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Jesus is sitting with his closest friends and followers. The eleven are there–Judas, the one who would betray him, had already left.

Jesus wants to help these dear friends make sense of what he has been saying. He has told them he is going to be delivered over to the authorities, he is going to be tried and unjustly condemned, he will be horribly crucified, he will die. He has explained that one of their own will betray him, that all of them will flee, and that one of the leaders among them will swear with oaths that he doesn’t even know this Jesus.

Understandably, they are devastated. They had been living with Jesus for years–day in and day out sharing life with him, watching and participating in some incredible ministry. But that doesn’t look like it’s going to continue. And they are, with reason, distraught.

So he speaks to them words of comfort:

“Do not let you heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1).

Because of the way that Greek works, there is a little debate about whether Jesus is offering commands (as in “I tell you to believe . . .”) or whether he is affirming something (as in “You do believe in God . . .”). But regardless of how that debate is resolved, the essence of what Jesus said is clear.

In the way that Old Testament “saints” understood believing in God, Jesus wants these friends (and, by extension, all of his friends . . . including us) to believe in him. That “believing” is more than just affirming truth about God, agreeing with what God has revealed about himself. To believe in God is to trust in, rely on, depend on, look to, rest in him.

Like Abraham did when depending on God to provide a promised son. Like Moses did in trusting in God to deliver the children of Israel. Like David did looking to God in his battle with Goliath. Like Elijah did resting in God as he asked God to send fire from heaven in a confrontation with false prophets.

Here is the antidote for trouble-heartedness–even in the face of such startlingly troubling news as had been shared with the eleven: Depend on Jesus, rest on Jesus, look to Jesus, rely on Jesus, believe in Jesus.

That is not religious cliché. That is more than a pat answer. Coming to understand what that is like, how to live there, what that will mean, is the foundation for life in the midst of incomprehensible hardship. And Jesus begins his words of comfort with this invitation.

Jesus says, “Believe in me!”

It seems to me to be a fitting invitation at the start of this new year. In the weeks to come I’ll be living in Jesus word’s to his friends as found in the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-17). And we start here. The foundation for the coming year: Believing in Jesus.

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Jesus has invested time over many years with these men. They have travelled together, labored together, taken meals together, faced challenges together. He has taught them, comforted them, empowered them, led them. Now he sits with them around a table in an upper room to share a Passover meal with them–something he most likely has done more than once in their journey together.

As he sits there with them, he knows. In a few hours they will all abandon him. They will pray together, but before the evening is out they will all scatter, abandoning him. Most will simply flee their separate ways when trouble comes. But that one, Judas, has already made arrangements to sell Jesus out to those who are seeking his death. And the one sitting near him, Peter, will publicly declare with oaths that he doesn’t even know the man named Jesus from Nazareth.

None of them will give back in relationship with Jesus anything like the love and attention and affection and kindness and grace and service that he has lavishly poured out on them. Having taken so much from him, they will leave him alone. And he knows this.

That is what makes what happens in that upper room so marvelously helpful in understanding what it means to “follow Jesus.”

Jesus knowing that his hour had come that he would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. . .  Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, he girded himself. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. (John 14:1-5)

Jesus loved his own, loving them all the way “to the end.” Jesus served them by washing their feet because the need was real and he was willing to serve them. Jesus washed the feet of those who would abandon him. Jesus ministered to those who would deny and betray and leave him. Jesus was free to live in the kind of love that we are called to extend to one another because he was living in a non-reciprocal relationship with his disciples.

Jesus was going to be who the Father wanted him to be–who he wanted to be–regardless of how these avowed “close friends” did or did not reciprocate. Jesus was going to love freely, give freely, serve freely, expecting nothing in return.

He looks so much like his Father doing that! (Luke 6:35)

Three times in his discussion with his friends while in the upper room before his death, Jesus underscored what he was saying by using the expression “Truly, truly, I say to you” (or, “Amen, amen,” depending on the translation). The words appear in John 14:12 and 14:20 (both passages which have been explored in previous posts) and in 14:23-24 (which was the focus of one prior post as well).

