There’s some powerful teaching in this passage, straight from the lips of Jesus, and as timely as ever for those of us who live in this troubled world of fear and confusion and distress. But it is the final words that Jesus speaks in this passage that truly empowers my spirit. It is an invitation for us to get moving, get going, and get beyond everything that has the power to slow us down, rattle our confidence, and stand in the way of our ministries and callings. Jesus says, “Rise, let us be on our way.” Now I suppose that we could take what Jesus says in a rather literal fashion. We could pack up our stuff this morning and head on out of here. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus intended for his disciples or for us to do.
In John’s Gospel, the setting is very likely what we often call the upper room. Jesus spoke these words on the last night that he was alive before his crucifixion. This is the night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas, and the night that Jesus was arrested and tried for his crimes. This is the night that we observe monthly, when we gather around the communion table.
But interestingly, when Jesus makes this statement, John does not indicate that Jesus and his disciples get up and go anywhere. In fact, this line of Jesus’ teaching continues until the beginning of chapter eighteen when Jesus and his disciples finally leave the upper room and venture out to the Kidron Valley, where the Garden of Gethsemane is located. And so I am more inclined to believe that what Jesus says in verse 31 is more metaphorical than it is literal, and that makes it all that much more powerful.
Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death and departure, and they don’t like it one bit. The disciples have come to know and love Jesus. They have invested three years of their lives in his ministry. They are just now beginning to understand that Jesus is their long-awaited Messiah. This is very exciting to them. For the disciples, things are moving forward! And they are moving forward for them in a wonderful direction. All is well. The disciples’ hopes are at an all-time high. They are convinced that God is finally at work, and that God is about to move powerfully and decisively to right all of the world’s wrongs, and to restore the people of God to their rightful place in the universe. This is also the dream of everyone of us here this morning.
But now, Jesus has thrown a monkey wrench into the works. He is talking about leaving them. Jesus is talking about putting himself on a path of humiliation and suffering and death. And this tosses his disciples into a state of horrible grief and deep discouragement. They do not understand this new turn of events at all. It is shocking to them. They are at a complete loss. Their grief and fear, and possibly even a sense of betrayal has overwhelmed them. Imagine feeling betrayed by Jesus. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Aren’t we the ones who betray Jesus? I suspect all of this, because when we are overcome with a sense of grief and loss and betrayal, we sometimes don’t hear very much of what Jesus is saying to us, either. That’s why we need to lay hold of and grasp firmly that Jesus is saying to us, “Rise, let us be on our way.” In this passage, Jesus is really talking about beginnings, not endings. Yes, there’s a difficult road ahead, for Jesus and for his disciples, and for us, too. And sometimes it is really hard to think about new beginnings when all that we see are things that look like endings.
The first step to rising and being on our way is to re-define our relationship with Jesus. Jesus challenged his disciples to do this and he challenges us to do it. Jesus says to his disciples, “I am going away, and I am coming to you. If you loved me you would rejoice that I am going to the Father.” That makes no sense at all. Unless, of course, it is true. The disciples do love Jesus. That’s why they’re grieving over all of this talk of his leaving them. But Jesus is challenging them to look beyond the present difficulty and the present distress to a greater reality yet to come. God’s plan for us always includes a greater reality. There’s something really profound here. If we truly love Jesus, we will see that greater reality. This is what Jesus is saying to his disciples. He’s telling them that they need to rise and be on their way. He’s telling them that that they need to get beyond their grief and their fear to a place of genuine rejoicing. When we develop a true and complete love for Jesus, we will never be mired for long in a place of grief and fear. We too, will rise and be on our way. We will be headed for a place of rejoicing. I’m not sure that the disciples grasped the full impact of how loving Jesus, and moving forward to a place of rejoicing were so intimately connected. We have no choice in the matter. We must learn this. We must rise and be on our way.
The next step to rising and being on our way is to fully comprehend the depth of the peace that Jesus offers us. Normally, when we consider peace, we define it as being the absence of hostilities. That makes sense. If there are no hostilities, then there must be peace. But the peace that Jesus offers us is not normal at all. It is way beyond normal. We might define the peace that Jesus offers us as peace in the midst of hostility. At this point in their lives, the disciples are afraid and they have troubled hearts because they fear that Jesus is about to leave them. But not long from now, the disciples will have plenty of cause to be afraid and plenty of cause to have troubled hearts. The message that they will begin to proclaim after the Day of Pentecost will encounter plenty of opposition. That opposition will come from their own people; those who share their own heritage. And a very large chunk of that opposition will come from a rabid and violent pharisee named Saul, who hailed from the city of Tarsus. Saul’s hostilities against the followers of Jesus, combined with antagonism from the Roman government, will strike terror and fear into the hearts of all who dare to make Jesus their savior. But miraculously, in the face of all of that, more and more people will choose to become believers.
Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” The peace that Jesus offers us is his peace. That’s wonderfully profound. This is not peace that we cultivate, it is not peace that we snatch out of the air, it is instead, the very peace that possesses Jesus himself. It is the peace that gives him the calm assurance that he can be obedient to his calling, and to his heavenly Father, even in the face of violence and suffering and death. And, and maybe especially, in the face of demonic oppression. That’s peace. It dwelt in Jesus, and it can dwell in us. Rise, let us be on our way.
Jesus says to his disciples, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming.” That is a clear reference to the devil and to everything demonic. It is a reference to the one who hates God completely, and who is opposed to everything that God does, especially the saving work of Jesus Christ. Jesus knows that with the devil prowling around him, that there will be plenty of agony of the soul to endure. And yet, Jesus also says, “He has no power over me.” At least that’s how our English Bibles translate it. And it is a good translation. It is true. It is true for Jesus, and it is true for us. But the literal Greek says, “He has nothing in me.” In other words, the devil can’t get in. Jesus is solidly armored against any inroads that the devil may attempt to get into his life. Jesus’ spirit is secure.
With the help of the promised Holy Spirit, and with a deepening love for our savior, our spirits will also be secure against any onslaughts of opposition that the devil may fling at us. We will rise and be on our way, we will have peace in the midst of that which has the potential to strike fear and terror in our hearts. And we will thrive.