Table Talk 1: You can trust me - John 13v31-14v7 - 6th Sept 2015 - Dave Walker

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How do you react when a crisis comes along? People react to crises in different ways. Are you someone who takes it on the chin? Batons down the hatches and gets on with it? Or are you someone who gets very emotional? Do you crumble?

Ok, well what about the biggest crisis: death? How will you respond when death comes along? Maybe you’ve no idea because you’ve never faced it? Maybe you’ve had a brush with death. How will you respond? Because that’s the biggest crisis we’ll face, isn’t it? I was struck by the story that Ian was telling the other week about that conversation with his friend. Death comes along sooner or later.

In this part of the Bible, in this bit of John’s gospel that we’re going to be studying in the next two months it’s crisis time for Jesus and his disciples. Death is next on the agenda for Jesus. Can you see verse 30, just before our reading? Judas has gone out, “and it was night.” The page has turned, the events leading to his death are going on. The machinery is in motion. This is the night before he dies. To quote Frank Sinatra in that song, he is facing the final curtain. But unlike Frank Sinatra, as he does so he’s not thinking about himself, he’s thinking about his disciples. His friends. This is crisis time for them. They are facing what to them seems a very uncertain future. Death looms large. His concern is for their future.

So that’s what this long discussion that we’ll be studying in John’s gospel is all about. It’s Jesus talking to his friends. Preparing them for what is next. And, a bit like when someone reads the news, he gives them the headlines straight away. He starts off by telling them the main things, the things he’s going to keep coming back to and explaining. Have a look.

He starts off by saying he’s going to his death; but his death will be the way to glory. Do you see verse 31: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” All the way through John’s gospel when Jesus has been talking about him being glorified, he’s referring to his death. It’s a strange way to talk about it, isn’t it? “Now I’m going to die, but this is the way to glory.”

He says “this is something only I can do”. Do you see in verse 33? “where I am going you cannot come.”

The disciples are going to stay in the world and love one another. So that the world will know. Do you see that? Verse 34: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." He couldn’t be clearer, could he?

Those are the headlines Jesus gives them: I’m going to die, but that’s the way to glory. Only I can do this. You disciples are going to stay in the world and love one another.

Jesus is going to keep coming back to these themes. If this Autumn goes well, by the end of it by God’s grace we’ll have grasped these things. By the end of these studies our attitude to death will have changed. Our dependence Jesus will have grown. And our love for each other will have grown. But the way that Jesus is going to do it is by taking time with us and carefully explaining. He is going to open up the heart of God to us, and allow us to gaze upon some of the deepest, most wonderful spiritual truths. He’s going to let us see God’s heart. He’s going to open up our hearts too. He’s going to lay out some of our deepest fears and speak amazing words of encouragement to us. He is going to put steel in our spines, preparing us for some real battles ahead. But he’s going to do all of that patiently, lovingly. You know, I really hope we will treasure this time spent listening to Jesus this next couple of months. You’ll keep coming, won’t you, as we sit with him and listen every Sunday? You’ll read it yourself, too won’t you, so that his words really sink in? You wouldn’t want to miss this. This is a precious part of the Bible. Let’s pray that God would do a deep work in us through these words from his Son to his friends.

Pray

So today we read a conversation. Jesus has given them the headlines. But the disciples are people, and people don’t understand things this big straight away. They react. Peter reacts one way – he is gutsy and self-confident. Thomas reacts in another way – he’s anxious and despairing. But to each of them Jesus responds in the same way. He carefully turns their attention back to him. Each time he says “You can trust me.” “You can trust me.”

Peter – I can do it.

Have a look at verse 37: “Lord, why can’t I come with you? I will lay down my life for you!” I’ll die for you Jesus. Peter is brave. And I think this isn’t just pretending, he really is brave. When the guards come later to arrest Jesus, Peter’s the one who charges at them with his sword. He’s brave. But he’s massively over estimated himself hasn’t he? So Jesus replies in verse 38: "Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times! Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

I’ll die for you! Says Peter. No you won’t; I’ll die for you says Jesus. I can do it! Says Peter. No you can’t; you’re not that brave, but don’t be troubled, you can trust me. You can’t do it. But I can. Trust me.

Notice he says “Trust God; trust also in me.” Trust me as you trust God. Both on a par. Jesus is as dependable as God is. God is as dependable as Jesus is.

