Promises, Promises: Jesus' Commencement Address

2.     Your dreams do not exceed your grasp. This is a lovely sentiment, but it is not necessarily true.

I once heard a motivational speaker turned preacher describe why he gave up his lucrative career on the lecture circuit in favor of being a preacher and pastor. "I realized that, in my motivational speeches, I was telling people to turn up their thermostats and turn up their thermostats and turn up their thermostats. And then one day I realized that I had no furnace. "

Jesus' Commencement Address
Jesus' commencement address in John 14-16 has a furnace. It has power behind it, the power and presence of the Father. Because of that power and presence, Jesus is able to do more than push people to excel. He is able to promise them aid and guidance in their efforts. Instead of two bits of boot strappy advice, Jesus' commencement offers two energizing promises.

1.  "The Father will give you an Advocate to be with you forever."

The reason I attended two graduation ceremonies over the weekend is that our son Matthew, 22, graduated with a double degree in business and economics from Southern Methodist University.  The President of SMU, Gerald Turner, assured the graduates that the faculty and administration wishes them well and would be interested in seeing how they did in the future. The Dean of the Cox School of Business Albert Niemi encouraged graduates to stay in touch and assured them that the faculty would be happy to offer advice and to suggest opportunities and contacts that might facilitate their future endeavors. That was good. That implied ongoing effort by the faculty and an investment in their students' futures.

But Jesus goes further. I have never heard a commencement speaker promise to send someone else to guide and empower the graduates in the speaker's absence. Jesus promises to send the Advocate, Paraclete, or Holy Spirit to be his presence in his physical absence. We are told that the Father sends the Holy Spirit in John 14:26. A little later in John's gospel  (John 15:26; 16:7) Jesus says that he is sending the Advocate to the disciples. Elsewhere in the New Testament we are told that Jesus sends the Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 2:33) but that the Father is the source of that Spirit (Romans 5:5). This ambiguity has led to centuries of debate between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians about whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father (Eastern Orthodox) or from the Father and the Son (Roman Catholic). The difference of opinion contributed to the split between the two in 1054.

The Spirit, Advocate or Paraclete Jesus is sending is "the Spirit of truth," or "the Spirit that communicates truth." A synonym for the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts is "gift" (see Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; 11:17). Not everyone can discern the presence of this Spirit. Not everyone is willing to accept this gift. But disciples can and do (14:17). The disciples' job is now to recognize Jesus, love him and live by his teachings as he dwells within them through the Holy Spirit. Jesus as commencement speaker is promising that a divine presence will come to and dwell within those who love him. They "have his commandments" (14:21) or "keep his words" (14:24). That presence is alternately identified as the Spirit (verses 15-17), Jesus (18-21) and the Father (23-24).

This unprecedented promise is accompanied by a demand. Love Jesus and none other and keep his commandments. Jesus is demanding exclusive loyalty to himself as the bearer of the New Covenant just as God at Sinai, presenting the first Covenant, demanded the exclusive love of the people of Israel (Brown 644) Keeping or fulfilling the commandments doesn't refer to abiding by a checklist of moral precepts, but to a whole way of life that issues from a loving union with Christ (Brown 636).

2. "Whatever you ask in my name, the Father will grant you."

If you love him and keep his commandments, he promises, "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (14:13). This same basic promise is repeated several times in these chapters. In chapter 14 (14:13,14) it is Jesus who grants requests made in his name. In chapters 15 and 16, Jesus promises that the Father will grant requests made in Jesus' name (15: 16; 16:23-24, 26).

This same promise occurs in Matthew 7:7,8; 18:19; 21:22; Luke 11:9-10. There is not the same emphasis on the need for requests to be made "in Jesus' name" (with the exception of Matthew 18:19) in the synoptic gospels.

John's theology envisions prayer "in Jesus' name" as prayer that comes from the disciple's state of union with Christ.  Because the Christian is in union with Jesus and Jesus is in union with the Father ("I and the Father are one" 10:30) the believer's prayer requests are of such a nature that when they are granted, the Father is glorified in the Son (Brown, 636) (See John 15:7-11).

5/22/2011 4:00:00 AM
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  • Alyce McKenzie
    About Alyce McKenzie
    Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.