Ever have questions for God? Wonder if it’s OK to ask them?
Even those who were Jesus’ closest friends, who had traveled with him for years, had questions. Jesus could answer a question with another question in a way that might have been maddening to some. He also knew the future, which sometimes made his answers hard to understand for those listening.
This is Maundy Thursday, the evening that commemorates the Passover meal known as The Last Supper. On that day Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He talked a lot about love during the meal.
Judas Iscariot had just mysteriously left the room. Jesus had told him to go do what he was going to do and John 13:28 tells us that “no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him.”
Jesus was trying to prepare his beloved followers for the unthinkable things that were coming, and to prepare them simply for their physical separation from one another. Their understanding was limited.
Jesus had just instructed them to “love one another” and said that they would be known as his followers by their love. Understandably, questions arose as Jesus encouraged them to carry on even when he wasn’t physically with them. Let’s look at some of the questions asked by those who were the most intimate with Jesus during his time on earth.
John 13:33-14:22 (emphasis mine): “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (verse 11) Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, keep my commands. (verse 19) Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
Do you ever have questions as a follower of Jesus?
What might you have asked if you were there?
The questions asked at that supper were questions that occur to most of us at some point in this journey we call life.
Before we tackle the questions, let’s look at salvation and what it means in a practical sense.
There’s excitement when we first decide to follow Jesus. We use the church-ese word “justification” but it simply means that our sin is pardoned. We realize that Jesus’ death provided what we could not provide for ourselves. At this point you might feel the relief of a burden of shame and guilt that has been lifted by his forgiveness. Maybe you’ve just discovered a community of believers and friends who are different from people in your past. A sense of God’s love and his presence may be almost palpable.
Others of us might have less of a sense of a particular moment when that decision was made. Instead it’s been a process of knowing him better and committing different areas of our lives to him as we grow. Now we belong to Jesus. Everything will be great. We’ll walk together and then one day be together forever. This is what salvation looks like, right? Our sins have been paid for and we can stand before God as pure and forgiven people. So what’s missing here?
The period between our beginning to follow Jesus (our justification) and our joining him in heaven for eternity (our glorification) is where we all live today. The term for this part of our salvation is sanctification. John Wesley identified sanctification as the process of change in a believer’s life from sinfulness into holiness. In the conversation we just read in John 13 and 14, Jesus was preparing his followers for that part of their lives which would soon follow. The excitement of their new relationship with him and the thrill of walking with him were to end; the waiting to be with him for eternity was to begin. He had a job for them (and us) to do.
Just like the disciples, as we carry on after coming to know Christ, sometimes we’re surprised when life throws us challenges and curves.
Paul described this part of our spiritual lives in his second letter to the Corinthians:
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
Think about the questions. Think of the patience, the understanding, the frank directness of Jesus as he answered. He knew these men well. He knew all that was coming. He talked about love above all.