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July 31 lesson: The Word Gives Peace

July 17, 2022
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The Word Gives Peace

Summer Quarter: Partners in a New Creation
Unit 2: The Word: The Agent of Creation

Sunday school lesson for the week of July 31, 2022
By Dr. Jay Harris

Lesson Scripture: John 14:15-29

Jesus Prepares the Disciples for His Departure
As we have said before, John’s gospel is unique. One interesting feature in John’s gospel is how Jesus often explained the meaning of an event before it happened. When the event happens, we remember how Jesus foreshadowed it earlier in his ministry. We know something about it because Jesus already went into a deeper explanation of its significance earlier.

For instance, when we get to the Last Supper in John’s gospel, we do not hear the familiar “words of institution” that we hear in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, where Jesus explains that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood. In John’s gospel, Jesus already went into a long explanation of this in chapter six after he fed the 5,000. He said, “I am the bread of life.” He uses the metaphor of eating and drinking to talk about how we incorporate Jesus and his sacrifice into our lives. When we get to the Last Supper in John’s gospel, not much is said about this because Jesus had already gone into a long explanation about it, and it did not need repeating. In place of this, John talks about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, which the other gospels do not discuss.

Likewise, Jesus taught about the resurrection and what it means for believers before his own resurrection occurred. He taught about it when he raised Lazarus back to life. We can put together the story of Jesus’ resurrection in John 20 with Jesus’ own teaching about the resurrection in John 11 where Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

In the same manner, John’s gospel does not include an account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The ascension story is a big climactic moment in the other gospels. Instead, in John’s gospel, Jesus goes into a long explanation of the implications of his ascension – much longer, in fact, than any of the other gospels. Jesus talked about the implications of the ascension before the ascension occurred. He talked about it at the Last Supper and while they were departing to the place where Jesus would be arrested. This long discourse is found in John 14-16. It is often called Jesus’ farewell discourse. It’s as if he was starting his goodbyes early, before the crucifixion, before the resurrection, and before his ascension.

He had so much to tell them. When we talk about Jesus’ ascension we are talking about two different matters. We are talking about 1) his departure from earth, and 2) his entrance into heaven from where he will reign until Jesus returns at the appointed time to bring his reign to completion. When Jesus departs, is the story over? Does it all go downhill from that point? No, things are just getting started good. When the Word became flesh and lived among the members of the human family, we know God had drawn near – Emmanuel – God with us. When Jesus departs, do things go back to the way they were before Jesus came into the world? The answer is no. There is greater intimacy with God to be experienced. How this happens is the subject of this lesson.

You Will Not Be Left Alone

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” 

When Jesus departs, we will not be left alone because Jesus will ask the Father to give the Holy Spirit to be with us forever. The Holy Spirit is “another Advocate” or mediating Presence of our Triune God. The Holy Spirit is the third member of the Trinity. Jesus in John’s gospel is giving us the full Trinitarian view of God.

17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

Jesus said that believers who love him and keep his commandments will receive the Holy Spirit. The world cannot receive the Holy Spirit the way that believers can receive him. It is because the world “neither sees him or knows him,” Jesus said. If we are a believer, we know there is a difference between us and non-believers in the way we have come to know of God and experience God. The Holy Spirit accounts for this difference. Our non-believing friends do not understand why we believe what we believe. They have not come to this understanding – yet. God longs for them to believe, and this is why we are compelled to share our faith, which includes the way we experience Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that they already knew the Holy Spirit because the Spirit had been abiding with them as they followed Jesus. Jesus promised that soon this same Spirit would come to live and be in each one of them.

How We Experience Jesus

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

As Jesus was teaching his disciples in the Upper Room at the Last Supper, he knew they would be going through a lot very soon. Jesus would be taken from them when the authorities arrested him. They would run scared. They would witness his trial and then his crucifixion and death. They would be plunged into despair. Then they would hear of his resurrection. They would be reunited with Jesus after his resurrection, but only for a period of 40 days. Jesus would be taken away from them again when he ascended into heaven.

