Faithlife Sermons

He's Alive: He Goes Before Us

After Easter 2020  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  18:17
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Let us pray…Gracious and loving God, we thank you this day for all those in our lives who have been a mom, like a mom, or stepped in to be a spiritual leader in our lives. Guide our hearts to welcome your Spirit into our presence in this time that we may be able to open our hearts, our minds, and our ears to hear your still speaking voice above all else in this time, Amen.
This morning, I thought I would share a story with you that I think I might have shared before, but it bears repeating for today’s words for us...A man was trapped in his house during a great flood. He began praying to God to rescue him. He had a vision in his head of God’s hand reaching down from heaven and lifting him to safety. The water started to rise in his house. His neighbor urged him to leave and offered him a ride to safety. The man yelled back, “I am waiting for God to save me.” So, the neighbor drove off in his pick-up truck.
For quite a while, the man continued to pray and hold on to his vision of God reaching down to rescue him from the flooding waters. As the water began rising in his house, he climbed up to the roof for safety. A boat came by with some people heading for higher and safer ground. They yelled at the man to grab the rope they were ready to throw so that he too could make it to safety in the boat. Once again, he told them that he was waiting for God to save him. They shook their heads and moved on.
As the man continued to pray, he believed with all his heart that he would be saved by God reaching down to pull him to safety. Yet, the flood waters continued to rise. As a rescue helicopter flew over, a voice came over the loudspeaker offering to lower a ladder and take him off the roof. The man waved the helicopter away, shouting back that he was waiting for God to save him. The helicopter left. The flooding water came over the roof and caught him up, swept him away, and he drowned.
When he reached heaven and asked, “God, why didn’t you save me? I believed in you with all my heart and prayed that your hand would swoop down and pluck me from my rooftop. Why did you let me drown?” In response, God said, “I sent you a pick-up truck, a boat, and a helicopter and you refused all three attempts of rescue. What else were you expecting me to do or could I have possibly sent you to believe that it was my hand offering help to save you?” adapted from www.eternalvigilance.nz/2012/01/the-parable-of-the-flood, Richard
I think this story emulates how many people might respond in today’s age. We think we know what we are waiting for but when it actually presents itself, oftentimes, I think we are so unbelieving that we forget to look at the obvious that is right before our noses. This story reminds me that I need to stop and think before I respond that I am not in need of anything in my day. We are a foolish and unwise creation but when we rely upon the fact that God brings us what we need, when we need it, there is great reward. In this man’s case, if he had stopped to think before immediately assuming that the rescue attempts were not provided by God, he might have been safely rescued several times over. I thought of this story because of a study that have begun for myself on what it means to truly listen for God in our daily lives. One of the things that I am discovering through this study is that I am much like this man…I let my own human interpretation of a situation rule over what might obviously be right in front of me as an answer to what I am longing for…and this leads me into our scripture passage from the Gospel of John for this morning…before I start on that, I am going to take a quick step back and give us a starting point...

A bit of history and background...

