Like Father, Like Son (John 14:1-31)

John 14 is a rich chapter in this Gospel, and I have to decide where to focus in that chapter with you this morning. Shall we focus on Jesus’ announcement to the apostles that he is going away? What about concentrating on the disciples themselves in the face of such a distressing word from their Master? It would certainly be appropriate to spend all our time on his promise to send the Holy Spirit among his followers – the Comforter, Counselor, Advocate. There are other themes at work in this chapter as well.

I have decided to focus on the one theme in John 14 that I believe includes and captures all the rest: the relationship of Jesus to the Father. That means that the section of text we are most concerned to study at some detail is this:

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? ” (14:5-9).
Looking for Direction

We are still in the upper room with Jesus and The Twelve on the night when Jesus ate his final Passover meal with them, washed their feet, and gave what we call his Farewell Discourse to the group. No, let me correct something. We are not with The Twelve any longer by the time we reach chapter 14. Jesus is alone now with The Eleven – for Judas had left them and gone into the night of his great betrayal deed back at 13:30. With Judas gone, the Farewell Discourse begins at 13:31.

The opening lines of that discourse have Jesus telling his followers things like these: “I am with you only a little longer” (33a) and “Where I am going, you cannot come” (33c). As you would expect, that aroused the apostles. “Lord, where are you going?” Peter demanded to know (13:36). And even though he told Peter he could not come with him now – for the path would include a level of faithfulness through suffering that Peter could not muster – he immediately gives reassurance that takes this form: “Men, none of you is able to travel the path I am about to take. But don’t worry. When the time is right, I will come back for you and take you where I am going.” These were his actual words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going” (14:1-4).

You most often hear these words read at funerals. There’s nothing wrong with using them in such a setting, and I understand why they are precious at the death of a saint. These verses affirm Jesus’ concern for us in our times of distress. What is more, they certify a believer’s hope that Jesus is preparing a place for all who love him and will someday come back to take us there. These are words of grace! Neither Peter nor the rest of us would ever be able to find our way to heaven. So, in one sense, we can neither “go” there nor “follow” to it. Jesus will have to come to us, receive us to himself, and take us to the place he knows.

Just at that point, it was Thomas’ turn to join the conversation. Overhearing what had been said about “the way to the place” where Jesus was going, he protested. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (14:5). Then comes the emphatic and captivating claim of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (14:6-7).

God’s Plan for Us

From the beginning – no, from before the beginning – God has intended for his human creatures to experience his fellowship. He wants to live in loving communion with us. He wants to be our friend in a safe and secure environment. But our sin has put barriers between us, and he has been reaching for us since Eden. Let me explain something that we sometimes overlook in our theologies.

God exists in, longs for, and thrives through relationship. Unlike the mysterious Craftsman of Plato, the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle, and most of the mythical gods of ancient peoples, the One True God does not exist for self-contemplation or keep himself remote from his creation. Yahweh is a personal deity who thrives in community, kinship, and – the most personal of all virtues – love.

The God of the Bible is not a single individual who reveals himself in three different roles. Neither do orthodox Christians believe in three deities who act in concert. We are monotheists who affirm one deity in three personalities. While that language is “mysterious” in one sense, it should be familiar in another. Doesn’t the Bible speak of marriage as the union of a man and woman such that the two become “one” or “one flesh”? (Gen. 2:24; cf. Matt. 19:5). This sort of mystical oneness does not do away with separate form, personality, or function for them. He may be in Denver and she in Detroit, but they are in some sense one. They have a family name and unity that supercedes their individual identities now. Two individuals are living in covenant unity.

Just so, “God” is the family name that speaks of the unity among God the Father, God the Word/Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Three members of the one divine family have existed from eternity. They have existed in community, kinship, and love. And once the decision was made to create a level of beings in the image of God, the decision was also made to share divine community, kinship, and love with those creatures. So the Book of Genesis speaks of an intimate relationship between God and humankind that was short-circuited by sin. Since that time, God has taken the initiative to reveal himself to his creatures and to draw the rebels back home.

In this process of attempting to reconcile God and humans, God has always been the initiator. God has revealed himself as loving and concerned about his human creatures. God has acted by grace to make himself known to us. As one commentator says:

I believe that John’s deepest desire is for us to see that Jesus is the revealer of God and in this revelation, to find life. This is not the same as saying that Jesus had wisdom that unveiled the inner working of God (although this is true). Nor is it the same as saying that Jesus lived a life so attuned to God that simply by imitating him, we might know God (although this is true too). Jesus does not show us the way to the Father; rather, Jesus is the way to the Father. We have to pause to let the nuance of this idea settle in.[1]
It is this claim by Jesus to be the exclusive means to the Father – “No one comes to the Father except through me” – that makes Christianity offensive to some. Why can’t we just live and let live? Why can’t we be content to offer Christianity on the smorgasbord of world religions? Why do we have to claim that it is the one true religion approved by God? Christians in the first century did not want a statue of Jesus put in the house of the gods in Rome (i.e., The Pantheon) because they did not confess him as one among many. They cited Paul’s words: “Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as in fact there are many gods and many lords – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:5-6).

