John 14:15-31

July 8, 2001


Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor

The Grantham Church

I read an article in the paper this week titled, “What is the next big idea?” In the course of history new ideas have changed how people saw the world. In the fourth century BC Plato changed the categories people used to think with. In the 16th century Martin Luther changed the way people thought about justification and about God. In the 1970s and 1980s, Jacques Derrida and deconstruction brought people to see meaning in new ways. The point of the newspaper article was to discuss a Duke University associate professor named Michael Hardt and his book on globalization entitled, Empire. While Empire may not be so mind-shattering as Plato or Luther, and while not everyone welcomes change, change which helps people and gives us richer lives is a good thing.

When Jesus plotted out for his disciples the changes that would come when he left them, the changes were not what the disciples expected. They ask five questions in these chapters as they try to get a handle on the change. And as we read along, we stumble because the ideas Jesus speaks about are hard to grasp. Something new is afoot. In order to look at what Jesus says in John 14:15-31, I want to ask three questions of my own:

1. What difference does it make for Christians when Jesus leaves to return to his Father? Verses 15-21

2. What is the significance of Judas’ question in verse 22 about Jesus showing himself to the disciples but not to the world? Verses 22-27

3. What does Jesus mean in verse 28 by saying, “the Father is greater than I?” Verses 28-31

1. First, what actually happens when Jesus leaves the world he has lived in for such a brief time?

There are three changes Jesus describes in verses 15-21. Anyone of them would exert enough force to curve us in a new direction, like the action of some great magnet. First, Jesus says in verse 16 that he will ask the Father to give people another Counselor, as the New International Version translates it. There are often shifts in the meanings of words. It happens in English, so when people in the King James time said, “suffer the little children to come to Jesus,” we say “allow” or “permit” the children to come. In the early 17th century, the King James translators saw what Jesus promised as a “Comforter;” the New International Version translators, as a “Counselor.” Most recently the favored sense of the word is “Helper.” That’s the way Philo, Demosthenes and Heraclitus used the word. It is the way the Good News Bible translated it. It’s the preferred meaning of the new, 3rd edition of Bauer’s Greek Lexicon. And the word “Helper” avoids some of the connotations of the older words.

The disciples are feeling the need for help. Jesus promises to provide it. Notice the adjective. “The Father will give you another Helper.” Well, who is the first Helper? Jesus himself. He has certainly helped them, which is why they are troubled at the talk of his leaving. When John wrote his first letter to the churches, he says in 2:1, “if one does sin, we have a Helper (the same word)... Jesus Christ the righteous One.” Now Jesus is leaving, but he promises in verse 16 that this new Helper, who is the Holy Spirit, will be with them “forever.” See, something new is happening here. Short term meetings with God are giving way to a more permanent relation.

The next lesson of verses 15-21 is even more startling. Verse 17, “he lives with you and will be in you.” In the Old Testament God was always external to the Jews. Occasionally he would appear in a theophany to someone, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; and in the first century God appeared as a man to the Jews in the person of Jesus. But he was still external, different from humans. Now the promise is he will live in us.

Jesus makes a distinction. The Helper’s relation to the world is like Jesus’ own relation to it. Verse 17, the world can’t accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But for those who believe in Jesus, we know him.

Then in verse 20, to make the new idea deeper yet, Jesus says, I am in you and you are in me and I am in the Father. So both the son, Jesus, and the Helper will indwell us. The effect of this is that Christians are sensitive to God in a way the Jews could never be. Jesus is going to keep in relation with us but the relationship will be in a new form, something like the form of the relationship among the members of the Trinity.

And thirdly, there is the talk about obedience and love in verse 15. In his first letter John makes this sound like a circular argument. “My command is that you love one another. If you love one another, you are keeping my commands.” Let me give an analogy. When Nancy came back from a course in Langhorne last week, she said, “Bob, my rear view mirror fell off.” Now that wasn’t exactly a command to me; but a day later, I took her car in to the Mercury dealer and had them remount the mirror. After all, without that mirror, where is the car dealer going to put the card they put in cars? I don’t always do things that Nancy asks me to do.

Sometimes I say to myself, I don’t want to do that. Why doesn’t she do it? But often I do what she asks because I do love her. That’s like the relation between loving and obeying Jesus. We don’t always do what Jesus asks us to do, but we try to keep our batting average up there.

My first question is, what difference does it make for Christians when Jesus leaves to return to the Father?

2. Secondly, there is Judas’ question in verse 22, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” First let me ask, who is this Judas? Is he the one Luke names in chapter 6 where all the disciples Jesus chooses are named, “Judas of James” or “Judas the son of James”? Maybe. Actually, we don’t quite know who he is, which is consistent with how Jesus works. He works with unknown people, which might encourage us all!

As often happened, Jesus doesn’t answer Judas’ question directly, but what he says in verses 23-24 is an answer. There Jesus explains what it really means to see him and hence why the world cannot see him. What it means to see him is to love him and to obey his commands. It was Augustine who said in his commentary on John, “love separates the saints from the world.” And when we love, we see things no one else sees. Every lover knows this. He, or she, sees something special in this other person.

