This morning we are considering the 4th “sola” of the Reformation, “Solus Christus” or “Christ alone.” In our passage this morning, Jesus is addressing eleven of his twelve disciples. In the previous chapter in John 13 we have three important incidents recorded that provide us with some background: First, Jesus washed the feet of the twelve disciples, demonstrating for them the attitude of servanthood that they, too, are to have towards others (vv. 1–17); second, upon Jesus’ predicting his betrayal (vv. 18–30), Judas leaves and in doing so, initiates the fulfillment of his predicted disloyalty; and lastly, after exhorting the disciples to love one another as he has loved them, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial (vv. 31–38).
What precipitates the prediction of Peter’s denial is Jesus telling his disciples in 13:36 “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter replies (v. 37) “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Peter’s consternation is understandable. He and the others like Jesus. From the time Jesus first said to Peter, “Come, follow me” (Matthew 19), he did—as did the other disciples. So why would they stop now? Why can’t they now follow him? We know, of course, that in telling his disciples that they couldn’t follow where he was going but would follow later, Jesus was referring not to an earthly place, but a heavenly one. He was alluding to his death and subsequent resurrection—and that of his disciples. But at this point there was no way his disciples could have known that.
So in the opening verses of John 14, having troubled the hearts of his disciples by telling them he is leaving them, Jesus now is exhorting them not to be troubled because his absence will only be a temporary one. He encourages them to believe in him even as they believe in God (verse 1). He highlights an implicit connection and oneness between him and the Father. The Father’s house has many rooms and Jesus is going on ahead to prepare a place—a permanent residence—for them in heaven (verse 2). Not only that, but once their rooms are prepared, Jesus himself will come back to take them so that they can be with him (verse 3). With that he has now told the disciples where he is going (verse 4).
But in verse 5, Thomas begs to differ. He says they don’t know where Jesus is going so how can they know the way? What is interesting about this is that Jesus hasn’t asked the disciples to figure out the way for themselves or even that they would need to follow him there. What he has told them is that once he’s prepared a place for them in heaven, he himself is coming back to take them to be with him. Since Thomas has missed this, Jesus underscores the very same point and then adds to it by saying in verse 6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So clearly Jesus is the one and only way to the Father. But why add that he is also the “truth” and the “life”? Well, think about it. What Jesus is saying isn’t exactly easy to believe so he’s asking his disciples to trust him even in this. Here is, a man—albeit an extraordinary one—with whom the disciples have been sharing their lives and who is now telling them not only that he’s going to leave them—and prepare a place for them—and come back for them, but also that he’s going to do all of these things after he dies and rises again.
Jesus is the way to our Father in heaven. As the truth, his disciples can believe him. As the life, even death will not hold him, for throughout Scripture God reveals himself as a living God. And once he has died and risen again, as God Jesus will continue to serve them as he prepares to welcome them to their heavenly Father’s home. The only way to enter his Father’s home is through Jesus himself. Jesus tells Thomas that if he really knew him, he would know the Father as well and that from now on, he does know him and has seen him in verse 7. So Jesus’ logic is consistent. To know him is to know the Father because he is one with the Father and therefore the only way to the Father.
Yet Thomas isn’t the only disciple who is confused. In verse 8 we see Philip, too, not quite getting what Jesus is saying as he asks him, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” This request is reminiscent of Moses asking God to show him his glory in Exodus 33. The LORD replies, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” But here’s the thing. Unlike Moses who was hidden in the cleft of a rock as God passed by him, Jesus’ disciples have seen the fullness of God for Jesus is the Christ—Jesus is God himself in the flesh. In verse 9, Jesus replies to Philip—and you can almost hear the exasperation in his voice—“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
Jesus goes on to explain that because he is in the Father and the Father is in him, even the very words Jesus speaks rest on the Father’s authority, not his own. So the works that the disciples have seen Jesus do are not his works, but the works of the Father who lives in him (verse 10). In verse 11 Jesus continues to entreat his disciples to believe him when he says that he is in the Father and the Father is in him—or, at the very least, “to believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” So what are these works that Jesus is referring to? They are legion for Jesus is the Christ! I’m always surprised when people say that Jesus never claimed to be God. That may be technically true—he never outright said, “Listen to me because I am God”—but if you listen to his words and consider his deeds along with the reactions of his audience—especially the religious leaders of the day who knew the Scriptures inside and out—there can be no doubt that by his words and deeds, Jesus was claiming to be God.
