Ananias… laying his hands on him… said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 9:17 There are three accounts in the New Testament...
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. In 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. And 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.” John 14:1-3 (NIV)
Today I want to talk about a brand of faith that causes a great deal of confusion for many people. I’ve called it “Trouble-free faith.” Trouble-free faith claims more than Christ has promised in this world.
You may be familiar with religious teachers on television who convey the idea that anything is possible for you… if you just have enough faith. If you have the faith, then healing will be yours, prosperity will be yours, and so on.
The idea behind trouble-free faith is that there is a life of unclouded joy for you and for your family in this world, and that it’s there for the taking… if you have the faith.
Trouble-free faith has immense appeal. We all want our loved ones to be healthy. We all want to live long and happy lives. So we instinctively reckon: How could God want anything else for us?
Trouble-free faith: Claims more than Christ has promised in this world
Trouble-free faith sometimes goes beyond personal faith and is applied to life in society. When it has a social conscience, it goes something like this: “We can change the world! If we would just go and live out our faith, this world would be completely different.” Trouble-free faith promises the life of heaven right here and now on earth. It claims more than Christ has promised in this world.
John speaks about this kind of faith in his first letter: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:9). If you think you will get beyond the battle with sin in this life you are deceived. Whatever kind of faith you have, it is not Christian—the truth is not in you.
You find something similar in Corinth, where Paul says “Already you have become kings” (1 Corinthians 4:8). Kings have complete authority. Some of you seem to have the idea that God has given you the power to achieve everything you want right now.
“I wish that was true,” Paul says. “How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you. For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession like men condemned to die in the arena” (1 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Trouble-free faith: Forgets the promise of Christ’s second coming
When Christ calls the disciples to faith in this critical hour of their lives, He grounds their faith in three promises: 1) His Resurrection: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (v18), 2) His Spirit: “He lives with you and will be in you” (v17), 3) His return: “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (v3). These promises are central to Christian faith. There is no true Christianity without them.
We’re going to focus on the promise of Christ’s return today. I want us to grasp three things:
- Jesus confronts us with the reality of life. (No escapism).
- Jesus establishes our hope in another world. (No naïve optimism)
- Jesus calls us to faith in Himself. (No despair)
Jesus Confronts Us with the Reality of Life (No Escapism)
Some folks have the idea that Christianity is a crutch for weak people who can’t face reality. Exactly the opposite is true. If you follow Christ, He will confront you with the truth about yourself, the truth about other people, and the truth about the world.
Peter had come a long way in following Jesus. He had confessed that Jesus is the Christ. He had seen the glory of Christ in the transfiguration. His confidence was riding high. So, when Jesus spoke about the cross, Peter was confident in his ability to stand for Christ:
Jesus: “Where I am going you cannot come” (John 13:33).
Peter: “Lord, why can’t I follow you now, I will lay down my life for you” (v37).
Jesus: “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows you will disown me three times” (v38).
A few hours later Jesus was arrested, and when a servant girl suggested to Peter that surely he was with Jesus, Peter denies that he had ever known the Lord.
Peter discovers that he is not the man he thought he was. He had felt so strong. He seemed to be making such good progress. But now suddenly he discovers that he has feet of clay. His whole evaluation of himself changes.
We all know what this is like. You have been doing well—you’ve been praying more. You’re growing in confidence and in strength, but then you say something foolish or you do something you should never have done. Suddenly, everything changes, and you realize afresh the failure that is within you—your own sin.
Sin has a way of humbling us all. I let my Lord down. After all these years I am still so much less than I want to be.
The disciples had become a really close group. They had lived together in community, served together on mission. Following Christ had bonded them together as a team. These men loved each other.
Then Jesus says “One of you will betray me.” One-by-one, with great sadness, they said to Jesus “Is it me?” (Mark 14:19). Here’s the astonishing thing—nobody said “Is it Judas?” When artists depict the twelve, you can often guess which one is Judas. He has dark lines under his eyes, looks a bit shifty, but it wasn’t like that. When Judas walked out of the upper room, it was totally unexpected.