The third time it is recorded that Jesus used this expression, he is speaking about prayer.

“In that day you will not question me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.”  (John 14:23-24)

Jesus clearly wants his followers–and that includes those of us who have entered into relationship with him who are alive today–to “ask the Father” and have those requested granted. For many contemporary followers of Jesus, that kind of praying seems a bit foreign.

We have experienced praying for something and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting only to conclude that nothing (apparently) is going to happen. We have also experienced asking the Father for something in prayer and seemingly getting something other than we have asked only to conclude that the Father has responded to the prayer by giving us something better for us although it was not what we specifically asked for.

But in this passage Jesus seems to be saying that there will come a time–for his followers in the upper room it was a day yet to come and for us it is the day in which we live–where we will ask the Father for specific things and he will grant those very things we ask.

Now before you go off and start insisting that Father grant you a girlfriend or boyfriend (or spouse!) to your liking, or begin making requests for new cars and a better job and straighter teeth and more hair, we have to listen to all that Jesus says about praying this way. And the critical piece seems to be that this kind of prayer that gets answered in such clear and positive ways is prayer that is offered “in Jesus’ name.”

That is not just a postscript tacked on to the end of our prayers. To pray “in Jesus’ name” does not mean we are supposed to add the phrase “in the name of Jesus” to our litany of requests. It is not a formula; it is not a “magic word” that guarantees we get our prayers answered the way we want.

To pray “in the name of Jesus” is about the way and the how and the why of our praying and not merely about the words we say.

Back in the Old Testament, in 1 Samuel 25:5, David the king of Israel, sent some soldiers to a man named Nabal and required of them to greet Nabal “in my name.” This could not have meant that David thought these soldiers would simply tack on the words “in David’s name” to their greeting when meeting Nabal (although, of course, they could have used those words). To greet Nabal in David’s name was to greet him as David’s representatives, standing before Nabal in David’s place, greeting him the way David himself would have had he been there, relating to Nabal the very way that David would have if he himself had been able to come.

And therein is a simple picture of what it means to pray “in Jesus name.”

If our praying–our requests raised to the Father–are a genuine outgrowth of our intimacy with Jesus and we ask for what we do as Jesus’ representatives, standing before the Father clothed in Jesus, speaking to the Father the way Jesus himself would, relating to the Father the way Jesus does (because Jesus made a way for us to do that!), and asking for the kinds of things that Jesus draws us to ask, then we can be assured that the Father will answer such prayers.

Praying “in Jesus’ name” is not about tacking on a postscript to our prayers but about praying as an expression of our deep and abiding intimacy with Jesus.

In Jesus’ exchange with his friends in the upper room before his betrayal and death, three times he underscored what he wanted them to understand by introducing a remark by saying, “Truly, truly” (or “Amen, Amen;” a Hebraic expression that serves as something of a verbal underscore of what follows). The three times Jesus uses this expression are John 14:12; 16:20 and 16:23. (See the post “Are We Sure About That?” and previous posts on the John 14:12.)

The second time Jesus uses this introductory phrase, he is talking about his impending death.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned to joy.” (John 16:20)

In anticipating his crucifixion, Jesus makes a few clear assertions:

The world–those who are not part of his fellowship of friends–are going to rejoice over the event.

His followers will weep and lament and grieve–they will taste real sorrow.

His followers will not remain in grief–they will end up with real joy.

One of the intriguing things about what Jesus says here is that the same root word is is used to speak of the rejoicing of the world at his death and the joy of the disciples that will be theirs. There will be evident joy, expressed delight–first for the world in Jesus’ death and then, subsequently, for the followers of Jesus.

