Follow Jesus to the Father
John 13:36-14:7, Remsen Bible Fellowship, 12/29/2019
During the early stages of praying and planning a church plant in Remsen, one of the things I worked on was a mission statement. What I settled on, at least for now, though I’m always open to improving it, is the following: We (Remsen Bible Fellowship) exist to help people become followers of Jesus and grow in likeness to him, for their joy and for God’s glory.
While that statement isn’t perfect, I do feel like it captures the essence of what we desire to see in the establishing of a new church here in town. We recognize that there are many people who aren’t believers in Jesus, aren’t following him, aren’t committed to him heart and soul-and we want to see that change. Not to try and be some cool new thing, or to get people to be like us. I’ve been around me too long to want other people to be like me. But because apart from Jesus there is no lasting hope, no lasting peace, no lasting joy, no lasting life. Jesus is the only way. The only way to life abundant, the only way to God.
As we look at our text this morning, we are going to look at why we need to follow Jesus. Before we can help anyone else to see their need for him, we must first see our need. And as we look at this text, we are going to see one sobering truth, followed by two comforting truths.
Following Jesus is Beyond Your Natural Ability, v36-38
Remember that our context is the last supper. Just a few verses earlier, Jesus has predicted that he will be betrayed by one of the 12, and though he actually tips everyone off to the fact that it is Judas, they seem to miss his hint. But they ae disturbed by this idea, that one of their own number could turn betray their Teacher, their Master, their Lord.
Jesus has turned, in v31, and begun to give instruction as to how he wants his disciples now to live. He explains that the Son is to be glorified in the Son through this hour which has come upon them, and in v34-35 he issues a “new commandment”: to love in the same self-sacrificing, putting others first to the extreme, manner that Jesus had loved them. But tucked in right before that command is v33, Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’
In v36, Peter jumps in, and is less interested in the incredible challenge which Jesus has just issued, and seems far more interested in the matter which is currently disturbing him: where in the world is Jesus going? The answer is two-fold. First of all, Jesus is about to head to the cross, where he will lay down his life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15). Will you die for me? Jesus asks Peter. There is irony here, because Jesus is the one betrayed into the hands of sinful men, suffering a violent crucifixion, and doing so in the place of sinners. Sinners like Peter. Sinners like you and me. And because he goes there in our place, he suffers not only physical agony, but the full cup of the wrath of God is poured out upon him. And he drinks it down to the end. So where is Jesus going? He is going to be Peter’s substitute.
Jesus is also going back to the Father, as seen in the John 7 passage which Jesus alludes to in v33, and which we examined last week. This same destination is alluded to in 14:2. So Jesus is going to the cross, and on the other side of the cross, he is returning to the Father. Neither of these are currently options for Peter, he can’t be a substitute and he cannot yet go to the Father. And so we read Jesus words in v36b.
Peter isn’t pleased with this answer. Notice what he says. Why can I not follow you now? Peter is convinced he does have what it takes to follow Jesus. He has the power, the determination. I will lay down my life for you! Is Peter lying here? I doubt it. There is no doubt that Peter means every word which crosses his lips. But he fails to see the absolute foolishness of his self-confidence. I think it was James Boice in his sermon on this passage who noted that we are often aware of our weaknesses. We watch those areas, guard them, put up guardrails. But our strengths can be what get us in trouble. Peter’s devotion to Christ is genuinely amazing. The guy gets out of a boat to walk across a storming sea to be near Jesus, offers to build a tabernacle on the mount of transfiguration to honor Jesus, chops off a dude’s ear to protect Jesus. Yet his devotion is precisely where we will see Jesus predict Peter’s fall. Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not cow until you have denied me three times. Peter is confident in his own capacity to follow Jesus, and he will be a massive failure.
Have you ever been there? Doesn’t it seem like every time you make a big commitment to really give it your all for Jesus, that those are the moments when you fall flat on your face? The turning of the calendar from one year to the next is when many of us make resolutions for all the ways we’re going to change in the New Year. However, researchers say that over 805 of those resolutions fail by February. That can be depressing if your goal was to make better financial choices, eat healthier, exercise more, or read more books. But when those resolutions are spiritual, say sharing the Gospel more frequently, praying more than you check Facebook, or reading the Word daily-when we fail at these things we can feel like we’re failing God. Which gives a level of shame and disappointment that eating more chips than intended doesn’t quite reach.
