Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Heaven - In My Father's House

Preached on the Second Sunday of Easter, April 3,2016

Scripture readings: Psalm 23; John 13:36-14:9

There was a child who described an elevator ride this way: “I got into this little room, and the upstairs came down.” (“1000 More Humorous Illustrations”; ed. Michael Hodgin; # 78)
Enjoying April Flowers, Desert Aire, WA: 2016
That isn’t far from the way it will be when Jesus comes to us at the time of our death. Jesus said it like this: “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.” (John 14:3)
Jesus said, “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2) Jesus was talking about heaven.
The disciples desperately needed to hear him talk about this, because they were afraid. They didn’t know how close they were to the things they were so afraid of. But they were only a few hours away from the cross. Jesus was about to be betrayed, and beaten, and nailed to a cross. He was going to die on that cross.
They were going to be at a complete loss without him. They were going to wonder why. They were going to wonder what it meant. They were going to wonder what would become of them. Jesus was answering those questions but the disciples didn’t understand. That’s how we are.
For months, maybe for most of the years they knew him, Jesus had been talking about this; sometimes clearly, sometimes in mysterious ways. In mysterious ways he called it being “lifted up” (maybe because, on the cross, his feet wouldn’t touch the ground). (John 12:32)
Maybe being “lifted up” was more like another mysterious way Jesus had of talking about his dying on the cross. He called it “being glorified”. (John 12:23-24)
His death on the cross would be glorious because it would show God’s love; as in the verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” (John 3:16) There is nothing more glorious than that. Jesus thought it was glorious because he said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) That’s glorious too.
Jesus had been talking like this more and more and, that evening of the last supper, he told the disciples that he was going away now. They couldn’t follow him, yet; but they would later. This scared them as much as anything else that Jesus had ever said.
So Jesus told them about his Father’s house; just a little bit. Let us take a look at what that house is like: what heaven is like, in the words of Jesus.
Jesus said, “I go.” (14:2, 3) Jesus was going away because his Father’s house was not in this world.
In the sixteenth chapter of John, Jesus said, “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” (16:28) Heaven is not a part of this world of time and space, where we live now.
How will our life in heaven unfold, since it exists outside of time? Eternity is not a thing that goes on, and on, and on, and on until we are tired of it, because things going on and on can only happen within our universe of time and space. And yet eternity is a thing that will never stop or end.
What kind of scenery, or architecture, or “geography” will heaven have; seeing that it does not exist in space? Since heaven is beyond time and space, it can’t be measured by length, or width, or distances, because it has none. If heaven can’t be measured by distance, then it may not be very far from us, here in this world; even if we have to go there, in order to be there. It’s mind boggling.
Heaven is another place: a place to which we must “go”, in order to be there, because our Father’s house is a place from which Jesus said, “I will come.”
Our whole life with Jesus, even now, is a life where Jesus comes to us. Jesus is constantly arriving. Jesus told the disciples that they would see him again after he died on the cross and rose from death; even though the world was going to think that he was gone and done with.
He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (14:18-19)
When we know Jesus in all his mercy, and power, and love it is almost like seeing him. Seeing Jesus makes everything in our life more alive.  It’s like having heaven now. Because Jesus lives, we are more alive than people without Jesus can imagine. Or we should be.
Christ comes to us and gives us glimpses of heaven on earth, not necessarily in the sense of supernatural euphoria, or good-feeling, or spiritual goose-bumps, and not necessarily in the sense of actual visions.
Those may happen, but Jesus normally comes to us in ordinary life. Real places, and real things, and real people will often give us a foretaste of heaven, because of Jesus always arriving and sharing his life with us through each place, and thing, and person.
I believe that Jesus will come to us, and take us home at the time of our death. Some people believe that Jesus will only come back to take us home at the end of the age, at the resurrection. But, if Jesus is always coming to us in this life, I don’t know why he would not also come to us at the time of our death.
And, besides that, the resurrection is intended to bring us here. It will happen here. It will not be a time when we go to be with Jesus. It will be a time when we come back with Jesus.
Our home, in the resurrection, will be a new creation. There will be a new heaven and earth. But it won’t be another place. It will be this place; this universe, recreated and transformed in an unimaginable way: all the evil, corruption, injustice, danger, pain, sickness, sorrow, suffering and death won’t be found anywhere anymore.
