Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Believing for understanding: John 14

The Passage:

John 14 contains Jesus teaching during His last night before the Crucifixion. Throughout this chapter, He’s wrapping up the last items the disciples need to hear before they have a very, very bad weekend. Well, until Sunday.

Jesus is even upfront with this idea in John 14:29. He teaches through the coming of the Comforter and the idea of His return so that the disciples will believe when it happens. He further instructs them to be aware of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The teaching on the coming of the Spirit strains my belief in the adequacy of Scripture. I want to know more, but this is what we’ve got: The Holy Spirit is coming with a primary role of reminding of God’s Truth.

We have to keep that in its context. The bulk of the chapter is dedicated to either encouraging the disciples with the hope of His return, or reminding them to obey His commandments. We find other works of the Holy Spirit in different parts of the New Testament, but here we find just those two. I suggest that the primary action of the Spirit expected by the disciples would have been remembering what Jesus said and hope about His return. That is not to exclude other work of the Spirit—I think Scripture is certainly clear that no one comes to saving faith without the work of the Spirit.

The Passage for Us:

Much of what Jesus teaches here is not abundantly clear, and a decent amount of it is nearly illogical from our perspective. It gets harder to fit into a nice, neat box when we consider that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter in this passage, is as much God as Jesus is. Who is as much God as God the Father is, and that both of them are equal in eternality and deity right there with the Holy Spirit.

It took a couple hundred years to reach the conclusion that going ahead and making the word Trinity to describe this reality was okay, even though the word wasn’t present in Scripture. Even to this day, the great challenge for a theology student is to learn to explain the Trinity. Most of us don’t even fully understand the idea, so it’s a bit of a challenge to explain.

This is where we get into things we believe more than we understand. Anselm of Canterbury (11th century) put it this way: credo ut intelligam, which is “I believe so that I understand.” At least, I believe that’s what the Latin says, so I understand it.

This is part of the message of John 14: some things, we believe to be true even though we do not understand them.

A further example in this passage are Jesus’ words that equate love for Him and keeping His commandments. I believe heartily that we are saved by grace, through faith, and not by works. Yet works are an inescapable part of the evidence of our salvation and relationship with Jesus. We believe it, and slowly our understanding matures.

I think this reveals a danger in our youth-addicted culture. We let people teach who have no maturity, just facts, and the end-result is a lack of understanding based in belief. That might not be quite accurate, but I see the possibility.

What else do we see here?

That Jesus will not leave us alone, and that He will not leave us abandoned. This is the greatest hope: that He is coming back, and that we are not left unattended in the meanwhile.

That’s really, really good news. And we should be thankful for it more and more.

Today’s Nerd Note: As if credo ut intelligam wasn’t nerdy enough? Seriously?

Here are some nerd thoughts: catch who wants to know where Jesus is going: it’s Thomas. Pick on “Doubting Thomas” all you want, but he asks questions that are worth having recorded in inspired Scripture, and he asks the same questions many of us do.

Also note the “Get up, let us go from here” that finishes the chapter. The night is full of motion and action—not set-piece teaching, but progress toward the goal. Which is the Cross and our redemption.

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