“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” – 1 Corinthians 3.16
Let’s enter the story of John 14.
It’s the Festival of Passover. Jesus knows it is time to leave this world. He loved those who were his own. They have eaten a meal together. He has served them by washing their feet. Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, has left the disciples to turn Jesus over to the Sanhedrin. Jesus finds himself self-disclosing the relationship of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – as his final speech to his closest friends in the upper room. In the upper room as they lounged over a meal and shared the cup together, Jesus prophesies that One would betray him and others would deny and desert the Son of God. In the distress of his final hours Jesus teaches his most provocative teaching on the coming Holy Spirit. The Son would soon ask the Father to send another helper to teach and re-teach the messages of Jesus.
John 14.1-4 is about our spiritual place. God has provided a place for his people. In Revelation 20, 21, and 22 John will develop this idea about that place prepared for us more clearly. According to John, the saints will rule with Christ, Satan is defeated, judgment will come, a new heaven and a new earth will emerge. There shall be a new Jerusalem whose Temple is the Lord God Almighty. We believe in that place! That place is where Father, Son and Holy Spirit are our all and all, and we worship them in Spirit and Truth.
John 14.5-10 is about our spiritual identity. God has provided an identity for his people. They shall inherit his Holy Spirit that will live within them. We will become the perfect image of God just like Jesus is the perfect likeness of his Heavenly Father. “Spitten Image” or “Spitting Image” or “Spit and Image” or “Splitting Image” or “Spirit and Image” means perfect likeness. The phrase originated with the ideal that a child could be so like his parent that they could have spit them out of their mouths. This phase rings of creation as God spoke and created the earth and all that is in it. To be sure Jesus is explaining that he is the “Spirit and Image” – the perfect likeness – of his Heavenly Father. They are of One and the same substance. That identity is our identity, and we are to become the “Spirit and Image” of God.
John 14.10-14 is about spiritual works. The works that Jesus has accomplished are the proof of his connection with the Father. Even when people do not believe in Jesus, he asserts that the miracles are the proof that they can believe in the Father’s works among them. Jesus inspires his disciples that they will do even greater things. The disciples may ask for anything in Jesus’ name and he will accomplish it. The works of Jesus is our job, and we are to live like Jesus.
John 14.15-26 is about spiritual provision. Jesus promises that he will send a Companion along side each of us to help us to love him and obey his every word. We are keepers of the word and a place for the Spirit of God to rest upon this earth. God has not left us as spiritual orphans in this world. When we grow daily in our discipleship, we belong to God more now than we ever have. The provision is ours to behold, and God has given each of us the opportunity to accept this gift of relationship with the Godhead found in the Companion that leads us to love and obey.
John 14.26 is about God’s promise of spiritual teaching and re-teaching. God promises to be with us – companioning us and advocating for us – providing the teaching and reteaching that our flesh needs. Airline stewards teach us that we are to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first so that we can care for others. Our understanding of the Trinity is like the oxygen we need in an environment that cannot sustain us. The teaching and re-teaching is the work of the Promised Companion, and we are to listen and follow the Companion’s guidance to worshiping in Spirit and Truth.
John 14.27 is about spiritual peace. Peace refutes the worldly ways of being troubled and afraid. Peace replaces worldly fear. Peace contradicts the world’s ruler. Jesus loves the Father and obeys everything that the Father commands. The true peace we are seeking comes by way of relationship with the Trinity alone, and in the Trinity we find our unity with our brethren.
Heaven is waiting. We are called to live in the Image and Spirit of God. We are called to love and obey. God has provided us his Companion to teach and reteach us the way, the truth and the life so that we might attain the peace of God within ourselves. We need look no further in the Scriptures that here in this passage to discover the road to eternal life.
But let’s dig deeper.