I actually did a search of the times when people picked up stones to kill Jesus and/or accused him of blasphemy. And here’s a sampling of what I found:
At the end of John 8, Jesus states “56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day.” Upon saying this Jesus is, understandably, challenged by his audience as they exclaim “57 You are not yet fifty years old…and you have seen Abraham!” And then Jesus responds with the remarkable assertion, “58Very truly I tell you,…before Abraham was born, I am!” And “59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him” and Jesus hides himself. But why the stones? Because such a statement could only be made by one who was equating himself with God and stoning would have been the appropriate response to such blasphemy—if he weren’t God.
A couple of chapters later in John 10, Jesus is asked directly whether or not he is Messiah and he answers plainly:
“ 25 I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
And, again, we’re told the response to this “31 his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him…. 33 [not] for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” These Jewish believers understood correctly that for Jesus to claim oneness with the Father was to claim that he, too, was God.
But the problem Jewish believers had with Jesus was not only that he claimed to be God by his words, but also that he claimed to be God by his deeds. So, for example, he claimed the authority to forgive people’s sins. In Mark 2, a paralyzed man lying on a mat is brought to Jesus and he says to him “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (//s Matthew 9:1ff; Luke 5:21ff). Jewish teaching rightly taught that only God is able to forgive sins so for Jesus to do so was to claim he, too, was God.
As we know, another way in which Jesus exercised the prerogative of God was by stilling the wind and the waves. Matthew 8 recounts:
“23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (//Mark 4:37ff)
Who but God has power to still nature merely by his words? This power is evidenced as well by the account of his walking on water (Matthew 14:42ff) which results in his disciples worshipping him and exclaiming “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Time and again in the Gospels we see Jesus doing things only God can do:
He feeds 5000 with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish (Matthew 5:13ff);
He heals the sick—even Peter’s mother-in-law and others with various diseases (Mark 1:34ff);
He casts out demons (Mark 1:32ff; Matthew 8:16 in fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4, the Suffering Servant);
He brings Jairus’ daughter back to life after she has died (Luke 8:52ff)’
Too, from the time of his birth he is worshipped—initially by the Magi (Mt. 2:11ff); also, as just mentioned, his disciples worshipped him; and after his post-resurrection appearances, his disciples again worshipped him—Mary Magdalene and the other Mary in Matthew 28:8–9 and the remaining eleven disciples in Matthew 28:17.
And though fully human, when Jesus was worshipped by others, he never corrected them because he was also fully God so worship of him was appropriate. Jesus is unlike Paul and Barnabas who tear their clothes and rush into the crowd when they are worshipped in Lystra stating “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you.” (Acts 14:15). And Jesus is also unlike John on the island of Patmos who, after receiving the vision recorded in the book of Revelation, worships the angel and is rebuked by him as he is told “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!” (Rev. 22:9). Jesus is unlike Paul, Barnabas, and John because though he was fully human as they were, he was also fully God. So, again, worship of Jesus was appropriate.
This very Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, God in the flesh, is explaining to his disciples in John 14—to Thomas, Philip, and the others—that though he is fully human, because he is also fully God, then they can rest assured that they do know not only the way to the Father but the Father himself. And not only that—and I’m going to jump ahead a little for the moment—in verses 16 and following Jesus promises to send to his disciples “another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth”—or, the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Holy Trinity. And by means of the Holy Spirit, who is also God, and is therefore also one with the Father and Jesus, Jesus is able to again reassure his disciples in verse 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” By means of this indwelling Spirit, they will be able to see him and live eternally. In verse 19 he promises them “Because I live, you also will live.” And the way in which that promise will be fulfilled is by his sending the Holy Spirit who by his indwelling will help them realize, verse 20, “that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” This is the plan of the Triune God, of the one God who exists eternally in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and who has determined not only to create us but also to die and rise from death that he might redeem us and, having redeemed us, to indwell us eternally that he might never let us go.
