This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
Last night, we continued our study of John (after a week off while I was at the Basics Conference) by looking at John 16:25-33. Jesus has spent the past several chapters preparing his disciples for the fact that he will no longer be with them in a physical sense. He is preparing them for the reality of the cross (and his eventual resurrection and ascension), but as we saw in our last study they really didn’t understand what he was talking about. Jesus addresses these concerns to them by explaining his purpose – what he came to do. As we watch the disciples’ faulty response, we are reminded of the absolute necessity of depending totally on Christ in every aspect of our lives.
In verse 25, Jesus begins by saying that though he has often spoken to the disciples in parables and figures of speech, the time is fast approaching when he will speak to them clearly about the Father. Seen in context, this is clearly a reference to his coming death and resurrection. The cross was the entire reason that Christ came to walk the earth – it was the fulfillment of his mission. Thus, we cannot accurately understand who Christ was without seeing his life through the lens of the crucifixion. What he would accomplish on the cross – and three days later by rising from the dead – would proclaim clearly to us the purpose of his life and ministry. No longer would the disciples have to snap together gleanings of truth from Jesus’ parables like a Rubik’s Cube, but now they would see clearly his purpose in all that he did – to point to our redemption by his blood. Jesus’ comments here point to three aspects of that purpose that are vital to our understanding his earthly work. First, he came to reveal truth. In verse 25 he tells us that part of his task is to “teach [us] plainly about the Father.” After all, Colossians 1 proclaims him as the “image of the invisible God.” The great God of the universe that is veiled from human eyes was made visible through Jesus Christ, so that we can look at Christ and immediately know with simple clarity what God is like. The Bible can be mentally intimidating at times (as one would expect from an infinite God revealing himself to finite creatures), but at its core the gospel message is one so simple and clearly presented that a child can grasp it – indeed, Jesus himself taught that we all must grasp it in childlike fashion. Secondly, Christ came to reconcile us to God. What good is it that we can know God if his just condemnation hangs over us? Christ says in verses 26 and 27 that he will bring his people into a direct and loving relationship with the Father, something only possible by his redeeming act on the cross. As Jonathan Edwards so beautifully put it several hundred years ago, “Christ has flung wide open the floodgates of mercy.” This is the message of the gospel – reconciliation for unworthy sinners like us to a holy and perfect God. Finally, in verse 28, Jesus remarks that he is going back to the Father, with the implication that we will remain behind. For what purpose? Christ has left us with a mission, with the great joy and sobering responsibility of taking this message of grace and forgiveness to a world in desperate need of it.
In verses 29-33 we see both the disciples’ misguided response to this revelation and Christ’s correction and refocusing of their attitudes. In verses 29 and 30, the disciples express almost an “it’s about time” mentality, saying that now that Jesus has started talking straight they can clearly understand and believe. Their attitude – and Jesus’ response in verse 31 – demonstrates a misplaced confidence. They thought that since they now could mentally grasp Jesus’ teachings that they were on their way. Jesus sharply asks them “Do you now believe?” He tells them that very soon when he is arrested, they will all scatter and abandon him out of fear for their own lives. Their abilities are not sufficient to produce the faith that God requires. As theologian Arthur Pink put it, “Like young recruits, they had yet to learn that it is one thing to know the soldier’s drill and wear the uniform, and quite another to be steadfast in the day of battle.” Their confidence was placed squarely in themselves, and Jesus responded with the same warning that would later be echoed by Paul in 1 Corinthians, “If any among you thinks he stands, let him take heed, lest he fall.” As my dad so wisely told me many years ago (on the topic of sexual sin, though it really applies across the board), “The moment you think ‘it can’t happen to me’ is exactly when it will.” We cannot trust our own abilities to sustain our faith – not our intelligence, our emotional stability, our courage, our dedication – nothing. All of those things will eventually fail us. So what hope do we have? We must fix our focus on Christ. Jesus assures them in verse 33 that this world will bring us difficulty, and we all know from experience that those difficulties are often too much for us to handle and cope with. Yet Jesus tells us that he has overcome the world. Our hope must be placed fully in the redeemer to whom the Father has given us, and from whom “no one can snatch them out of [his] hand.” Throughout the coming week, make it an focus of your prayer and Scripture meditation to, like John the Baptist, decrease (even in your own mind) so that Christ may increase.