Today we continue our conversation through the book of John. He is walking us towards his objective:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
For the past month we have been working our way through Jesus’ final discourse. Here, John brings clear focus to Jesus' final instructions to His disciples.
Jesus and His disciples had left Jerusalem in chaos as the religious authorities tried to take His life. They came back, even while expecting things to go poorly, to be with Lazarus’ family after his death, and then Lazarus was raised from the dead. They went from threat of death to overwhelming support as Jesus entered Jerusalem with great fanfare.
They celebrated the Passover together and Jesus washed the disciples' feet. Jesus said one was going to betray Him and that He was going to depart. Peter was told that he would deny Jesus. There was the call to follow a new command--love one another as I have loved you. Jesus told them, you know the way to the Father--I am the way, the truth, and the life. He said, don’t worry, you will not be abandoned--the Spirit is coming. He is advocate, teacher, helper, comforter, reminder. Obey My command: Love others as I have loved you!
Then John brought Jesus’ call for relationship to the surface, a picture of vine, branches, gardener, and fruit. Pruning is a beautiful part of this relationship. We saw a hyperlink back to Isaiah’s picture of pruning--the opportunity to be fruitful is back!
John then brought the word “remain” (or “abide”) to the surface, and we saw a hyperlink to David’s heart of longing to connect and be with God (over and over again in the Psalms). Then came the ultimate DTR: Don’t forget my command; I no longer call you servant, but friend.
And as John has placed this picture before us, we come to today: the next idea is that you will face troubles as I face troubles and that’s ok. Not just okay--expect that you will face trouble and don't let it throw you off when it shows up.
Jesus tells his disciples in the beginning of chapter 16 that everything He told them in chapters 13-15 is so that they will not fall away. There is time coming that they will be persecuted and hated, and He wants them to not fall away when it happens. He uses language like “remember that I warned you,” and ends His discourse by telling His friends, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart because I have overcome the world.” Those are some loaded phrases, and we’ll unpack that more next week as we get into a moment where Jesus prays for his disciples and for us.
But before we get too into it today we are going to start off by doing some work together.
Think about some general categories in life: Family. Friendships. Education / enrichment. Vocation. Internal being. Faith / beliefs. Aspirations / goals. Legacy. There are others, of course, but we have to stop somewhere!
Take some time to write some simple elements of success for each of these areas of life. For example, “Family: love each other.”
I want to encourage you to work in bullet points and write simple answers. Try to give two or three for each area of life. In this process today. I am asking you to not get caught up in your own personal success or failure. This is a moment of building a perspective in order to answer a soon-to-be-asked question that will help us process the text that we are looking at today in John.
What are some markers of success that people in our culture give to each of these areas of life?
- Education / enrichment
- Internal being
- Faith / beliefs
- Aspirations / goals
And now I am going to give you a few moments to work on the antithesis of what you just did.
What are some markers of failure that people in our culture give to each of these areas of life?
- Education / enrichment
- Internal being
- Faith / beliefs
- Aspirations / goals
I hope you felt the complexity of success. I hope you felt the dangers of generalities. I hope you felt the potential errors in thinking it is the same for everyone. I hope you felt the risk of simplification. And notice that there’s a large scale to this--that our culture will answer these one way, and that maybe other cultures would come up with an entirely different list of things for success and failure.
Now a moment of conversation out of this work:
What is the impact of measuring personal success or failure poorly?
As we move forward we need to flash back to the context of John for a moment, back to John 9, where Jesus and His disciples come across a man that was born blind. This is the story of Jesus making spit mud, and putting it on the man’s eyes. Then He asked him to go wash in the pool of Siloam and he was healed.
We are not going to rehash this story, but this is an internal hyperlink to remember.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:1-5)
There are so many things happening in this story, but I just want to remind us of one. The disciples asked who sinned that this man was blind. This is a window into their worldview: sin can lead to suffering. So here was a man born blind and the question was, who sinned that this man became blind? Was it something he did or something his parents did?
Neither--but observe, the works of God are about to be displayed.