Then further, in verses 25 and 26, Jesus interprets the parts of his teaching that the disciples have not yet grasped. He tells them how they will come to understand his teaching that they are still grappling with. There are a number of times in John’s Gospel when there is the comment, the disciples did not understand this until after the resurrection. In 2:19-22 Jesus says to the Jews, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it;” and then John adds, “After he was raised from the dead his disciples recalled what he had said.”

And when he rode into Jerusalem on the donkey and the crowds shouted words from the Psalms and the donkey was a prophecy from Zechariah, John adds in verse 16 of John 12, “At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize....”

I think this realization is the work the Holy Spirit does, as Jesus emphasizes in verse 26, “the Holy Spirit will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” The “all things” does not mean a knowledge of science and so on, but rather all things that Jesus said. Since the Spirit understands all about Jesus, he can make Jesus’ teaching plain.

The other thing Jesus promises the disciples is peace. Verse 27. When I first titled this sermon, I titled it, “Peace I Leave With You.” Jesus’ peace has always been important to me. It was to the disciples. It probably is important to you. But it is only part of what Jesus gives us, and peace is the outworking of the fact that Jesus, the Father and the Helper all live within us. That’s what gives us peace. In the world we have trouble. The world is full of trouble and disappointment. To overcome those things, we need something new which is different from the character of the world.
Having peace is the fulfillment of an Old Testament promise in, for example, Isaiah 9, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given... And he will be called... Prince of peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”

Here in John 14 the Old Testament promise is fulfilled in Jesus’ promise, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” The New Testament scholar, Raymond Brown, calls it “a majestic promise.” By this peace Jesus means what comes from our union with God. There will be wars in all of history. There will be troubles in all of our lives. But peace comes from the perfect love that drives out fear (1 John 4:18) and that comes because Jesus, the Father and the Helper dwell in us. This allows us not so much to live above the world, but to live wanting to do God’s will as we live in the world. Doing God’s will brings peace. We do God’s will out of love for Jesus and we are helped in that task by the indwelling of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. It is the intertwining of all of that which makes this passage profound and difficult and also wonderful.

So my second question is, what is the significance of Judas’ question about Jesus showing himself to the disciples, but not to the world.

3. So let us then come to the third matter here, verse 28, “the Father is greater than I.” Now the disciples are troubled as we know from verse 1. They are troubled, among other reasons, because Jesus is leaving and because they don’t understand what is happening. They are troubled, but they aren’t very good at supporting Jesus who is about to be lashed and crucified, and on the cross separated for one awful moment from his Father. So Jesus says to them in verse 28, “If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father.” But in fact they don’t love him enough to see beyond their own hurt. If they only could, they would see that what is going to happen to Jesus is a good thing for him. It is the end of his exile as a man. He is returning to the glory he had with the Father before the world began. But he is returning to the Father, having loved us and come to understand us by being in our situation, so that now we have a great high priest to whom we can pray. We can understand that; but we can’t fully understand that now Jesus, the Father and the Helper all live within us.

As Jesus explains what a great thing it is that he goes to the Father, he says, “for the Father is greater than I.” Now what does that mean? That’s the sort of statement that captivated the church in the 4th century when a man named Arius from Alexandria saw that verse and others like it to mean that Jesus was not fully God. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons latch onto that verse and others like it to claim that Jesus is not uniquely God. Athanasius, vehement against Arians in his day in the 5th century, cried out, “If Jesus Christ be not truly God, we cannot be truly saved!”

The way to a solution is to understand that in John’s Gospel, and indeed in the whole of the New Testament, there are two strands and we cannot separate them. Jehovah’s Witnesses in our day like to use proof texts, because that way they can stress one side. But we must take them together.

There are the verses which say Jesus and the Father are one:
John 1:1 “In the Beginning was the Word (meaning Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John 1:18 “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side (i.e., Jesus) has made him known.”
John 10:30, where Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” And there are other like passages.

Then there are verses which portray Jesus’ dependence upon the Father:
John 4:34 “My food, says Jesus, is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
John 8:29, “The One who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
And here in John 14, “The Father is greater than I.”

What is the solution? See them both together. But we also need to understand the sense in which the Father might be called greater than the Son. It is because Jesus came to earth as a servant who humbled himself. For example, if I would say, “President Bush is greater than I,” yet he is yet no less a human being than I. Greater is not an ontological category - about being - but a category of office. In his office, his authority and influence, he is greater than I; but as Mark Twain once said, “The president puts his pants on one leg at a time like I do.”

Within the Godhead, there is both hierarchy and equality, as there is within marriage and many other human relationships. But still there is something here that is different from what we understand in the analogies of this world. This is one of the things that remind us, Jesus kingdom is not of this world.

There is still more to what Jesus wants to say to his disciples before he leaves them and, the Lord willing, we shall get to that.