It’s been a while since I’ve done a Bible study post, so I thought that it was high time I redressed that balance. The passage I want to look at is a short paragraph at the start of John 14:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that 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. You know the way to the place where I am going.” – John 14:1-4 (NIV)
The comfort that Jesus offers is twofold; on one level, Jesus is comforting his eleven (twelve minus Judas Iscariot) disciples who are there with him in that time and place, because he does not want them to despair after he has died (though not many of them seem to actually take this comfort to heart), but on another level, Jesus is comforting all his disciples, throughout time. That includes you and me. It is this second, more far-reaching meaning that I want to highlight in this post.
There are so many things that we could be afraid of in this world – spiders, heights, small spaces – etc. but perhaps, as clichéd as it is, the thing that the vast majority of us are afraid of to some extent is the unknown. Thus, we can be afraid of change, meeting new people, doing something different…but perhaps the greatest unknown is death. No matter what we do to prepare ourselves for it, there is no way that we can practise it. I don’t want to become morbid, but I think that this simple, frightening truth is the key to the much greater, awesome truth of this passage and the gospel.
Another avenue that I could go down if I had the leisure and patience to write a book on this is the cynical view that Christianity is a crutch, that people only believe in it to give themselves some sort of hope, that sort of thing. Well insofar as I will discuss that viewpoint, I will say that it’s pretty much true. I’m not ashamed to admit that one of the reasons that I believe in Christianity is because it gives me hope for the future, and I am not ashamed to admit that the main reason that I need God is because I am too weak and flawed to do this thing we call ‘life’ on my own. You can take what you want from that.
With the disturbing foundations laid for this verse: fear of death, weakness, desperation, and so on, I now want to look at what Jesus said. He starts off with ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty good way to start.
Okay, so why should we not let our hearts be troubled? Well, Jesus doesn’t answer right away. First he asks something from us: faith. Believe in God; believe also in him. He cannot comfort us if we refuse to acknowledge him, it’d be like hugging a statue. I know that this belief is not easy for some people. I’ve struggled with it…and I’d be amazed to find a Christian who has never had doubts of any kind. Recently, as I’ve been adjusting to life in university, I’ve found that I haven’t stopped believing in God or anything, but it hasn’t been a major part of my life. Last night I actually spoke to God properly for the first time since coming here, and the difference was instant. He directed me to this passage (which I’d never paid any attention to before) and set me back on the right track. Acknowledging him is the key.
Once we’ve acknowledged God, then we can move onto the good stuff. Jesus tells us the reason that he has to die: to ‘prepare a place’ for us. And why, he asks, would he say it, ‘if that were not so’? I feel that this is a call to Christians, to the disciples. If we say we believe in Jesus, then why should we doubt anything that he says? Why would he say it, if it wasn’t true? Remember, I think that there are two ways to read this passage: circumstantial (i.e. in the time and place of speaking) and universal (applicable to all believers, regardless of time or place). I think that the universal meaning of this sentence is that Jesus died so that we may be able to come to the ‘Father’s house’. Without Jesus, there would be no place prepared for us.
Next, Jesus says that he will ‘come back and take you to be with me’. We know from the history of the early church that Jesus did not physically return at any point in the lives of his original disciples in order to take them to Heaven, so what could this mean? For me, I think we can take this as a profound comfort. When death comes, Jesus will be there with us to take us to his Father’s house. Death should hold no fear for those who fear the Lord.
The final part of the passage is somewhat ambiguous. Circumstantially, I would assume that it means that Jesus was confirming to the disciples that he had to die, but when I read this, it served as a reminder that the road to Heaven isn’t always easy. To get there, we must first die (or live through the end times, but that’s another story…) and we need to have faith in God. It sounds simple, but neither of those things are easy, though for different reasons.
I’ve broken the passage down (I’m an English student, it’s what I do) and now I want to bring it back together as a whole and see what we can take from it. At the core of this message there are two things: 1) that we need to believe in God and his Son, otherwise we’re never going to go anywhere in Christianity, and 2) that there is no need to fear anything, not even the ultimate unknown, death, because Jesus has been through it and prepared a place so that when our time comes, we can know that Jesus is going to be there with us every step of the way.
I’m going to wrap this up now. I know that I’ve brushed up against some sensitive issues, but I’ve tried to handle this as well as I can. I believe that there is a powerful message in those four verses, and I urge you to have a read and think about them for yourself.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said this: “The only thing we have to fear, is Fear itself.” Well, I’m saying this: “The only thing we have to fear, is the One who destroyed Fear itself.”