken to you while still with you. But the Counsellor (Paracletos), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.” Now it is vitally important we pay very close attention to whom Jesus is speaking otherwise we are going to totally misinterpret what Jesus is meaning as many are doing today. In the first instance he is not speaking to us. ‘All this I have spoken to you while I was still with you’. Who are the ‘you’? Well, the disciples of course. And that it is the first disciples Jesus has in mind and not us 2,000 years later is underscored by the fact that he says that the Holy Spirit will ‘remind you of everything I have said to you.’ I can’t be reminded of what Jesus said to me because I wasn’t around for Jesus to say anything to me and neither were you. But these 11 men were. Now it is pretty obvious when you read the Gospel accounts that the disciples were not the sharpest knives in the drawer when it came to understanding what Jesus was talking about. Over and over again he would be brought to the brink of despair saying, ‘Are you so dull?’ And certainly the one thing that they could not get their head around was the fact that he had to go to a cross and die for our sins and rise again. So what possible hope was there that when he had died then everything would click and fall into place with them? Their track record so far was not all that good while Jesus was with them, so the chances of them totally messing things up when he was gone were very high indeed. And so are you not amazed that not only do we have four outstanding accounts of Jesus life, works which have astonished and challenged some of the greatest minds in history- some written by fishermen who are not known for winning the Booker Prize for literature, but also letters which provide the most sublime insight into the person and significance of Jesus often written while undergoing persecution? Here is the answer: The Paraclete did exactly what Jesus said he would do, he would lead them into all truth and remind them of everything he ever said to them. In fact there was so much that was brought to remembrance that at the end of this Gospel John says, ‘Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.’ They had to be highly selective of their material. How did they select? How was this magnificent Gospel crafted in such a way that at times it is almost poetic, operating on several different levels at once? Archbishop William Temple once likened John’s Gospel to a pool in which a child could paddle and an elephant can swim. How do you explain that? Well, no natural explanation will do, a supernatural explanation is required. Here Jesus gives it. Yes, the Spirit worked through the different personalities and abilities of the different apostles, which in part explains why the Gospels are different in style and arrangement, but the ultimate author is the Holy Spirit. So these are the men who were led into all truth regarding Jesus. These are the men who captured his words and recorded his actions. So if we want to know Jesus, want to hear his voice, then this is the place, and the only place we are to go, indeed can go.

Now this is very important for this reason: there are people today who take this verse about Jesus sending the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth and rip it out of context and apply it directly to themselves so that it is they and not the apostles who become the custodians of what they claim is God’s truth. But what they end up with is in fact a lie. For example this is a favourite text of the American Episcopal Church for legitimising gay sex and gay marriages. They say that the Holy Spirit is leading them into all truth, including the truth that gay sex is fine, that God can be referred to as Mother and the Holy Spirit as a ‘she’. The interesting thing about this ‘new revelation’ is that is exactly what the non-Christian world is teaching and so is hardly new at all. The church simply becomes captive to the latest trend and the Holy Spirit is exchanged for the spirit of the age.

But Jesus has made provision to ensure that his truth, which is objective, is written –down- truth and accessible to anyone who would care to read it. It is not some mystical, subjective ‘I- feel- that- is what- God –is- saying- to –me’ ‘truth’ which is usually a validation of my own preferences anyhow. It is a given and it is reliable because it comes from the Spirit of God himself.

However, there is a secondary, derived sense in which this promise can be applied to us. The way the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth concerning Jesus is by leading us back to this book in which that truth is found. Not only that, but he is the one who gives us the ability to understand and embrace the truth, more than that to encounter God as he is mediated by his Word. It is also the experience of the Christian that on many occasions, portions of Scripture will come to mind when facing particular circumstances, that, I believe is the Holy Spirit bringing to remembrance what Jesus has said. It is not an additional voice we hear; the Spirit’s voice and the Scriptures voice are one and the same, he will bring us back to his truth. People can read the Bible and it is little more than marks on a page and it will remain like that for them until they humbly ask the Holy Spirit to lighten up the page so they may hear it as it really is- the Word of God.

A number of years ago, the former Bishop of Rochester, Christopher Chevasse, described the experience of the Holy Spirit at work in illumining the Bible in this way: ‘The Bible is the portrait of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospels are the figure itself in the portrait. The Old Testament is the background leading up to the divine Figure, pointing towards it and absolutely necessary to the composition of as a whole. The Epistles serve as the dress of the figure, explaining and describing it. Then while by our Bible reading we study the portrait as a great whole, the miracle happens, the Figure comes to life, and stepping down from the canvas of the written word the everlasting Christ of the Emmaus story becomes himself our Bible teacher, to interpret to us in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.’ Jesus provides his truth.

Secondly, Jesus provides his peace, v27, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’ The problem was that they were. They could sense that violence and hostility were just over the horizon and were to be unleashed in frightening fury in chapter 18- of course they were scared spitless. And so Jesus promises his gift of peace. One Bible commentator, Matthew Henry describes this most beautifully: ‘“When Christ was about to leave the world, He made His will. His soul He committed to the Father; His body He bequeathed to Joseph; His clothes fell to the soldiers; His mother He left to the care of John. But what should He leave to His poor disciples who had left all for Him? Silver and gold—He had none. But He left them that which was infinitely better—His peace.”