Peter and the other disciples loved Judas. What he did must have been devastating to them. Who would have believed that Judas would do a thing like that? If that could happen to him, what does that mean for me? When someone you love, someone you respect, walks away from Christ or falls into a flagrant sin, the effects are heart-breaking.
“My children, I will be with you only a little longer” John 13:33
These men had left everything to follow Jesus. For three years their whole lives had been build around Him and now He is about to be taken from them. Jesus confronts these men with the realities of life in this world—failure, disappointment, and loss. That was 2,000 years ago. So, how has the world changed?
Imagine Peter traveling through time to join us in 21st century America, and you have the day to show him around Chicago. You tell him to get in your car—you have to explain that you use this instead of a donkey. Then your cell phone rings. Peter wants to know what it is. “Its called an iPhone.” He sees the email and wants to know how the scrolls get inside that little thing.
Then you take him to one of our great hospitals in the city, and show him the radiology department: “Peter, this is where we help people who are sick.” You take him to one of the universities and show him our educational facilities. He observes students learning from the experience of people in every part of the world, and his jaw drops to the floor.
Then you think “Oh, of course, its Peter, I’d better show him the churches. He will be interested in that.” So you take him on a tour of churches in the greater Chicago area. You show him the ministries, the Christian institutions, and the seminaries, who are serving thousands of people.
Peter says “This is amazing! We didn’t have anything like this. Let me ask you a question before I go: Are there any people in this city with its marvelous medicine who have experienced disappointment and the loss of someone they really love? Are there any people in these institutions who feel that their trust was broken, that they were let down, disappointed or even betrayed? Do you have any folks in these great churches who are humbled by their failures and grieve over their sins?”
When the tour was over I think Peter would say “Your world is totally different and yet it is exactly the same.” The nature of life in this fallen world never changes. It doesn’t change, no matter where you go, no matter what kind of prosperity you come into, no matter which generation in history you happen to live.
Jesus Establishes Our Hope in Another World (No Naïve Optimism)
What does Jesus say about living in this world of failure, disappointment and loss? “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me… In my Fathers house are many rooms…” (John 14:1-2). That’s astonishing: Jesus confronts his friends with the painful reality of life in this world. Then, He speaks about a hope that is outside this world in His Father’s house!
The fabric of this fallen world
When Christ says “Do not let not your hearts be troubled,” He is not saying “Do not let your hearts be troubled, because I will make this world a better place for you.” His promise to the disciples is not “As education improves and medical technology advances, your lives will improve over the centuries,” or “As you mature in your faith, understand more of the Bible, and learn to pray, the experience of failure, disappointment and loss will begin to recede.” That’s not what He says.
This fallen world will always be what it is—a fallen world. With all its blessings and joys, our experience of life in this world is scarred with failure, disappointment and loss. So, Christ establishes our hope, not here in this world, but in another world.
What is this telling us? Sin, disappointment and loss are woven into the fabric of this world. You will never advance beyond them or outgrow them. Any attempt to suggest that we can live in this world without them is naïve at best.
Grasping this truth will do more than anything else to bring stability to your faith. Some Christians are thrown into confusion when suffering comes. They have to go back to the basics every time a natural disaster hits: Does God love me? Then why did He allow this to happen? They feel that since they have faith in Christ they should somehow be insulated from failure, disappointment, and loss.
When a crisis comes, they lose their moorings. The foundations of their faith are shaken. They lose themselves in questioning how God could allow this to happen. Where do folks get the idea that if you follow Jesus you can expect a life that is free from failure disappointment and loss in this world?
That is exactly the opposite of what Jesus says: “In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33). And He’s speaking to His disciples, so it’s not as though godliness will get you beyond that. He establishes their hope in another world.
If your hope is established in this world, you will be shattered by failure, disappointment, and loss. What are you going to do when you experience a loss that cannot be replaced in this world? A disappointment that remains for a lifetime? A failure that changes the course of your life?
