“Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews,`Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times. Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
“I’m leaving,” is never an easy thing to hear, especially when that leaving means big changes are coming. I mentioned my grandma a week or two ago, how I sat next to her on her deathbed. The hardest thing for me to do was to say goodbye; I actually don’t even know if I did say goodbye. I told her I loved her and we tried to just talk, but there is something about saying goodbye or hearing goodbye that feels so final and that’s why it gets so touchy. Life is full of “goodbye’s,” isn’t it? Some are definitely harder than others.
The nature of this portion of Jesus’ conversation is all about putting the proverbial finger on the sensitive spot of departure, even if it would be from Friday until Sunday. Death was the dividing wall between that timing; could you imagine losing someone you love deeply in death even if they were going to rise again? The difficulty is in knowing whether resurrection would really happen, isn’t it? That was the heartache of Martha towards Lazarus; there’s a “knowing” that we’ve learned about the hope of resurrection, but then there’s the experiential knowledge that we still lack. Look at the Scriptures after the cross and before Christ reconnects with them; Jesus’ followers were all hopeful and yet sad and felt completely filled with uncertainty. Some, like Thomas, would have difficulty believing (could this be a form of protecting himself from disappointment?), and more than one of them went back to the fishing job they had before following Jesus just to have an unproductive night. When Christ came, He set them all straight and greatly cemented their confidence in Him.
What Jesus would touch upon that would be so powerful is the necessity of His death for the good of His disciples (and all believers). In the context of his conversation, we see the new commandment to love being given to the disciples. His command to love would be repeated in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and 1 and 2 John. This tells us that they were highly impressed upon with this commandment and knew it was central to the life of the church and the believer.
What is interesting is that Jesus inserts loving one another in the midst of talking about going away. Why is that? He basically answers that question in v. 35, “by this all will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” If is a word of condition; how will people know that we are followers of God? His answer is if we love one another. John would write in 1 John 4:20-21, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” Faith is not just vertical; it must influence how we relate to others, especially those we’re united with in the body of Christ.
The next element of this conversation seems to be one of Peter’s “specialties” in the Gospels: to take a bold step or make a radical claim only to falter on the follow-through. Jesus knew this would happen; in Luke 22:31-34, Jesus would say this to Peter:
“Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.”
The strength of Peter’s faith in the long run may be attributed to this: a Christ who interceded for him prior to his fall and a Christ who forgave him, restored him, and called him to a high calling in feeding the sheep (John 21). Did you catch in v. 32 that Jesus tells Peter the same plan He gives him in John 21:15-17 (“if you love Me, feed my sheep”)? When you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren. That’s a command and a commission and Jesus didn’t change the plan after Peter’s failure. There is so much parallel for you and me in how Jesus deals with Peter in Luke 22:31-34/John 21: He intercedes for us, forgives us, and calls us to serve Him even when we are deeply aware of how unworthy we are to serve Him. The gospel message itself ought to remind us that we are unworthy not only of the message that we preach, the heaven we proclaim, and the God we speak of, but even the right to be messengers at all. What most folks, even church folks, will look at as a duty and drudgery, the Christian life, is actually a deep privilege and a high honor only bestowed, never earned: which is why the apostles often rejoiced in even being counted worthy to be beaten for the gospel or imprisoned (see Acts 5:41).
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” The term for mansions translates from the Greek word “mone” (pronounced mon-ay…not money); it’s closely tied to the word mono, as in single or one. This translation has certainly caused many different visions over the years to each person as they imagine their “mansion,” but the term means dwelling-place or room, or abode. It only comes up one other time, in John 14:23, in which Christ says that He and the Father will come and in make their abode with those who love and keep His word. Perhaps it would be better to think of the terminology along these lines: there is a place for you in heaven with God; it is eternal, perfect and a gift from God secured by the death of Christ on the cross. The term is for a physical dwelling; just keep in mind that having a place in heaven with God is more the point than the type of place it is. In a similar vein, Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:8:
Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
How has the place been prepared for us? How did Christ go to accomplish this place for us? The answer, I believe, is the cross. The context of the preparation of a dwelling place is a conversation on the need for Christ to leave, a journey they can’t take yet but will soon enough someday. The only way (Jesus proclaims He is the Way) to heaven is through faith in Christ, but His death was necessary as sin had to be dealt with completely. So if we imagine Jesus building a dwelling place with a hammer and nails, in such an analogy recognize that it was the nails being hammered through His hands that was the needed preparation of a place for all who believe.
It is to our advantage that Jesus died on the cross. He told the disciples that it was to their advantage; there is no acceptance with God the Father outside of faith placed in the Son, who died on the cross to remove the Father’s wrath against sin. No cross, no wrath-removing sacrifice for sin. No resurrection, no hope and we preach an empty message (see 1 Cor. 15:13-15). There is no giving of the Holy Spirit to the church, the promised Helper, without Christ ascending back to Heaven in Acts 1. Aren’t you glad God knows best, even when the disciples in Scripture tried or even we ourselves today try to talk Him out of plans that are higher and greater than what we can presently see? He knows what we need and has gone to great lengths to ensure the hope that He promises.
Prayer by Pastor Sam:
Lord, thank you for going to the cross and obeying the Father. Thank you for preparing a place for every believer that we could spend eternity with You. Thank you for the beautiful message of the Gospel that is not just for us but is open to all who will come and believe. Lord, open hearts to Your Gospel today throughout the world. We praise You for Your wisdom, Your patience, Your foresight and Your control. We pray for your provision and for love for others to fill our hearts and overflow in our words and actions. Be with those who are treating the sick and dying and give them wisdom, energy, and the rest that they need when they can get it. In Christ’s name I pray, Amen.