Sometimes, when you don’t understand what’s going on, you just smile and nod. Smile and nod. Maybe nobody will notice. The last thing you want is for someone to look straight at you and say, “You really don’t have a clue, do you?”
The disciples believe they’ve understood what Jesus said about leaving the world and going back to the Father; “We believe you have come from God,” they declare confidently. As we saw in the previous post, however, Jesus responds not to the content of their statement, but to the overconfidence it represents. He predicts that very shortly they will panic and abandon him. Hardly the behavior you’d want from those who claim to be following someone they know came straight from God.
But Jesus doesn’t say this to shame them, nor to convince them not to flee. He says it for their good:
I’ve said these things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world. (John 16:33, CEB)
What was about to happen in the garden of Gethsemane was only the beginning of the disciples’ troubles. One can only imagine how they felt afterward. Peter, for example, as predicted, would deny Jesus and sob with guilt and regret (Mark 14:72). The disciples would cower in fear behind locked doors (John 20:19). And even after the resurrection, they would face persecution and all manner of distress, even execution.
Jesus knows this, and has tried to warn them, to the extent that they are able to hear. He is not berating or scolding them for their lack of faith. Quite the contrary: he is trying to build their faith and courage, to help them have peace in the midst of the coming distress.
Again, that’s pretty generous of spirit for one whose friends are about to abandon him.
But he knows something else that they don’t yet know or understand. For Jesus, his obedience to the Father is sure. From his perspective, the cross and the resurrection are already a done deal. The victory has already been won. He has already conquered the world, and he seems to think that this is the true ground for the disciples’ courage and confidence.
I’m reminded of Paul’s attitude in the face of hardship.
Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, We are being put to death all day long for your sake. We are treated like sheep for slaughter. But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. (Rom 8:35-39)
We may face trouble and distress, but nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Jesus has conquered death, and though we still die, resurrection is assured. We are therefore conquerors already, victors who can draw peace and courage from the fact that history is in the hands of a God who loves his children and guarantees their eternal destiny.
Jesus knew he had already won his battle; the rest was follow through. He was therefore able to have compassion for his disciples, to do and say what was best for them despite the way they would betray him. Paul says that we are also victors through Jesus. I wonder: what, then, stops us from also being able to extend patience and compassion to those in our lives who need it?