Greater Things

Who was your favorite teacher?

Think back to your high school and college years. I’m sure there are 2 or 3 teachers/professors who had a profound impact on you. They didn’t just tell you what to think, they taught you how to think. They shared their stories, their insights, their knowledge, even their lives with you. You view the world differently because of them.

You wouldn’t be the person you are today without them.

Their influence doesn’t stop in the classroom. Their influence reaches the farthest reaches of the world because of you. You take their teachings with you wherever you go. Their influence is in fact greater now than could ever be while you were still in the classroom. I’m sure there are things they taught you that didn’t even make sense until later in life. Now that you have more experience and understanding, you really get what they were trying to do.

A good teacher’s influence is only constrained to the white board, the worksheets, the tests, or the four cinder block walls while the students are in the classroom.

In John 14:12, Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus is not saying that they will do more impressive, more astonishing works than he did. How could anything be more amazing than raising Lazarus from the dead? What Jesus means is that a new era is dawning. At his resurrection everything he has said and done will make sense. While Jesus was performing his earthly ministry, people were unable to understand why he said and did certain things. But with the resurrection, all was made clear.

The disciples, Jesus says, will now be able to do what Jesus did and even greater things precisely because he is leaving them. He will be with the Father. But he is sending his Spirit to dwell in the believers. And whatever they ask in his name, according to his will, he will do.

Look through the book of Acts. Countless more people accepted God’s salvation after Jesus left than did during Jesus’ ministry. The gospel had much greater reach and influence in the post-resurrection era than it did before.

These “greater works” could not be accomplished while Jesus was still with the disciples just as a teacher’s influence cannot spread while the students are sitting in their desks.

You don’t know me?

On Monday I will be celebrating my third wedding anniversary with my wife. It’s crazy how time flies. It’s even crazier how much has happened during those three years.

But even before we were married, we dated for 4 1/2 years. So really, we’ve been together for 7 1/2 years. We’ve been friends for 8 years.

And I would say we know each other pretty well.

We may not be able to read each other’s mind every time. And I still drop the ball on what she really wants sometimes. But she knows me better than anyone else on the planet and vice-versa.

And I definitely know her well enough to know she’s not a killer.

A couple years ago a guy known as the “Craigslist Killer” was arrested for murder, robbery, and some other charges. All the while he was living with his fiance in a small apartment in the city. They had been together for over four years, and she didn’t have a clue. She swore that he was the sweetest man she knew and that he could never hurt a fly.

She was wrong. She didn’t really know him at all.

In John 14, Philip asks Jesus to show him the Father and that would be enough for him to believe what Jesus is saying. Jesus responds, “You’ve been with me all this time and you still don’t know me?”

Philip and the disciples had been with Jesus for at least 3 years. Day in and day out — traveling, eating, witnessing miracles, listening to his teachings, attending feasts and parties. They had left everything behind so that they could follow Jesus wherever he went. They knew Jesus better than anyone else on the planet.

But they didn’t know him at all.

They still didn’t get who he was or what he came to do.

However, the same question could be asked about the reader of John’s gospel. “You have been with me for so long and you still don’t know me?”

The main purpose of John’s gospel is that people may believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that by believing they may have life in his name (John 20:31). Jesus makes 7 bold I AM statements, using his words to reveal who he is and what God is doing through him. Jesus also performs 7 miracles. John calls them “signs.” Each of these sayings and signs were meant to point the audience to the true revelation of God in Jesus.

The disciples were with Jesus for 3 years. The reader (that’s you) has been with Jesus through the length of the gospel.

Have you seen Jesus? Then you’ve seen God. Do you know Jesus? Then you know God.

Way, Truth, Life

It has become less and less P.C. to speak about anything in absolutes. Good thing I follow a man who was absolutely not politically correct. Jesus would be the first to tell you that he’s not here to tell people what they want to hear — only what they need to hear.

What do people want to hear? What’s the latest PC move when it comes to religious and spiritual matters? You know the answer. If you listen to anyone who is not actually a part of any one religion (aka “spiritual but not religious”) speak on religious matters they will tell you. All paths lead to God. Buddhism, Islam, Hindu, Shinto, Judaism, Christianity, etc., are all different paths to the same god-reality.