Jesus was going to his Father’s house and now he’s going to take us there until the time of the new creation of the resurrection, when we will be made new. Even our bodies will be made new. But heaven will be a great place to be, until then, because we will be there with God, and we will be there together.
Heaven is not our final home. And, in some strange way, heaven is not even God’s final home, because, in the Book of Revelation, when the new heavens and the new earth appear, God says, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.” (Revelation 21:3) Since heaven is where God is, this must mean that heaven and earth will be one.
The mansions, or rooms, within the Father’s house are described with a simple Greek word that’s hard to translate (monai). It is a word that usually means stages of rest along a journey. But a house does not go on a journey.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told the dying thief on the cross, “This day you shall be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Paradise, as a word for heaven, comes from the life-styles of the rich and famous, and from the life styles of royalty.
A paradise was a king’s park. It had places of sun and shade, groves, fruit, flowers, open places, peacocks, wonderful things to look at. It was a place to go to rest and renew oneself. It was a bit like Camp David is for the president of the United States.
The king, with his family and friends and servants, would go to the royal paradise to celebrate life as a preparation for the next great thing to do. Heaven itself is a resting and celebrating place, before God’s next great thing.
The permanent thing about the Lord’s house, or the Father’s house, is that it is much more than a place. It is a relationship (a permanent relationship).
It’s made up of many, many relationships; but above all, it’s your relationship with God. Jesus said, “I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.” (14:3) Heaven is being with the Lord.
David planned to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. That was the place that would be called the temple. It turned out to be a job that had to be postponed and wait for David’s son, Solomon, to build it.
The temple was different from a church building (though we know that the church is not really a building). The Temple was considered more like a house, because God’s presence would live there in a unique way. But I believe that the house of the Lord, which David was thinking about, in the 23rd Psalm, was something outside this world. I believe David was thinking of the heavenly house of the Lord.
Heaven, the Father’s house, is the place for meeting with God in his glory and mystery, face to face. It is the place to be with the Father, and with the Son, and with the Holy Spirit.
You will meet something there that you can never get to the end of. You can never get tired of it. You will meet something there with greater and greater depths of knowledge, and love, and faithfulness. You will meet something there with greater and greater challenges, and greater and greater grace. Jesus doesn’t describe it in physical terms, except to call it home.
The Father’s house has many rooms. Jesus told his disciples that the great thing about his Father’s house was that there was always room. Heaven is big, but never lonely. It is built for hospitality, and fellowship, and wonder.
When I was a kid, one of the most homelike houses we lived in was one that was never done. It was an old, old farm house but, when we lived there, it was never finished. There was always something planned, and there was always something that was only half done. My mom often was frustrated by this.
Yet, in a sense, your room in heaven is done. It has been done ever since Jesus died for you on the cross. It’s done, but you and I will never be done with it, because your room is your access to God that comes from Jesus.
What Jesus had to prepare was not so much the place for you, as it was the road for you to get to that place at home with him, and with his Father, and with the Holy Spirit. Without the cross and the resurrection, the place would be inaccessible.
There was the canyon of our sin and our separation from God that Jesus had to cross over, for our sake. He had to build the road for us, with a bridge, and a gate, and a door that you would be able to walk on, and cross over, and pass through.
When Jesus said, “I am the way,” he didn’t only mean that he was the example to follow, although he is also that. When Jesus said, “I am the way,” he especially meant that he was the road that we must take. The forgiveness of our sins on the cross is the road, and the bridge, and the gate, and the door to the Father’s house.
Jesus is the road of grace, and we can only arrive at home through that grace. Grace should always be the greatest gift of being at home.
Some homes have very little grace in them, but the Father’s house is full of grace. Only grace will serve, and so there is no other way home. There is no other grace in the universe except the grace that comes from God on the cross. That is the truth, and that is where life is found, with Jesus on the cross and outside the empty grave.

The way, the truth, and the life are not what we do and believe, but what Jesus has done for us, and we must put our trust in what he has done, if we want to really live. A life that begins with heaven on earth comes about from discovering this amazing gift, and believing in it.

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