Comfort, Hope, Promise
Jesus said these words to his disciples the night before he died. “Do not let your hearts be troubled…In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…I will come and take you to myself…Where I am there you will be also…[and] if you know me you will know my Father.” Jesus offered these words of comfort and hope and promise, a message that His disciples are set right with God and that they have nothing to be afraid of. Jesus knows His disciples will soon be consumed by fear and confusion and He makes sure the last words they hear from Him before He dies are words of comfort and hope and promise. Jesus is very pastoral and compassionate here, recognizing the turmoil His disciples are about to go through, and putting their worries even before His own.
Now these words probably represent more of what the Holy Spirit inspired in the Gospel writer than an actual word for word speech Jesus gave the night of his arrest. Nevertheless what it says is true. And this passage is all about Jesus’ hope-filled promises to his disciples and to us. Promises that we don’t have to be afraid. Promises that there is a place for us in his Father’s house. Promises of comfort and peace. Jesus promises to take care of us and that there is no reason to be afraid. Even if life on Earth is difficult, Jesus promises to never leave us and that eventually we will be with him forever. And Jesus promises that even if we think we don’t know the way, we do know the way because we know Him. This too is a promise. Jesus says essentially, “If you know me—and you do know me—then you know the Father”. I am the way and the truth and the life.” This passage is full of comfort and hope and promise!
Then comes the line that many a Christian think is more of a threat than a promise: “No one comes to the Father except through me”. Is Jesus saying he’ll block entry to the Father unless people worship him? Like some sort of divine bouncer or security guard. Is he saying if we don’t have the right religious ideas or don’t have the correct theology—then our salvation is in jeopardy? Is Jesus saying this to make us feel afraid, unsafe, or worried?
Remember the context here. Remember that this passage is all about comfort and hope and promise for a persecuted people. These words are not a threat. Rather, they are a promise that the one speaking to them, even though He is about to die, is Christ, the Son of God. You see “Christ” isn’t Jesus’ last name, it’s the universal nature of God that Jesus fully reveals. What Jesus is talking about here is His being the Word made flesh, written about in John’s first chapter—the Word that has come to redeem all humanity and all creation. Not just an exclusive few, but the entire universe. Christ is present in every way people have a connection to God. And these disciples know Him personally. That’s what He’s saying here. Whenever people have found God, they have done so because of Christ, and these disciples are lucky enough to have a personal relationship with Him. And so are we.
Throughout Christian history theologians have understood salvation in a variety of ways. The word for this field of theology is soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) and there’s three basic concepts I think it’s important to go over. [PowerPoint slides now]
The first is pluralism. You may have heard the saying “All paths lead up the mountain.” This is a position held by some Christians and people of other religions.
The second is inclusivism. This is the idea that Christ is the way to salvation, and that Christ saves you whether or not you know Him. Theologian Karl Rahner introduced the term “anonymous Christian” suggesting that people who follow their religion faithfully are anonymously being faithful to Christ even if they’ve never heard of Him. Or as CS Lewis wondered in Mere Christianity: “We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.” Scripture passages like Mark 9:40, Acts 3:21, Romans 14:11, and Philippians 2:10-11 lend support to this type of soteriology.
The third kind is exclusivism. This is the idea that Christ is the way to salvation, and the only way to be saved is if you worship Him, or believe in Him, or follow His commands, (or do good works in His name if you’re the Church of Luther’s day). Passages like the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 lend support for the good works version of this, and passages like today’s text from John 14 are often used to support the belief-oriented version of this.
[End PowerPoint]. Now obviously nobody can know for certain which soteriology is correct. It’s a mystery and a matter of prayerful interpretation for each individual. But the one thing I want to emphasize when it comes to John 14 is that this passage comes in the context of Jesus offering comfort and hope and promise.
So when we read this passage we shouldn’t hear words of threat, we should hear Good News. Jesus spoke to comfort those who already knew Him, not to threaten or warn those who don’t. Jesus speaks here to give His disciples confidence and peace. That even if they think they don’t know the Father (that they don’t have it right with God) THEY DO because Jesus set things right for them…and for us…and for the whole world!
I say this both to comfort you if you’ve ever wondered if you were on the right road, or have done enough good things, or believe strongly enough. It’s ok; there is place for you in God’s house. I also say this to challenge us to broaden our perspective about what God is up to in the world and what God has done through Christ. This God who loves us absolutely unconditionally and fervently desires to restore all of humanity, all of creation, all of the universe. This God became incarnate in Jesus Christ—showing us who God is, so we might have a better relationship with God. That’s why Jesus is so adamant that He and the Father are one, and that if you know Him you know the Father. Because Jesus is the physical incarnation of God.
This Gospel lesson is Good News for all people! Good News beyond all measure! It’s the Good News that Stephen held to as he died the first Christian martyr, in our first reading today. It’s the Good News that Jesus Christ has reconciled the world with God. That He has prepared a place for us in his Father’s house. And that He is present with us here and now in our earthly life too, in both our joys and our sorrows.
This Good News is spoken to us in the midst of this coronavirus pandemic. In a world of fear and confusion and anxiety. In a time with the highest employment rate since the Great Depression. Like Jesus’ disciples the night before He died, we might think we have good reason to fear; we have a right to be anxious. But to us Jesus offers words of comfort and hope and promise. Jesus speaks Good News of the world’s salvation.
So whatever the future holds for our universe and for each one of us, I know it is good. We may not know exactly what it is. But I know it is good. We don’t need to worry about what happens after death. And we don’t need to worry about what happens tomorrow. Simply surrender to the flow of the universe, let God inspire you, move you, guide you through life. Trust Jesus’ words of promise. Let the Good News of God’s love embolden you. Inspired by the hope of heaven and the assurance of Christ’s presence with us here and now, let us joyfully serve God and this world in need, sharing the Good News of God’s love with all people.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Brian Rajcok
St. Matthew Lutheran Church
Sunday May 10, 2020