JESUS PREPARES A PLACE FOR YOU
John 14: 1-11
All through the month of May we are blessed to hear words of Jesus as recounted by his disciple John. John loved Jesus almost like a child would love his mother or his father; perhaps even a little more than that. John referred to himself as “The disciple who Jesus loved,” and I am certain he did so out of a feeling of unworthiness and gratitude. So when he reports about Jesus, he does it through a lens of adoration and appreciation. We recounted last week that Jesus was “The Good Shepherd.” And Jesus explained what that meant. Jesus said he was also “The gate” for the sheep, and that any predator or bandit would get to the sheep only over his dead body. Jesus, in John’s gospel, talks to the disciples as if they are frightened of being abandoned. We’ll address their specific fears of abandonment next week. But today we need this context to understand the tone of Jesus’ words. Sometimes people use fearful terminology to described Jesus’ second coming to earth. Some warn that “we must be ready, or we’ll be left behind.” Others say we have to read the signs of the times to see when Jesus will come again, to be “ready” for him. Generally those fearful images are taken from the prophet Joel, from 1 Thessalonians, from one of the other gospels, and sometimes from Revelation. But Jesus in John’s gospel would never put fear in the hearts of the sheep; remember: last week we read in John 10 that Jesus is not just the good shepherd to his sheep but to the sheep: to all the sheep. So Jesus is for the world. And Jesus in John’s gospel tries to be as comforting as a good mother is with her infant, or a good father or good teacher is with their instruction. Jesus tries to be a calming influence, not a fearful one. Let’s turn to these famous words.
“Let not your hearts be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me.”
We get to listen in to this gentle lesson. It’s the kind of message someone about to die wants to say to children or other loved ones. Do you believe in God? If you do, then you can easily listen in to Jesus’ comforting words. If you don’t, you aren’t condemned harshly; you just may not be ready to buy into the promises to follow. But for those grown men—those disciples—who were not ready to move from their “follower” designation to leader, Jesus understood. Have you ever run a committee, or an Association, or a Club and you became ready to step down? You asked which of your wonderful workers would step up and assume the leadership role? And the room grows silent? Not everyone is made to lead. On the other hand, many who decided to step into a leadership position grew into it and became a good leader. Jesus was about to drop his disciples in the deep end of the pool; he was trying to prepare them. He would not be there to lead them or save them much longer. If you have ever seen geese overhead, for example, they fly in a V shaped pattern as they make their way during migration times. Scientists have studied them and believe the geese honk their encouragement to the leader in front. That one has the hardest job to do: choosing the direction to go and facing all the headwinds. But once the one in front begins to tire, that goose is allowed to fall back and another takes the lead. It is a wonderful way to not wear down or burn out a leader. So Jesus is easing his followers into leadership. Like children who have had both parents die, they have to figure out paperwork, and make decisions, and put their untested skills to use. Jesus knew that the Twelve had been followers; soon they would go into the world as leaders, because their leader would be gone. He was comforting them and preparing them.
Next, Jesus says “In my Father’s house are many” —what? Mansions? Rooms? Dwelling places? That’s the question. The King James translators wrote “Mansions” which led to a lot of hopes for getting a “Mansion in the sky.” Is it gated? Is it lovely? Is it exclusive? The truth is more realistic. This story is based on the marriage arrangement for Jews that Jesus had been exposed to all his life. When it was time for a Jewish father to choose a bride for his son, he looked over the brides in the area and chose one for his son. He then went to the bride’s father to see if he would agree to the arrangement. The bride’s father might have agreed, but he would ask a considerable price for his daughter’s hand in marriage. If an arrangement was reached, the father of the bride would tell his daughter that her marriage had been arranged; then the father of the groom would depart with his son to return to the father’s house to build a room on the father’s house. It would be where the new couple would live: a place prepared for them. The father then would begin to make sure than his son not only learned the construction trade, but he also worked to prepare his son to be a husband and later a father. No one knew when the father decided his son was ready; not the son, not the father of the bride, not the bride. The bride and her bridesmaids just had to be ready. There would be no signs along the way. Only the father knew and sent a messenger just before his son returned. Then and only then would he return to get his bride-to-be (who had to be ready) and take her to the place he had prepared for her. It was a room on the father’s house. So the best word in verse 2 is “room,” not “mansion” or “dwelling place.” This is the tone of this passage: it is comforting and using the familiar situation (familiar to then at least) of Jesus, sometimes called “the groom,” returning to get his bride, who are the members of his Church-his followers. Jesus says to his disciples and to us, in so many words, “I love you that much.” Bible teacher Ray Vanderlaan says Jesus asks you, and asks me, “Will you be my spiritual bride?” How lovely. It’s not weird; it’s gentle, and it soothing. It is not threatening or harsh.
Third, Jesus even lets an objection rise when he says to them “You know the way.” Thomas was troubled and Jesus lets him ask a question, even as he lets him doubt later that Jesus had risen from the dead. “Lord, we do not know where you’re going; how can we?” Jesus, perhaps with a sigh because he thought these men had understood him, still said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” I sometimes cringe at the way that’s interpreted. It is used as an exclusive warning to those who don’t believe in Jesus as Savior; a way that excludes others. But remember; this is the Gospel of John. This is the Gospel that says in chapter one “In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus was even in the beginning; with God, and equal to God. That means that for anyone who has died, according to John’s Jesus, he did not just get born by Mary; he existed since the beginning of time. Could it be that, from the beginning of time, no one came to the Father but by Him because he was equal to and with the Creator? If so, it is meant to comfort; not to scare, or to exclude. He is saying, ‘Hey, I was there when you were created; I will see you again as you depart.” It is very, very comforting. The hymn “I was There to Hear Your Borning Cry” can be attributed to Jesus. The first line proclaims to the recently baptized person: “I was there to hear your borning cry, I’ll be there when you are old. I rejoiced the day you were baptized to see your life unfold.” John’s Jesus even gives some evidence toward that stance of Jesus and the Father being one in knowledge and presence. Phillip, like a child, says “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Our ever patient Jesus (except with moneychangers in the Temple) said “I am in the Father and the Father in me; anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” They were together in the beginning; they will be together in the end. And in between, like a loving mother, or a caring father, or a loving groom, we are reassured that there will be a room prepared for us too. It’s attached to the Father’s house for connection, but it’s separated enough to be your place. A place for you. How many children who shared a room with a brother or sister were excited when they finally got their own room? Or maybe that day hasn’t happened yet for you! Or perhaps sharing conversations and space are fine with you! Whatever works for you here will be prepared for you there. That’s the kind of Jesus we find in John.
When Jesus comes to get us: whether it is at our death or at his second coming, we have a loving groom coming to welcome his bride- that is, members of his church or the sheep from the flock. Though the good shepherd is the shepherd to all sheep, he is messiah to those who call him Lord. And there is a place prepared for you; and for me. Invite others to know him, not with the threat that they’ll be left behind, because they will feel so cared for and welcome. Like Isaiah once quote God, Jesus certainly knew these words: “Comfort, comfort my people. Speak tenderly to them and call out to them.” It seems like Jesus is using the best pastoral care and loving care he knows how to offer. Receive it in that way. Whether you are rattled or confused; whether you are sick or well; whether you are a disciple or a seeker or a bystander, consider the man who stilled the waters; he can also still your heart on issues like this.
Jeffrey A. Sumner May 14, 2017