John 14: When Jesus Says He’s Leaving

SUSAN TYNER|CONTRIBUTOR

It is tough night for everyone in the room.

It is a tough night for Jesus. He is “troubled in spirit” (John 13:21). He’s sharing bread with his betrayer, interacting with Peter’s bluster, and facing His worst nightmare: impending alienation from His Father.

And it is a tough night for the disciples. Jesus is telling them things are about to change.

They’ve abandoned work, family, and dreams to follow Jesus, and now they hear He’s abandoning them (John 13:36). If Jesus leaves, how are they going to heal people, push back the evil in the world, navigate their rivalry over who is the greatest? They are not ready to fly solo. How will they know where to go and what to do (John 14:5)?

Jesus Prepares the Disciples

When my children were young and I was about to leave them with a sitter, I would prepare them by going over what was about to happen—who is coming; when I would be back; what they would do while I’m gone. Despite the preparation, they still clung to me when I walked out the door. Like a mother, Jesus puts aside His pain and tends to His disciples (John 14:29), getting them ready to face a big transition. He is about to walk out the door, and they are feeling the panic of separation.

He soothes their discomfort, looking with one eye to His Father’s path for Him (John 14:10) and one eye on His disciples and their path without Him. He guides His nervous followers toward the same place that gives Him comfort—His Father. He wants them to share in the intimate relationship He enjoys with His Father (14:20), and He wants to live within their hearts, not just be in the same room with them (14:23).

If the disciples could imagine this kind of relationship with God, they would gladly say goodbye (John 14:28). But they don’t yet know what they’re missing. The crying toddler wonders why his mother would walk out the door but cannot see she is running errands to bring back his favorite dinner, a warmer set of clothes, a special toy. So, too, their lives will be richer due to the temporary loss of Jesus’s physical presence.

They have to wait.

The Disciples Wait

This is not the first time God’s people hear the word “wait.” The Old Testament is full of “wait” passages. Adam and Eve must wait on a hero (Genesis 3:15). Abraham waits on a pregnancy (Genesis 15:4). An exiled people wait on moving back home (Jeremiah 29:10). A broken world waits on a Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty One (Isaiah 9:6). Here again, Jesus promises blessings to His followers, but they have to wait (John 14:18).

What does waiting look like for Jesus’s disciples? First, He asks them to let go of their plans, their expectations, and their ideas of what their Hero must do. Second, they have to let go of what they can touch and wait for something better that they can’t see. They must believe that they are not orphans but family whom Jesus will not abandon (14:18). He must leave them to save them. He must drink God’s judgment to the dregs so He can build mansions of glory for them.

We wait as well. There’s a huge wait as we wait for Jesus’s return to make our faith sight. But this wait is made up of lots of tiny waits along the way— letting go of the things that give us security and waiting on how Jesus will provide that with Himself.

A Christian’s Waiting

This kind of wait reminds me of a trapeze artist. Her fingers grasp the trapeze tightly as she hurdles through the air. But she must let go completely so she can fling towards the next trapeze. In that daredevil moment between two ropes, the audience below holds their breath, waiting with her, watching for the next trapeze to arrive if she’s to survive. Although her hands do not have a physical grip, she is full of confidence; her eyes are fixed on the next bar.

And, like this trapeze artist, we must fix our eyes on Jesus.  Hebrews 12:2 urges us, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Sure, our wait is easier. We have the benefit of seeing how Jesus’s words that Passover night proved true in the coming days: the Empty Tomb (John 20) and the Holy Spirit’s powerful entrance (Acts 2).

But we must let go, too. We must let go of our assumptions of what our lives are “supposed” to look like—easy parenting, a thriving marriage, financial security—to walk the cross-shaped path Jesus offers. As the trapeze artist must let go of one trapeze for the next, we must let go of the things we cling to that keep us from clinging to Jesus.

Can I trust Him to let go?

And, it is scary to let go and to trust mid-air. For that, He promises peace (14:27). Peace as you cry by a graveside. Peace as you wonder how much longer you fight cancer. Peace as you pray for years over wayward children and grandchildren. Whether hot tears or cold seeping discouragement, His peace reminds us of what is sure to come because of Easter morning.

This is the emotional tug of Romans 8:28 (all things God works for the good of those who love him). When I wonder if Jesus’ promises are worth counting on, do I learn alongside the disciples on that tough night? Will I follow My Shepherd’s voice even into the scary place of waiting? Do I believe He is making a good future for me—the evil things, the wasted opportunities, the crushing disappointments—is He that powerful?

I love that I can assure you (even as I struggle to believe myself) that He is. Our Good Shepherd is that good. That strong. That merciful (Psalm 62:11). Even though my circumstances taunt me with What If’s and Why’s, the Spirit within me cries out, wait. Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (Ps 27:14)

About the Author:

Susan Tyner

Susan Tyner recently moved to Fort Worth from Oxford, MS, where she worked as the Coordinator of Women’s Ministry at Christ Presbyterian Church and enjoyed her role as Mid-South Regional Advisor.  She continues to serve as an Advisor to the RUF Permanent Committee.  Although this is a year of transition for Susan, she already enjoys Texas and looks forward to what God has planned for her family there.  Her husband Lee and she have five children and an almost empty nest.  Between unpacking boxes, you can find Susan cooking, dancing in a gym class, or doing (less) laundry.

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