Fifth Sunday of Easter (A) April 20, 2008
A Life or Death Matter (John 13:31 – 14:21)
The prospects of death always seem to affect the subject of our conversations. Our Lord’s comments about His imminent death provoked some very sober conversation from His followers. That Upper Room revelation of the soon coming death of their Master brought the disciples to their feet. They had some questions and they wanted answers. The prospects of Jesus’ death could not be faced in silence. It is the same with us today. The subject of death evokes questions. We all can recall conversations surrounding the death of someone we loved. The disciples wanted to know where Jesus’ death was going to take Him and how they could know the way. Death always creates questions in the human heart – questions that cry out for an answer.
That was the case with the three men in this passage of Scripture. Peter and Thomas and Philip all had questions, different questions and comments about the implications of Jesus’ death.
Let’s listen in on these conversations and hear what the Lord had to say about life and death. We can learn much from His answers to their questions.
I. Peter wanted to know where Jesus was going (v. 36)
Peter first asked, “Lord, where are you going?” He then quickly asked a second question, ‘Why can I not follow you now?’
a) The request Peter made (v. 36). Where are you going? It was an honest question. It reflected Peter’s love and devotion to Jesus. The question reflected Peter’s desire to be with Jesus. To the degree that Peter knew his own heart he was willing to follow Jesus wherever the path might take him. Peter had a problem. He did know the wickedness of his own heart. (v.38) The Lord knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. The Lord knows you better than you know yourself.
Those who would follow Jesus must be willing to follow the path He travels. They must be willing to pay the price He paid.
Warren Wiersbe writes, “Jesus did not rebuke Peter for asking Him where He was going, but His reply was somewhat cryptic. One day Peter would ‘follow’ Jesus to the cross (John 21:18-19; 2 Pet 1: 12-15), and then he would follow Him to heaven. Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified, though he asked to be crucified head downward because he did not feel worthy to die as his Master died.”1
b) The Response Jesus gave (14:1-4). Notice the pronoun has gone from singular in 13:38 to plural in 14:1. In 13:38 Jesus addressed Peter only. Now, in 14:1 Jesus turns His attention to the rest of the disciples. He said, “Let not your heart be troubled…” He was speaking to all of them. These words continue to speak to his followers in the 21st century.
What do you say to those who are dealing with the death of a loved one? People can say some really dumb things in an attempt to comfort a bereaved friend or family member. John Phillips wrote of this passage, “Times without number, God’s bereaved people in all ages have turned to these four verses for comfort when death invades the home – and rightly so.”2
John 14:1-3 speaks of the peace that God gives His people in times of sorry and death. The verses speak of the place that the Lord has prepared for us for eternity. It is a place with many rooms. The verses speak of a promise that Jesus made to us. And now we wait until He comes back to fulfill His promise.
II. Thomas wanted to know how to get to where Jesus was going (vv. 5-7)
It was a fair question. The disciples had been following Jesus for three years. They had made a commitment to follow Him with all of their lives and for all of their lives. Now it seemed that He was going to part company with them without leaving a forwarding address. Thomas asked a fair question.
a) Thomas desired to know the way to God (v. 5). Thomas had a keen desire to be with Jesus. His question revealed his heart. Thomas’ heart was filled with desire to be with Jesus.
What do your questions reveal about you? Your questions reveal what you want…what you desire. Thomas had a heart full of desire to be with Jesus.
In the early days of my Christian life I heard Stuart Briscoe make a statement that I have never forgotten. I wrote the statement in the flyleaf of my Bible and it has been a source of inspiration down through the years. Briscoe said, “God meets man on the level of his desire, man can have as much of God as he wants.” I pray for an ever increasing desire to know God as well as an ever increasing capacity to know God.
Do you desire to know God?
b) Jesus described the way to God (v. 6). Our Lord’s reply to Thomas brings us to the very heart of the Christian message. Verse six is at the same time an exclusive and an inclusive statement. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus. But Scripture also teaches that all who come to Jesus will not be cast out (John 6:37).
W. Graham Scroggie says, “Here the true Course, and Creed, and Character are brought to light: Christ the Way to Walk; the Truth to Trust; and the Life to Live. Truth, in the first place, is not something to know, but something to be; it is not a dogma, but a life. Christ plainly declares His eternal oneness with the Father, that is, His own Deity (v.7).3
In our pluralistic culture, where we hear many voices suggesting that there are many ways to God we must declare the exclusivity of Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Here we have the biblical formula for how to be saved, how to be sure and how to be satisfied.
III. Philip wanted to see God (v. 8)
a) What Philip’s question reveals about him (v. 8). I was always timid about asking questions in the classroom. My timidity was rooted in a fear that my question or my observation might reveal how little I knew about the subject. Philip’s statement really reveals that he did not understand the deity of Jesus. After all, he had been a follower of Christ for a long time. Jesus even said, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me?”
The word father is used 53 times in John 13-17. The word know occurs 141 times in the gospel of John. Our Heavenly Father longs for His children to know Him.
Do you truly know Jesus? The text implies that you can follow Him, serve Him, and even be in close proximity to Him and still not know Him. Wanting to see God is a good thing. Just be sure you know Him well enough to recognize Him when you see Him.
b) What Jesus’ answer reveals about Him (v. 9-11). He is God. This is what we learn when we read the prologue of this gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1,14).
1Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, Vol.1, Victor, Cook Communications Ministries, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2001, p. 345
2John Phillips, Exploring The Gospels, John, Loizeaux, Neptune, N.J., 1989, p. 262
3W. Graham Scroggie, The Gospel of John, Zondervan, Grand Rapids,Michigan, 1976, p. 97