John 14:23-29 - Preparation for Separation - May 26, 2019

Preparation for separation. It’s probably not the way most parents think of parenting, especially not when they’re young (and definitely not the day they’re baptized), but it’s true nonetheless. It’s true not just for Matthew’s parents and sponsors, but for all parents, and really, all of us who are committed to teaching God’s unchanging truth to the next generation. We teach our children how to eat and live and behave and to know the will of God and believe in his gift of a Savior – to prepare them for the day when we won’t be there to teach them, guide them, comfort them.


Jesus is doing some parental-like preparing in the upper room on Maundy Thursday in our text. He’s preparing his disciples for life after his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, preparing them for a new reality (the only reality we know): when they will live without his visible presence. He’s told them that he’s going away. (John 13:33) And the disciples are lost. They’re troubled and confused. They’re full of questions. Peter wants to know why he can’t follow Jesus. (John 13:37) Thomas asks Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way? (John 14:5) Finally, Judas, the other Judas, not the betrayer, asks Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world? (John 14:22) In answering these questions, Jesus prepares his disciples and us for separation.


As the first step in this preparation Jesus brings up the dreaded “d-word.” The word that many find to be dirty and divisive today. That word? Doctrine. If anyone loves me, he will obey (“keep,” “hold to”) my teaching (better: “words”)…he who does not love me will not obey my teaching. Why is Jesus’ teaching, his doctrine, so important – to the extent that your relationship to his words indicate faith or unbelief? Because these words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. And not only that, but the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. When it comes to the connection between the doctrine of the Trinity and the authority of Scripture, this point cannot be overstated: the words of Jesus and the words and thoughts of the Father and the Holy Spirit are one and same thing.


We all have some gems of our parents’ wisdom engraved on our minds (“if all your friends were jumping off a bridge…” “if you can’t say anything nice…”). Why did Jesus want to insure that his disciples remembered his words when he was gone? Well, while Jesus was with them, he was their source of comfort and counsel. When some horrible tragedy happened in the news (Luke 13:1-5) Jesus told them how to interpret such news. When the disciples were fearful on the storm tossed Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:25), unable to understand his parables (Matthew 13:36), or worried about their daily necessities (Matthew 6:25-34), Jesus personally counseled them. But now Jesus was returning to heaven. Troubling, mysterious things would continue to happen. There would be tragedy, disaster, illness and death – and they would wonder what God had to say about these things. Jesus here promises that neither they nor we would ever have to wonder what God is saying. Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to comfort and counsel them in his absence.


In the midst of problems, tragedy, sickness, when you don’t know what to think or where to turn for help, the Holy Spirit still brings Jesus’ words of comfort to mind. Words like: come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28); seek first his kingdom…and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33); surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) We know these words. But the devil is always right there, isn’t he? He wants you to believe that Jesus’ words are insufficient; that Jesus’ words are “ok” but for real comfort you need to know what the Father thinks. He wants you to doubt and dismiss the simple, clear, black and white words of Scripture and try to reach into heaven, into God’s unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16) to find out what he has to say, how he feels about you. This is why so many people are so drawn to preachers who claim a special connection to God, to books that claim to contain new revelations, to searching for God in their hearts rather than their Bibles.


But what does Jesus say? How does he prepare us to deal with these temptations? He says, unequivocally, that his words are the Father’s words. Have you ever heard that “God works/moves in a mysterious way”? Did you know that neither that phrase nor that concept are Biblical? Certainly, the Bible does say that God’s ways and thoughts are far above our ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55:11) and it is true that God is hidden from our sight (Isaiah 45:15) – but the wonderful news is that God has revealed himself, his heart, his mind, his thoughts, his feelings to us. Where? In Jesus! Jesus says anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9) God’s ways are only dark and mysterious if you ignore or disregard Jesus. So instead of speculating, feeling or reasoning what God is doing or thinking, bind yourself to Jesus’ words – because that’s what the Father has done.


This truth is so important that it demands further examination. We’ve all heard of people who think that God has spoken to them in some sort of dream or sign. Maybe you’ve wondered yourself: “What about my dream, my feeling, that coincidence in my life? Is that the Holy Spirit? If I don’t listen and obey am I disobeying God?” Talk to anyone who has lived this way. This sort of thinking is downright demonic and leads to a fear-filled and anxious life. “If I don’t follow this hunch, this vision, this vague feeling I might miss out on God’s perfect plan for my life; or even worse, something awful might happen to me or someone I love.” That’s no way to live.


