Asking the Right Question

If I knew for sure that I would die tomorrow…I would strongly desire to spend my last night with my family and closest friends.

Wouldn’t you?

That’s exactly what Jesus chose to do. He shared a meal with His disciples, but none of them had any idea this would be their last meal with Jesus. John records these tender events for us in chapters 13 through 17 of his gospel. We call it “The Upper Room Discourse.”

The dinner begins with snippets of conversation about the day’s activities, but the atmosphere changes when Jesus rises to wash the feet of these proud men. Shame morphs into suspense when Jesus announces that one of them will betray Him that very night. There were only two natural responses to a statement like that: Either assume Jesus is mistaken, or try to imagine who is guilty.

Can you visualize the moment? Suspicious eyes dart from face to face, but nobody dares to ask. Except Peter, of course, who signals for John to ask Jesus. Judas is candidly exposed as the traitor. John’s account says that “as soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night” (John 13:30, niv).

Contemplate those last three words: “It was night.” Can you sense the foreboding? This was more than an ordinary night. It was much darker than that. This was spiritual darkness. It was Satanic.

We can understand and appreciate the conversation that followed by considering the questions tumbling from the disciples’ mouths. Each question reveals their deepening confusion and grief. The questions will evolve from Peter’s curious, “Who’s the traitor?” to the most profound question in life.

            After Judas departed to pursue his evil plot, Jesus began to talk about being glorified. Affectionately addressing them as “My children,” He said, “I will be with you only a little longer.” The word translated “little” is the Greek word micron, from which we get our English word micro. This is significant because whatever Jesus was predicting was going to happen very soon. Not centuries later. Not days. I believe Jesus was talking about tomorrow’s crucifixion and the resurrection to follow on Sunday. A cross, a grave and resurrection would result in great glory.

Peter asks another question. It was a question I would have considered asking if I had been there in the Upper Room that night: “Lord, where are you going?”                                   

Jesus responded, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”  Now try to wrap your mind around that response. If Jesus was referring to His crucifixion, remember thatHe would also predict Peter’s death by crucifixion (John 21:17-19).

Still in a fog, Peter responds, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” At this point, it seems to dawn on Peter that something violent is imminent—prompting him to declare his intent to defend Jesus, even to the death.

It’s a noble response. But when Jesus replies, it almost sounds sarcastic. “Will you really lay down your life for me?” He then adds, “I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

Before we condemn Peter, let me point out that when Jesus said, I tell you,” the pronoun you is plural. Each of the eleven would deny Jesus in some degree that night. Check out John 16:32, where Jesus warns that each man would scatter, leaving Him alone in the hour of His greatest sorrow.

Jesus encourages them to not be afraid but to trust God, “I am going there (toHis Father’s House) to prepare a place for you.” We have all come to love those comforting words. He assures His disciples that He will return and take them to be with Him.

His affirmation that they already knew both the route and the destination initiated another question.

This time Thomas asks for clarification, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Sounds like a logical question, but I sense a tinge of anxiety in his voice. After all, if they were supposed to follow Jesus, they needed to know the destination. I am so grateful Thomas dared to ask his question, because Jesus’ response has become one of the most quoted verses in all of Scripture. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus explains that if they really knew who He was, they would also know the Father and added, “From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Still confused, Philip blurts out, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” In that one request, Philip asks the big question that every person must face. We want to know if there is a God what God is like. The answers to those questions are game changers. If there is no God, we are the product of chance and there is no reason to be good and no standard for determining what is good or bad. And since there is no life after death and no judgment to come, let’s pursue all the pleasure we can squeeze out of our short lives.

But then again, what if there really is a God? What then?

Perhaps you have prayed, at one time or another, “God, if You are there, reveal Yourself so that I can believe.” That was Philip’s request, but much more intriguing was Jesus’ response: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

Think about it this way, Philip asked for evidence or truth about God—and the Truth, THE Truth, was standing right in front of him. Irrefutable evidence that Jesus was truly the way, the truth and the life was sitting at the table with the disciples.

They had spent almost three years sharing meals with Jesus, watching Him heal lepers and the crippled and those born blind. They had witnesses Him raising Lazarus from the dead, walking on water and feeding multitudes. What more was needed to validate Jesus’ amazing claim?

After thirteen radio interviews about the book, God in His Own Image, almost every interviewer has asked me to respond to a statement like this: “I love the God of the New Testament, but not the angry God of the Old Testament.”

My response is two-fold: Have they read the older Testament? For that matter, have they truly read the Newer Testament? The same God is revealed in both. Yahweh in the Old Testament is patient. His love is unbreakable. He prefers to respond with mercy but will mete out appropriate justice. Jesus in the New Testament is both a lamb and a lion. The gentle shepherd riding a donkey and the King of Kings with blood-stained robe mounted on a war horse rendering severe judgment. Jesus knew how to effectively use the whip, in righteous anger, to cleanse the Temple—His Father’s House.

Philip wasn’t only person in the Bible who asked for proof. Pilot asked Jesus, “What is truth?”

The answer remains the same: Truth was standing right in front of Pilate and Philip.

If you want to know God, consider Jesus. John wrote, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

I share a link to an exceptional song by the group, Acappella. Take time to listen, and note who the focus is upon in each of the three verses.

Pilot, Stephen…and yourself.

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