In our passage Jesus declares that he is the way, the truth and the life. If he is the way, shouldn’t we ask the questions who, what, when, where, why, and how is he leading us? In this pericope Jesus’ teaching is clear. Jesus is leading us to the Father for the soul purpose of a relationship with the Father to worship in Spirit and Truth that we might love God with our whole-heart and follow his commands through the indwelling presence of our Companion, the Holy Spirit. Across the pages of John’s writings, he inspires us with the words that Jesus spoke about his Father. Jesus is leading us back to a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father. Jesus knows the way. We were meant to be in relationship with the Father, and Jesus has revealed the Father to us. Jesus teaches us that the Father and Jesus are One. There is divine unity. Because Jesus and the Father are one when we ask for whatever, Jesus makes a promise that he and the Father together will hear and answer. It is the first promise in this passage – to answer when we call. This promise comes with stipulations. The passage of promise is followed with a passage of keeping the commandments.The Companion assists the believer in fulfilling the loving God and following Jesus’ commandments.
Jesus makes two promises. First, the promise to hear and answer us, and second, the promise to send the Companion. The promise that he will send a Companion that will make the relationship with Jesus and the Father possible for all believers to be united with the Trinity. That Companion we understand as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. He is called the encourager, the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit helps us to see and know. The Spirit lives in us, remains in us, causes us to live, and unites us with the Father and the Son.
John’s Gospel clearly outlines the importance of Jesus’ understanding of God as Father with over 100 accounts of the usage of Father in his Gospel and another 19 accounts in his letters and his book of prophecy. In chapter one Jesus is the Father’s only Son, and the Son is the only one who has seen the Father (1.14). The Son is at the Father’s side, and makes God known to the world (1.18).
In chapter two Jesus understood the Temple as his Father’s house, a place of prayer and not a place of business (2.16). In chapter three the Father has given everything into his Son’s hands (3.35). In chapter four Jesus instructs the woman at the well that true worship is worshiping the Father (4.21) in spirit and truth (4.23). Jesus declares that the Father is looking for worshippers like this – authentic worship.
In chapter five Jesus explains that the Father is working, and so is the Son (5.17). Jesus made himself equal with God by calling himself God’s Son (5.18). The Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus for doing away with the Sabbath rules (5.18). The Son does only what he sees his Father doing (5.19). The Father loves the Son and reveals everything to him (5.20). The Father has life in himself, raises the dead and gives life to whomever. Thus also the Son has life in himself, raises the dead, and gives life to whomever he chooses (5.26, 21). The Father has handed over judgement to his Son (5.22). The Father and the Son are equally honored (5.23). The Father has assigned works to the Son and those works will testify and witness to the purposes of the Father (5.36). The Father sent the Son and the works prove that the Son is operating on behalf of the Father (5.36). Jesus comes in the name of the Father whom he hears and sees (5.37,43). The Son has been given the place of judgement but Moses will be the judge of the Jewish leaders (5.45).
In chapter six Jesus implores the people to work not for perishable food but for eternal life whom the Son will give (6.27). The manna in the desert was not provided by Moses but the God of Moses, Jesus’ Father (6.32). The Father sends true bread from Heaven, and that bread is Jesus (6.32). Jesus promises not to send anyone away whom the Father gives (6.37). Eternal Life in the Son is the Father’s will (6.40). No one comes to the Son unless the Father draws them to Jesus (6.44, 45). The Son is the only one who has seen the Father (6.46). Those who partake of Jesus have life (6.65), but they must be drawn by the Father before the Son engages them in relationship.
We skip over chapter seven. In chapter eight when Jesus chooses to judge, it is because the Father has judgement with the Son together (8.16). The Father witnesses to the Son (8.18). John expresses a close knit link between the Father and the Son so when you know the Son you also know the Father (8.19). Jesus speaks for the Father, and only what the Father speaks is what Jesus repeats (8.27-28). Jesus does only what he sees his Father doing (8.38). When God is our Father, then love for Jesus is inevitable (8.41-44). Jesus does not come to earth by his own accord but by the will of the Father; he is God sent (8.42). Jesus honors his Father (8.49). The Father glorifies the Son (8.54).
We skip chapter nine. In chapter ten the Father and Son know each other (10.15). The Father’s love is dependent upon Jesus surrendering his life, it is a command because of the Messianic role Jesus plays in salvation history (10.17-18). The works of Jesus testify to his identity (10.25). The Father is greater than all, and has the ability to relinquish creation to the Son (10.29). The Father and the Son are united as one (10.30). The works prove the Father is supporting the Son even when the people did not believe in the Son (10.32-38). In chapter eleven the Father hears the Son (11.41). In chapter twelve the Father honors those who serve Jesus (12.26). In the garden Jesus will become deeply troubled and prays to his heavenly Father to glorify his name (12.27-28), and the Father replies with a third affirmation from heaven. (Remember Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration, and here). Jesus has always followed the Father’s commands of what he should speak and say and not one word more or less (12.49-50).