If you were at the cross, watching as Jesus’ life flowed out in blood, you would have seen. The religious leaders were making light of Jesus’ crucifixion. They jeered him, abused him, were glad that this trouble-maker was going to be finally put to rest. The soldiers at the foot of the cross were gambling for the belongings of the condemned. It would have been evident that both Romans and Jews were glad to be rid of Jesus–their joy in seeing him removed from the picture would have been clear.

Yes, the followers of Jesus experienced sorrow and grief at his death. Watching from a distance, their eyes would have been filled with tears and their hearts filled with anguish. But that was not going to last. As certain as was their sorrow, as certain the world’s rejoicing, so certain would be their heart-felt and evident joy.

Jesus explains this, drawing on the illustration of a woman giving birth. The pain of the childbirth brings anguish. But such anguish is short-lived and not-remembered, overwhelmed in the joy of the birth of the child. Applying this metaphor, Jesus says, “Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (14:22).

The joy the mother has in the birth of her child is an evident, expressive joy. The joy the disciples will have in seeing the risen Savior will be an evident, expressive joy.

I wonder. Am I living in this “Truly, truly” truth of Jesus? Seeing as we are living in the post-resurrection world, I wonder if I am genuinely living in the heart-rejoicing, “no one will take your joy away” kind of delight in our risen and living Friend?

I have been living in Jesus’ words, spoken to his friends while they were in the “upper room” together, for some time now. In John 14-16, Jesus is explaining to these friends how they are to do life after he is no longer physically present with them. He was not going to be physically present with them any longer (after his resurrection and ascension) but he wanted them to understand how they would continue to have life with him and continue to participate with him in his ongoing ministry. That means that what he said to them really should have bearing on our lives–seeing as we are doing life with him when he is not physically present with us and seeing as we really long to participate with him in what he is continuing to do in the world.

One of the “ah-ha’s” that broke in on me in a fresh way just this week was nudged along by a phrase Jesus repeated in that short explanation. In this section, three times he says “Truly, truly” (literally, “Amen, amen;” a Hebraic expression that calls attention to what is about to be said as particularly significant; it’s like putting spoken words in bold face).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned to joy.” (John 16:20)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in my name, he will give it to you.” (John 16:23)

I’m a bit hesitant to post my thoughts about these three verses because: 1) it will be easy to take what I say out of context–both out of the context of Jesus’ words because I am only citing three sentences from the whole discussion in the upper room and out of the context of my way of thinking about life with Jesus because I get to only say a little in a post like this; 2) it will be easy for some to push back against what I think because the way these words are read and understood by many followers of Jesus; and 3) because these verses have been used to advocate some weird teachings over the years and I risk being identified with such weirdness even in calling attention to these things. However, with those caveats, a few thoughts.

Jesus wanted his followers to get these three ideas–among the other things he was sharing with them. These three were particularly important to grasp. Specifically:

From John 14:12: “I want you to actually participate in the kinds of things that I have been doing.”

From John 16:20: “Although you will grieve over the crucifixion, I want you to experience real and deep joy in this life with me.”

From John 16:23: “I want you to be confident in asking the Father for things consistent with what you know of me and my intentions.”

Participating in the kinds of things he himself was doing, living in the rich joy that radiates out from the reality of the resurrection, and experiencing a prayers-being-answered kind of living anchored in our relationship with Jesus. He wanted his followers to be sure about those things. He wanted them to understand that, at least in part, this was going to be their experience in life when he was no longer physically with them, although still present and active in their lives.

What struck me was if Jesus was underscoring these three things as significant facets off their post-resurrection/ascension lives with him, then seeing as we are living as followers of Jesus post-resurrection/ascension, this is likely the kind of life he wants for us.

Am I actually participating in the kind of things that Jesus was doing? Am I living in a real and vibrant joy because of his resurrection? Am I experiencing a life of prayer, rooted in my relationship with Jesus and anchored in what he wants, where I am seeing the Father answer prayers?

I tend to think we answer that with a qualified, “Well, maybe, kinda, sort of . . . at times, perhaps . . . I think.” It doesn’t always seem to me that we are living as sure of these things as Jesus wants for us.

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