These words are among Jesus’ most well-known and beloved words. And with good reason — who doesn’t love hearing about heaven waiting for us? I missed talking about Harold Camping on the Sunday previous to his bogus prophecy, but it fit to talk about him this week. After all, the Rapture is supposed to be when all the true believers get to go to heaven…too bad it’s not taught anywhere in the Bible. In the introduction I tried to let my hearers connect with a little of the anger and frustration that many of Camping’s followers must have felt when they were let down. They were lied to, but part of it was their own fault for not knowing what the Bible really says. This sort of thing is preventable. Once again Martin Luther’s words about a single word of Scripture being bigger than the entire world come to mind. One verse can kill the Rapture dead in the water: ““No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (matt 24.36 niv84) People, know your Bibles! How are you going to know when you’re being lied to?
Stephen Hawking also made the news recently, and his words caught my attention, so they made it into the sermon. Once again he dismissed heaven as “a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” I applaud him for having the courage of his convictions (especially with the terrible disease he lives with every day), but his reason and his flesh have blinded him to the truth. He sees only what his sin allows him to: just matter in motion, and nothing more. Sad, really. Atheists interest me, not least because there’s often a very thin line between their point and the doubts raised in our own minds. There’s a part of us that is forever atheistic, never converted until at last it is extinguished in the holy light of heaven. We all struggle with it every day. Atheists just have given into it wholesale.
May Jesus bless you with faith as you hear His Word, and may your hearts not be troubled.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (john 14.1-12 niv84)
Apparently we’re not supposed to be here. Harold Camping, a preacher in California who predicted that the Rapture would be yesterday, said so. He claimed that all the true believers would be taken up to heaven and leave the rest of us here to be punished. It doesn’t look like it happened, so now what? I was all set to go. I wanted to be done living in this world. I didn’t give away all my money or my possessions, but it sounded nice to finally go to heaven. Harold Camping, you lied to us. You weren’t the first and you weren’t the last, but all the same, you lied to us. You promised us that we’d be going to heaven, and here we sit. And now in our gospel for today, somebody else promises us that we’re going to heaven. Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you.” How do we know He’s not lying to us like all the rest? How do we know that His word is true, unlike Harold Camping’s? Jesus says, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” That saying of Jesus will guide today as we ponder His Word. Jesus is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.
Jesus starts with an encouragement and a promise. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me.” Sweeter words than these were never spoken. When Jesus says not to be troubled, not to be worried, you know that it’s true. There can be nothing to worry about, when it’s Jesus telling you not to be troubled. He’ll tell us why we don’t need to be troubled in the verses that follow. “In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me where I am.” Jesus promises us that we have a place in heaven. It’s ours; it has our name on it. Nobody can take it away from us. It is guaranteed for us.
Two things guarantee our place in heaven: Jesus’ word and His going away. Because Jesus says it, it will happen. He is incapable of lying to us. You can put your full weight on every one of Jesus’ promises, because none of them ever fall to the ground. Jesus is the only one who will never let you down – ever. Jesus’ going away included a lot. It included His death on the cross, His rising from the dead, and His ascension into heaven. John often speaks of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension as going to the Father or passing out of this world. When Jesus said these words, it was Maundy Thursday. In a few hours He would be betrayed. Within a day He would be dead. Even though He’d told them many times, the disciples don’t understand what Jesus is talking about, so He simply says that He is going away – but it includes so much.
Along with a place in heaven, Jesus promises to take us there: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” There’s only one moment that Jesus will return — at the end of time. Someone might ask, what about when you die? Jesus doesn’t come and get us when we die. We go to Him. He has ascended to heaven and He will be there until He comes on the clouds of heaven. If anyone goes with us or brings us into God’s presence in heaven, it’s the angels. The story of poor Lazarus and the rich man, and also some of Jesus’ parables, teach this. The souls of those who died in the Lord are already with Him, and He will bring them back when He returns. They will be reunited with their bodies, and then all believers will get to go to heaven to be with their Lord forever. Jesus has already ascended to heaven, and that means He’s coming back – even if we don’t know the exact day or hour, as some people claim from time to time.