In chapter thirteen Jesus prepares to return from whence he came, he knows that he must leave this world and return to the Father (13.1-3). Jesus had been given everything from the Father (13.3). In chapter fourteen the invitation comes from Jesus that opens up heaven (14.2). Heaven is like the Father’s house with many spare rooms for a sleepover (14.2). No one comes to the Father except through Jesus, when we see Jesus we have seen the Father (14.6, 9). The Father dwells in Jesus and they operate as One (14.10, 11). Jesus promises that we will do greater works that he was able because he is returning to the Father (14.12). When we ask in Jesus name the answers will come because the Father desires to glorify the Son through answering our prayers (14.13). Jesus speaks to the Father and the Father answers him. Jesus requested the Companion to be with us (14.16). Unity comes because the Companion will testify to the Father and the Son within us. Keeping Jesus’ word commands proves our love toward Jesus (14.21, 23). The Trinity will make our heart their home if we love Jesus and obey the word from the Father (14.23). The Father together with the Son will send the Companion, the Holy Spirit (14.26). The Father is greater than Jesus (14.28). Jesus loves the Father and obeys everything he commands (14.31).
In chapter fifteen the Father is a vineyard keeper, and Jesus is the vine (15.1). We are called to remain in love with Jesus by keeping the commandments, and bearing fruit that glorifies the Father (15.8, 9, 10). Transparency between Father and Son leaks over into the relationship between Son and the disciples as the disciples become friends of God (15.15). God has chosen and appointed his disciples who are to go and produce lasting fruit (15.16). Jesus opens the invitation for disciples to ask anything of the Father in his name (15.16). The invitation is wide-open but it requires a heart of loving obedience (15.16). Jesus makes it clear that you cannot hate one part of the Godhead and love the other, they are a package deal (15.23). The proof of the works is evidence enough, and requires belief (15.24). Ignorance about the Father and the Son relationship produces bad fruit (16.3). The Companion proves to the world that it was wrong about righteousness (16.10). The Companion will take what is the Son’s and proclaim it to you (16.15).
“When the Companion comes, whom I will send from the Father—the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father—he will testify about me.” – John 15.26
In chapter sixteen Jesus reveals the resurrection. The Son is returning to the Father (16.17). This is the third occurrence of Jesus insisting on the disciples asking for whatever they need in his name so that the Father can bestow it upon them to glorify Jesus (16.23). If the illustration of Father was only an analogy, then Jesus would have surely said so before he died or even after resurrection, but here in the passage Jesus had arrived at a time when speaking plainly about the Father is a must (16.25). When we ask in Jesus’ name he intercedes on our behalf to secure the answer (16.26). Our loving relationship with Jesus unites us with the Father and both the Father and the Son lavish their love on us (16.26, 27). Jesus prophecies that he will be left alone by his disciples, but he reminds them that Father God is always with him (16.28, 32).
In chapter seventeen Jesus expresses his desire to be glorified by the Father for the surrendered life he has lead as a human being and he requests to return to the creational glory (17.1, 5). The evidence of salvation is the unity we have with the Father and the Son through the uniting power of the Holy Spirit (17.11, 21, 24, 25). Jesus reminds his disciples that he will indeed drink the cup that the Father has given him, the cup of crucifixion (18.11). After the resurrection Jesus informs Mary not to hold him closely as he is returning to his Father (20.17). He asks her to go and tell the disciples, his brothers and sisters, that he is returning to Father God (20.17). Note the emphases, Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20.17 Later Jesus will visit the disciples and offer his parting words of commissioning, Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” John 20.21
John’s Gospel focuses on testimony and witness. It is God the Father who testifies on behalf of Jesus at the baptism, transfiguration, and at his final Passover with an audible voice (Mt. 4.16-17, Mt. 17.5-6, John 12.27-30). There are only 20 times that an audible voice from heaven occurs (Gen. 21.17, 22.11, 22.15, Ex. 20.22, Deut. 4.36, Neh. 9.13, Ps. 76.8, Dan. 4.31, Mk. 1.11, Lk. 3.22, Jn 12.28, 2 Peter 1.18, Acts. 11.9, Heb. 12.25, Rev. 11.12, 11.15, 12.10, 14.2, 14.3, 18.4).
