IN THE MEANTIME—FAITH
by Pastor Mike Fortune
May 2, 2009
Introduction Video: “A Thousand Questions”
- In Christ [John 14:1-2; John 13:31-33; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2]
- In His return [John 14:3; Romans 12:3]
- In our commission [John 14:4; Isaiah 6:1-8]
His own heart has been troubled by the thought of impending betrayal, separation, and death [according to John 11:33, 12:27, and 13:21]. But instead of dwelling on those feelings and allowing them to paralyze His faith, Jesus starts sharing His. Including the plan for His Father’s world. Which is pretty messed up right now. As that video clip entitled “A Thousand Questions” by Amena Brown reminded us. Maybe that’s why I resonated so much with it. Especially the part toward the end where she cries, “I know about theology / I know you gave your Son for me / I know you’re wrapped in mystery / I get invisibility / But I still see their misery / I hear their voices haunting me / Saying who will come and set us free.”
The disciples in that upper room were living in the shadow of the cross. We are living in the shadow the Advent. They were waiting for Jesus to go. We are waiting for Jesus to come. But until He does, what do we do in the meantime? What did they? In a broken, sick, and dying world, where even the most sincere followers of Jesus have as many questions about God as they have faith in God, how do we live grace in the meantime? That’s the question I hear Scripture addressing in the next couple chapters of John and it’s why I’ve entitled our new sermon series “In the Meantime.”
I’m sure the disciples had something similar tumbling through their minds that Thursday night in the upper room. Because Jesus had just told them in John 13:33, “33My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.” But where was he going? And for that matter, where was Peter going? “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” He said to Peter in John 13:38. And where was Judas going? “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me” he said to Judas in Matthew 26:23. “And as soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was dark” according to John 13:30.
And after that is where our Scripture reading for today begins. So please turn in your Bibles to John 14. Maybe you’re already familiar with these first four verses I’ll be reading from the New International Version. “1Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In 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. 3And 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.”
Continuing the conversation he started in John 13:33, Jesus in John 14:1-4 begins his farewell discourse to His disciples with these remarkable words: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Like many other Jewish leaders whose words they were familiar with, they would have recognized that Jesus was preparing them for His departure and for life without Him. Jacob did this in Genesis 47-49. Moses used the entire book of Deuteronomy to do so. Joshua took three chapters to say goodbye in Joshua 22-24. And David shares his thoughts before he dies in 1 Chronicles 28-29. But this time the disciples aren’t comforted by the familiar. They’re too afraid. And hurt. And frustrated. And Jesus knows this. That’s why, in spite of the fact that His own heart was breaking, He attempts to comfort theirs.
In John 13:31-33, he says the same thing negatively with Judas in the room that He now repeats positively in John 14:1-4 after Judas leaves. Yes, they heard Him correctly. Peter would betray Him. So would Judas. And like Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and David, He would be leaving too and they wouldn’t be able to find Him. All of which was deeply troubling. But instead of dwelling on those feelings and allowing them to paralyze their faith, Jesus starts sharing the plan He has for His Father’s world. And that’s what we can do too. In the meantime, while we’re living in the shadow of the Advent, we can choose by faith to put our faith in what we already know and have experienced about God and His goodness rather than dwelling on that which we don’t. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 says it this way, “1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”
Put your faith in Christ and leave it there
So how do we live grace in the meantime? Point number one: put whatever faith you’ve got [and everybody has a little according to Romans 12:3] in Christ and leave it there. He should remain the object of our faith because The Heavenly Father was the object of Christ’s. “Trust in God; trust also in me” Jesus said in John 14:1. Why? Because “2In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.”
I know the King James says mansions. And that some of you are already making plans to live in yours beside each other in the countryside of heaven. And maybe that’s the way it will be. But that’s not what verse 2 literally says in the Greek and it’s probably not what Jesus means. The singular noun mone in verse 2 simply means “abiding place.” Mansions were a much later development of the English word and simply not what Jesus meant or actually said.