It’s all about him. Now if you’ve been to a Christian funeral, then chances are you’ll have heard this passage read there. It’s a great funeral reading. But don’t forget that Jesus says this in response to what Peter has said. This is Jesus saying “you can’t do it, but I can.” Actually that makes it a pretty good corrective to the sort of thing that gets said at many funerals. Often at funerals we hear lot of “he was such a good guy, the man who died.’ Almost implying that that will make death ok for him. But no; we can’t do it. We can’t face up to death and overcome. Death is impregnable to us. It mocks our strength and achievements. But not Jesus. When Jesus went to face death, he tore right through it. He prepared a place.

My Father’s house has many rooms. This is a word of comfort. Not supposed to make us think of Blenheim palace or something and home decorating programmes. Resist the daytime TV impulses. Jesus’ word is ‘dwellings’ – the point is that there is space enough for you, if Jesus has gone to prepare the way.

Jesus is going to prepare a place. How? Not by wallpapering, by dying and rising. He is going to and through death. Remember verse 32 – death is glorification. He is smashing through death to glory. That’s glorious.

Important that we get this. This is why we can’t do it – this is something only Jesus could do. Humans faced with death try to fend it off, delay it, run away from it. We talk about cheating death. When threat of death comes along we recoil from it. When we get sick we pray to get better, to have death deferred. We do our utmost to keep each other back from death – medicine, nursing, heath and safety etc. All good. But the best we can hope for in any of those things is to make the best of a bad job. This life, this world, is beset with sin and death. It’s broken. The best we can hope for is to try and keep limping on as long as we can before the inevitable happens.

Jesus is not interested in keeping the old broken show on the road. He is going to break right through death to glory. In his death he will go out and take our sin and God’s punishment with him. His dying draws death’s sting. It sucks the poison out. And when he rises he is not simply returning to life as it was. He rises to a different sort of life. Life beyond death: a different sort of life. When Jesus rises he has not cheated death, he has defeated death. Life not ruined and made rubbish by sin. Life which is not just a daily battle with decay. Sometimes when I’ve talked to people about eternal life they said things like “I can’t think of anything worse! Who in their right mind would want to live forever?” They’ve got a point if all we are talking about is life like we have now that doesn’t stop. That would be eternally exhausting. But that’s not it. Jesus is talking about a different, vastly superior sort of life. Not less than what we have now; a ghostly, floaty existence; a half-life: much much more. Life as it was meant to be. Life in the fullness of God’s blessing.

When Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden in Genesis because they had turned away from God, we are told that the LORD put these massive Cherubim, like heavenly bouncers, with a flashing sword at the entrance to the garden. The point is simple: now that people have rejected God, there is no way back to life as it really should be, life in the fullness of God’s blessing. Or at least, no way back that doesn’t fall under that flashing sword. Our best efforts to make a fist of it, to delay death are only making the best of a bad job. Only Jesus can break through death because he actually has gone under the sword of God’s judgment for us. The sword fell on him on the cross. That’s what Jesus meant by ‘going to prepare a place for you’. It meant him going under the sword of God’s judgment, and opening up the way through. It meant him going out from fellowship with the Father, so that we could go in.

You can trust me, says Jesus to Peter. You are not up to it. But you can trust me. I’ll do it. I’ll go and prepare a place. And if I do that, you can be sure that I’ll come back for you. I’ll take you to that life which only I can gain and which only I can give. You can trust me, says Jesus.

You can’t trust you, you know. If how you feel about your Christian life, or for that matter how you feel about death depends on how well you’ve got on, how well you’ve behaved, how acceptable to God you must be, you will veer between self-importance and misery. You can’t do it. You can’t trust you. But you can trust me, says Jesus.

But then Thomas pipes up.

If Peter is up on his feet, all adrenaline and testosterone, Thomas’ knees have just given way. Peter thinks he can do it. Thomas is crumbling. Verse 5: Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" It’s an ‘oh this is all too much’ sort of question. Jesus if you’re going to die and you’re leaving us to face death too, well then I don’t think anything is going to work. I can’t get to this place where you’re going. I don’t know where to start.

And Jesus responds in just the same way, doesn’t he? Thomas, you can trust me. You want to know the way to get to this life with God that I’m talking about? It’s me. I am the way. I’m the one who will get you there. Trust me.