What was true for Peter is just as true for us: following Jesus in our own power is an impossible task, doomed to failure. This, as we will see, is because Jesus didn’t just come to break trail-he did that, to be sure, as we talked about last week. But if just look at Jesus as a trailblazer, or a role model, or an example, what we are going to find is an example that we always fall short of. Jesus didn’t just make the way. He is the way. So we can take hope.
And that hope glimmers even in his sobering interaction with Peter. Peter is told that you cannot follow me now, but you will follow me afterward. Peter can’t follow Jesus into death at this moment, but where do we find him 35 years later? Crucified upside down, tradition tells us. He follows his Lord, even in the manner of death he dies (cf John 21:18-19). But more importantly, he will be able to follow Jesus to the Father- through Jesus. Will you lay down your life for me? Jesus asks it as a question. He doesn’t deny it that Peter will die for him. Peter will, in fact, do so one day. But in the meantime, Jesus wants Peter to question his big-headed feelings of self-assurance. Trusting self is doomed to fail. There is only One who is worthy of our trust.
Trust Jesus Because He is Trustworthy, v1-3
Jesus recognizes the fact that his disciples are disturbed. Again, they have been told that one of them is a betrayer, and Peter has just been told he will deny Christ three times by morning. If Peter can’t stand, who can?
When we read in v1 that the disciples are troubled, our minds run back to 12:27 & 13:21, where Jesus tells us that his soul is troubled. Yet, while his being troubled is obviously without sin, Jesus here commands the disciples to put fear away. Let not your hearts be troubled. Is this because there is nothing in life worthy of dreading? They seem to have a pretty rough few days, indeed, a rough life ahead of them. Is Jesus telling them to pretend that’s not there, is he asking them to live in some sort of plaster-on-a-smile-and-pretend-life-is-okay fashion? Hardly. Jesus doesn’t just see their troubled faces. He sees their troubled souls. He knows their hearts. And he knows that their root problem isn’t the circumstances they face. It’s that they are depending on good circumstances and their own abilities. The solution, then, is to reorient their trust.
What is Jesus solution for troubled hearts? Believe in God, believe also in me. Why would this make any difference? Because in knowing Christ, in trusting him, in trusting the Father, we are placing our confidence in the God who controls each and every circumstance. James Montgomery Boice put it this way, “Christians are realists. They are realists about all life’s problems. At the same time, however, we must add that they are realists about the power of God and his promises.”
Jesus then offers more reason to trust. He gives them more promises to cling to. I want to look at three promises to trust that we see in verses 2 & 3.
- There is room for you. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? Jesus has promised to prepare a place for them. Which means that they are perfectly safe. Maybe not physically safe, bad things can happen. But they are ultimately safe, because God has room for all of those who trust in him. In my Father’s house are many rooms, many dwelling places. Older translations say mansions here, and that’s because how this word was translated into Latin and how the Latin then influenced early English translations. The idea, though, isn’t a disconnected dwelling. It’s all part of the Father’s house.
Tied to the mansions idea is the expectation many have of the poshness of heaven. Which, of course, is probably not a wrong expectation. No one will get to heaven and be upset about the accommodations. But that is not the point in this text. The point of this text is not to say hey, heaven’s sweet! Rather, it is to encourage these troubled diciples: in the Father’s house, he has room for you. God has not forgotten you, you are not too small and insignificant for him to bother with, trust him-he’s provided a place for you.
- The second promise is that Jesus will prepare a way. Again, these disciples will all fall away over the course of this night. They will all fail. We all stumble and fall, we all are continually finding ourselves indulging our sinful desires. How can we, these walking embodiments of failure, be brought into the house of the Holy God? How can the Righteous Judge make room for us in his eternal house? Because Jesus, the Son sent by the
Father, has prepared the way and made a place.
I think Jesus is probably referring to his cross-work when he says this. Can I be right with God on my own? No. But Jesus goes to the cross and absorbs the punishment due to me, and will clothe me in his righteousness if my faith is in him. That is, I can go from being one under the sentence of death for treason, to being one wrapped in the Father’s loving arms, and given a place of honor at the dinner table. Do I deserve a place? Nope. But a place has been made for me by Christ on the cross.
- The third and crucial promise we see here is that Christ will receive his own to himself. There is debate over these verses as to just what Jesus is talking about when he says I will return to take you to myself. Is this the moment of death, a rapture at the end of the church age, the second coming in glory? I lean toward that middle option as the main reference, but the point of the text is not a timeline. The content of the promise is not mark your calendars, the content of the promise is mark my words: I’m not leaving you. There is a sense is which he doesn’t leave at all because of the gift of the Spirit. But even in the sense of his physical presence, his absence is temporary. He will come and receive his own. He’s been telling them that he has a place for them, but in this statement the emphasis shifts from place to person. He is coming for them. He will receive them. He is the one who will take hold of them, that where he is they may be also.
