It was a packed few hours – that time between the “Last Supper” and the short walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had much to say to His disciples as He prepared to leave them. Chapters 13-17 of John record Jesus’ words during these hours in more detail than we find anywhere else. He told them that he would not be with them much longer, but that He would send the Holy Spirit. He told them that He was going to prepare a place for them and would receive them to Himself. He told them that, although they didn’t fully believe Him at that time, they would come to believe. That He had chosen them and appointed them to bear abiding fruit. He also told them that they would suffer for His name. That they would weep while the world rejoices, but that their sorrow would be turned to a fullness of joy that could not be taken away. He told them that He had “many other things to say” to them (16:12), but that they would not be able to bear them yet.
Of all the things that Jesus said to his disciples in these hours, there is one that leaps off the page. It’s not that Jesus hadn’t said something like it before. He had done so on a number of occasions. But this was said so strongly and plainly and in a crisis moment. It seems that the disciples still didn’t grasp it at the time, but, later, their lives and ministries gave evidence that this statement from the lips of their Lord had struck home and transformed them. Let’s hear these words and consider their significance:
“… the Father himself loves you…” (16:27)
If at first this doesn’t amaze you, go back and read it again. Note the subject, the verb, and the object. Note the reflexive pronoun, “himself.” This is easy to pass over, but it is absolutely essential to grasp. In these last hours before His departure, Jesus was eager for His disciples to hear and understand the implications of this truth. It’s foundational to everything else He had said and to their lives – and ours – from that point on.
From the time many of us were young, we have sung the song, “Jesus Loves Me.” And, for all who believe in Him, it’s thrillingly true! The Bible tells us so! But there is a love behind Jesus’ love for his own. In Jesus’ love for those He came to seek and to save, there is an expression of another love – not a different love, but another love.
Jesus loved His disciples. He cared for them. He prayed for them. He fed them. He calmed their fears. He taught them. He corrected them. His love was complete: He loved them to the end (13:1). His love was greater than all other loves: He was on His way to lay down His life for them as His friends (15:13-14). Jesus loved His disciples deeply, and they knew it. But, as His time with them was coming to an end, He was eager that they also know another love – a love that would be with them always.
Jesus had told His disciples about this other love. He said things such as, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” (3:35) And, “… the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.” (5:20) And, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” (10:17) And one more, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (15:9-10)
But here in chapters sixteen and seventeen, we see an important transition.
Children Of the Father
In all of Jesus’ ministry, He was pointing His disciples to the Father. This is a major theme of John’s gospel. There was an emphasis on the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Father loves the Son, and the Son submits to and obeys the Father. Jesus taught and portrayed this in many ways.
However, in these last hours, Jesus was urgently drawing His disciples to the Father. In essence, He said that the relationship they had witnessed Him having with the Father is the relationship they also had with the Father. The disciples, having experienced the love of Jesus, could perhaps imagine the love of the Father flowing through the Son to them. Indeed it did, but the fullness of reality was unimaginably greater – the Father loved them Himself!
Imagine with me a retelling of the story of the “Prodigal Son.” (Luke 15:11-32) In this rendition, the elder brother loves the father and delights to do whatever is in the father’s heart. After the younger brother has alienated himself from the family and gone into the far country to pursue the satisfaction of his fleshly desires, the father sends the elder brother to the younger. The elder brother finds the younger and spends time with him talking about and demonstrating the love of the father. Over time, the younger brother begins to listen to his older brother and to love him and repent of his wickedness, but he is uncertain of the relationship with their father. The older brother assures him, “Go to our father. He loves you just as he loves me. In love, he sent me to find you and bring you back. Because you have received me and loved me, he will receive you and love you.”
This retelling of the “Prodigal Son” story is not purely imagination. In fact, this is the story of the Gospel in a nutshell. Jesus is that kind of elder brother. The parable He told in Luke 15 was a rebuke of the religious leaders who took issue with Him for doing just that – going after the lost sheep of Israel. And, here in John 16, he is encouraging these disciples, who have only a little faith, to come to the Father and rest in His love.
God permitting, we’ll look in the next few days at a couple of other aspects of the Father’s love as revealed by the Son in these two verses: John 16:26-27. We’ll consider the gracious nature of the Father’s love and some of the astounding implications. There’s just too much to put in one meditation!
The assurance of this great love from the Father is shared by all of His children – the Son Himself as well those who receive and love the Son as the Redeemer sent by God to save lost sinners. (John 1:11-13; 1 John 3:1)
“… the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” God grant to us such faith and love!