Jesus will return
What He did mean, and what second century Christians reading the Gospel of John would have immediately understood Him to be saying, especially if they were to keep reading into John 15, was that even though He was leaving, one day they would literally “mansion” or “dwell” or “abide” in Him. But in spite of the confusing “mansion over the hilltop” language, I hope point number one becomes as clear to you as it became to them: To live grace in the meantime, Jesus wants us to put our faith in Christ and leave it there. And point number two is He wants us to put our faith in His return. Jesus continues in John 14:3, “I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And 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.” Make no mistake friends; Jesus is coming again! If it weren’t so, He would have said so!
Max Lucado in his book When Christ Comes describes His return this way. “You are in your car driving home. Thoughts wander to the game you want to see or meal you want to eat, when suddenly a sound unlike any you've ever heard fills the air. The sound is high above you. A trumpet? A choir? A choir of trumpets? You don't know, but you want to know. So you pull over, get out of your car, and look up. As you do, you see you aren't the only curious one. The roadside has become a parking lot. Car doors are open, and people are staring at the sky. Shoppers are racing out of the grocery store.”
“The Little League baseball game across the street has come to a halt. Players and parents are searching the clouds. And what they see, and what you see, has never before been seen. As if the sky were a curtain, the drapes of the atmosphere part. A brilliant light spills onto the earth. There are no shadows. None. From whence came the light begins to tumble a river of color spiking crystals of every hue ever seen and a million more never seen. Riding on the flow is an endless fleet of angels. They pass through the curtains one myriad at a time, until they occupy every square inch of the sky. North. South. East. West. Thousands of silvery wings rise and fall in unison, and over the sound of the trumpets, you can hear the cherubim and seraphim chanting, Holy, holy, holy. The final flank of angels is followed by twenty-four silver-bearded elders and a multitude of souls who join the angels in worship.”
“Presently the movement stops and the trumpets are silent, leaving only the triumphant triplet: Holy, holy, holy. Between each word is a pause. With each word, a profound reverence. You hear your voice join in the chorus. You don't know why you say the words, but you know you must. Suddenly, the heavens are quiet. All is quiet. The angels turn, you turn, the entire world turns and there He is. Jesus. Through waves of light you see the silhouetted figure of Christ the King. He is atop a great stallion, and the stallion is atop a billowing cloud. He opens his mouth, and you are surrounded by his declaration: I am the Alpha and the Omega. The angels bow their heads. The elders remove their crowns. And before you is a Figure so consuming that you know, instantly you know: Nothing else matters. Forget stock markets and school reports. Sales meetings and football games. Nothing is newsworthy. All that mattered, matters no more...for Christ has come.”
In the meantime, like the disciples living in the shadow of the cross, we’re going to experience heart ache, separation, and loss. We may even witness unspeakable tragedy. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something about it! If it was your 7 year old daughter or granddaughter rolling cigarettes for 12 hours a day or even worse being trafficked as a prostitute in the sex trade, you know nothing would stop you from rescuing her right? Well that is happening to someone’s daughter or granddaughter right now according to David Batsone in his heart wrenching book Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It. I listened to all 8 hours of that audio book on the way home from Florida a few weeks ago and it messed me up! It reminded me that what breaks the heart of God should break ours.
Tell the world!
Because point number three: Christ has commissioned us. John 14:4 says, “You know the place where I am going.” The ironic thing is the disciples really didn’t know where He was going. But their ignorance apparently wasn’t something Jesus thought prevented them from sharing what they did know. And it didn’t stop Isaiah either. There’s a great commissioning story in the Old Testament book of Isaiah chapter 6:1-8.
In a vision, the prophet Isaiah says, “1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!”
So you don’t know why God allows suffering. Neither did the disciples. But Jesus still sent them. So you’re a man or woman of unclean lips, so was Peter and Jesus knowing that Peter would betray him, appointed him leader of the church! So your heart is breaking because of unspeakable tragedies all around you. So is God’s! In the meantime, we have a choice to make. We can abandon God. And His plan for our Father’s world. Or we can abandon ourselves to God. My hope and prayer, during the next few weeks, is that like the disciples in that upper room, we will decide to put our faith in Christ and leave it there. That our fears will not paralyze our faith in His return. And that we will take His commission seriously. So that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.