I am the way and the truth and the life. It’s all about Jesus all the way through. Our pictures of salvation are often deficient. Jesus the one who hands out the tickets to heaven. Jesus the one who opens the gates to us. Jesus who gives us the directions to life. No, Jesus doesn’t just show us the way, he is the way. In verse 3 language, salvation is Jesus coming to get us and taking us to himself. And he is the truth. Salvation is knowing God in Jesus. Our minds are insatiably hungry, we’re like magpies aren’t we, forever searching for more information, channel hopping our way through life, and Jesus here says I am the truth. Our minds will only be satisfied in him. And he is the life. This life that he’s promising is all about him. The thing that makes the Christian life special now is knowing Jesus. When we get there to this glorious future beyond death the best thing about it is God himself as we meet him in Jesus. The best thing about heaven will be that Jesus is there. That’s what will make it all good. The fact that we will be with God as we meet him in Jesus.

Again, some people hear that and they think “oh no”. That doesn’t sound very appealing. Forever with God? It’s because they have too small a view of God. They kind of imagine all the most boring bits of churchiness and multiply that by infinity and say “that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.” So eternal life is one long sermon or monastic retreat or episode of songs of praise. No we are talking about the real God as we meet him in Jesus. Jesus isn’t a diluted version of God. In Jesus we don’t meet a version of god taken from philosophy text books, we meet a God who walks and talks with us and loves us and surprises us and rescues us. The God who lives and loves. The best experience of God’s love, of joy in his presence, of love for one another that we experience now as part of his church is still only a dim reflection of what Jesus is promising. The most wonderful taste of God’s glory that we might find in his creation or in human relationships now is only a dim reflection of life in a perfected creation with the creator himself present. Creation at its best is only ever a reflection of its creator. The fullness of relationship and life that only Jesus can give because he is God the Son. Like he says to Thomas, “if you knew me you would know the father.” You can trust me, says Jesus. I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life.

Now when we grasp that then we can start to see why that little sentence at the end of verse 6 must be true. Do you see what Jesus says? “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.”

And it’s really clear that only Jesus can. I emphasise this because the default when talking about matters of religion, of knowing God etc is that they are all the same. Or all different ways to the same thing. It’s the idea that truth is a bit like a jigsaw, where if you add all the different philosophies and worldviews and religions together they will make up the truth. But it would be wrong for any one of those pieces to say “I have absolute truth.” It’s what’s called relativism. But Jesus just out and out disagrees with that, when he says “I am the truth.” The truth is not the sum of all the different parts, says Jesus, the truth is me. I’m the ultimate reference point for reality.

Not easy. Every Christian grapples with this at some point. We want to be humble, because we know that humility is a godly thing, and to say things like “Jesus is the only way to God” seems so arrogant. I’ve felt the pressure of this lots of times.

It would be arrogant of us to say “Christianity alone is right” if we thought that meant we were better than everyone else and we ourselves have worked out the truth whereas others couldn’t. That would be arrogant. But we’ve already seen very clearly that it’s not that, is it? That’s the opposite of what Jesus is teaching here. Like Jesus says to Peter and Thomas, the answer is not “trust yourself” it’s “trust Jesus.”

It all comes down to who Jesus is. If Jesus is who he says he is, the Son of God, then to say “I am the only way to God” is not arrogant. It’s just telling the truth. And so if we trust Jesus like he says here, then it’s not nasty for us to tell people that he’s the only way. It’s not nasty to say to someone on a sinking ship “only this lifeboat works, get in!” It would be far more unkind just to say “pick your lifeboat, go for the one that suits you” wouldn’t it? It’s just trusting Jesus. If we trust Jesus like he tells us to we’ll have no problem with believing that he really is the only way to God. Because, well, what else would you trust?

A few years ago the Archbishop of Sydney was talking to some children when they asked him a question. One of them said, “are you afraid of dying?” And he said, quite honestly, ‘yes I am.’ And it made him think ‘why?’ So he reflected and wrote about it. He said in all honesty I’m afraid of dying because it’s a complete unknown; I have no prior experience to draw on. He said I’m afraid because it’s something I know I must face alone; no one can come with me. And he said I’m afraid because I know that dying will mean going to face the judgment seat of God, and there are many sins. But then he continued and said, but when I think of the death and resurrection of Jesus I find that he transforms every one of those fears. Instead of it being unknown, I find that Jesus has been through it already. Instead of having to face it alone I find that there He is with me, bringing me safely over. And instead of fearing the judgment of God I find that Jesus brings me through death to the judgment seat and there I find that Jesus himself is on that seat; and he welcomes me as a forgiven friend. When the crisis of death comes along you can’t trust you. You can’t trust anything else. But, says Jesus, “You can trust me.”