“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him,
“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
Jesus challenges us both to believe and to love. For many who call themselves Christians, these have become increasingly difficult to do. Jesus’ words might shock us and disturb us.
Jesus encouraged his disciples to believe in him fully and then he said boldly, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” When I was sharing with a colleague how I, City Temple, and many other URC ministers and churches actually believed what Jesus said in this passage, the colleague accused me of being “divisive” and “controversial”. The colleague said he felt “shocked” and “grieved” by my level of “intolerance”. I was neither offended nor surprised by his comments. But they did remind me of how other people must have heard Jesus’ words in the same way. Jesus’ words have always seemed divisive and controversial, difficult to understand and even more difficult to rationalise — especially in our modern world.
Thankfully, Jesus didn’t tell us that we must fully understand or explain what he said. He simply encouraged us to trust him and believe. Then he showed us that he was worthy of our belief by dying on the cross for us and rising from the dead. Certainly, it is bold to believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. But Jesus asks for our belief.
We might think that Jesus’ encouragement for us to “love” would be far less controversial and divisive. However, for Jesus the command to love involves keeping his commandments — in other words, obedience. It is so easy for us to define “love” by cultural norms, societal whims and seemingly sacred sentimentality. “Love” thus defined becomes weak and wishy- washy, changing and easily changed.
Jesus defines love in terms of God and obedience to God no matter the cost, knowing that such love will always show itself as a self-giving, sacrificial commitment to others for their benefit. Love defined in these terms resembles the very heart of God as God has given himself through Jesus. If we really love Jesus then we will do what Jesus tells us to do. What Jesus tells us to do will always lead to a deeper love for others.
Since only God can generate and sustain such amazing love, Jesus promises that his followers would receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would become our Helper, living in us so that we might love in truth and love to the fullest. Loving thus, we would become living embodiments of the reality of Jesus, loved by the Father and by the Son, and showing Jesus to the world.
Loving God, we sometimes struggle to accept the full reality of what Jesus said. Jesus’ words challenge us and stretch us. So we need your help. Please fill us anew with your Holy Spirit so that we might believe and love as Jesus taught us. Help us both to believe and to love no matter the opposition, but always with gentleness and respect toward those who disagree with us. Thank you for the promise that you will never leave us nor forsake us. Thank you for the reality that you are with us now in love and grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Rodney Woods is minister of City Temple in London.