Now knowing God the Father, our Creator, and being redeemed—purchased—by the life of Jesus Christ, his only Son, and being sealed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit of comfort means that we are not our own, but we have been bought with the precious price of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. So we are no longer to live life on our terms, but on his. In verse 15 Jesus states, “If you love me, keep my commands.” I don’t think the meaning here is that God is a bossy God who will place burdensome demands upon us. I don’t think it’s that at all. For as we’ve noted before, when asked which of all the commandments is the most important, Jesus’ reply, taking into consideration the many commands in the Old Testament, boils down to this:
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”—so he is affirming the shema or the Jewish understanding of the oneness of God—and then he goes on to say “30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[Deut. 6:4,5] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[Lev. 19:18] There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30ff; //s in Matthew 22:37ff; Luke 10:27ff)
So did you catch it? The point of the many legal requirements and restrictions in the Old Testament is that in following these mandates, we can be sure that we are fulfilling the purpose for which God made us—namely, to love him and to love those whom he has placed in our lives in the way in which he intended rather than in the selfish, self-serving, serve-interested ways people have treated each other since the time of the Fall. So in verse 21 Jesus reiterates, “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.” And, again, the means by which God in Christ shows himself to us is by his Holy Spirit working in conjunction with his written and risen Word.
Now a point I also want to address in this passage is in verses 12–14 where Jesus states: “12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” So first: what does it mean that his disciples will do “even greater things than these”? Please raise your hand if you have ever cast out a demon by a command—or brought someone back to life by speaking to them—or stilled the wind and the waves by a word—or walked on water—or fed five thousand with a few loaves of bread and fish. Right. I haven’t either. I think a misunderstanding of these words of Jesus is to assume that to know him will somehow result in an ability to be more powerful than he was and that this power will be the means of doing even greater things than he has done. We need to remember, as we have been saying, that Jesus was God—and we are not.
But what I do think Jesus is saying is that our ability to do “even greater things than these” is due to his Holy Spirit now indwelling all those who know him as their Savior and Lord. In his full humanity, Jesus could only serve, love, and heal those whom he came across in the area of Palestine during the thirty-three years or so that he lived on earth. But he is looking ahead here. He knows that once he has died and risen and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers, that he will be able to serve and care for and love others by means of those believers. In other words, any and all people we love and care for—are being loved and cared for by Christ by means of our union with him. Brothers and sisters, think about this. When you and I love and care for each other and those around us, we are doing so by the love of our Father in heaven, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, his only Son, and the comfort and compassion of the Holy Spirit who now dwells within us and will never leave us.
And when Jesus says he will do “whatever we ask in his name” in verses 13 and 14, this doesn’t mean that we’ll receive whatever we ask for, but for a request to be “in his name” means that a request is in keeping with his will. So just as in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed what was on his heart saying, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39), we also need to remember the remainder of that prayer, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” This prayer provides for us a beautiful pattern, doesn’t it? It helps us to know that as dependent creatures who are loved by our Father in heaven, we are encouraged to bring any and all concerns before him. But this prayer also demonstrates for us that our desire should always be not that our will, but God’s will be done. As creatures, we can’t possibly know what that is so we are to pray in his name that his will be done—even as we pray the Apostles’ Creed each that his kingdom come and his will be done on earth even as it is done in heaven.
Finally, rothers and sisters, our culture would have us believe that, ultimately, all ways lead to God or that so long as we do our best in this life, that will be enough. But what our passage this morning makes clear is that that isn’t true. There is no other God but only the One God who has disclosed himself to us in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can’t come to God on our terms—we must come on his; we can’t live lives that are good enough to please him—only Jesus Christ has.
It is through Christ alone that we can come before the throne of our Father in heaven and, once we do, we are no longer orphans but eternal children of our loving heavenly Father;
It is in Christ alone that we can find not only meaning during our earthly lives, but also eternal life;
It is by Christ alone that we can be united to him by his Holy Spirit of comfort and rest assured that he will never leave us or forsake us—not in this life or the next;
It is in Christ alone that we can conquer temptation, sin, our adversary the devil, and even death—for all these were conquered first when Jesus Christ died and rose in our stead and he now offers us his eternal life in himself;
It is through Christ’s Spirit alone that we can continue the ministry he began during his life on earth. So let us not be weary in well-doing but let us ask God’s strength to love him and love others even as he first loved us—even while we were yet sinners—from all eternity, in his Triune love.
Let us pray.