Jesus is establishing His disciples in a faith that can stand in the realities of failure, disappointment, and loss that are woven into the fabric of this world. They need a faith that can withstand the misery of personal failure—as Peter denies His Lord, the sorrow of gut-wrenching disappointment—as Judas betrays Christ, and the pain of irreplaceable loss—as Jesus is taken from them.
Hope in the Father’s house
To do that, Christ establishes their hope in another world. That’s core to the Gospel. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men…” (1 Corinthians 1:19). Here’s our hope: “Christ as been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v20). Jesus’ answer to our experience of failure, disappointment and loss lies in the Father’s house.
Don’t we have the Holy Spirit now? Doesn’t Christ say that the Spirit is with you and in you? The Bible describes the Spirit as “a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come…” (Ephesians 1:14).
For ordinary folks, the down payment on a house is a very small part of what will eventually be paid. The Holy Spirit is the down payment, the deposit, or first installment. Everything you know of Christ in this world, all the joy you have in Him, all the sanctifying work of the Spirit in your life, is only a small fraction, a sample, a deposit on what will be yours in Jesus Christ in the Father’s house.
I have to see my life as a journey through this world. I am a pilgrim who does not belong here. My life is hidden with Christ in God. What happens here is about preparation for the Father’s House.
Jesus Calls Us to Faith in Himself (No Despair)
I imagine it was quite dark as Jesus and the disciples were heading towards Gethsemane, and the piercing eyes of Jesus looked deep into the soul of each of His disciples, and He said “Here’s what I want you to do right now. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me…”
- “In My Father’s house are many rooms.” John 14:2
Isn’t Christ talking about heaven—where He came from, and where He was going to? He says “There is room for you there. Trust me in this.”
When Jesus chooses an image to convey to us something of what heaven is like, He chooses the image of home—His Father’s house. You will be at home, as one who belongs to Christ, in the Father’s House.
Revelation speaks of God spreading His tent over His people (Revelation 7:15). Can you picture that? That is a beautiful picture of inclusion. You will not feel like an outsider there. Jesus is saying to His disciples “You will feel more at home in heaven than you have felt in any place you have ever been in your life.”
- “I am going there to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2
We are not to imagine Jesus working round the clock to get heaven organized, like one working all night to prepare for guests. If Christ can create the cosmos out of nothing with a word, He can get heaven ready for believers with a single command.
When Christ says He is “going there to prepare a place,” it means that through His going the place will be prepared. Where is He going? Christ is going to the Cross. He is going to the grave. He is going to die, and He is going to rise, and He is going to ascend to heaven. Through His death and resurrection He opens the way for us to enter the glory of the Father’s house.
I was thinking about this after watching the Super Bowl on Sunday. Can you picture yourself on the field? You have the ball and for a moment you see the goal line 30 yards ahead of you. The crowd is cheering, and your heart pounds as you begin to run.
But there in front of you are the defensive linemen—huge guys looking right at you. You read the names on their helmets: “Law,” “Sin,” and “Death.” There is another one, bigger, meaner and uglier than the others, standing behind the linemen. On his helmet it says “Satan.” There is no way for you to get past these guys. They stand between you and the goal line, and you know that they will flatten you before you get there.
But now an offensive lineman comes at great speed towards them. They are looking to take you out, but He comes and takes them out, and clears your way to the goal line. This is what Jesus has done for us on the cross. “I go to prepare a place for you. Sin and death cannot bar the way.”
- “I will come back and take you to be with me.” John 14:3
Christ will take all His people to the Father’s house. He gives you His word on this, and He will do it in one of two ways:
If you die before Christ comes, He will take you to the Father’s house without the body. If you die and we go to your funeral, your body will be there, but your soul will be present with the Lord: To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). You will receive a new body when He comes again.
If you live until Christ comes, He will take you to the Father’s house in the body, which will be transformed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52).
Either way, it is Christ who is taking you to the Father’s house. Paul describes how this will happen:
“According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you [He’s referring to what Jesus says. I believe it is what He says right here.] The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18