When we hear the relationship of the Trinity throughout the passages in John’s Gospel what I hope struck you as much as it did me was the requirement to love God and obey the word and commands of Jesus, which is to love and obey the Father’s will. Just as Jesus modeled obedience and love to the Father so we are to live the same. The Companion has but one purpose and that is to help us to be obedient and love. We are called to love and obey. As we notice over and over in God’s word, the problem that kept reoccurring in the history of Israel has always been stubborn heartedness. The Companion has come to us to be our heart-softener. True unity according to John’s Gospel is union with the Father and the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit who unites us in love and obedience to the one who created and died for us.
In the church we are always at risk of making God in our own image. Skylar and I recently reflected on a book entitled “Encoding Methodism: Telling and Retelling Narratives of Wesleyan Origins” by Ted A. Campbell. He writes through the history of our church to discover the branches that we have created with our enthusiasm. The broken places in us cry out for victory in God. We read the Scripture from our particular vantage point so that we might correct the injustices we have witnessed in our life stories. We can latch on to any cause and make it our one view of Scripture. For instance we might see separation as the way that John Wesley created a fresh movement in the Anglican Church, but in fact Wesley is still listed among the preachers in the records of the Anglican community. We might see Wesley as an evangelist as the American Methodist created such strong evangelistic outreaches in the development of the early church, but in fact Wesley understood his role as a disciple-maker by urging the people to go deeper in their faith. At the core of the Wesleyan revival is spiritual formation. Some may latch-on to Wesley’s social reformation and opposition to slavery, but his was the fruit of deeper formation, not stand alone ministries. In recent years Bob Tuttle and Ken Collins have shaped the Wesleyan history as “folk theology” or what we might call spiritual formation in the trenches of life’s difficulties. This perhaps is my view of the Scriptures and of Wesley’s contribution to my life. If theology doesn’t transform the heart, it will never reach the streets to be good works for others.
In our day theology is as confused as the branches of denominations we boast. However, just a hundred years ago most denominations would not have argued over the Godhead. They would have understood collectively the role of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In fact Hugh Price Hughes wrote in his 1890 sermon entitled “‘Robert Elsmere’ and Mr. Gladstone’s Criticism of the Book” noted, “It is a remarkable fact that ever since the 4th century the Christian conception of Christ has been absolutely unchanged. Amid all our controversies and schisms we have never doubted or disputed the claims of Christ. Today if you were to shut up in a room the Arch Bishop of Canterbury, Mr. Spurgeon, Cardinal Manning, General Booth, the chairman of the Congregational Union, and the President of the Methodist Conference and told them they must remain there until they were all agreed in a common definition in the claims of Christ they would not be detailed for 5 minutes.” – except from Social Christianity: Sermons Delivered in St. James Hall, London (Ted A. Campbell, Encoding Methodism, 99-100)
Today that claim is not necessarily accurate across the church body of believers who serve as preachers and teachers in the Christian faith. I have served with a number of Presbyterian USA ordained clergy who discount the validity of God as Father substituting the language of the goddess Sophia as their preferred way of worship. I have served along side one who had been ordained in the United Church of Christ tradition and chose to practice the Bahai religion. She claimed that in good conscience she could remain a preacher because she could teach the good moral/ethical concepts of the Christian tradition while believing that Jesus was not the Son of God but only a mere man. I have served along side one who had been ordained in the American Baptist tradition who chose to practice witchcraft as part of her daily spiritual walk instead of recognizing the Spirit of Jesus as the one way to eternal life. When we think about how confused our world is about the Godhead, it is important to remain faithful to the core values of our faith heritage that has been consistent for over two millennium. Our job is not to condemn others for a preferred way of worship, but to hold the doors open wide for those who would like to grow deeper in the ancient faith that has been our inheritance since the birth of the church perhaps we can say the birth of the Hebrew people many, many years ago.
As we close our service today let us stand and recite together the Apostle’s Creed and profess our faith in the One True God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the Creature, Redeemer, and Sustainer of our faith. Amen.