Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fifth Sunday of Easter + May 14, 2017
Text: John 14:1-14
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” The only reason Jesus says this to His disciples is because He knows their hearts are troubled. You don’t say “I am the Life” unless there’s the threat of death. You don’t say do not be troubled unless there is tumult and uncertainty.
Jesus was speaking to His disciples at that time as they were about to face His betrayal, crucifixion, death, and then His ascension. This arrangement where Jesus is with them face to face would not—could not—last forever, because it was necessary for Jesus to be taken from them in His suffering, and taken when He ascended into heaven 40 days after His resurrection.
The Ascension is coming, when Jesus’ disciples would lose their visible presence with the Lord. Now, the Ascension is something we confess each week—He ascended to the Father and sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty—but something that isn’t well understood. Thankfully, these next few weeks, each Gospel reading will teach us about the significance and comfort of Jesus’ Ascension.
In this part of the Gospel, Jesus reassures us about His Ascension: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” “I go to prepare a place for you” and “I will come again and will take you to myself.”
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.”
Things like our bills, the direction of the country, and keeping our job cause great anxiety. How much more should it matter where we go when it’s all said and done?
Yet our Lord says about this: do not be troubled. It’s not based on performance evaluations or lifelong dedication. Instead He says, believe! Believe that He has done everything which is needed to bring a poor, weak, sinful creature back to God and bring them safely into eternal rest.
But how important it is to believe! Where faith reassures a troubled heart, unbelief leads to an uncertain and callous heart. The calling of a disciple of Jesus is to take Him at His Word each day. Repent of your wicked thoughts, words, and deeds. Believe in God and the One He has sent to accomplish your forgiveness, your salvation.
“I go to prepare a place for you.”
On Good Friday, the debt you owed was paid. Every sin which would bar you from God’s holy presence was atoned for there.
So, the comfort for you, as His disciple, is that He returns to the Father to prepare a place for your return to the Father.
This life is a pilgrimage, not a destination. The true end of life is not the grim grave. It is to have a place with God. What counts in the meantime is not our achievements here or how much we collect (because we must let all that go). What truly lasts when this life comes to a close is our faith in Jesus, who alone is the way to the Father and the resurrection to eternal life.
Yet in our pilgrimage, we go through many unknown ways—unknowns about the future and the struggles we and our families will have to endure, as well as unknowns about what will become of Christians in the world. Yet, Jesus assures us, “Let not your hearts be troubled…you know the way to where I am going.” Even though we haven’t seen the end of our journey, we already know the way. You may not know what lies on the road ahead, but you can be certain that through faith, your Savior has already prepared your place.
“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.”
Our comfort isn’t in the Ascension alone, but also in the fact that from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. He comes again to gather us into that promise of eternity.
Salvation is not complete yet. Yes, of course, the atonement which brought peace to all who believe is finished (John 19:30). However, the creation still longs in eager expectation for Jesus’ return and the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19-21). That’s why the world is still like it is, full of unrest and destruction. That part of the job isn’t finished yet.
So know where to expect paradise. Paradise won’t be in the body of death you now have—full of sin and plagued by death. Paradise won’t be in this world, filled with corruption and wickedness. It will be complete when we see the Son of Man coming on the clouds in glory. It will be when we rise from our graves finally free from the curse of sin and death. That’s the hope that we press toward, where our longings for outward peace will finally be satisfied.
Through many unknown ways, by faith we already know the only way to heaven. The way is Jesus, who has become your way to eternal life. Do not be troubled that He has ascended and is no longer visibly among us. Believe that He has gone ahead of us, as the forerunner so that the children of God may be at home with their Father. Amen.