Tony Campolo tells about a conversation he had on an airplane years ago. It was a 1 a.m. redeye from California to Philadelphia, and he was planning to sleep on the flight. But the fellow in the seat next to his wanted to talk.

He asked, “What do you do?”

Now when I want to talk, I say I’m a sociologist, and they say, “That’s interesting.” But if I really want to shut someone up, I say I’m a Baptist evangelist. Generally, that does it.

“I’m a Baptist evangelist,” I said.

“Do you know what I believe?” he asked. I could hardly wait. “I believe that going to heaven is like going to Philadelphia.”

“I certainly hope not,” I thought.

“There are many ways to get to Philadelphia,” he continued. “Some go by airplane. Some go by train. Some go by bus. Some drive by automobile. It doesn't make any difference how we go there. We all end up in the same place.”

“Profound,” I said and went to sleep.

As we started descending into Philadelphia, the place was fogged in. The wind was blowing, the rain was beating on the plane, and everyone looked nervous and tight. As we were circling in the fog, I turned to the theological expert on my right. “I'm certainly glad the pilot doesn't agree with your theology,” I said.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

The people in the control tower are giving instructions to the pilot: “Coming north by northwest, three degrees, you're on beam, you're on beam, don’t deviate from the beam.” I’m glad the pilot's not saying, “There are many ways into the airport. There are many approaches we can take.” I'm glad he's saying, “There's only one way we can land this plane, and I'm going to stay with it.”

There is no other name whereby we can be saved except the name of Jesus.[2]
Christians don’t affirm that Jesus’ “way” is better because we think Christianity promotes better families, generates a better ethical life, or brings world peace. We make our bold affirmation about him because we have seen him open the door to the Father by the offering of himself on our behalf at Golgotha. We have sensed God revealing himself to us in Jesus, drawing us to himself in Jesus, giving us eternal life in Jesus.

Like Father, Like Son

Some fathers and sons look and act so much alike that anyone who knows one believes he knows the other. I get strange looks when I walk in a certain grocery. Some of the employees surely think one of two things. Either “So that’s where Tom Shelly gets his handsome gene!” or “So that’s what Tom Shelly is going to look like when he’s 100!” When I go to a certain health care center in Nashville, I get looks. Why, I’ve had families come up to thank me for something I’ve done for a patient there – and once even had a nurse ask me a question about nursing home procedure! I just smiled and told her that I was Tim’s younger brother and that people get us confused all the time.

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (14:8-13).
Do you see the Trinitarian theology of this discourse? Jesus reveals the Father. The Father is in the Son, and the Son is in the Father. When Jesus returns to the Father, he will not leave his disciples “orphaned” (14:18) but will come to them in the person of the Holy Spirit. “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (14:25-26).

As we await the fulfillment of all God’s purposes, our task is clear. Don’t be troubled, but trust (14:1). Show you love Jesus by keeping his commandments (14:15). Live in the settled peace of one who believes the divine promise – a peace the world can neither know nor give (14:27).

Conclusion

In 1867, Columbia, South Carolina, was trying to get back on its feet after the devastation of the Civil War. The New York Firemen’s Association learned the city was still using bucket brigades to fight fires. So New Yorkers raised money to buy Columbia a fire wagon. When it was lost during shipment, the same people took up yet another collection and sent a second one.

City officials spoke with one voice to thank New York for its gift and vowed never to forget so great a kindness. A former Confederate Col. Samuel Melton was so dumbfounded by the generosity of men who had only a few years earlier served in the Union Army that he spoke on behalf of South Carolina’s capital city and promised to return the favor “should misfortune ever befall the Empire City.”

In the aftermath of September 11, students at White Knoll Middle School led a drive to raise the $354,000 necessary to replace one of the fire trucks lost that day. Spurred on by the historical anecdote just related, the South Carolina Remembers Fund received a total of $510,000. During the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, four students made good on a 134-year-old promise. “When we presented the check [for $354,000] to Mayor Giuliani,” said Staci Smith, “he just had the biggest smile on his face.”[3]

Jesus remembers a promise he made to his apostles – and, by extension, to the rest of his disciples – in his Farewell Discourse. He has gone to be with the Father, has the Holy Spirit active in our midst on our behalf now, and will someday come back to take us where he is. The relationship between God and his beloved human offspring will be complete. And Father, Son, and Spirit will have the biggest smiles on their faces!
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[1] Gary M. Burge, The NIV Application Commentary: John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), p. 407.
[2] World Vision, Oct/Nov 1988.
[3] “Metro Briefing,” New York Times, Nov. 23, 2001.

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