Before any of this started, Jesus reassured them that they would not be orphaned. As he did this, he told the disciples where he would ultimately be headed and what it would mean. In a little while, the world would no longer see him. On that day, the day of his ascension, the disciples will know that the Son has been reunited with the Father. Jesus described the reunion in the most intimate terms – “you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

So, this is not just about Jesus’ reunion with his Father, this is also about the disciples, after the ascension, being in Jesus, and Jesus being in them. Furthermore, this is not just about the disciples to whom Jesus was speaking. Jesus said, They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” As Jesus was reassuring his disciples that they would not be orphaned, he was also talking about other believers, including future believers. He said, “they.” “They” includes all those who love Jesus and have Jesus’ commandments and keep them.

In chapter 10 of John, when Jesus was telling the crowd that he was the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep, he said, I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16) Jesus spoke of this again in his prayer in John 17. In this prayer, he says, “I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21). Who were these other sheep that did not belong to the fold yet, but would soon be brought into the flock? The other sheep were the Gentiles who would listen to the voice of Jesus and recognize it. If you are a believer, then all that Jesus was saying to the disciples also applies to you.

One of the disciples was still trying to picture how Jesus would continue to be with them when the world would be experiencing Jesus’ physical absence from this earth. Jesus said those who love him and keep his word will be loved by his Father, and they (both the Father and the Son) will come to them and make their home with them – all this through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. We are taken into the trinitarian life of God and the trinitarian life of God comes to dwell in us – Jesus in the Father, believers in the Son, and the Son in believers, through the Holy Spirit.

So, not only will we not be orphaned, we will have the possibility of having the most intimate relationship with Jesus. We will know that Jesus lives – “because I live, you also will live. We know he lives because his life enlivens, animates, empowers, and guides us in the life of faith. When Jesus lives in us, life is never the same.

Notice that the test for loving Jesus is keeping his word. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words, Jesus said. Our love cannot just be based on mere lip service or feelings. If you are married, you wouldn’t have thought of leaving your beloved at the altar after the “I do” and then going your separate ways. It is the same in our relationship with Jesus. Will we be faithful 100% of the time in keeping his word? Of course we won’t. But it is the effort of trying, and when we fail, asking for forgiveness, and all the while relying on him as we seek to keep his word. The “relying on him” part is everything. This is what a loving relationship with God looks like. This, the good and the bad, is where the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit is felt.

When the Word became flesh and dwelt within the human family on earth that was just part of the journey Jesus intended to make. That’s the story of Jesus’ gracious life on earth. After Jesus left the earth in his physical form, through the ascension, Jesus’ desire is to complete the journey and come and dwell in receptive hearts through the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit Will Continue Their Teaching

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” 

Jesus told the disciples all these things while he was still physically with them, but the days of being with Jesus physically were about to come to an end. Had Jesus taught them everything? The answer is no. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would continue their teaching, and teach them everything. The Holy Spirit would also remind them of the many truths that Jesus taught. There was more to learn, and they would need reminders of what they had already learned.

Later in the conversation, in John 16:12-13, Jesus provided an additional insight into why their teaching would need to continue beyond the time of his ascension. He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

The first point Jesus made was that the disciples could not bear all that Jesus still had to teach them. They could not bear it because a believer’s mind can take in only so much at any given time in his or her life. They could not bear it, also because they were not mature enough spiritually at the time to receive or understand a lot of what Jesus had to teach them.
The second point Jesus made was about the things that are to come. The disciples would not be able to understand the relevance of what Jesus still had to teach them until they were in the particular moment – the particular life situation where the teaching would most apply. There were situations to come in the future where the Holy Spirit would need to be able to teach them at that moment. This is why the Holy Spirit’s ability to remind believers is so important. Have you ever recalled something – a truth you learned in the past, a particular verse of scripture, or a sermon that spoke to you – just when you needed it? Did it feel as if there was something supernatural in your ability to recall this? This is the Holy Spirit in action.

In this conversation in our scripture lesson, Jesus was speaking to the first generation of believers – the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ earthly ministry. Everything Jesus was teaching them about the Holy Spirit is not less relevant to us; it is infinitely more relevant. For we were never eyewitnesses to Jesus’ earthly ministry. We have the record of what Jesus said and did in scripture. We are dependent on the holy scripture. What an awesome resource we have! What countless present-day believers have discovered is the role of the Holy Spirit in making the scriptures come alive – especially the words and deeds of Jesus in the New Testament.

