Our Bible readings after Easter are very much concerned with how we are to live after Jesus is gone. For Jesus’ closest disciples this is a very real concern. They have journeyed with him for three years of his ministry. They were there when he walked on water. They were there when he healed. They were there when he spoke with authority and taught in ways that had their heads spinning for days. They saw his intimate relationship with his Father, his times of prayer set aside from the busyness of his day-to-day calling.
John 14 brings these disciples and us to the very edge of Jesus being gone. In the previous chapter, Jesus had presided over the Last Supper and washed their feet. John 14 begins an extended talk from Jesus to his followers. This talk is all about what life will be like for them going forward. He wants to comfort them. He wants to make them aware that things will not be the same, nor will they be easy. It’s a word for them, and it’s a word for us. This is all about how we go forward together, even when we are troubled.
Jesus actually brings that up with his first words. “Don’t be troubled,” he says. “Trust in God. Trust also in me.” The word “trust” is interesting. In Greek it’s pisteuete. It’s frequently translated as “believe,” which is basically interchangeable with “trust.” When we believe someone or something, we have given them our trust, right? But the word could be translated as a command — “Believe in God!” — as though he is strengthening them to do so, but it could also be translated as “You believe in God,” as though he is repeating a fact about their very existence. That is, they already have this belief, this trust, so even though their hearts are troubled, they do not need to worry. What God is doing is worthy of their trust.
But I want to focus our time on those things that are clearly troubling the disciples because they are also things that can trouble us as well. This is a fascinating passage because two disciples interrupt Jesus’ discourse to register what they are worried about, so we get to hear Jesus’ direct answers to their concerns. So, let’s walk through those things that are troubling them and that can trouble us to see what answers this text has for us.
This text has answers for four issues that trouble us. Let’s get right to them. First, we fear being abandoned. These disciples have left home, family, and work behind to follow Jesus, and while the past three years have been amazing, they are staring into the abyss of his departure. Where is he going? They believed that he was the Messiah, so wouldn’t that make him powerful enough to escape the plans of those who could harm him? But he said he’s going to die, that he’s going away.
And the disciples feel left behind, abandoned. What are they going to do with themselves with him gone? Will their lives be threatened? What will they tell their families when they return to their fishing boats and businesses? That this was just an adventure but now we’re ready to get back to the grind?
Unlike the actual first disciples, Jesus’ physical presence is harder to come by for us. Sure, we talk about it at this table, where these elements of bread and wine are the presence of Jesus in this sanctuary. We know the Holy Spirit offers that presence, but apart from faith and trust, the absence of the flesh-and-bone Jesus sometimes causes us to wonder if we’ve been abandoned.
That’s the starting fear for the disciples, but it goes deeper. They not only feel abandoned, they also fear being excluded. Jesus has told them that he has to go away, and while he is away he’s preparing a place for them. He sounds a bit like someone who is scouting a move from Michigan to Arizona. “Hey, folks. Don’t worry! Life has been fine in Michigan, but did you know you can golf all winter long in Arizona? I want to make that possible for you, but to do so, I have to fly to Phoenix for a few months, get the lay of the land, book our tee times, and stock the fridge. As soon as I have this, I’ll send you tickets and a plan for our reunion! No more snow, folks!”
But the disciples look around and start counting heads. “I’ve heard it’s hard to get a flight to Phoenix this time of year,” Philip muses. “I heard there’s a water shortage there,” Judas complains, assuming that it’s too expensive to pay the water bill. And then Thaddeus, the forgotten disciple (you didn’t even remember he was one, did you?), worries, “I don’t even know how to play golf! Everyone is going to have fun but me. There’s not really room for someone like me.”
We fear being excluded, but Jesus says, “My Father’s house has plenty of room to spare.” No one who wants to join in will be excluded. There’s room for all. If you grew up reading the King James, unfortunately, this was translated as, “My Father’s house has many mansions.” Bad translation, and it has led to lots of people picturing that everyone gets a million-dollar home in heaven. Middle Eastern homes were very different. When a couple got married, the man’s parents would build a room right onto their house to make room for the couple. That’s the image Jesus is using. There’s always room in his house for another. He is going away, but he is not excluding. He’s got room for you too.
A third fear we share with the disciples is misunderstanding. Thomas asks, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, frames this even more clearly. “How do you expect us to know the road?” Back to the Greek for a moment. The word used here is hodos, and it means way, road, or path. Our ears are so attuned to the one translation — I am the way — that Jesus’ statement can feel very other-worldly. It’s like someone saying, “I can show you the way to a healthier, wealthier life.” Sure, who wouldn’t want that? But there is zero clarity on the actual path, the steps you would need to take to get there.
Jesus’ response to Thomas is clear. I am the way. I am the road. You are on a journey, but I am with you on that journey. Stick by me, and you’ll never get lost. You may get scared. You may worry. You may question, but Jesus is the actual road, the actual way and is with you even in that. So, don’t let misunderstanding trouble your heart. Jesus is with you. He is with you on the way. He is the way, the road, the path. When we live with Jesus, when we are in step with him, fear melts away.
The fourth thing that troubles the disciples and us takes up the second half of our text. Not understanding that Jesus is already enough, another disciple, Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.” The fourth fear is this: Not trusting that what we already have is enough. Philip has spent three years with Jesus. Every day Jesus has been showing him what life is like with God. Jesus has even been explicit about how he and the Father are one. Having seen Jesus, Philip sees and knows the Father already.
But let’s not beat Philip up for wanting more. We all have done similarly at various points of our lives. We bargain with God all the time. Lord, if you will just heal this person I love, then you bet I’ll go to church more regularly. Lord, I’d love to support the church financially, but things are really tight at home. So…if you wouldn’t mind giving me a little extra, I’ll make sure you get some back. Or sometimes these don’t even connect this directly to the church. Lord, if you would just make sure the right people get elected, then I’ll finally be happy about the state of the world and will stop griping on Facebook.
Two observations: First, God is not a vending machine, so don’t treat prayer that way. Jesus says we have everything we need already, so our work is to trust that is true. Second, wanting more from God and putting conditions on our response, reveals not faith but a kind of contractual relationship. Jesus says that he is sufficient. He’s already there. We are on the journey together with him. He is the path, and he is the destination.
Our passage closes with how we are to ask for what we need in this life. Have you ever wondered why we frequently end our prayers with “we ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”? It’s because Jesus tells us to ask in his name. Verse 13: “I’ll do whatever you ask for in my name.” But this is no incantation. This is not abracadabra. Again, Eugene Peterson’s translation is helpful here. “Whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it,” Jesus says.
This is why we don’t pray, “Lord, I’d like a Corvette and the Lions to win the Super Bowl in Jesus’ name!” As lovely as those things would be, neither of those are along the lines of who Jesus is. But we can pray for hearts that are big enough to love the way Jesus loves. We can pray for reconciliation where a relationship has broken down. We can pray for daily bread. We can pray that our church will be bold in how we seek to love our community.
“Don’t be troubled,” Jesus says. He takes our fears — abandonment, exclusion, misunderstanding, scarcity — and says, “Don’t be troubled. You know me. I am with you on this road. I will guide you safely to the end.” He even promises that greater things will be done through us than we could ever imagine. But we have to trust each other. We have to trust Jesus, taking him at his word. We go forward on this journey together. Jesus is with us on this road, and we are with each other. And that is a blessing that we turn into blessings that go way beyond ourselves, into a world that still doesn’t know the joy of being with Jesus.