Do you hear that promise for yourself this morning? Do you feel alone? Do you feel troubled in soul? Do your circumstances overwhelm you? He is coming for you. This is obviously true at the end of the age, but even in death it is strikingly true for the believer. At the end of Acts 7, Stephen has just finished his defense before the council, and he sees a vision of Christ at the Father’s right hand, and upon being stoned he prays, Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit. Who is waiting for Stephen at death? Jesus. Jesus is there to receive him.
Following Jesus is built, fundamentally, upon trusting him. And to trust him is to trust the Father (12:44). Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32
Follow Jesus, Because He is the Only Way to the Father, v4-7
In v4, Jesus tells the disciples that they know the way to where he is going. Thomas then asks the obvious question: if we don’t know where you’re going, how on earth can we know the way?
Before we head out on a road trip, I tend to obsess over roads and routes, possible ways to get from here-to-there. I do have a bit of a freewheeling side that I’m not sure Andie appreciates, because I love taking new roads and seeing different sites. But I want to at least have mapped out our general route. But which roads we take are very much determined by one fact: where are we headed? If we’re going to Missouri, we’re going to take a different set of roads than if we’re headed to Idaho.
Should the disciples know where Jesus is going? He has just told them that he is going to prepare a place for them in the Father’s house. However, we can probably understand Thomas’ predicament. Have you ever heard some shocking news and had everything that comes after that disappear into the ether of your mind? Probably not much different for the disciples in this case. But no matter, because even if they don’t grasp the destination at the moment, they still do know the way there. Because he is the way.
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. We come here to the sixth of Jesus’ I am statements, and this one is actually threefold. Jesus is the way, which is the point being directly made in conversation here with the disciples. But he is not just a way, not any old way. He is the way to the Father.
Do you realize that your greatest need is God? This is part of where I get concerned with the emphasis some people put on v2, as if the point of this text were heaven as some abstract place that it would be nice to visit, or even live in. The reason heaven is appealing, the reason heaven is wonderful, is because God is there. God, in all of his spectacular glory, brilliance, and holiness. The God who Moses could not see lest he die will be seen and known by us, and we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2. We need to be with the Father because, as those made by him in his image, we can only know ourselves, experience true and lasting joy, and be who we were created to be if we are reconciled to him. Our sin cuts us off from God. We need a Savior. We need a way to the Father.
And thus, Jesus enters. The eternal word from the Father takes on flesh, and dwells among us, revealing his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. He is the Way, because no one else could pay the price. He is the Way, because he is the Divinely appointed Messiah. He is the Way, because only he has authority to bring sinners near, by the blood of his cross. He is the door to the sheepfold, the only way into God’s flock (John 10:7, 9).
He is the truth, the very self-expression of the Father. Every word he speaks carries the weight of Divine Authority, and his very being provides the definition of what is true. Pilate asks later in John, “what is truth?”, not knowing that he was looking truth right in the face. God revealed himself in the past at many times and in many ways, but in these last days he has spoken by His Son. His Word. His truth. Very God of Very God, made manifest to men.
He is life. The life of God himself, made visible to humanity. In him was life (John 1:4). He is the resurrection and the life (11:25). This life, the life that he offers to all who trust in him, is the life he has shared with the Father since before the world began (John 17).
The medieval writer Thomas a Kempis put it this way, “Follow thou me. I am the way and the truth and the life. Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living. I am the way which thou must follow; the truth which thou must believe; the life for which thou must hope. I am the inviolable way; the infallible truth, the never-ending life. The straightest way; the sovereign truth; life true, life blessed, life uncreated.”
This is the Christ who beckons us to come. Had the disciples better understood the Father, they would have grasped who he was at an earlier state. But even though they were slow to grasp, he was patient. He says from now on, I think speaking of his coming death, resurrection, and exaltation, you do know him and have seen him. This is a stunning claim Jesus makes. That in Christ the Father has made himself known, not just intellectually, revealing truths, but personally. You have seen him and know him. Do you know that you can know God in this way? You can see him in Christ. You can know him through Christ. Jesus has not simply made a way to God. Jesus is the way to God. Trust him, believe him, follow him.