By Lindy Thomas
Part 1. Questions
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.
Part 2. Why Can’t I Follow Now?
Jesus had resolutely proceeded to Jerusalem, knowing the danger. He had been hailed as a Savior as he entered the city, although most misunderstood what kind of Savior he would be. In a quiet moment celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples, questions arose.
Peter had asked in John 13:36 “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord why can’t I follow you now?” In other words, let’s just skip this part and go on to heaven together. The rest of the story is familiar.
Peter thought he was ready to lay down everything, even his life, for Jesus, but Jesus knew he was not. Soon after this conversation, the situation got heated. Jesus was arrested, and Peter was immediately asked direct questions by people outside their circle. Peter didn’t immediately see the connection between the false answers he gave and the efforts Jesus had made to prepare him for this very moment.
Peter failed the first test. And the second, and the third. But Jesus had also known ever since he had declared “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18) that Peter would come through the failures and the testing. He would later be the first to stand and declare what was going on when the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. Peter wanted to skip the second step illustrated below, but God had another plan for him. Now here is a point that we don’t want to miss.
WHO justifies us?
WHO will take us to heaven when we’re glorified?
WHOSE responsibility is our sanctification?
We accept that God provides our justification; he is the only one who can make us righteous. We accept that he will make our glorification happen when he takes us to heaven, but all too often we think that the sanctification part is up to us. It’s important to realize that God is the one who accomplishes ALL of our salvation. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 tells us “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through… The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”
Now let’s look at Thomas’s question. He was the next one to question Jesus. Jesus had answered Peter (John 14:1), “Don’t be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. You know the way to where I am going.”
“Thomas said, ‘Lord, we don’t even know where you are going! How can we know the way?’”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life!” Jesus answered. “Without me, no one can go to the Father.”
In October of 2012, my daughter and I took a long-anticipated trip to Cornwall, England. Cornwall is the county at the southwest end of England.
We hiked from St. Ives to Lizard, 70 miles along the very tip of the coast, over 5 days. Our guidebook was a plastic-covered folder with typewritten pages written by a guy named Russell. Here’s the introduction:
You may have figured out by now – this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I definitely had my “What was I thinking?” moments. But something I learned years ago in a hospital bed came to mind, and it’s something I like to practice. At that time, as I struggled, I asked God to teach me in the moment, to show me something about himself. Now this trip was something I volunteered for, so don’t think I’m comparing a vacation challenge to some of the hard things life has handed you. But as I asked God to show me something about himself in the struggle, he gave me some beautiful illustrations regarding the work of the Holy Spirit and how I can “know the way,” as Thomas asked. Join me as I share a little – I hope you’ll see the lessons I learned.
Part 3. Conditions
Does the path you travel ever look something like this?
Winding, uphill, hard to see where you’re going. Or this?
Beautiful surroundings but still an upward path…
And then there are hazards and obstacles…
Sometimes the path is sheltered and safe for the moment…
… and sometimes things seem smooth and clearly laid out but the destination is still out of sight.
Sometimes life’s just a balancing act.
The first day was 15 miles.
Instructions were not super detailed and the markers only appeared when they were absolutely needed. We found that if Russell (the author of our guidebook) didn’t tell us something, we probably didn’t need to know. Sometimes we just needed to figure it out. If the path seemed to split into 2 or 3 paths, they often converged later, so sometimes it really didn’t matter which one we took. Sometimes we failed to look at the book. Sometimes we got lost. Sometimes the book saved us. Reminds me of another book I know…
On day 1 we encountered the bogs. Tufts of grass growing in something that was sometimes dirt, sometimes mud, and sometimes calf-deep water that could appear to be fairly solid ground. You took your chances stepping on the “ground,” risking sinking, or you hopped from tuft to tuft, hoping to maintain your balance. You could follow in another person’s footsteps, which sometimes helped and sometimes got you in trouble (another life lesson?).
In the boggy areas I was always in danger of slipping (which I did & ended up covered in mud), but my biggest fear was that I always felt off-balance. As I grew more tired, I feared that I didn’t have the strength to keep my balance as I hopped on the unstable tufts of grass. I didn’t want to injure myself and create a bigger problem. Getting through it took care and balance, sometimes following each other’s footsteps and sometimes being careful not to step where the other had stepped.
