Scripture: John 14:1-14
How many of us have been asked a question such as this: “If you could talk to any one in the world from any period of time, whom would you want to talk to?” It is a wonderful what if question, as most what if questions are. What if that happened instead of this? The problem with the, “what if,” question is that you can speculate all you want but it will never change. There would be countless people that I would want to speak with. There are theologians that I would like to talk to just to understand how or why they have come to their conclusions when the extent of church history prior to them looked at things totally different. I would love to talk to the disciples, to hear of their experiences, I would love to talk with Jesus face to face. I would like even like to have a conversation with people that are presently living, the president, maybe even the pope. One answer to that question that I bet most of us have not given is to talk with our future great grandchildren, because it would be very interesting to know how the choices I have made today affects them in the future. The problem is that I cannot travel through space and time, and I do not know anyone famous, so it is highly unlikely that I will have an opportunity to speak to anyone like that, but there is a way to get to know someone that we do not have personal access to. I can get to know the saints of history by reading accounts of their lives or reading their writings. I can listen to their stories through the mouths of their descendants or even their students. There are biographies, interviews, speeches, scholars and many other avenues where we can begin to develop an understanding of who or what people are about. With all the books and interviews an issue remains, without personal contact with an individual can we really know who they are, or are we only seeing them through the eyes of someone else.
If you were to read a couple of biographies of a famous historical figure you would quickly find that the image of the person created by the author reflects what they want us to know about that particular person. The authors have a slant; they are interpreting the person’s life through their own eyes.
In today’s reading of scripture Jesus is speaking to the disciples just prior to His trial and execution. He is telling them how terrible things will be in the near future, that even His most outspoken supporter will deny that he even knows Him three times before the dawning of the next day. But He urges them to stay strong. Not to let their hearts be troubled.
If I were just told that I was going to be an absolute failure it would be very difficult for me to not be worried about the near future. If I were going to take a job and as I was beginning the training the boss were to tell me you are going mess up completely how could be excited about my future security?
But Jesus does not just leave them hanging. He reminds them that they believe in God. They know the history of their people and how God had taken them up out of Egypt, how He had given them the promised land, and how even after they had turned away from Him, He had brought them back to the land. They believed in God. They knew that God was their God. In a short little statement Jesus is reminding them that Israel failed God, and that they too will fall short, but that they should continue to believe. “You have and still believe that God did and does mighty works,” Jesus is telling them, “believe also in Me.”
As I have studied this passage over the past week this first verse really stuck with me. This is really the entire gospel wrapped up in one verse, because what do we know about God? Like all personalities everything we know about God or think we know about God has been transmitted to us through a cultural context, and through the interpretations of people throughout history. It is often difficult to admit that maybe our understanding of faith may not be exactly correct. But in this one verse Jesus has basically summed up the entire Gospel. If you believe in God, believe in Jesus too.
This is a bold statement really. We may not understand just how bold this statement is because we are reading it after 2000 years of interpretation through people totally devoted to Jesus, but on that particular day in that moment, to most people of Israel Jesus was not seen as God, but as a prophet. I am not saying that the 2000 years of interpretation is erroneous, I am only saying that because of the progression through history and the continuous study and practice of faith we can sometimes forget that a statement such as this was very risky. In that culture you did not even say the name of God because mankind was not worthy of it. If one were to speak that name they were seen as using His name in vain, and being sinful. But Jesus was not only speaking of God in a very relational sense, but also saying that He was equal.
You believe in God, believe also in Me. What do we know about God? For thousands of years the Jewish people have believed in God. They have an understanding of God, how He responds to humanity and what is required of mankind to find favor with God. Jesus through his ministry challenges this understanding of God in many ways. If we were to just read the Sermon on the Mount we see challenge after challenge. Jesus would say, “You have heard it said…” fill in the blank, “but I say…” What he was getting at is that after thousands of years of study and practice even the chosen race still knew very little about God. To be honest how could they understand God? How is it possible to build an understanding of a being that is so beyond our comprehension? So they would study, they would examine the books of law and history of their people, they would come to conclusions, and they would develop around those conclusions a practical lifestyle of righteousness. They believed in God, but did they know God?
This is the very definition of Theology, or the study of God. It is a constant study, examination, and formation of theories about God. But depending on the information we begin the study with we can come out with a concept of God that could be completely wrong. In many ways theology is a dry pursuit, it is as if we are looking at scripture like it were a frog in biology class. Many of us have pretty much the same response, we are afraid to touch it, so we simply accept the word of others and assume they have done things correctly. But at least in biology we can see what it is we are studying. When it comes to theology we have just the abstract. So it is very easy to get tied up in areas, bogged down and stuck into thinking in certain ways. We see God as judge, creator, king, and it becomes very difficult to see God as something outside our ways of thinking.
