My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come. (John 13:33, NIV)
Preaching through Jesus’ farewell words to his disciples in John 13-16 this term has been a journey of discovery for me. Of course I knew these chapters, but there’s nothing like preaching to concentrate the mind! Truths which have impressed themselves on me include:
1. The carefully sequenced way the Lord prepares his disciples for his departure. He starts by washing their feet – an acted illustration of what he is to do with them on the cross. Then he tells them his going away is for a purpose – to prepare a place with the Father for them, and both claims and demonstrates that he is the way to God. Next, he tells them that he won’t leave them as orphans, but will send his Spirit, who will indwell his people. The closeness of this is illustrated by the idea of a vine: a picture which he uses to show how we should relate to God and to our fellow-believers. But next, precisely because we are so close to him, we must expect the world to treat us as it did him. What a thorough preparation he gives, in such careful order!
2. The surprising place where God’s glory shines: the cross. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.”
(John 13:31) This – of all places! – is where our God’s heart is most clearly revealed.
3. His brilliant choice of the word Paraclete for the Holy Spirit. This has the sense of “one who is called to come alongside”. Translators rush to tie this down with a single English word (counsellor, advocate etc) but each of these jumps ahead of the more basic truth Jesus wants to impress on us: he will be there for us. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18) We are not alone!
4. The power of the illustration of the vine in explaining the heart of Christian experience. He is in us; we are in him. The Christian life is one of complete dependence on him. When he calls us to remain in him, he is calling on us to depend in this way, to live in him. The passage is more about this than (as sometimes taught) perseverance – though obviously it has implications for that. What an amazing relationship we are called into.
5. The outreach focus of these chapters. I had known for a long time – for it is obvious! – that the main focus of John’s Gospel is evangelistic (i.e. bringing the Christian message to the non-believer so that they might believe). But chapters 13-17 had seemed like a strange interlude, in that they were spoken just to the disciples. However, preaching through these chapters I’ve seen much more clearly that they not only speak deep truth to the Christian, but show the outsider what the Christian life is like. The word “whoever” crops up, as an implied invitation. In preaching, I’ve been longing to feed us who believe, but have also found myself making those invitations to anyone investigating – because that’s John’s aim, too.
It’s a great privilege being able to study and preach God’s Word; but also such a joy. Making discoveries like this has done me so much good!