John 14:1-14 (5th Sunday of Easter) – May 7, 2023

John 14:1-14 – Fifth Sunday of Easter


I often advocate for preaching the narrative of the Gospel. Where are we in the specific Gospel? What might this section mean in relation to the beginning of Gospel and where we’re heading? Looking at the narrative of the story itself and see how it applies to the larger themes of the Gospel. In Lent, this was really easy: Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus. All of these are big narrative stories that produce so much thematic relevance to the Gospel.

But the tricky portion of the next three weeks is that it is the same context for each. All three are a part of the Farewell Discourse and worse yet, we just went through Maundy Thursday only a few weeks ago.

But this happens every year around the 5th or 6th week after Easter. The Gospel hurls us back.

Five weeks after Easter, even though we’ve already walked through the whole passion story. We heard it all, from the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, to the table and foot washing, to the Cross, to the empty tomb. And yet we are transported back to Maundy Thursday to hear these words from Jesus all over again. Why?

In many ways, I think the reason is illuminated by the possibility of what the disciples were doing in those days after Easter. For them, as they sit together in the upper room, hiding, and talking wouldn’t they try to remember all the words he told them? Trying to make sense of all that he had said and all that had happened.

And as he begins to appear to them after the resurrection it begins to click.

In John chapter 12, right after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the Gospel author writes, “16His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.”

They did not understand these things at first. But after it all happened. Then they remembered.

It’s hindsight.

The Gospel of John is always pointing toward the cross and the resurrection as a sign of revelation. Just look at John 3:16-17 as a perfect example. The cross is always in the picture, and it will illuminate everything.

Because of this (especially after Easter when we just went through this) we can’t preach on this text like it’s Maundy Thursday and as though cross and resurrection haven’t happened. Instead, we need to preach to the Easter season and to the revelation in the Gospel of John. So, we ask ourselves, what is illuminated in this text by the cross and resurrection?

Hindsight Scripture Context


“Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.””

Just a few weeks ago we heard the “doubting Thomas” story. And these verses above should immediately connect us to that story. Thomas seems to be the faithless one in the post-Easter text and yet, when confronted with the “truth” that Jesus was Risen, he professes the greatest proclamation of faith in all of the Gospels, “My Lord and My God.” The first person in all of the Gospels to not just consider Jesus as the Messiah or the “son of God” but to see Jesus AS God. “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” My Lord and my God.

Greater works than these

The rest of the text supports this hindsight thought as well. Philip continues this question and Jesus more adamantly describes how he and the Father are more than connected, they are one.

But the line that should give most people pause is “12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

First, it is a sign of the Ascension. Jesus must leave. And he must leave so that the disciples can thrive. This should immediately panic the disciples (and us) because it means they (we) will need to do stuff.

Second, they (we) will do greater works than these (the works of JESUS). To this point, I turn us to the work of Karoline Lewis:

“The works to which Jesus refers in 14:11 mean believing, and to believe in Jesus is to witness in the world to his presence so that others might have their own encounter by which then to believe in Jesus. Verse 12 is an astonishing claim, to imagine that the disciples are capable of doing greater works than these, considering all that Jesus has done during the three years of his public ministry. How is this possible? That which Jesus has done, his primary work, is to be the presence of God in the world, the “I AM.” Every sign, every encounter, every conversation has been with that sole purpose in mind, to make God known (1:18) so that a moment of believing might happen. In these works, the disciples are invited to participate. Their participation here and now is essential for three reasons. First, Jesus is returning to the Father and will no longer be the Word made flesh in the world, Second, because the sending of the disciples (20:21) and discipleship itself are based on their witness. To be sent is to witness, to point and say, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” and to invite, “Come and see.” Third, greater works will be possible and have to be because God loves the world. The entirety of the world has yet to know God’s love (20:30-31), and so the disciples are charged with embodying God’s love and grace for the world to experience. Discipleship must show grace just as grace was shown in Jesus.”1

The greater works come from us. We, who have God within us (through the guidance of the Holy Spirit), but are not God ourselves, will need to witness to the presence of God and bestow the grace of God to others in this world. I know it sounds underwhelming, but this is truly miraculous work. Just look at the world around us and how easy it is to lean into greed, security, isolation, punitive justice, and judgment. Now think about the moments when love and grace have been shown and how transformative it is for the world.

To be transparent, Karoline Lewis then cautions preachers about seeing this text through the eyes of the resurrection and yet, I think that’s exactly what might be necessary. The disciples cannot understand this now (on Maundy Thursday). But as mentioned above, “when he was glorified” then they understood. I argue that we should read this in relation to the cross, resurrection, and ascension. This Farewell Discourse is not just Jesus saying goodbye because of the cross, it is also for his ascension. Preparing the disciples to understand their work once he has ascended to the Father and have received the Holy Spirit. They will then be the Body of Christ in the world.

Preaching Possibilities

I am hesitant to read too much in the “dwelling places” portion of this text as a distraction point because people have used it for funerals. There are a lot of really good commentaries out there on that line and how abiding is a signature piece of John’s Gospel. It’s a perfectly good route to take for this text and would set up Pentecost nicely in a few weeks. However, I think there is room to preach on the hindsight of this Easter season and this text as a call to discipleship for post resurrection life.

Something that came to mind as I was reading this text: Early on in the pandemic, John Krasinski hosted the YouTube show “Some Good News.” It highlighted the random acts of kindness that people were doing in the world when so much seemed to be going wrong. It highlighted nurses and doctors. It highlighted families having fun. It highlighted people being gracious and loving. For so many people, John highlighting these portions of life was a balm for the soul. It helped us to remember the good of humanity at a time when doom and gloom seemed to be overshadowing everything. For the 10 minutes or so that it was on for the week, it brought smiles, joy, and grace to a hurting world. It was a miracle. In a moment when we needed one, there it was. “Greater works than these.”

There is so much that we can focus on that points us to the brokenness of the world. Points us to the fallenness of humanity. And yet, the Spirit of God resides within us and there is good in this world. What if our witness is pointing to Christ in the goodness of this creation that is already around us. Pointing to Christ in the acts of goodness in this world. Pointing to Christ in the hope of abundant life. Pointing to Christ in love, grace, and mercy for one another.

[1] Karoline Lewis, John, 189-190

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