This is where the various reformations of faith have occurred. Someone challenged the traditional understandings of God and after much debate and persecution we moved forward and gained a different perspective on God. Jesus was the beginning of a reformation of the Jewish faith, but it went far beyond just a simple reformation.
Jesus says, “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen him.” To know God we must look at the revelations God has given us. Jesus is the most complete revelation of God to humanity. Jesus came down from heaven to be born of Mary, he lived among us to teach and show us what life with God truly was. Throughout the Gospels Jesus continuously challenges the traditional understanding of God and shows us something more complete. If you see Jesus you see God. Jesus is the Word of God; Jesus is the Light of God. These concepts are very important; if we move away from these we skew our understanding of God. We again get focused on one aspect and make a claim about God that may not be complete. And we can begin to move away from God.
The prophets of the Old Testament warned Israel of these things. Often the faithful would get so wrapped up in certain concepts, mainly the law, that they forgot something else, like mercy. Or maybe they focused so much on mercy and grace that they forgot that God is a jealous God. What Jesus did is he showed us life with God. A balanced perfect life with God, the perfect balance between worship, prayer, and service. If we want to know God we should first look at Jesus.
This changes things up for the faithful. What do we see Jesus doing and teaching in the gospels? How does Jesus respond in situations? How do we respond? Even when Jesus is telling the disciples they are going to fail he does not let them dwell there. Yes, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but God is saying do not let your hearts be troubled…Believe.
This concept of belief is one that is very deep. It moves beyond just thinking or having knowledge that something is true and goes into trust, and then it moves from trust to entrust. To believe is not just in the head, but it is in the heart. It then flows out of the heart and spills over to others. I bring up those three concepts because they are very important. Faith begins with an acknowledgement in our minds, I believe because I see. Then there is one step more to the idea, “I will believe even if I do not see,” this is trust. The concept of entrust is a bit more difficult. To entrust is to let go of control and allow something that is important to us be controlled by someone else. When we place money in a bank or invest it in a market of some sort, we are entrusting our money, our wealth to someone else. This third step of belief or faith is the area that we have trouble, because it is here that we risk losing ourselves completely.
This concept of entrusting completely is what moves Christianity away from other religions, even away from the Jewish faith. Anyone can have belief in the knowledge part of faith. Universities are filled with knowledge, and they release out into the world people with knowledge. But there can be professors of faith that have not moved beyond knowledge. With trust we have to start walking, our knowledge begins to have action with it. With trust we begin to see things like discipline, if you pray you will have an answer. If you do certain rituals you will find favor. This is where most religions stop, because this is where we as humans still have control in faith. But entrust is a concept that many rarely see. To entrust, one must have knowledge and discipline but they also have to release and risk. Peter had knowledge; he had followed Jesus for three years and listened to the teachings. He had trust, he followed Jesus wherever he went, he participated in the disciplines that Jesus taught, and he even went out to minister in Jesus’ name. But when the time came to risk, Peter, the rock, would deny Jesus three times in one night. Peter, the rock, could not yet entrust his life in Jesus. Jesus said to him and the others, “do not let your heart be troubled…believe.” He is saying start it over, go back to knowledge, go back to the disciplines, and then take that step again to entrust. It is a cycle, every day we must not only believe with our mind, and trust that God will provide, but also entrust every aspect of our lives in Jesus. And when we fail Jesus says to us believe.
But what exactly do we believe in? There are countless theologies out there. Many of us believe that there are basically two major camps of theology, but that is a gross under estimation. Each of these theologies fail in some way, because every theory of theology is at best man’s attempts to explain God. Many begin with creation and then try to systematically explain everything else. Some may being with humanity, others science, some philosophy. But where is Christ? Jesus must be in the center of theology because it is in him that we see the Father. It is through Jesus that we can see the loving God even when the plagues are hitting Egypt. It is through Jesus that we can understand the Acts of the Apostles. It is through Jesus that we can begin to understand our own humanity and how we should react to those around us that have a different understanding of life. Jesus is central. It is Jesus that brought God to mankind, it is Jesus that lifts mankind to God, it is through Jesus that the Spirit of God flows and it is in Jesus that we can entrust our lives to the Spirit of God today. It is Jesus, in whom the Old Testament was fulfilled and Jesus our future is held. The Christian life is well beyond religion, because it is entrusting our life and our hope in something we have little or now control, it is giving all we have mind, body and spirit to Jesus. It is placing our entire life into the hands of Jesus with the hope that we will have a dwelling with God.
As we enter into a time of open worship, and communion with God I encourage each of us to consider just where we stand on that spectrum of belief. I also want us to ask ourselves a “what if” question, what if we were to fully entrust our meeting, and our lives and the lives of those around us into the hands of Jesus.