Trying to figure out where to step to get across the water – can you tell by my body language just how encouraged I was at that point?
Ever been there?
This is about ENDURANCE.
Hebrews 12:1 tells us – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
This hike helped me to see my life as a series of paths that I walk.
Different actions and reactions are required of me.
As Jesus prepared his followers for difficult times to come, they had questions. As we further explore these questions, we’ll look at the journey we all travel between meeting Jesus and ultimately joining him for eternity.
I hope you will see that holiness and sanctification are worked in us by the Holy Spirit as we learn to act and respond in faith.
“So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” – 1 Corinthians 3:7 NIV (emphasis mine)
Part 4. Preparation
Part 4 of lessons learned while hiking in Cornwall, UK, about my own development and sanctification as a Christ follower.
My last post was about difficulty and endurance. Sometimes difficulties and the need to endure catch us by surprise, but if we think about it, we all know that life will eventually hand us challenges. We certainly knew that our hike would not be easy. So how did we prepare?
Strength and balance training before we left.
The interesting thing was that there is no way in flat Dallas that you can truly be prepared for the terrain we encountered. We did the best we could…
In everyday life, training involves study of God’s word and fellowship with other believers with whom I can process spiritual truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” While no amount of walking Dallas terrain could quite prepare us, once we got there we had Russell’s book. Reminds me of another book we all have access to.
Now Russell was not extravagant with words. He gave us what we needed and no more. We had to be watchful, and at times we had to wait until the horizon matched a little picture we were given.
This was a point where we could easily have walked right by the turnoff if we had not consulted our guidebook. We had to be aware of our instructions, and to keep the picture before us as we walked.
How often do we forge ahead when God’s word might have offered a road map or illustration for a situation? We all have God’s word to strengthen us for the path we travel. Just as in life, however, on our hike we often forgot about the book and tried to figure out the path ourselves, or we didn’t think we had time to get out the book and look. A costly error a few times…
I love God’s economy of words in the Bible. He tells us all we need to know but he boiled it down to a book we can carry with us. Psalm 119:130 says, “The unfolding of your word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”
Another part of our preparation was to get good boots that supported your feet and stayed on when your foot sank in the bogs. Ephesians 6:15 addresses our footware: “…with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” We’ll come back to the boots.
Recognize roadblocks. Ever ignore warning signs and live to regret it?
Love the “no bikes” sign in this particular spot. Made you wonder who might actually try that.
As our first day wore on, it started to rain. As the rain and wind increased we debated whether to leave the coast and head for the road. Then suddenly our path was blocked by ponies. It happened that a bail-out path up to the road was right in that spot on our left. We took the ponies as a sign to go no further, walked into town on the road in the rain, and literally blew into the warm pub at our inn.
Psalm 32:7 says of God, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”
The best meal of my life so far was the warm potato leek soup in that pub.
The next day we heard locals exclaiming about how severe the storm had been. If the locals thought it was strong, we definitely belonged up on that road. God provides a way of escape when the storms of life blow, and sometimes he gives us the roadblocks we need if we’re only paying attention.
The storm raged all night as we nursed our sore feet and laughed about the improbability of our whole situation. I also secretly hoped that it would be too wild to head out on the trails in the morning.
Part 5. Fog
By morning the howling storm had passed, leaving thick fog. The night’s rest had been amazingly restorative, and we had no excuse to stay put. After a great English breakfast, we set out in the fog.
Ever walked in a fog? A devastating loss, a frightening diagnosis, divorce, unemployment; many of life’s events can leave us feeling like we live in a fog, just feeling our way along for the next step. I remember once offering a novel to my sister to read, just one I had enjoyed, when she was going through a divorce. She declined to take it, saying that she was having a hard time focusing on anything at the moment and it would only frustrate her to have it on her nightstand. We all have those moments. But let me tell you what we found as we groped our way along in the fog. The beauty was close at hand. The mist had settled on the foliage and on beautiful spider webs.
1 Peter 1:3-6 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”
Psalm 5:11 tells us “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.”
And 1 Peter 5:10 – “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
Day 3 brought some fun surprises. The path passed through 2 towns and was actually paved part of the way and easier walking. We sought a public restroom in Penzance and were directed to a Fishermen’s Mission.
