“Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’
Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.’
‘All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” -John 14:22-27
Over the past couple of weeks, John 14-16 has shown up more than I can count. Whenever this happens, I usually take it as prompting from the Holy Spirit, so I’ve committed the month of June to studying this incredibly rich gospel passage.
This section of John 14 stands out because at first glance it doesn’t really make sense. For context, the disciples are questioning Jesus about his words. He’s just told them that He will return to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house. Jesus then promises the Holy Spirit, warning that the world will not recognize Him because they do not see Him. As always, they are quite confused; Judas, puzzled, blurts out what everyone was probably thinking.
Why reveal yourself to only a few?
I’ll be honest, I’ve thought this myself. God is all-powerful and omniscient. Why would He choose to enact His plans for redemption and restoration over such a long time? Why didn’t He just reveal Himself to the whole world once He was resurrected? When I see the suffering in the world, when I see how hard it is for those I love to come to faith, I wonder why God decided to reveal Himself to an initial few. I wonder why He lets things go so slowly and seemingly inefficiently.
Jesus’ answer doesn’t make sense unless you stop to think about it. He starts talking about obedience and love; then he moves to the Holy Spirit. He never offers a direct answer to Judas’ question.
But taken together, Jesus’ words are a call to action, a commissioning of those present and all who would follow in their steps. His words are far from random as He implicitly says, I chose this plan because I intend to use you to show me to the rest of the world.
Jesus communicates this through a few major ideas:
1. True obedience flows out of love.
When we love Jesus, we will desire obedience. It’s as simple as that. Obedience is not an obligation or a legalistic imposition. It is an expression of love that comes in response to God’s unfailing love for us. When we obey God, his mission to reach the world is being fulfilled.
Throughout the next couple of chapters, the ideas of obedience and love are intimately woven together. You can’t have one without the other.
2. God makes His home in those who obey Him.
God delights deeply in those who walk in Him. The beauty in this is that any love or obedience we express is ultimately in response to His love for us; He initiated the pursuit of our hearts by dying on the cross before we even knew Him. Thus, our relationship with God begins and ends with His love.
He loves us so much that He chooses to dwell in us; when we obey out of love, He pours even more of Himself into our hearts. Which leads me to Jesus’ third major point:
3. We are empowered by an indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who carries out our sanctification and works through us.
Upon salvation, believers receive the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts, gives peace, speaks, and sanctifies. The God of the Universe literally dwells within us; it’s incredible.
Later in John 15, Jesus says that to obey Him is to love others as He has loved us. Because of our fallen nature, our own efforts to do this will ultimately fail. But with the Holy spirit, our love-driven obedience can have real, eternal impact. The Holy Spirit thus equips us to live in mission and allows us to show Jesus to others. With this as the fourth and final piece, Jesus’ answer proclaims the Great Commission:
If you love me, obey me and love others. I have given you my Spirit, so you have everything you need. You are equipped; go and show my love to the world.
God chose to reveal Himself to a few because He cares about using us in His grand salvific plan, even though we are slow, flawed, and unloving. Like a true friend, He involves us in His mission rather than executing it all for us. As we contribute to His plans for restoration and reconciliation, His Spirit is able to work through our brokenness to reveal Christ to others and to sanctify us. He tells us not to fear, for even though we are ill-equipped in and of ourselves we have the power of the Living God inside of us.
All of this may sound like your typical Sunday jargon, but stop and take a moment to think about it. You are commissioned to show Christ to the rest of the world. The God of the Universe chose to involve you in His plan to save Creation.
I knew this in my head for a really long time. But it wasn’t until recently that I’ve been able to grasp this wonderful reality. Right now, I’m sitting on the plane en route to Ethiopia, where I’ll be at a missionary hospital for the summer. Before I boarded the plane, I talked to my mom over the phone and she prayed for me. I could hear her tearing up towards the end as she said,“Lord, thank you for choosing to use humans to do real work.”
The irony in this is that I’m ill-equipped to do any kind of work this summer. I’m an undergraduate with no medical license and little clinical experience. I don’t speak Amharic and my ability to share the Gospel is limited. Not only so, effective witness must follow a long period of learning about culture and social norms, all of which I have yet to begin. My apparent inability has been extremely humbling and has forced me to really cling to Jesus’ promises in verses in chapter 15. In order for anything good to come out of my summer, I’m really dependent on the Holy Spirit. Yet I’m so glad that God has chosen to use people like me– humans– to do His Kingdom work.
All of us long for purpose, for significance, to do real work that matters. Praise God that He’s chosen us to do that work, even though we’re all unequipped and insufficient. He’s told us that He loves us. When we respond to this in love in obedience, He gives us everything we need in the Spirit and sends us out to love as He loved.
Friends, we have the privilege of doing real, eternal work that matters no matter where we are. Every time we choose to love as Jesus loved us— every time we take up our cross, put others first, and love without expecting anything in return— we are further caught up in His plan to save the world. We don’t deserve this privilege, and we are far from sufficient to fulfill this calling by ourselves. But in His unending grace, He has chosen to work through us anyways. It may seem slow and inefficient, but it is His sovereign plan and we can delight in being a part of it.