Today’s passage from John, much like the Psalm from last week (Ps 23), is one that is often used to comfort and assuage grief. There’s a really good reason for that too…this piece of John’s Gospel is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse. Now, I am not talking about the instructions that Jesus gives prior to his ascension but rather the discussion he had with his disciples on the night of his arrest and betrayal. Now think about that for a moment…Jesus knows what is about to happen and instead of expecting the disciples to ease his mind and heart and give him comfort, he is doing that for them. The whole theme of this time of teaching for him is about providing them comfort not the other way around. I mean, really, he has already told them multiple times that he is about to die and not just die peacefully either but in the most horrific and painful of ways. And still, they are looking for answers from him.
With that being said, the who, what, when, and where of this story becomes clear…we are in the Upper Room, Jesus has just finished supper, washed the feet of the disciples, Jesus has revealed that Peter will deny him three times before the morning dawns, and we are in the midst of one last teaching before the whole of the gathered community that night heads off to the Garden of Gethsemane. We are told specifically in the story that two of the disciples need more explanation about what is about to happen. The first mentioned is Thomas. And how we love to give Thomas a bad rep but for those of us here this day, I am wondering if we too would not be asking much the same questions that Thomas has asked and that we have heard over the last few weeks…here is what Christ says to make Thomas question him...
John 13:33 CEB
Little children, I’m with you for a little while longer. You will look for me—but, just as I told the Jewish leaders, I also tell you now—‘Where I’m going, you can’t come.’
So, the disciples are now hearing what Jesus had previously only said to the Jewish leaders. To be honest, I probably would have had much the same questions. Remember, the religious leaders of the time and those who had been following Jesus thought that the Messiah would come as a warrior king like David. I know I have said this quite a bit lately, but we need to hear this often because it helps us understand the disciples and their lives after Jesus dies…said another way, even those who had been with Jesus for three years did not quite grasp what was about to happen or who Jesus truly was and is for them and us. They were expecting someone to come and fight, not teach a way of living that was contrary to everything they thought they knew. It was different, it was a change from what they had come to know, and it was a future that was uncertain. They truly believed that Jesus would solve all of their problems for them. While he did do this, they just did not quite comprehend that Jesus was doing what they expected in an unexpected and wonderful way. Like the man in the boat, in my mind any way, they were refusing to see the bigger picture of what Jesus was here to do for them. And so, when Jesus says to them here and this next piece,
John 13:36 CEB
Simon Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you can’t follow me now, but you will follow later.”
The disciples are hearing things that are not what they wanted to hear. To me, and as I read this even now, my mine is already beginning to spin and I was not even there when Jesus said these words. I can imagine myself reclining there at the table with Jesus that night and thinking, “Wait, I have claimed you to be the Messiah and now you are telling us that you are leaving?!?!? What do you mean you are leaving?!?!? I thought that you were going to overthrow those who are oppressing God’s people?” And so many more questions…all of them without answers. I mean, imagine yourself being there that night…can’t you hear yourself asking the same questions? Here is your teacher, the proclaimed Messiah that all have been waiting for, who has taught you everything you need but you still want and desire more. I liken these feelings to those that we feel when someone we are very close to, has come to the end of their Earthly lives…I can feel that pain, the sorrow, and the strong desire for more time in my own heart right now. But yet, we know that no matter how much we want more, God’s time and reasoning often do not align with ours. So for those gathered with Jesus that night, I can completely understand their confusion and desire to know more. They are already starting the grieving process and their minds and hearts just do not seem able to fathom it.
As we move into our passage from today, our friend Thomas enters the narrative…I have to admit that it just seems to me as I study these passages and the disciples at this time in their lives with Jesus, Thomas may be the only one who really desires to understand what Jesus is trying to teach. I mean, I know that what we have is what someone recorded for us but if Thomas is the one who questions the most, maybe he is the one that we should emulate in our own lives of study…meaning that we should always be seeking the answers to our questions…but I am digressing.
Just before Thomas asks his questions and seeks, we hear Jesus giving words of comfort to those around him...
John 14:1–4 CEB
“Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”
Now, these words are pretty straightforward for those of us nearly 2,000 years later. However, for the disciples, I can imagine that these words provided little comfort and this is why I also think that Thomas questions Jesus’ words. I don’t think it is so much that Thomas lacked belief but rather that he wanted to truly understand what Jesus was talking about. I liken this to when we are young and our favorite word becomes, “Why?”. Thomas just wants to understand why Jesus needs to go before us. And it all comes back to what I was saying a bit ago…these are words meant to comfort those who are in turmoil. Jesus recognizes that his departure from the world will mean that those he loves so dearly are going to be all alone and left to manage their faith without him. Now, we know too that Jesus sent the Spirit so that we have a constant companion but the Spirit has not yet arrived for Thomas and the disciple. Until it does, these disciples will be faced with a lot of persecution. So, like many of us today, Jesus wants them to know that he is going to heaven to get things ready for them and all who will follow them.
Again, I can imagine that this is not great comfort for them, which is what I think is behind Thomas’ and Philip’s questions. Here is Thomas’ question for us to reflect on for a few moments...
John 14:5 CEB
Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
So Thomas, in true disciple fashion, misses the point. To be honest, I am not sure I would have even understood in that moment given all the emotions and feelings of the night and what I am sure was an atmosphere thick with anxiety and fear. However, I am fairly certain that I probably would have asked the very same thing…what do you mean you are going somewhere that we cannot go?” I remember a time in my life when I could not attend something because my parents felt that I would not be able to comprehend what was happening. I think I might have asked the very same question…but in my parents’ role as my protectors and comforters, they chose that I would remain behind while they attended the funeral of my 2 yr old cousin…I was 3 by the way…as much as I wanted to be with them that night, at least I think I am remembering it correctly or at least close any way, this was a decision that my parents made to protect me. Just like my parents, I am thinking that Jesus might be doing the same for his disciples.
I mean think about what he says in response to Thomas (and his response to Philip is similar)...
John 14:6 CEB
Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Basically, Jesus is saying, “Continue to follow me. While you will not be with me right away, I will be waiting for you when you get there. The only way to get there is to continue doing what I taught you to do.” In his response to Philip’s question, he takes this a bit further and says,
John 14:11–12 CEB
Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.
He is asking the disciples to remember all that they had done together and that when it is time, they will do even greater things because they believe in him. In a roundabout way, Jesus is claiming himself as the Messiah and saying that because he and God are one in the same, the things they have done will only continue to grow as more come to trust in Jesus because of what is about to happen. Essentially, this is the reminder that they all have the power that Jesus does because they believe.
Phew, that’s a lot to say and I am not sure that it made any of it clearer…so let me try to say it another way...

What This Means for Us Today...

Jesus is the Messiah. He had to suffer and die. Because he did, we have a promised eternal life of protection and comfort. This is the whole of the gospel message any way, it is just that we need to be reminded continually. We are faulty beings. None of us are perfect, thank God that we don’t have to be either! Most of us are apt to allow the world to dictate to us how we should be and how we should act, but here in this passage, Jesus reminds us of three very important things...
He was, is, and always will be the one who came to give us freedom from sin
Jesus makes room for us in Heaven so that when our work is done here on Earth, we can be with him and God in a place where there is peace, comfort, freedom from pain, sorrow, and tears
Most importantly, that we have work to do while we are here and anything that we ask him to do will be done, whether that’s in our time or not, it will be done if we ask it in his name...
These three things should be the way that we live our lives. Following what Jesus did, preparing ourselves to be received in the kingdom of Heaven (we are not to expect that life will be easy here on Earth), and our work is cut out for us. Because Jesus went before us, we are assured that there will be room for us because that is why he came, to pay for the sins we commit, and give us eternal life. Amen.
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