Looking around the Mission made me aware that when people live with danger as a matter of course, they can tend to be very conscious of the possibility of meeting their maker. We were traveling in John Wesley country. We had passed boarded-up and fenced-off old buildings which used to house Sunday schools. The area has a feel of being rather post-Christian. The Mission was a quick stop for us, but it was exciting to find God in an unexpected place.
We later ran across this marker, set randomly in a stone in the middle of nowhere near the beach – “We have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens… Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” (2 Cor. 5:1, 3:17 KJV) I think that those who work at sea still have a sense of dependence on God. He hasn’t abandoned Cornwall. He hasn’t abandoned any of us but we sometimes need to see our own helplessness before we reach out to him.
As we neared Marazion, our destination for the night, we began to see an island rising in the fog.
It turned out to be St. Michael’s Mount, 6th Century counterpart to Mont St-Michel in France. We took a little boat to the island and initially we were too tired to even think of walking to the top. More uphill. And you had to buy a ticket. But I suddenly thought “this is probably the only chance either of us will ever have to see this” so I bought the last tickets of the day and we climbed some more.
Don’t stop short of the glory.
“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrews 10:36)
“To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)
The excitement of our discovery that day will pale in comparison with “what is promised” when we are in God’s presence.
Part 6. Back to Questions
So let’s return to our questions.
Our first question from Peter represents our uninformed enthusiasm. Peter asked, “Lord why can’t I follow you now?” He didn’t know himself. He had no idea what was about to happen and how he would respond.
I don’t know myself. I can’t be sure how I might respond in a tough situation. I don’t yet know what else Jesus has for me to do before joining him.
Question 2 from Thomas represents decisions and crossroads that we encounter as we serve Christ and grow closer to him. “How can we know the way?”
Question 3 from Judas represents the confusion and hurt we can experience when things do not go easily or when we are opposed as we serve Christ. “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” “But, Lord…” – how often is that our reaction to a word from him?
Jesus’ answers to the questions show a consistent message of love for one another and for the Father.
- He promises the Holy Spirit, the “Helper” to be with us forever.
John 14:16-18 says: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
- He promises never to leave us as orphans.
- He promises a day when we will behold him and live because he lives.
God showed me something about his Holy Spirit on our hike through our guide Russell. Abbey and I followed Russell’s instructions in Cornwall even though he was not physically with us. We had his book of instructions. We had maps he had provided.
We often forged ahead without reading the book because we didn’t want to take time to look. Maybe the wind was high or it was raining or we just didn’t want to pause. Sometimes we actually forgot we had it. But we had the book. We had the ability to call Russell if we needed to. We trusted Russell because he knew Cornwall and we didn’t. He had walked these paths.
How often do we fail to read God’s instructions or to call on him in prayer?
Let’s finish reading what Jesus had to say in John 14, beginning with verse 25.
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. Come now; let us leave.”
God provides a Helper.
Jesus reveals the reason we were not able to be with him immediately as Peter asked.
John 14:29-31 tells us: “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”
The ruler of the world, who has nothing to do with Jesus, was about to wreak havoc, as he continues to do (v. 29). But Jesus overcame the evil one (“He has no hold over me.” v. 30). Until he comes back for us, here’s our purpose, our job is to let the world know of his love. (v. 31)
The “prince of the world” was allowed to come so that Jesus could show his love for his Father by going to the cross.
Jesus did exactly what his Father had commanded.
Jesus’ answer to Judas explained to the disciples their assignment of telling the world of his love for the Father and his obedience in taking care of the world’s sin. But he wasn’t going to leave them alone with this task. He promised them the Holy Spirit to teach, remind, help, and advocate for them.
Jesus charged Judas and the others with the incredible task of GETTING to tell the world about him.
Part of the armor God provides for us is “your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” –Ephesians 6:15
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7)
“Spiritual growth occurs in a high commitment, high challenge environment.” –Margaret Fitzwater, The Navigators
Romans 10:12-15 quotes what we just read from Isaiah – “…the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
How do I ENDURE?
TRAIN & PREPARE
HOPE & BE GLAD
DON’T STOP SHORT
KNOW THAT OUR PURPOSE
AND OUR PRIVILEGE IS TO
LET THE WORLD KNOW GOD’S PEACE