+ Easter 5 – May 18th 2014 +
Series A: Act 6:1-9; 7:51-60; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Context. Context. Context. That’s said not only for emphasis but because it’s dangerous to read only one bible passage and then close the book and go on using that bible verse like an Oprah quote on a Starbucks coffee cup. Someone even wrote a little booklet called “Never Read a Bible Verse”. In other words, don’t just read one; read more; read several. Take a moment or two to study the verses before and after. Look at the chapter and that verse’s placement in it. Then look at the surrounding chapters. Context is incredibly important. Today’s Gospel reading is a good example of why.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
What’s Jesus saying here? If you only read today’s reading you wouldn’t have the whole picture. Why are the disciples troubled? Why does Jesus comfort them? Where’s Jesus going? How does he prepare a room for us?
Of course, looking at the context doesn’t always answer all our questions, but hopefully it helps us ask the right ones. So that we ask them on the basis of God’s Word and not whatever we feel this or that passage means to me. That’s about as helpful as reading a book in the dark with sunglasses on.
One simple, three-word question that will help us when reading the Bible: “what’s the context?”
John 14 lands right in the middle of the Holy Thursday events. Jesus and his disciples are in the upper room. In the previous chapter there was the feet washing. The Lord of all became the servant of all. And he established the Lord’s Supper to feed us with his body and blood for our forgiveness. Take eat; this is my body. Take drink; this is my blood shed for you. Quite a lot going on that Thursday night, isn’t there!
And just before our reading today in John 14, Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray him. He told Peter that he would deny him three times before the rooster crows. And shortly before all of that Jesus predicted his suffering and death. Now there’s some delightful dinner conversation.
No wonder the disciples are uneasy, confused, and doubted. And we have a lot in common with the disciples. We don’t always understand Jesus’ word, no matter how many times Jesus repeats it. We don’t always trust his word and his will. Like the Jews whom Stephen addresses in Acts 7, we’re a stiff-necked people. And though we probably haven’t picked up stones to throw at any of our neighbors recently, we’ve all committed murder in our hearts towards those around us whether at home or church or anywhere else. We’ve received the Law, and we’re no better at keeping it than Israel was. Yes, we’re right there with the disciples in that upper room, confused, scared, and sinful.
But then Jesus speaks. Into the chaos of our uncertainty, he speaks a trustworthy, dependable word. Into the darkness of our doubt and bewilderment, he speaks brings the light of hope and life eternal. Into our troubled hearts he brings a word of consolation:
Let not your hearts be troubled.
For as many times as we have misunderstood God’s Word, Jesus speaks to us again and again. He doesn’t give you the silent treatment. He is patient, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. For as many times as we’ve failed to trust his promises and provision for us, Jesus perfectly trusts in the Father’s Word and will for you, on your behalf. That’s what he was doing in that upper room, and in the garden, and during that trial, and on the cross – all for you.
Jesus’ word of comfort is greater than your fear. Jesus’ death is greater than your guilt. Jesus sacrifice on the cross is greater than your sin and the joy of his resurrection is greater than your shame, replacing it with unending, eternal joy.
In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
We join Thomas in wondering: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” None of the disciples get it until Jesus dies and rises. Thomas was thinking in terms of a trip, like heading up to Big Bear or out to Catalina. Problem is, you can’t get to heaven with a GPS; it’s not that kind of place. You need more than a guide or a Sherpa. You need the promise Jesus gives:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Jesus doesn’t show the way, as though the way to the Father was to do certain things, to imitate what Jesus would do. Moses showed the way; Jesus is the Way. Jesus doesn’t simply speak the truth; He is the Truth. His Word is truth and life. And Jesus doesn’t simply give life, He is the Life. He is your life.
Jesus is the way, the truth, the life…for you and for all.
That’s how he prepares a place for you. By living for you. Keeping the Law for you. Suffering for you. Bleeding, praying, and dying for you. By descending to hell, rising from the dead, and ascending to heaven for you. So if you want to know if heaven is for real, I don’t suggest starting at Barnes and Noble or your local movie theater. Look to Christ. Listen to his Word. What could be better than that?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
For you are living stones, being built up into a spiritual house. A many-roomed house. Not a deluxe apartment in the sky, but a holy house. The Lord’s house. One house. One Lord. One faith. One Baptism. One God and Father of us all. And he’s brought you here to this his house to baptize you, teach you, declare his promises to you, and feed you with forgiveness, life and salvation.
Jesus is busy with his heavenly housework, in the church on earth and in heaven, preparing a place for us, and preparing us to tell other people of their place in heaven too.
Jesus goes on to say to his disciples that they will do even greater works than He has done. He’s going to the Father by way of His own death and resurrection. He will send the Spirit upon His church, and gathered in His name greater works than all the miracles Jesus ever performed would be done. Sinners would be justified in His Name and stand before God’s judgment acquitted. Men and women from every tribe and nation and language would be baptized, washed in the rebirthing and renewing bath of water and Word and become new creations in Christ.
Through the words and works of men, God gathers to Himself a holy nation, a chosen people, a royal and holy priesthood to declare the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. That’s the work and message of Church, to proclaim Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness, life, and salvation of the world.
And then there’s Jesus often misunderstood phrase:
“Truly, truly I say to you whatever you ask in my name,” Jesus says, “this I will do.”
“Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” Nope. Remember the word of the day: context! Not the way of prosperity, name it and claim it preachers. God isn’t a divine vending machine or a magic genie in a bottle. Read the verse in context: “that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Those are the prayers that come with this guarantee. What brings glory to the Father in the Son.
And what glorifies the Father in the Son? In John, especially, it’s when Jesus is lifted up high on a cross and dies. That’s His hour of power, His moment of glory when the Father is glorified in Him. And that is your moment of glory too, when you died with Christ in His death, and through Baptism were buried with Him, and rise to new life. Your reservation’s already made in Jesus’ dying and rising. And your place in heaven is prepared.
Therefore, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.