Understandably, all this is upsetting to the disciples. They have a hard time understanding what Jesus is talking about. He’s told them much of this before, but they were slow to understand. They didn’t always get it until long after the fact. Thomas speaks up: “Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas’ question is an honest one – especially the second half. We Good Christian people sometimes talk as if we’re unsure about our salvation. Maybe it’s just being polite, or maybe we recognize that there’s an awful lot about dying and heaven and hell that we don’t know, but we sometimes say things like, “I sure hope I get there, I think I will, I want to” – but we feel like we can’t quite be absolute about it. In one way or another, many of us ask Thomas’ question for ourselves: how are we able to know the way to heaven?
You graduates, you’re going out into a world that won’t help you answer that question. They may give you all sorts of ready answers, but they’ll be wrong. Or they’ll simply tell you flat out that God doesn’t exist. Typical is something that Stephen Hawking, a famous scientist, said recently: “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” Heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark. Compare that with what Jesus says. Now, Jesus has been to heaven, and He’s there right now. I’d rather take His word over that of Stephen Hawking, however smart he might be otherwise. You need to remember what Jesus says next to help guide you through this life.
“I am the way and the truth and the life.” He is the way – not one way of many, but the only way there is. Jesus had just told us that we know the way to the place where He was going, and here He shows us that He’s talking about Himself. If we know Jesus, we know the way to heaven. He alone guarantees eternal life for us. There is no other way, but this way is open to all who believe in Him. Just trust that Jesus’ promises to you are true, and nothing else is needed. Jesus is the truth. He doesn’t just say truthful things; He’s not just exceptionally honest. He is truth personified. The truest picture or image for us of what God is like is embodied in Jesus Christ. God’s entire plan of salvation, His entire plan to have you in heaven with Him, is wrapped up in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Everything about the way God deals with sinners is found in Jesus. He is the life. This is not a figure of speech. Everything and everyone that lives gets its life from Jesus. He is the creator and sustainer of all life. All things are from Him and to Him and through Him, St. Paul tells us. He gives all things life in this world and He gives eternal life to all who believe in Him.
Because we know Jesus, we know the Father as well. Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being. Everything the Father is, Jesus is as well. They are one, even though they are separate persons and Jesus took on flesh. For Jesus, seeing Himself was the same as seeing the Father. That alone should tell us something about Jesus.
Philip doesn’t understand that Jesus and the Father are one. He thinks he’s asking for something simpler or easier when he asks Jesus to show them the Father. His request actually hurts Jesus. Jesus chides him for asking this. “C’mon, Philip, you should know better than that. Don’t you know Me?”Jesus points to two things that prove who He is: His words and His works. Jesus says that His words are not His own, but instead they come from the Father. Elsewhere Jesus said that everything He said was just what the Father told Him to say. Jesus never came with His own agenda or ideas. He only came to show us God – to make our God known to us. Jesus also points to His works. Jesus’ works are broader than just miracles, although we can certainly include those. Jesus not only healed the blind and fed the five thousand, He also preached the gospel, rebuked error, and comforted those who were bothered by their sins. All these things were proof that Jesus was who He said He was – the Son of God, true God as well as true man.
Jesus says that we will do what He was doing, and that we would do even greater things than these. That’s kind of startling to hear. We wonder what we’re going to do that’s greater than what Jesus can do. He walked on water! He raised the dead! What are we going to do that He didn’t do? It helps to keep in mind that Jesus is talking about more than just miracles when you read v. 12. Jesus is referring primarily to the things God does through His Word. People coming to know Him, faith taking root and growing in a child’s heart, someone repenting of their sins and turning to God for forgiveness – these are all things that we can accomplish when we use God’s Word. God’s Word actually does the heavy lifting, but when we use God’s Word, we accomplish those things. That’s how we do greater things than Jesus, who was God walking on earth.
Jesus and Harold Camping may have promised similar things, but only Jesus can deliver on them. Only Jesus is God’s Son. Only He reveals to us that He is the way, the truth, and the life. God grant that we believe in Him as the only way and at last are saved. Amen.