Notice that Jesus contrasts the peace he gives with that of the world. What is peace as far as the non-Christian is concerned? It is the absence of trouble. We say peace has come to a war torn country when the fighting stops. We even talk about a person who after fighting a debilitating illness dies to be ‘at peace’. But that is not what Jesus gives. It is his peace, the peace he experienced in Gethsemane, the peace he experienced during the floggings, the peace he experienced while hanging on a cross, so that he could with his dying breath say, ‘Father forgive them and Father into your hands I commit my spirit.’ It is a peace which comes in the midst of trouble, not a peace which marks the absence of trouble, because Jesus will go on to warn his disciples in the next chapter that while they are in this world they will have trouble, like he had, but that is when they will know his peace.

I have mentioned to some of you before the story of Keith Jones which illustrates this so wonderfully. Keith Jones was the Chief Executive of the Mission Aviation Fellowship. After leaving the Naval Air Squadron as a pilot he and his wife Lin went with MAF to serve Christ in Chad. After four years on their return home Lin developed Leukaemia, and this is how Keith, recounts what happened: ‘I drove Lin to London and she was admitted into an isolation ward. I remember her looking at me. She was scarcely recognisable. Lin was  reduced to skin and bone and neither knew where she was  nor what she was saying. Keith' she said ‘get out of my life I don’t want to see you again.’ I knew that was not Lin speaking but the result of all that was happening to her. I told her I would go home but come back the next day to see her. ‘Don’t bother’ she replied. Looking round at her I wept, she was so ill. Then I called out as loudly as I could ‘I can’t leave you’ I  threw my arms around her, then an hour later left her asleep and  cried all the way home. Lin developed an infection of the brain and died aged 43.Sometime later, after Lin died, the Lord reminded me of that night. I heard him speaking to me in my mind and heart telling me there was a time in eternity when his Son took on his shoulders the sin of the whole world, that he too was left to die looking unrecognizable and that while he looked at him and could have gone to him, thrown his arms around him and embraced him and told him he would never leave him, He did not. He turned his back on his own dear Son Jesus and left him there to pay the death penalty for my sin. I realized in that experience that what Lin and I went through was no more than a glimpse of the pain God endured so to give his Son Jesus Christ. It enabled me to share with others in a more informed way something of his costly love for them.’ He goes on, ‘So Lin completed her last adventure on earth and went on to that greatest adventure of all-seeing God in all his glory in heaven and being welcomed home by the Lord whom she had loved and served.’ That is the kind of peace Jesus gives-so don’t be afraid, it will come when you need it the most, but only then, it can’t be stored up for the occasion.

Thirdly, he provides his assurance, verse 28, ‘You heard me say, “I am going away and I am coming back to you.” If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not speak to you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.’ 

Jesus says he is going away and then coming back. How? Some say he is speaking of his resurrection, others that it is the same theme of his presence by the Spirit. I can’t see why it can’t be both, because it is only by dying, rising again and then ascending to the Father that he is then given all authority whereby he, with his Father sends the Holy Spirit. In part this is why the disciples should be glad, it is to their advantage that he goes, as he says in chapter 16:7, otherwise there would be no Spirit sent and so no Jesus presence. But here Jesus says, ‘If you loved me, you would be glad.’ You see, if you love a person you want what is best for them, not just for yourself. And Jesus now looks forward to entering back into that divine glory which as the Word he had enjoyed from all eternity, he was going back home. The Son so wants to get back to the Father, don’t you find that moving? And if they loved him the disciples would want that for him too.

Now don’t be fazed by what Jesus says here about the ‘Father being greater than I’ as if Jesus were somehow saying he is an inferior creature and not divine. If I were to stand here and say, ‘God the Father is greater than I’ you would probably say- ‘Doh! How long has it taken you to work that one out Melvin? Talk about stating the blindingly obvious!’ But fact that Jesus says it indicates that in some sense he saw himself as equal to God, he is divine, but in another sense, the Father is greater. How? Well, this is a topic which all by itself could be the subject of several sermons, but at least it means this, and it is all to do with the nature of the Trinity and the idea of God being ‘family’: In terms of Godness- the Father, Son and Spirit are equally divine. In terms of their relationship there is subordination or submission going on between the different persons- the Spirit submits to the Son and the Son submits to the Father. We can get some grasp of this at a human level. My father was greater than I. Not that he was more than a human being than me. Not that he had more intelligence than me. Not that he necessarily achieved more than me. But he was greater in that he was the head of the family, guiding it, directing it, providing for it- and certainly for me when I was in nappies. And as you read John’s Gospel, especially chapter 5, by virtue of his incarnation, his humbling of himself in becoming a man, Jesus acknowledges his total dependence on the Father, he will only say and do what he sees the Father doing, but there is no tension in this because he also says, ‘I and the Father are one’. Do you see? And when all of this has happened then the disciples will come to a new and deeper level of belief- verse29.

So what does true sonship look like? We learn what it looks like by looking at Jesus who we see going to a cross. Does he do that because he loves us? Yes, but that is not the primary reason given here- he goes to the cross because he loves the Father and he wants the whole world to know it. Love shows itself in obedience. And so we can be assured that Jesus will do exactly as he says, all that he has promised he will deliver, because he loves the Father he will not disappoint him and so he will not disappoint us either. Let us pray.

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