Comfort for Confused disciples
If you knew that you were going to die in the next 24 hours, what things would you really want to say? What would you want people to remember? Everything you chose to talk about at that point would be what really mattered to you. I admit that I have a certain fascination with people’s dying words and what they reveal about the people who said them. Here are some examples:
“In peace I will sleep with him and take my rest” -- Monica, mother of Augustine
"Oh God, have pity on my soul. Oh God, have pity on my soul." – Anne Boleyn
"Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God's grace in England as (I trust) shall never be put out." – Hugh Latimer, one of the Oxford martyrs, about to be burned at the stake
"Only one man ever understood me. And he really didn't understand me." – Hegel, the German philosopher (hmmm)
"Build me a hut to die in. I am going home." – David Livingstone
"Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven't said enough!" – Karl Marx
"My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go." – Oscar Wilde
"Above all, I charge the leadership of the nation and their followers with the strict observance of the racial laws and with merciless resistance against the universal poisoners of all peoples, international Jewry." – Adolf Hitler
"I know this beach like the back of my hand." – Harold Holt
"Don't cry for me, for I go where music is born." – Johann Sebastian Bach
And that’s only a small sample. There are pages of them you can find online – some profound, some banal, some horrible, and some that just leave you scratching your head. Death comes to people in very different ways; and meets with very different responses. Some are prepared, many are not. Only a minority know exactly when they are going to die.
When we come to Jesus, he knew exactly what was going to happen to him, and so, the night before he died, at the Last Supper, he was trying to prepare his disciples for what was about to take place, telling them the things that they really needed to understand, and trying to comfort them in their confusion. (And, if we’re honest, all of us know how it feels to be a confused disciple at times.) Here’s a portion, from the beginning of John 14:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 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?] 3 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. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Yes. Their hearts were troubled. Just before this section of John, Jesus had told them that he was going away, and they couldn’t come with him. And just a little before that, he had told them that one of them would betray him. You can imagine the turmoil they were in! Despite Jesus having predicted his death to them on several occasions before, it still hadn’t added up for them. And the solution he offers? “Believe in God; believe also in me”. Yes, as pious Jews they believe in God, but now he is asking them for the same level of faith in himself. They must trust him when he is no longer physically among them, just as they trust the invisible God. His love for them will be every bit as real. He is not abandoning them, even though it might look like it; in fact, it is exactly for their sakes that he is going away. And God does not abandon his children, see Hebrews 13:5 (“I will never leave you or forsake you”), or Psalm 94:14 (“For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage”). Just because they don’t understand what he is doing, doesn’t mean it isn’t the very best thing he could do for them.
And why is he going away? He tells them that he is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. And that is exactly what he is doing. If Jesus had not left them, to go to the cross, the grave, and then his resurrection and ascension, neither they nor ourselves would have any place in his Father’s house. It is his death on our behalf which will make it possible for us to come where he is going. Our true home is the Father’s home, a home where there are many rooms (literally “abiding places”), room enough for all who will come. The very one who on earth had no place to lay his head has provided a place for all of us. And only after this has been accomplished can he return for them.
There is another image here as well. In those days, when a son got married, he would first build an extra room onto his father’s house. Only when it was complete would he come for his bride and bring her to the place he had prepared for her.
And they know the way to the Father’s house, even though they don’t think they do, because they know Jesus, and he, himself, is the Way. He is the only way, that is the whole point. That is why he must do what he is doing and go where he is going. There is a seemingly unbridgeable gap between who we really are in our sin and failure, and the perfection of love and joy that is in our Father’s house. Jesus is about to lay down his life to become the bridge across that chasm. He is the way. We must walk in it.
And Jesus is the Truth. We live in a relativistic age where people talk about having their own “truth” – whatever works for them – as if we were so powerful that our preferences could change reality! No, they can’t, because we are not God. Certainly, we can each make up our own religion, like choosing a selection from a smorgasbord, but there are consequences; because one day our flimsy fantasy spiritualities will collide with the solid realities of life, death, and judgement. Or, to change the metaphor, we have a choice between standing on the firm ground of truth (building on the rock, Jesus), or sinking, and eventually drowning, in the quagmire of human make-believe, which originates with the one whom Jesus called the father of lies (John 8:44).
And Jesus is the Life. He had already explained this at Lazarus’ tomb, earlier in the same gospel (John 11:25-25): “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Where did life come from in the first place? From God, who spoke all that is into being. We were the ones who brought death into the world, way back in Genesis 3, and the whole Bible is the story of God’s redemptive plan to restore us to life in all its fullness, lived with him for all eternity.
We all experience the darkness of confusion at some point. Just when we think that the path ahead is smooth, we get tripped up. Just when we think we’re standing tall, we get ground down. But we have a place to take our troubled hearts, to the one who has gone ahead of us, through the terrible darkness of death and hell, to prepare a place for us in our Father’s house. He is the way, he is the truth, he is the life, and he will carry us all the way home.