God Prepares a Place

Text: John 14:1-14
Date: Easter V
+ 4/20/08
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

On the first few Sundays of Easter Holy Church recounts those first amazing days when Jesus, risen from the grave, appeared to His disciples. We do not recount all of His eleven recorded resurrection appearances, though His final appearance we will celebrate at His ascension on the fortieth day. But the Easter season is more than just the final farewell come back tour of the late, great Jesus of Nazareth. Beginning with His conversation with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and culminating in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit beginning on the Day of Pentecost, the risen Lord now opens the minds of His disciples that they may understand the Scriptures and everything He had done and said in His earthly ministry. Therefore, we think back and hear again some of those things He said before His Passion, this time with the understanding of faith enlightened with resurrection eyes.

These words from our Lord’s Maundy Thursday farewell discourse are familiar to our ears probably most especially as we hear them most often at Christian funerals. “Let not your hearts be troubled” we hear Him say even as we come face-to-face with that which troubles us most, namely, death. “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I go to prepare a place for you.” And whenever we hear these words we think, mainly, of His ascension and of heaven as our final destination. And that is good and right. But these words were spoken that night in which He was betrayed first with reference to His leaving His disciples by way of the cross and His approaching death. He was going where they and we cannot go: the cross. He was preparing to leave them through His death. Yet, in the light and reality now of His resurrection these words do also speak of His leaving for a place we can go, and by a Way we do know.

“Let not your hearts be troubled.” He spoke these words to those first disciples who were shaking with fear as they heard their Lord speak of leaving them! He said, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’” “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you’” (John 13:33, 36-37). Then these words “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

These are words spoken not as a helpless wish for His friends in the face the unknown, but as the Lord who was in total control of events even though it didn’t look like it at the time. It didn’t look like it because He was about to allow Himself to be taken captive, to be beaten, falsely accused, condemned and crucified. But all this was according to the Divine Plan, that He should be wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities (Is. 53:5), the Divine Plan by which He came to take away and triumph over sin and death for the whole world.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. I go to prepare a place for you.” That preparation required, first, a sufficient sacrifice. That place was His body on the cross. That was the Way, the only Way to open the kingdom of heaven for us. That was the Truth, the whole Truth that sin and death is the true enemy and that only a perfect, sinless, holy sacrifice had the power to defeat death. That was the Life, the Life in the blood shed for the life of the world. Now triumphant and risen from the dead He ascends to the right hand of the Majesty on high. Your place is prepared. Not a “condition” or a “concept” but a physical “place” prepared to be inhabited by physically resurrected people. Such is our hope.

Nevertheless, many are troubled, like Thomas, as if he was fiddling with his GPS unit he complained, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” But, you see, he did know where, and he did know the way because he knew Jesus. That’s the Way…or, rather, He’s the Way.

For who is He? He says, “If you had known me, you would have know my Father also.” Then it was Philip’s turn to express his anxiety, “Lord, show us the Father.” But Jesus is not only “a” way to the Father. He is not only a prophet, a teacher, a great rabbi. “Have I been so long with you, and you still do not know me, Philip?” “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” In Matthew’s Gospel we hear Jesus say, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).

Now, whatever your troubles or anxiety, the risen and ascended, living and reigning Lord has chosen to reveal to you, in His person and in His word, the Father. He says, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” As He was in total control of the events of His own suffering and death, so is He in total control of the events of your life so that, as the Apostle Paul said, “there is nothing anymore that can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). As the Psalm says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” (Ps. 46:1-2a).

Until our Lord’s promised return to take you to himself, that where He is you may be also, and to sustain our troubled hearts with faith, He has prepared a place for you at His table that He may be with you always. Here as we receive His very body and blood we are connected to His atoning death as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Here we learn the calm strength of faith to confess:

When from the dust of death I rise
To claim my mansion in the skies,
This then shall be my only plea:
Jesus hath lived and died for me. (LSB 563:5)

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Rev. Allen D. Lunneberg