Now we could spend hours processing this: Failure can lead to suffering. It is less about who failed and when they failed, but about the suffering. Suffering is a moment for Jesus’ power to be displayed. Jesus is about to overcome sin and eternal suffering. Who sinned? Everyone sinned. Now the power of God is about to be displayed in Jesus' death and resurrection.
But I want to come back to the mindset of the disciples: See suffering. Ask who sinned to cause that suffering.
When I (disciples) see someone suffering, I ask who failed. This also can lead to some simple transference of experience and perspective. When I (disciples) suffer, it is because I am a failure. So let’s process this for a moment before we dive into the text.
What is the result of thinking that failing/sin does not have any life impact?
What is the result of assuming suffering is the result of personal failure?
Let me tell you the lines that are just after what we are looking at today.
This whole section has to be taken together. It can’t be split up and taken out of context; it’s all connected. As you read and study on your own, we encourage you to keep that in mind--that single verses are good but usually are connected to what’s going on around them.
Our Bibles today are organized so well and they’re very helpful study tools, but remember that we’re reading a letter written by John to be shared with the whole body of followers of Jesus after His death and resurrection. Just imagine that, that you’re reading this letter that was written to be shared, and remembering John’s objective for writing. It’s all connected.
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-14)
What could Jesus say right before this? Well, it is about suffering.
Don’t forget the conversation we just had. Remember the mindset of John 9.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’” (John 15:18-25)
“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” (John 16:1-11)
John 16:2 pulls out a huge cultural fear, being removed from the synagogue.
This is a hyperlink from John 9--the story of the man healed from his blindness. Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath and the religious authorities were upset. They called the healed man’s parents to testify about what had happened.
“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” (John 9:20-23)
So they called back the man to interrogate him.
A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. (John 9:24-34)
It wasn’t over. Jesus sought him out:
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. (John 9:35-38)
Do you remember the blind man? His suffering was not about failing. It was about the glory of God. He was put out of the temple, but while being put out--he got it. He saw, had connection with, and worshiped the Messiah!
Jesus is looking into the eyes of His disciples and says, when they put you out of the temple, it is not a sign of your failing. It is a sign of your relationship with Me.
What did the disciples need to process as they went from seeing suffering as a sign of personal failure to seeing it as a sign of relationship with Jesus?
Today we started our conversation focusing on the measures of success in different areas of life. We talked about the impact of measuring success or failure poorly. We talked about the impact of thinking sin has no impact, but also the impact of thinking that all suffering is because of personal sin.
And now we bring this intensely hyperlinked moment together.
The disciples saw the man that was born blind be healed and then removed from the Temple. They did not see this as a moment where everything was broken, but a moment where this blind man truly was able to connect with God, Jesus, the Messiah even as he faced the worst cultural suffering.
Now bring this perspective to you. As you face the worst suffering, see it not as a sign of failure, but see it as a moment of unusual opportunity to connect with God.
Paul later processed this:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
This is a huge culture shift, moving from “who sinned to cause this suffering” to “glory in suffering because of what if produces.”
And changing this kind of worldview or way of seeing things doesn’t usually happen overnight unfortunately. The disciples didn’t have overnight change of thinking or worldview. Some of them had some really important moments with Jesus, but we see that their change and walking with Him took place over time--three years with Him, and they still didn’t get it--and that Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come and continue the process with them. But feel the invitation to process this, the invitation from God to start to see things from a different perspective.
We are going to end with a pendulum question:
Where are you on the pendulum swing?
- Suffering is a sign of failure
- Suffering is a thing to be excited about because of what it produces
How does today’s conversation nudge you on the pendulum?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read John 15:18-16:11.
- How would you feel and act if you were at someone else’s family reunion or at a large group event where everyone seems to know everyone while you know no one?
- What does it look like to expect to be treated better than Jesus was treated?
- What does it look like to expect to be treated worse than Jesus was treated?
- How would you feel if all troubles were rooted back to your personal failings?
- How does a person get to the perspective of Paul found in Romans 5:3-5?
- How are you challenged, focused, confused or refined by this text?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Leviticus 21
- Leviticus 22
- Leviticus 23
- John 7
- John 8
- John 9