The best antidote for this sort of tortured existence is the sola Scriptura of biblical, confessional Lutheranism which forcefully declares: “We must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one except through or with the preceding outward Word (Galatians 3:2,5). This protects us from the enthusiasts (i.e., souls who boast that they have the Spirit without and before the Word)…Therefore, we must constantly maintain this point: God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is praised as from the Spirit – without the Word and Sacraments – is the devil himself.” [1] You don’t have to search to your feelings, the strange coincidences of life, some dream you or someone else had about your life out of fear that you might be missing something. In fact, you absolutely shouldn’t – because Paul says if anyone should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:9)


Isn’t that arrogant on our part, though? How can we, Lutherans, be so dismissive of dreams and feelings and celebrity preachers when so many Christians believe that’s how God works? How do we know we aren’t missing the Holy Spirit? Because of the words before us. Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Counselor. (Literally “paraclete” – “one who stands beside.”) This word can also translated “comforter.” The Holy Spirit would not be very good at his job if he communicates in ways that can be interpreted a thousand different ways. That dream, that feeling, that urge may be nothing more than a fever, than the consequence of spicy Mexican food, than a side-effect of medicine – and how would you ever know the difference? Where is the comfort in that kind of uncertainty? It’s like letting the wisdom of a fortune cookie determine your destiny. (Not to mention that much of what people “hear” from the Spirit is contrary to Scripture!)


So what do you say to the person who says “God spoke to me…”? Tell them what Jesus said: the Counselor, the Holy Spirt, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Jesus doesn’t describe the Spirit’s work as placing obscure and cryptic feelings or messages in your heart or life but as [reminding] you of everything [he has said]. The only time we can be sure it is the Holy Spirit speaking (a not a demonic imposter) is when he is bringing to mind the definite, clear things Jesus said while he was on earth. Things like If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching…he who does not love me will not obey my teaching; no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5); if you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven (John 20:23); take and eat; this is my body…this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28) Jesus didn’t ascend into heaven to leave you mystified, struggling to decipher what God might be telling you. And so he promises to send the Spirit, the Counselor, to teach and counsel you with his own words.


The Spirit’s work leads directly to the second step in Jesus’ preparation: his gift of peace. The peace Jesus promised, worked, won, and gave is not of this world. The world equates “peace” to having what you want: money, family, health, home, security, etc. But we all know people who have all these things and yet still lack peace. And that’s good news for us – because that means that you could lack any or all of those things, you could be struggling financially, be laid off from your job, be sick or even near death and still have Jesus’ peace. The peace Jesus leaves is the peace between God and sinners. Sin is our real problem, the reason we don’t have peace in our hearts and lives. Our sinfulness made us God’s enemies. Our sins separate us from him (Isaiah 59:2). But Jesus lived a perfect life in our place and died an atoning death to pay for our sins, to remove them from our record. By doing what God demands and absorbing his wrath, Jesus has ended the war between heaven and earth; has restored peace between sinners like us and God.


If you’ve ever had someone mad at you, you know what this means. As long as they’re mad you’re looking over your shoulder, avoiding their presence, wondering and worrying if and when the other shoe will drop. That’s how many people view God to this day. He’s angry, he’s bitter, he’s just looking for an excuse to squash you. By his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension Jesus leaves us the guarantee and the peace that God is not angry anymore, he’s not looking to damn us – because Jesus was damned in our place. Because of Jesus you are in a right relationship with God right now; you stand justified and holy in his presence through faith. That’s the peace no one but Jesus can give and that no one and no circumstance of life can take from you.


That’s why he says do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. It’s not a suggestion; it’s a command. Why, do you think, Jesus had to command us not to be troubled and afraid? Because we’re so slow to believe that he meant it when he said it is finished (John 19:30). Because Jesus knows that we still tend to picture an angry, mysterious, threatening God standing behind every medical issue, family problem and economic crisis; that we tend to be troubled because we still think the Gospel is too good to be true, we still imagine that there’s something we must to do earn God’s favor. When we forget Jesus’ words and work we are robbed of peace. Thankfully Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to remind us that Jesus suffered and died to bring us peace with God.


Day after day and week after week the devil, the world and your own sinful nature will work together to give you a fearful, troubled and anxious heart. The good news is that God is greater than our hearts (1 John 3:20). And today all three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit speak with one clear, unanimous voice peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. Let there be no mistake, the Father sent the Son with his words, the Son died and rose and ascended, and the Spirit reminds you of all of it for one beautiful, simple reason: so that even though you are separated from Jesus now, you might have peace, true, lasting peace today and into eternity. Amen.

[1] SA VIII:3, 10