The Holy Spirit teaches us through the reading of scripture. The Holy Spirit illuminates our understanding. The Holy Spirit helps us makes connections with the different parts of scripture and make connections with our daily lives. These a-ha moments are real, not only for what we learn, but also for the closeness we feel to Jesus in these moments. This is why we can speak of the Word of God while speaking about the Bible, and also speak of the Living Word while speaking about Jesus. Believers who avail themselves of the means of grace, like prayer and study, allow the Holy Spirit to be active in their lives. When the Holy Spirit is active in the life of believers, the Bible and the Word made flesh are divinely connected.

The Word Gives Peace

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

Everything Jesus was telling his followers was aimed at giving them peace so their hearts would not be troubled or afraid when he departed from them. Peace in this context means assurance – assurance that Jesus will be with them through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believer’s hearts. Jesus echoed this message later in the conversation: “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:6-7)

This is why believers should rejoice that Jesus would ascend to heaven, because it means that the Holy Spirit would be able to come and dwell in the life of believers. Think about it. When Jesus walked the earth, people were given an unprecedented view of God through the Word made flesh. But Jesus’ presence was limited during that time to those who could see, touch, and hear him while Jesus was physically present with them. It really was to our advantage that after Jesus accomplished his mission on earth that he ascended to heaven. His earthly mission allowed him to teach and for eyewitnesses to record his words and deeds. His earthly mission allowed him to accomplish our redemption through his death on the cross and his victory over death in his resurrection. After his mission on earth was accomplished, he could then be present with believers all over the world through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said that telling about all this before it occurred means that when it does occur we will believe him. Because Jesus told us what would happen before it happened, we know this was his plan all along. There was purpose in all that unfolded. Today, when we experience the peace that Jesus gives, we know he is present with us through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Jesus was, and is, and will always be our Emmanuel – God with us. The peace Jesus gives confirms his existence and his presence.  

We know that when Jesus departed the story was not over. Things were not destined to go downhill from that point. No, the best was just beginning to unfold. Normally, we might think that the effects of events that happened 2,000 years ago would have diminished in their impact today. But this is not true. People are still coming to Christ. New generations of believers are being spiritually reborn every moment. Lives are being turned around today just as they did so long ago. There has been no diminishment or dissipation of the works of Jesus Christ so long ago. What accounts for this? It is because Jesus still lives today and the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits that this is true.

As I write this, it is within a few days of the 44th anniversary of the day I gave my life to Christ. When I gave my life to Christ, the Holy Spirit confirmed for me that Christ was alive and had entered my heart. I felt it. Everything was new for me as if the events behind it had just happened – because the effects were happening to me. My life in Christ today is not based on the memory of an experience that happened 44 years ago. No, it is based on how Christ is still living in me today. I know I must continue to keep my life open to the ongoing work of God in me through prayer, study, and obedience on my part. I have learned over the years that the Holy Spirit is always faithful doing his part.

The Word, The Agent of Creation

When we began with the summer quarter’s theme, “Partners in a New Creation,” we looked at an affirmation of faith that is in the United Methodist hymnal. In the first unit, we learned about the deliverance and restoration of God’s people through the Book of Isaiah. We learned that:

We are not alone; we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating…

In this second unit, we have explored passages in the gospel of John. We are concluding this unit having learned much about the Word, the Agent of Creation. We have learned about the Word:

who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others by the Spirit.

Because of what we have learned about the Word made flesh and the work of the Holy Spirit, we understand what we, as members of the Church, are called to do:

We trust in God. 

We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.

As we live into all this, we come full circle. We can believe and profess the last lines of this beautiful affirmation of faith and understand their full impact in our lives:

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Dr. Jay Harris serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Ministerial Services for the South Georgia Conference. Email him at jharris@sgaumc.com. Find his plot-driven guide to reading the Bible, the “Layered Bible Journey,” at www.layeredbiblejourney.com.  

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