Sermon for May 7, 2023, Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 14:1-7 (Fifth Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“Your Place is in Christ”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 7, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is from today’s Gospel reading, recorded in John 14:

1Do not let your hearts be troubled; believe in God and believe in Me. 2In the house of My Father are many dwelling places. Now if not, would I have said to you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3And if I should go and prepare a place for you, again I am coming and will receive you to Myself so that where I am, you may be also. 4And where I Myself am going you know the way. 5Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How are we able to know the way?” 6Jesus said to Him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7If you have known Me, also you will know the Father. And from now on, you do know Him and you have seen Him.

          These are very familiar words from Jesus. These verses are often read at a Christian’s funeral. Because these verses are so familiar, they have taken on a “popular understanding” that is not, in and of itself, wrong, but that has almost watered-down or diluted what these verses in the context of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” is really saying.

          John chapters 14-17 are commonly called Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.” In the Upper Room where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, where Jesus instituted the new covenant in His Body and Blood with the bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar, and then continuing on the walk to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus spoke His final words, His last teaching, to His chosen Apostles (minus Judas Iscariot who has already gone out into the night to lead soldiers to arrest Jesus in that very garden). The lead up to Chapter 14:1 is this conversation between Jesus and Peter: Jesus 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.’Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times’” (John 13:33–38 ESV).

          Where is it that Jesus is going and the Jews cannot follow? Where is it that Jesus is going that His disciples, including Simon Peter, cannot follow? Jesus is going away to the cross! He is going away to His sacrificial death and rest in the tomb. Jesus is going away to die as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. No one else can do this, only Jesus. No one else but the Good Shepherd can lay down His life for the sheep. Jesus has been preparing His disciples for this during their whole time together. He had directly predicted His Passion and death (and resurrection!) three times. Here again, talk of the cross is too much for Jesus’ followers. Their hearts are troubled and agitated.

          And it is then that our Lord speaks to the anxious heart of His disciples and says, “Stop being troubled. Believe in God and believe in Me.” In other words, “Trust Me and the Father who sent Me because I and the Father are One” (John 10:30). The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, one divine Being and Essence, yet in three distinct persons who are coequal in majesty, glory, and power. Oh, the blessed mystery of the Holy Trinity! But Jesus has repeated instructed the disciples and the Jews that He has come from the Father. The Father has sent the Son to do His work of salvation. Verse 7 of our text, “If you have known Me, also you will know the Father. And from now on, you do know Him and you have seen Him.” A few verses later in our Gospel, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:9–11 ESV).

          “So trust in Me as the One-of-a-Kind Son of the Father,” Jesus tells them. “Believe in God and believe in Me, because very soon you will not see Me. I am going away, but that is not a reason for you to be troubled. Where I am going is for your blessing and benefit, to prepare a place for you.” Again, where is Jesus going? To the cross! On the cross is where Jesus prepares a place for you in the house of His heavenly Father. Remember that “popular understanding”? It comes into play here and goes something like this. Jesus is going away back into heaven to get a room ready for you so that when you die, your room in heaven is ready. But heaven is not the Comfort Inn. It’s not the Hotel 1620 in Plymouth, MA where the Pastors’ Conference was held.

          Now this is not to say that there isn’t a place for you in heaven for your soul when you die. That’s kind of a given. There’s a lot of room in heaven for you and for all people! True! But I don’t think this is Jesus’ point. He’s not talking about going to heaven to get rooms ready. He is talking about going to the cross, and it is there that the place is prepared for those who believe in God and believe in Jesus. He’s going, notice, not to get a room ready, but to prepare a “place” for you in “the house of My Father.”

          Well, isn’t that just another way of saying “heaven”? Isn’t “My Father’s house” heaven itself? From a certain point of view, yes. It’s not wrong to call heaven the Father’s house. But that’s not how John, writing by the power of the Holy Spirit, wants us to read Jesus’ words. It is rare in the Old Testament for heaven specifically to be called God’s “house” or God’s “temple.” Since those were the Scriptures of the disciples, how would they have understood “the house of My Father”? In the Greek text of the Old Testament familiar to Jesus’ followers, the phrase “house of God” refers to the place where Israel’s God is uniquely present—not in heaven!—on earth. It acts as a phrase that really means “sanctuary” or “temple.” In John 2, when Jesus cleans out the temple of Herod in Jerusalem, He calls the temple, “my Father’s house.” And John records, “So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’But he was speaking about the temple of his body.When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:18–22 ESV). Jesus Himself is, in fact, the new and greater temple, God dwelling with His people in the person of Christ.

          Considering the Old Testament and the setting of John 14, for Jesus, the only Son, to refer to “the house of My Father,” would almost certainly be heard as “temple language” in the ears of Jesus’ disciples and of John’s readers, too. And it is Jesus as the Divine Son who has come and “templed” or “tabernacled” or “dwelt” among us, full of grace and truth—John 1:14. God the Son in the person of Jesus Christ, Immanuel—God with Us—is where God dwells among His people. Jesus is the new and greater temple. Jesus in His own body is the location of God’s new “temple-presence” in the world. And it is this Jesus who goes to the cross to prepare for the disciples a dwelling place in the house of His Father. After He so prepares, after He dies and rises again, all believers in Jesus will find a place for themselves in Jesus Himself when He receives them to Himself; where Jesus is, there they will be as well.

          Jesus, then, is going where He has been saying that His is going. He is going to the cross, to lay down His life for the sins of the world. In doing so, and in again coming to them (rising from the dead on the third day!), He prepares a place of refuge and peace and refreshment for His disciples in the new temple, in Himself. The words of Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Psa. 27:4 ESV). It is this that we have in Jesus, a place to dwell with God in the Father’s house.

Perhaps we can summarize it this way, in the words of Dr. Jeff Gibbs, retired from our St. Louis Seminary:

[Jesus] himself is the house of his Father; this is why so often he speaks of his utter unity with the Father, of being in the Father and the Father being in him, and so forth. As God’s true temple, Jesus fulfills in greater fashion the functions of the first temple and in him, the longing of the psalmists to dwell in the courts of the Lord finds its fruition. Beginning with Mary Magdalene and the apostles, the crucified and risen Jesus comes to them to draw them to himself in faith. Being drawn to Jesus, disciples begin to dwell in the house of the Father, finding atonement for sin and grace and glory and beauty and protection and truth. The Lord’s promise continues to come true in the generations that hear the Spirit-directed word of the apostles. Others believe, and they also find an abiding-room in the Father’s house. Indeed, the Father and Son come and make their abiding-room with believers wherever the apostolic word is believed.[1]

          So the good news is better than even realized. You and I do not have to wait until we die to find a place in the Father’s house. You are already in it for you are already in Jesus Christ through your baptismal faith. The nearness and forgiveness and beauty was already God’s gift to you that He began in your Baptism. You are in Christ. You are baptized into His death and His resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life with God. To be sure, there is plenty of room in heaven for you and me and all believers in Jesus. But even better, there is plenty of room in Jesus for you. You have a place with God because you were given a place in Jesus. For Jesus is the Father’s house in whom you dwell by grace through faith forevermore. Amen.

     [1] Gibbs, Jeffrey A. “Already Dwelling in the Father’s House: Reading John 14:2-3 in Context.” Concordia Journal 49, no. 1 (Wint 2023): 13–34.

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