Hello, and welcome to the STC podcast. My name is Casey Strine, I’m a member of the STC staff, and I’m excited to be sharing a few of my reflections on the Gospel of John with you this week.
This week we will be looking at materials from chapters 12, 13, and 14 of the Gospel according to John.
This section of the Gospel of John includes Jesus’ final public conversation and some of the last conversations he has with his closest disciples. These passages are filled with the ideas Jesus wants to ensure his closest followers understand before his death because they are the concepts on which God will build a movement of people following Jesus and seeking to complete his mission.
With the beginning of chapter 13, the Gospel of John has taken us literally inside Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. Already, we saw Jesus wash their feet and expand the command to love others. Today, John tells us about the way the disciples react to these ideas.
The reaction of the disciples is represented by Thomas and Philip. Together, they express a sense of confusion that seems to be building among the group.
First, there is the rather cryptic suggestion by Jesus that he is preparing a place for these disciples. Thomas asks Jesus how they will know how to find these places. It is a logical question since they don’t know where this place is! Following the pattern in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ response evades the question and opens up another topic that is even less clear.
Here we encounter one of the most familiar statements in the Gospel of John: Jesus declares ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ It is yet another case where those who are familiar with the Bible, who have been Christians for some time, can become inoculated to how opaque this statement is. For those to whom this statement is familiar, the tendency is to gloss over any potential confusion and take the whole to mean that Jesus is the only way one can be saved. That isn’t wrong, but it does simplify the whole thing.
Lest one lose sight of that, Philip’s frustrated reaction reminds us of its reality. There is a tendency to read Philip’s response as one of disbelief. That is certainly possible. I think we can read it as less disbelief and more trepidation. Philip responds the way we do when we’re asked to do something: Is that really what I have to do?
One might interpret Philip’s request for Jesus to show them the Father as another way of saying ‘you can’t possibly expect us to do what you’ve done?’ Surely God is not like, like, THAT? I don’t blame Philip for that reaction, to be honest. It is how I feel as well when I read this passage.
Then I’m reminded of why I feel this way. Jesus responds with an answer that is just another form of ‘this isn’t complicated, but it is hard.’ If Jesus stopped there, then this would be massively depressing. He doesn’t.
Jesus also reassures Philip that he and the others will do even greater things than Jesus has done because Jesus will be interceding on their behalf in the heavenly throne room. Jesus trusts in their ability to do even greater things not because the disciples are greater than him, but because while they are doing these things on earth he will now be in heaven to win divine approval and power for them to do so.
This is why Christians pray things ‘in Jesus’ name.’ It is not a sort of magic formula, an abracadabra that works with God. It’s also not just a way of saying ‘and I’m done.’ Christians pray ‘in Jesus name’ because we believe that Jesus is our ambassador with God the Father who asks for divine power to be poured out for us so that we can accomplish those things he called us to do, but are beyond our ability to make happen on our own. Jesus wants us to know that we are not left on our own in our efforts to build God’s kingdom – and he will continue on to say more about that in tomorrow’s passage.
King Jesus, help us to remain faithful when things are hard to understand. Thank you for your promise to intercede on our behalf. Allow us to see the fulfilment of your promise that we will do even greater things than you. In your name we pray. Amen.
READING: John 14:1-14
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’
Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’
Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.