“His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”” (John 16:29-33 ESV)
We’ve all done it at some point in our lives. We’ve all made very foolish claims or promises that we simply could not keep. Most of mine have probably been promises made to God, with my wife running a close second. Some have even been unfulfilled promises to myself. For example, how many times have you gone on a diet? I know, I know, don’t go there.
In this passage, the disciples make a claim that they are unable to keep. They recognize the truth of Jesus’ words and the implications his words should have on their faith and actions, but they make promises they are unable to keep. Today, we’ll focus on our failures and Jesus forgiveness. How we often overstate our faith and fall far short of our intentions. Yet, God knows and still loves us, in spite of our failures. Let me get more specific. God knows your failures, your doubts, your lingering questions, even your overstated promises and self-confidence and He still loves you and wants you.
Have you ever had an “aha” moment, a moment when something you didn’t understand suddenly became crystal clear? I’ve had lots of those. Times when I was laboring over a new concept or idea and then had something that triggered an awareness or understanding that made it all come into focus. I remember several of those early in my work at Oklahoma Baptist University when trying to understand some new network concept or model that I had never seen or didn’t completely understand.
In fact, I remember the first time I tried to understand the concept of computer networks, IP addressing and routing, and especially subnetworks. I look back on it now and wonder why it was so difficult to grasp. It was easier in theory than it was in practice. In other words, it was much easier to understand the concept in a book than it was to make it actually work in the office. I think faith is like this, much easier in concept than in practice.
The disciples seem to have an “aha” moment in this passage. At the very least, they claim to now understand the divine incarnation of Jesus and the implications that should have on their lives. Those of us who claim to believe and follow Jesus have had a similar moment. (If you’re reading this but you’re not a believer, I would encourage you to read last week’s blog.) However, the reality is that faith is much easier in theory than in practice. It is much easier to claim faith in Jesus as God’s Son than it is to live out those truths in our daily lives. Wouldn’t you agree?
Jesus seems to acknowledge this when He asks them, “do you now believe?” He has been leading them towards faith for several years. On several occasions they seem to reach a level of faith (Matt. 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20), but obviously their belief was still falling short of true, sustaining faith. But in this moment, they acknowledge Jesus has all knowledge and has come from God and Jesus says, “Do you finally get it? Do you now you believe?”
Have you ever wondered if Jesus thinks the same about you and me? “Finally, he gets it! I was beginning to wonder if he would.” Yes, I realize He has full knowledge of you and me and when we will truly understand. I’m just glad He’s patient and doesn’t give up on us quickly. But, notice the next the thing that happens in this passage…
He knows and acknowledges the failures of the disciples that will occur in the next few hours. They claim faith, but He clearly sees their doubts and fears. He is fully aware of their failures but He doesn’t berate and chastise them. He doesn’t throw His hands up in disgust and declare them hopeless failures and totally unworthy of His love. No! Instead, He tells them exactly how they will abandon Him and scatter to their own homes, and then He gives them two images of hope…
First, in the midst of Jesus’ darkest hour and when He appears to be completely alone and without hope He has full assurance of God’s presence and peace. When the disciples have left Him completely alone, God is with Him. At the moment when all hope seems lost and God seems to have utterly abandoned Him, God is most truly present and real.
We often mistakenly read our difficult circumstances as a sign of God’s abandonment or rejection, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The crucifixion is not a sign of God’s abandonment of Jesus and our struggles aren’t either. In fact, it may be that in the midst of our deepest struggles we find God’s presence most real. There is a mistaken notion that God abandons Jesus during the crucifixion and, at first glance, this seems to be supported by Matthew 27:46 where he quotes Jesus as saying, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” I suggest you go back and read that entire passage and notice that Matthew says that Jesus words were misunderstood.
Some standing nearby thought that he cried out for Elijah to save him, but the words are actually a quote from Psalms 22:1…
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalms 22:1 ESV)
Just for a moment, imagine that you are standing next to me as I lie in a hospital bed near death, delirious with pain. My eyes are closed, my face is contorted from the pain and I’ve not said anything for an hour or so. Suddenly, you hear me whispering something and you lean near to be able to hear. My words are weak but clear as I say: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…” Would your mind finish the song? Would you understand that I’m singing in my spirit and the words are a promise I’m leaning on?
Now, go read the rest of Psalms 22. It is a promise that Jesus suffering is the fulfillment of God’s purpose and God IS present in the midst of it. God didn’t abandon Jesus to suffer on the cross alone, God was present in that suffering. God doesn’t leave believers to suffer alone, but He is present in our suffering.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” (Philippians 3:7-10 ESV)
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12 ESV)
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 ESV)
Finally, Jesus tells them that He has said these things so that they might have peace. He says, “in the world you will have tribulation, but cheer up. I have overcome the world.” Tribulation is the pressure of things weighing upon you. It is being hemmed in on all sides and feeling as if there’s no escape. It’s that feeling you get when everything and everyone seems to be against you. Jesus says, don’t worry or fret because I’ve already taken care of it. This thing that feels as if it will crush you, can’t…
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-11 ESV)
The glory of God is NOT that we never face struggles, but that those struggles have NO victory in our lives. Our power to overcome is not our own but comes from Him! The glory of God is not that we are perfect, but that we are redeemed. In the end, I think Jesus acknowledges their desire to believe and their utter failure so that they can see where true strength lies… in Him. He doesn’t tell them to “suck it up and do better, next time.” Instead he says, “I know you want to believe, but you’ll fail. Don’t give up. Trust me. In me you’ll find peace in the storm and strength in the struggle. Hang in there.”
And He says the same to you and me.