Monday, August 09, 2021

A Place for Us

[This was shared during the funeral for Lilah, the mother of a member of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, this past Saturday, August 7, 2021.]

John 14:1-6
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” I didn’t know Lilah. But in talking about her with Jeff and Dan, I know that she was deeply loved by her family. So, I understand what a tough time this is for all of you. The bonds of love among you is strong.

Lilah and the rest of you have been through a very tough period recently, especially with the sudden death of Karen, less than two years ago. So, for just a few moments, I want to share with you the comfort that God has for us all through the Savior Jesus.

A few moments ago, Dan read a passage from the Gospel of John, John, chapter 14, verses 1 to 6. These verses are part of a long section of John in which Jesus prepares His followers--the first disciples--for His crucifixion and also, though their doubts and fears kept them from hearing it, His resurrection. In the passage we just heard, Jesus is bringing comfort to the disciples. They know that if He goes to Jerusalem on this particular Holy Week, He will run into opposition and Jesus is telling them that it will be even worse than that: He’s going to be betrayed, mocked, and killed. The bonds of love between Jesus and the disciples are such that this was all too much for them to hear.

So, Jesus tells them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” Jesus is telling them that if they have faith in God, as they claim, they should also believe in Him. That’s because Jesus is God the Son. From miracles in which He walked on water the way the Old Testament said that God trampled on the waves; fed thousands with just a few fish and pieces of bread; healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead, the disciples should have known that Jesus, just like the God their people had known for centuries, had power over life, death, sin, and darkness. But if they hadn’t believed the signs Jesus performed, they should have believed, because Jesus was always trustworthy, His Words about Himself. Like when He said, “I and the Father are one…” (John 10:30) Or, when He claimed the name of God by which God identified Himself to Moses in the Old Testament--Yahweh or I AM, as He did when He told His own people, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58) The disciples are too caught up in how the world usually operates and, at the moment, too caught up in their own grief, to trust in Jesus’ promise of resurrection beyond death, victory beyond defeat, forgiveness beyond guilt.

And so, Jesus patiently continues, telling them that He was going to prepare a place for them in God’s kingdom so that, despite the grief they were about to experience, they could be with Jesus wherever He was. He promises that after He has died and risen and gone to sit at the right hand of the Father, He will come back to all who have ever believed in Him and usher them into the place He has reserved for them.

Friends, through His death and resurrection, Jesus has prepared a place for you. The suffering and death of this world need not have the last word over the lives of those willing to turn from sin, the Bible’s word for our inborn selfishness and alienation from God, and turn instead to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and new and everlasting life.

And then Jesus says something that baffles the disciples, something that may baffle people in the world today as they face its griefs and challenges. “You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:4)

Folks, let me assure you that you and I want to go to the place where Jesus was going and where He now is. Wherever Jesus is not, there’s chaos, the disintegration of our lives and relationships, eternal sorrow, and death. Wherever Jesus is, there is peace and wholeness and joy and life. We want to be the same place Jesus is.

And Jesus makes clear the way to that place.

Some people think they’re going get to the eternal place Jesus has prepared for them even if they’ve spurned Jesus or refuse to trust in Him. But Jesus doesn’t force any of us into relationship with Him. As Jesus told a man named Nicodemus, “...God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:17-18)

Other people think they’ll get to the place that Jesus has prepared for them by being good people or by doing good things. This is what most people in the world call “righteousness.” “He must be in heaven with God,” people often say, “because he was such a good guy.” But the Bible tells us that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) That’s because there isn’t a good deed we do as human beings that isn’t tinged by our sin condition. There’s always a part of us that thinks, “What a good person I am for doing this.” If we’re honest, we all, like King David are bound to confess, “I was sinful at birth.” (Psalm 51:5) If righteousness--rightness with God, with others, and with ourselves--was a bank account, at birth you and I would start out infinitely in the red, incapable of earning enough credit through our good works to climb our way into eternity.

Instead, God reaches down to us to save us from ourselves, our sin, and our death. As Jesus says at the end of our lesson from John: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Friends, this is good news! There is nothing we can do and there is nothing we must do to earn the place that Jesus has prepared for us in God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus, Who died as the perfect sacrifice for our sin and rose from the dead as confirmation of His power as God over sin, death, and darkness, is the way, the only way, to the place that Jesus has prepared for us.

Saint Paul, in the New Testament says we are justified, that is declared innocent of the sin into which we were born, by God’s grace, God’s charity, through faith in Jesus Christ. And not even our faith is something we have to manufacture, work at, or talk ourselves into. The Bible says that faith in Jesus comes through hearing the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus, and that this faith is a gift from God. Our call is to receive it.  As Jesus says in the most famed passage of Scripture, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The crucified and risen Jesus is the Way to the place He has prepared for us!

Jeff told his mother while she was under hospice care that when she came face to face with God, she could tell God, “Jesus died for my sins and I believe in Him.” That’s God’s truth! Jesus died for Lilah’s sins. He died for your sins (and mine) too. Jesus died and rose to give life with God to all who trust in Him.

So today, friends, turn to Jesus, the Way, the truth, and the life, trusting that He has erased the power of sin, death, disease, futility, and darkness over you; that He will one day raise all His people from the grave to live with Him; and that His cross and empty tomb show us that His promises can be believed. Jesus has a place prepared for all who can say, “Jesus died for my sins and I believe in Him!”

Grief is a hard reality in this life. That’s true even for believers in Jesus. When death and grief come to those who believe in Jesus, death still separates us from one another during our time in this place. And it would be unnatural not to grieve the loss of people we love.

Yet, as the apostle Paul says in the New Testament, for believers in Jesus, we don’t “grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Believers in Jesus have hope in the midst of our grief. “It’s true that I’m sad and I miss my loved one!” they can say. “But I know that Jesus has conquered the grave and my loved one believed in Jesus. So I have hope!” Today, I urge you to cling to that hope: Cling to Jesus! He will comfort you with His promises!

Jesus says that all who endure in trusting in Him--believing in Him--will live in the place He has prepared for us forever, the place where He and all who have believed in Him will live eternally. Those of enduring faith will one day hear Jesus say, “Enter into the joy of your master…” (Matthew 25:21, ESV).

God bless and comfort you all. Amen


No comments: