Have you ever gotten to the point in your life where you feel you just can’t go on? I think we all have times like this. Maybe someone has hurt you. Maybe the pressures of life and work and family are starting to wear you down. Maybe you’re bearing the burden of some particular sin. We all have been in situations like this.
The disciples in the reading from chapter 14 of John’s Gospel are undergoing a similar stress. They’ve been with Jesus for three years, but now (in the previous chapter of the Gospel) Jesus has told them that he’s going to leave them. It is Thursday night, the night he’s going to be arrested; the next day he’ll be crucified. So, Jesus washes the disciple’s feet, tells them that one of them will betray him, urges them to love one another, and says that he is going someplace where they cannot go. Jesus has to trod the road alone for a while. When Peter promises to follow Jesus wherever he goes, even to death, Jesus tells Peter that Peter will, in fact, deny Jesus.
If you’ve ever had a deep conversation with someone that left you emotionally drained by the end, I imagine that this is how the disciples felt. Jesus has just laid a lot on them. They’ve left everything to follow him, and now he’s leaving. Have you ever felt like Jesus has left you? Have you ever felt abandoned? Have you ever felt faithless?
Well, Jesus made a promise to his disciples, and you, that although he was leaving, he is not abandoning them. He says: “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.”
But, Thomas protests, saying “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus responds, “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.”
You see, Jesus is leaving the disciples, but not abandoning them. It’s not that kind of leaving. No, he is leaving in order to prepare a place for them in the presence of his Father. He’s going on ahead to get things ready.
Jesus has not abandoned you. He is in heaven now, in the presence of his Father, preparing a place for you, interceding for you before his Father. He’s gone on ahead. And he can do this, because Jesus is God. He is the Son, the Second person of the Holy Trinity. We know the Father through Jesus. Jesus is the way to God, and he brings us along this path through the working of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is preparing a place for you in His presence, because you are His people.
We see St. Peter make a similar point in the second chapter of his first epistle (1 Peter 2:1-10). In verses 9 to 10, he refers back to the Lord’s promises to His people in Exodus to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. And Peter also refers back to the Lord’s promises in Hosea. The prophet Hosea had two children born to him by his wife. But, she was a prostitute, and these children were not Hosea’s. They illustrated the illegitimacy of sinful people who reject the Lord, both those of Israel – the Church – who had abandoned the Lord, and those of the nations – the Gentiles – who did not know the Lord. So, these two children were named “Not my people” and “No mercy” in order to represent all those who are apart from God. We were born this way, sinners turned away from God, like Hosea’s children were born alienated from him. Yet, God promised through Hosea that he would make “Not my people” His people, and would show mercy to “No mercy.”
So, look at what Peter says: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
God has fulfilled his promises in Exodus to you in Jesus Christ to make you His nation: a holy nation and a kingdom of priests. And He has also fulfilled His promises to “Not my people” and “No mercy” (i.e. you) by making you His people and giving you His mercy. He has done this for you and to you through Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life.
And so, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in [Jesus].” Jesus says it this way, because he is also God. It’s the mystery of the Trinity that we do not fully understand – one God in three persons. But, the important point is that since Jesus is God, and since he is in the presence of the Father, and since he prepares a place for you in his Father’s presence, you can bring your cares and concerns before him. When you get to the point in your life where you feel you just can’t go on, go to the way, the truth, and the life. When someone has hurt you, go to your comfort in Jesus. When the pressures of life and work and family start to wear you down, go to Jesus who bears these burdens with you, even to the point of the cross. When you’re bearing the burden of your own particular sin, go to Jesus in whom you have forgiveness and life.
Trust that the Lord will fulfill His promises. You are His people and He has brought you into a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, so you can call upon Him in your cares and troubles. For Jesus is the way, the only way, to God.
And what lies at the end of this “way” is life, not death. Jesus did not die and rise and ascend into the presence of the Father in order to abandon you in your sins or in death or separated from God and each other. No, he did all this to atone for and forgive your sins, bring you into life, and restore you to communion with God and each other. You have all this now, already. But, only in part. We still struggle with sin, we still face sickness and death, we still have things which taint our communion with God and each other.
Let me tell you a little story about my truck. I traded in an older truck for it last year, which had given me 11 years of good service. When I bought my new truck, it had only a few miles on it and was pristine inside and out.
But, what happens when you buy a new truck? Pretty soon, it gets a little beat up. It gets scratched. I have a ding on the back tailgate from the tip of the cross we use at church. Coffee and food has been spilt inside of it. All these things have marred my truck, which was perfect in the beginning.
Now, we can take this as a metaphor for how the fallen world is, but I want to personalize it even more. Take it as a metaphor for your relationships with other people. When we start out, things are perfect. Then, we get some dings and scratches along the way in our relationships. Now, there’s two ways to look at this. One way is to long for the way things were in the beginning, when everything was perfect. I did that for a long time with my new truck and also with my older truck when I had it; it’s hard to accept that things are no longer perfect. But, another way to look at it is that every one of those dings and scratches represents an event in your life together. On my truck, the ding in the tailgate represents the time I’ve spent at church. The coffee and food spilt is from my family who I was spending time with. All these dings and scratches add to the “character” of the truck.
Likewise, all the dings and scratches in our personal relationships add to the “character” of these relationships. We can long for the by-gone perfect days, or we can move forward, accepting that in these imperfections we share something special that no one else has. And we can forgive each other for the dings and scratches we’ve imparted to one another, just as our Savior forgives us for our sins which he died for.
And yet we still long for the restoration that Jesus promises us. My truck will never be new and pristine again, but God promises that you and the rest of His creation will be made new and pristine in a way that we don’t quite understand yet when Jesus returns for the resurrection. So, go to this way, truth, and life; go to Jesus in your hurt and pain. For, Jesus says that he “will come again and will take you to [himself].” He is returning to perfectly restore everything to perfection. All the hurt and tears will be removed, and only joy and peace will remain. He is returning to raise your bodies up to eternal life with him and each other forever in a perfect communion. That’s what we ultimately long for, and cling to.
“The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 146)
(Image: Jesus heilt die Kranken, by Gabriel von Max – http://www.cts.edu/ImageLibrary/imagelibrary.cfm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=530842)