As I read and re-read today’s verses from John’s gospel, I found a song growing in my mind. A song which grew louder and stronger. Stuart Townend’s ‘How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure’.
In last week’s reading, and today’s, Jesus emphasises the closeness of his relationship with his Father; the love for each other and the love which they have for the disciples. And, indeed, for all of us.
Our reading today is a continuation from last week. We find the disciples somewhat confused, nervous, certainly unsettled and even fearful. Jesus has told them that he is about to leave them. He is returning to the Father and leaving them to carry on the work of bringing in God’s kingdom. They are finding it hard to grasp what he is on about. You can picture the reactions. John, Peter, James and Andrew seemingly stunned to silence – only Thomas and Phillip daring to ask questions.
Just when everything seemed to be going so well! They had been with him for three years, listening and learning from him. As they had travelled round the villages and towns, increasing numbers were coming to follow Jesus and his teaching; and with the miracles and the wonders that Jesus was performing there was a renewed appreciation of what God was wanting of his people; of how they should be conducting their lives. And here they were in Jerusalem, capital of Jewish religious thought and influence, where crowds had welcomed Jesus as saviour and even king. And now the bombshell – Jesus was leaving them and expecting them, his pupils, to carry on without him. The sense of shock was running through all of them. They felt totally inadequate for the task that was being asked of them.
So, Jesus sought to re-assure them. Last week’s reading started with “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” This morning’s reading gives more of the same with Jesus saying to them; look, continue to love me and follow my teaching, then you will not be on your own. You know me and you will know of my presence with you.
Some extra help
Jesus also gives reference back to the scriptures with the picture of God being Father and we his children whom he loves and cares for. Jesus highlights this by telling the disciples that he may be leaving but they are not left as orphans.
Furthermore, Jesus tells them, I’m going to ask the Father to give you some special help. He will give you the Spirit of truth. An inner strength to enable you to speak the truth of God and, as becomes apparent in the Acts of the Apostles, it will give an energy, a power, to be witnesses and to spread the good news of Jesus. This same Spirit, which has been with and in Jesus, will also come to them. And at the time that the Spirit comes upon them they will know and understand so much more of what Jesus has been saying to them. They will understand all the more the renewed relationship with God the Father which has been the essence of Jesus’ ministry among them.
If you love me
Jesus emphasises the closeness of his relationship with the Father. Now Jesus includes his disciples and all those who love him in this relationship: “who loves me will be loved by my Father”. Love is the bond which holds everything together. “If you love me you will obey my commands” says Jesus.
Remember the reply when Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment. Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbour as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” The bedrock of Jesus teaching. It is echoed in Paul’s well known passage from 1 Corinthians 13, which ends with “Faith, hope and love but the greatest of these is love.”
God lives in him and he in God
So, here in our reading, as Jesus prepares to hand over to his disciples, he is again emphasising love. He is reminding his disciples, and us, of the relationship which is readily available with God our heavenly Father. Jesus tells us that God is not some remote, all powerful, figure. He does not practise social distancing. He is a loving Father. Head of the family. “Abba” as Jesus and Paul call him. Abba is Aramaic for father. He’s that close. Think of a loving human father. Think daddy! We are his children. We can trust him to be with us, to support us, to get us through the tough times.
John returns to this theme again in his letter to the early church. 1 John 4:13. “ We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his son to be the saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”
So, as Jesus gave that reassurance to his disciples we too receive the same reassurance of a close relationship with God through Jesus. It is as family that we are called to witness to the good news that Easter brings.
Back to Stuart Townend’s song, ‘How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure’, and the final verse:
I will not boast in anything,
no gifts, no power, no wisdom;
but I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer,
but this I know with all my heart,
His wounds have paid my ransom.
“How vast beyond all measure” was delivered virtually, on Sunday 17th May 2020, by Nigel Silvester to St Zooms, a mix of congregations from Bury, Heywood and Rochdale. It’s based on John 14: 15-21. For Nigel’s next one, ‘Prepared to be different’, please follow this link.