Setting the Stage:
Jesus was going away. His departure would come in two phases: he would be crucified, and then a little later, he would go back to the Father. His beloved band of men and women weren’t ready for either stage of his leaving. They had refused to hear his repeated warnings of his impending rejection, ridicule, death, and resurrection as he approached Jerusalem.
With the Last Supper, however, his foreboding future began to dawn in the hearts of his ragtag band of friends. Fear, panic, devastation, confusion, and broken-heartedness awaited them. He knew it. They sensed it. That is why he repeated his promise to them in different ways during his last hours with them.
Jesus would soon be gone. What would they do? How would they survive, much less accomplish their mission? How would they recall all that he had done, taught and shown them? How would they lead a new movement when they hadn’t been very good followers? What would fill their longing for his presence in the depths of their souls?
Jesus gave his promise to speak comfort and hope into this place of deep longing in their hearts:
[Jesus promised his disciples,] “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.
. . .
Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:15-23 — Bold text added for emphasis.)
The Power of Jesus’ Promise:
The power of his promise can be found in three realities:
- Jesus’ impending agony and abandonment.
- The disciples’ longing for Jesus’ presence in the near future.
- Their need, along with our own, for Jesus’ comfort, hope, and power to live our mission for the kingdom in a hostile world.
That Jesus faced the gruesome and torturous truth of the first reality makes the promises that address the second and third realities all the more gripping. Jesus was facing something hard for us to imagine; yet in the shadow of his unfolding nightmare, the Lord’s thoughts were on his band of spiritual friends and on those of us who now believe because of their testimony.
Deep Grace in Jesus' Promise:
Jesus would soon face the beatings from the soldiers. In a few short hours, he would feel the spit of those who hated him run down his face. Not too many minutes would pass before he would face the savage lash of the scourging demanded by Pilate. Less than a day later, he would endure the ridicule of his religious rulers as they pressed Pilate for his execution. Before that day was over, he knew that he would hear the mockery of his people at the foot of his cross while his lifeblood cooled with the temperature of his own death. Yes, the tortures of the cross and his feelings of abandonment were on his immediate horizon.
In the middle of all of this impending agony, however, Jesus fashioned a deep grace for us. His immediate question was not, “O Father in heaven, how can I endure this impending agony?” Instead, his focus was upon those he loved: “O Father, help me prepare these precious people because they have no clue what is about to happen and how they will survive without me?”
I won’t leave you orphans.
I will come to live in you, be with you, show myself to you, and make my home with you.
I will send you the Holy Spirit to be your advocate.
The Spirit will be with you forever, reminding you of what I have said and done.
My Holy Spirit will empower you to do your mission and even greater things than I have done.
He Thought First of His Disciples:
The power of Jesus’ promise is when he uttered it: in the flickering light of the oil lamps in the upper room and the shadows of the journey to the Garden of Gethsemane. In Jesus’ most fearful, most lonely, and most threatening moments, he first thought of the men and women who loved him. In the suffering and shadows of his cross-defined death, the Lord thought of you and me! Why?
Jesus thought of us first! With all that he was about to face, he cared more about us than his own suffering. But, why? So that in our worst moments of suffering, loneliness, shame, failure, loss, isolation, emptiness, powerlessness, and abandonment, we could always know that we have what he did not: We have him! We are never alone. No matter how we feel, he will never leave us or forsake us. No matter where we are or what we carry as our burdens and failures, he has already chosen to be with us through the Holy Spirit. We know this because, in the growing shadows of his own rejection, ridicule, and death, he was thinking of us and gave us his promise!
God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”