The problem? I can think of only one religion that would support that claim. It’s called Ba’hai. You’ve probably never heard of it.

Other than that, I’ve never heard a leader or fast follower of any other religion proclaim that all religions are equal. Show me a Muslim Imam who says Christianity and Islam are essentially the same and that either one will lead you to the same God. Show me a Buddhist monk who actually believes in a god. Show me a Hindu priest that believes Christians will go to heaven when they die instead of being reincarnated as (hopefully) a Hindu.

Jesus made the statement, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father if not through me.” And people are surprised?

Let’s take a step back real quick.

No one comes to the Father. I would say that is a true statement. If you look through the Torah, you will see that God almost always makes first contact. What’s more, the place where God resided was completely off limits. The Most Holy Place could only be entered once a year by the High Priest and no one else. No one could come to the Father. They always had to go through someone else — a priest, a teacher, a prophet — unless God initiated.

The same is basically true in these other religions. Allah is not a God who can be approached by just anybody, much less by an infidel. In Hindu, sacrifices are made in the presence of idols, but priests still act as mediators between the gods and men. Buddhism isn’t even about approaching God or gods.

How might things be different if Jesus had phrased this statement in the positive rather than the negative? Sometimes I wish he would have said, “Everyone can now come to the Father through me.” It’s the same idea. It’s no less true than Jesus’ original words. In fact, it may be a little more true because of the way the original statement is misunderstood, misconstrued, or misrepresented.

Through Jesus the whole world can now have access to the Father. Ordinary people can approach the throne of God with boldness (Hebrews 4:16).

Do all religions teach basically the same concepts? No. A close study of these religions will reveal some similarities, yet there are some glaring, irreconcilable differences between them.

Jesus is the only man to claim that everybody on the planet can now have free and clear access to God, the Creator of the universe, through himself.

Place Prepared

Once again, human calculations and predictions about the end of the world, the return of Christ, the parousia if you want to sound fancy, have amounted to nothing more than hype and media coverage.

And this Sunday I’m preaching on John 14. How fitting.

Jesus has just dropped a bombshell on the dinner conversation. He’s going to die. He’s going to leave them and they can’t come yet. What’s more, Peter, the confession-giving, water-walking, sword-slinging disciple was just told that he will deny the very Christ he proclaims to defend. If Peter’s faith will fail, what chance do the others have?

But Jesus reassures them. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled; don’t fret; don’t worry; don’t let all this confusion and doubt stand in your way. You believe in God, right? Then believe in me, too. My Father’s house has many room, plenty of dwelling places, and I’m going to prepare a place for you. Yes, you. So if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you back with me. That way, where I am there you can be there, too. But until then, you know the way to where I’m going.”

We read that, and it seems like a nice sentiment. It’s heartwarming to know that Jesus has promised to come back and get us one day.

But what impact would this have had on the disciples?

The imagery Jesus uses is actually that of a man and woman who are to be married. In Jewish custom, there is an engagement, a betrothal, and marriage. The engagement is the initial “we’re going to be married one day” phase. Following that is the betrothal. During this time, the bride and groom would be separated for as long as a year while the groom made all the preparations for his future family. This would often be done by adding onto the home of the groom’s parents. Jewish families were very patronistic in that multiple generations would be living under the roof of the father.

After this betrothal period–after all the carpets were installed, all the curtains were hung, all the walls painted–the groom would come again, get his bride, and bring her back into the home. This would begin the official marriage.

Do you notice what Jesus is doing here?

There were some dangers involved in such a long separation period. For instance, the woman, left on her own, could end up falling in love with some other man. This would certainly bring a halt to the impending marriage. On the other hand, the man could never return. In the BC era (before cellphones), someone could get sick or injured without family ever knowing about it. There was the potential risk of something tragic happening to the groom as he is making preparations. If he were not to return, the woman would be left as essentially a husbandless married woman.

But Jesus gives us the reassurance that he WILL come again and bring us home. The ball is in our court. Are we going to remain a faithful bride eagerly awaiting the return of her groom? Or will our eyes begin to stray as we look for other people/places/things to fill our desires or loneliness?

Don’t be afraid or anxious. We will not be left as a widow. Our groom will come again one day. They are now saying this will happen in October. If so, great! But if not, I’ll continue on my journey along the way to where Jesus is.