By J.R. Miller
The fourteenth chapter of John's gospel is the most familiar chapter of the New Testament. Its words are sweet music. As spoken first, it was the little company of the disciples sitting at the Last Supper who heard them. They were in great sorrow. They were about to lose their Master, their best friend. They had hoped that He was the Messiah and were expecting some special manifestation of His power. Now all their hopes seemed to be swept away. Jesus speaks to them as they sit around the table. He seeks to comfort them. He says to them, "Let not your heart be troubled." This seems a strange word to say to them at this particular hour. How was it possible that they should not be troubled when He, their Master--was about to leave them?
We may be sure, however, that the words He spoke were not empty or formal. Many things that earthly comforters say to their friends in their times of trouble mean but little. They say, "Weep not. Dry your tears. All will come out right," but they have no real comfort to offer. They can give no reason why their friends should not weep, or why all will come out right. Their optimism is without foundation. But when Christ said, "Let not your heart be troubled," He knew what He was saying, and there were in His mind clear reasons why He spoke in this strong, confident way. The same is true of the comfort Christ speaks now to us. No matter what the sorrow, how great the loss, how deep the darkness, if we are Christians, the same voice always speaks to us in the same words.
Christ tells the disciples what they should do, how they might cease to be troubled. "You believe in God." This was the way their trouble could be comforted. There was no need to ask questions, for their questions could not be answered, or at least they could not understand the answers. But they were to keep their faith in God and in Jesus Christ unshaken, undisturbed, in the midst of all the sorrow. They thought everything was gone, that they did not have God anymore that all their hopes about Jesus Christ had failed, were only dreams. He tells them that nothing they had believed about God or about Jesus, was gone. Their faith in God was to abide. What they had hoped about Jesus Christ was true. They had lost nothing.
This is the foundation of all true comfort. We cannot understand the mystery of sorrow--but if we believe in God and in Jesus Christ, we need not lose our confidence or our peace, whatever the distress may be. A word of an old prophet (Isaiah 26:4) says, "Trust you in the Lord forever, for in the LORD JEHOVAH is the everlasting strength." If we are hidden in the cleft of the Rock of Ages, we need not fear any seeming disaster. Another word says, "you will keep him in perfect peace--whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You" (Isaiah 26:3). We may always be sure of God's eternal faithfulness and of Christ's unchanging love--and believing these great truths, we may be quiet and confident in the worst calamities.
The first thought Jesus gave His disciples, was that all the world is the Father's house. They were greatly distressed by what was transpiring in a little corner of the world. He assures them that the stage of action reached out far beyond the city and the country in which they lived. There are many mansions in the Father's house. They were distressed that He was leaving them--but He was leaving only one of the mansions--and going to another. They would not lose Him by His departure, for He would continue to be their friend, and would still be interested in their welfare. "I go to prepare a place for you."
Dr. David Smith thus explains the words of Jesus:
The disciples were like travelers, and His companionship had hitherto cheered them on their journey. And now He must leave them. But He was not forsaking them. He was only hastening on in advance to make ready for them. And when they arrived He would be waiting for them and would bid them welcome.
His going away was not a desertion of His friends. He was going on their account, to prepare a place for them. The thought of mansions prepared for us beforehand, is a very beautiful one. We need not fear that when our time comes to go home there will be no place ready for us. We shall not go to the gate as strangers or aliens--but as those who are expected, those who indeed have been sent for. Jesus assured His disciples not only that He was going on to prepare a lodging place for them--but that when the place was ready--He would come again, to receive them unto Himself, that where He would be, they might be too. The separation was only apparent, not real, and certainly not final. The relation between them would not be broken by His going away. The ministry of His love which had come to mean so much to them, would not be interrupted by His departure. He was going to leave them in their present lodging place--but it would be only to prepare another lodging place for them in another part of His Father's house.
"I am the WAY." Christ is the way from earth to heaven, and from heaven to earth. Through Him God comes to us with love and blessing, and through Him we go to God. He is the Mediator between God and man. He is the one ladder down which angels come on their ministries; and up which they can ascend to the gates of glory. Christ is the way, and the only way. If we reject Him we can never get to God and heaven. But if we believe on Him, and love Him, and abide in Him, there never can be any confusion, any mystery, any need unmet, any yearning unfulfilled.
Even now, with all our knowledge of spiritual things, the other life is still full of mystery. When our loved ones leave us, we cannot understand where they have gone; and when we think of going ourselves, we cannot realize anything of the way. So it was with the first disciples. Thomas was perplexed about the way of their going where Jesus was going. "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus sought to relieve the mystery. "I am the way," He said. This is the answer to all our longings. Philip thought he knew Christ well. He had been in His family for more than three years. It is possible for us to be with Christ a long time, in His Church, among His people, familiar with the story in the Gospels--and yet not really know Him. There is a great difference between knowing about Christ and knowing Him.
Jesus went on to explain to Philip, the meaning of the blessed, beautiful life He had been living with them. "He who has seen me--has seen the Father." If John had said this about himself we would have called it blasphemy. When Christ said it about Himself--He very clearly claimed to be divine. He was the revealer of God. What men saw in His life--was an interpretation of God's own life. When we see Him taking little children in His arms, laying His hands on their heads and blessing them--we see how God feels toward children. When we see the compassion of Jesus stirred by human suffering and sorrow--we learn how our Father is touched by the sight of earthly suffering. When we see Jesus receiving sinners and eating with them, speaking forgiveness to penitents who crept to His feet, and making stained lives white and clean--we learn the mercy of God. When we follow Christ to His cross and see Him giving His life a willing sacrifice in redemption for lost men--we see how God loves this world. So the holiness of Christ--was the Father's holiness; His meekness, patience, gentleness and compassion--were mirrorings of the same qualities in the Father. If we would see what God is like, we have but to turn to the gospel story. To know Christ--is to know the Father.
Now we have another phase of the marvelous teaching. Christ and the Father were one. He who saw the life of Christ, saw God. Still more, Christ and His followers were one. His life was in them. "He who believes on me, the works that I do shall he also do." Christ Himself was going away, and would be missed from the earth. Those He had comforted and helped, would long for His visits when He would come no more.
There are some good men and women who leave a great emptiness in the world when they go away. The departure of Christ left a great blank in the homes He had been used to visiting. But it was the plan of Christ, that His disciples should take His place and go on with the ministry which He had begun. His life was to be taken away--but He would live on in His disciples. If we take off slips from a geranium and put them into the ground anywhere, they will grow and have the same beauty and fragrance as the original plant. All true Christians are parts of Christ, branches of Christ, so to speak; and wherever they may be--they will have His likeness and His spirit, His love and gentleness, and will do the same woks that He produced. Are we fulfilling our mission as Christians? If not, why not?
There was another link in the chain. Christ was going away--but He would not be out of reach. "Whatever you shall ask in my name, that will I do." They could not see Him face to face in human life and get the things they needed--but they could speak to Him and ask Him for blessings and get them. While Jesus was going away and would be out of sight--He would not be beyond call. His people on earth could speak to Him and, although they saw Him not, He would hear them. The way of communication with Christ has never been broken. We are to pray always in the name of Christ--that is we are to ask things for His sake, because He is our Savior.