The Spirit is willing, the flesh is weak

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Matthew 26:36-46

My teenage years were haunted by Gethsemane.  For a serious-minded 14 year old, this was the ultimate display of godly devotion.  Here was Christ leading the way in the school of prayer – showing us how to “give it all up for God.”  In desperation He prostrates Himself before the Father, He pours out His soul, He offers everything to God no matter the cost and declares “thy will be done!”

Well then, what’s a good Christian boy to do but follow in His footsteps? So that’s what I tried.  Night after night, year after year I prayed what I considered to be “Gethsemane prayers.”  “God take me, use me, come into my life, have it all, your will be done!

I expected heaven to open, or perhaps angels to attend me.  At least a funny feeling in my stomach, some sign that I’d been heard.  But I got nothing.  So I prayed again.  This time more fervently.  Still nothing.  So I decided to pull out all the stops.  I went outside at dead of night, the way Jesus did.  I would find the scariest clearing in a forest and fall prostrate before God: “Take me, use me, your will be done!”  And the response from heaven?  Nothing.

After a thousand of such prayers I came to the conclusion that God didn’t want me.  So I didn’t want Him.  I left home to have as good a time as possible without Him.

Yet a few years later the Lord brought me back through this same passage. Our Bible study came to Luke 22 and I said how daunted I was by Gethsemane.

“Daunted? Why?” asked the leader.

“Well,” I replied, “I just don’t think I can pray Gethsemane prayers the way Jesus did.  I don’t have that level of commitment.”

“The way Jesus did?  Glen, who do you think you are in this story?”

I didn’t like to say but, well, surely I’m Jesus in the story.  Or I’m meant to be anyway.

The leader corrected me.  “Do you know who you are?  You’re Peter.”

And the penny dropped.  I’m not Jesus!  I’m Peter.  I’m weak, useless, faithless Peter.  I ought to pray with Jesus, but I don’t.  I fail.  And as I fail, Jesus prays for me.

By the Spirit, I belong to Jesus.  By the Spirit I want to follow Christ.  But my flesh is from Adam.  My flesh is weak.  And I’m constantly falling asleep on the watch.

Yet Jesus prays for me.

That’s the meaning of this story.  It’s the meaning of the Scriptures.  I am not the centre, Christ is.  I am not the Faithful, Obedient One, Christ is. My hope is not my self-offering to God.  My hope is Christ’s self-offering to God.  And while I sleep and fail and flee and even deny Him – Christ is praying for me.

Christopher Idle put it perfectly:

When you prayed beneath the trees, it was for me, O Lord;
When you cried upon your knees, how could it be, O Lord?
When in blood and sweat and tears, you dismissed your final fears
When you faced the soldier’s spears, you stood for me, O Lord.

When their triumph looked complete, it was for me, O Lord,
When it seemed like your defeat, they could not see, O Lord!
When you faced the mob alone, you were silent as a stone,
And a tree became your throne; you came for me, O Lord.

When you stumbled up the road, you walked for me, O Lord,
When you took your deadly load, that heavy tree, O Lord;
When they lifted you on high, and they nailed you up to die,
And when darkness filled the sky, it was for me, O Lord.

When you spoke with kingly power, it was for me, O Lord;
In that dread and destined hour you made me free, O Lord.
Earth and heaven heard you shout, death & hell were put to rout,
For the grave could not hold out; you are for me, O Lord.

Let this cup pass from me

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Matthew 26:36-46

It was the original poisoned chalice.  Just minutes after pouring wine into a cup of blessing, Jesus prays to His Abba, Father regarding a very different cup:

Jesus kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  (Luke 22:41-44)

In Matthew 26:39 we read the more familiar version of His prayer: “let this cup pass from me.”  He took the cup of the upper room gladly, He fervently wishes away this cup.

Between these two cups we learn something of the “wonderful exchange” which takes place between Christ and the believer.

One cup was offered in the upper room.  One cup was offered in the Garden of Gethsemane.

One cup is given to us.  One cup Jesus drinks for Himself.

One cup is for the forgiveness of sins.  One cup is full of wrath and judgement.

One cup brings life.  One cup brings death.

One cup is described as a cup of blessing.  The other cup is a cup of curse.

Yet Jesus takes the curses that we might have the blessings.  He drinks what we deserve so that we receive what only He deserves.

And though this exchange is offered for free.  It is unfathomably costly for Christ.

Consider how the bible speaks of this cup of judgement:

“In the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same:  but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them.”  (Psalm 75:8)

“Thus saith the LORD God of Israel unto me; Take the wine cup of this fury at my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send thee, to drink it.  And they shall drink, and be moved, and be mad, because of the sword that I will send among them.  Then took I the cup at the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations to drink, unto whom the LORD had sent me… Therefore thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Drink ye, and be drunken, and spue, and fall, and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you.  And it shall be, if they refuse to take the cup at thine hand to drink, then shalt thou say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ye shall certainly drink.  For, lo, I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my name, and should ye be utterly unpunished?  Ye shall not be unpunished:  for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith the LORD of hosts.”         (Jeremiah 25:15-29)

“If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.”  (Revelation 14:9-10)

This is why Jesus was “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”  This is why He asks for the cup to pass from Him.  This is why Luke’s gospel records that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”  (Luke 22:44).  Blood vessels are bursting all over His body as He contemplates drinking this cup.  It is full of the furious wrath of God.

The cross is not a three-hour inconvenience for the Son of God.  It means entering into the infinite abyss of sin and curse.  The hell of the cross was not easier for Christ than the hell of the damned.  The hell of the cross was worse.  All hell was distilled in that cup.  All hell converged on that cross.  And for the holy Son of God it was not more bearable but infinitely worse.  Therefore He wanted another way.  Of course He prays that the cup might pass.

And yet, how strange that He should pray it.  Here is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).  But as that dreaded hour draws near, He seeks earnestly for another path.  How terrible is the godforsakenness of the cross!  And yet how necessary.

Often people question the necessity of the cross.  Why should Christ have to die?  Why doesn’t God simply forgive?  Why this business with blood sacrifice?  Surely there’s another way!?

These are all questions which, in principle, Christ Himself asks here in the garden.  This is the very essence of His hour-long wrestling.  And yet His Abba, Father provides no other way.  There is no cup of blessing for us unless Christ takes the cup of curse.  We cannot escape from the furnace of judgement unless Christ goes for us.  The cup of wrath cannot pass from us unless it passes to Christ.

And here in the garden, Man steps in for man.  Where Adam had failed in that first garden, Christ triumphs.  He rises from prayer resolved “Thy will be done!” (v39).  He has faced the prospect in all its horror – either He goes to hell or we do.  And He comes to His decision:  “Father, let it be me!”

Amazing love, how can it be?
That Thou my God shouldst die for me!

Abba, Father

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Mark 14:32-42

It’s one of the first sounds a baby will make.  ‘Ma ma ma ma’.  Or ‘Ba ba ba ba’.  Which is why, in so many languages, the proud parents take their babbling children to be speaking their names.  ‘Mama’ or ‘Amma’ is a very common word for ‘mother’.  And ‘Papa’ or ‘Baba’ is similarly common as a word for father.  In Aramaic it’s “Abba” which a child will call their father from the very earliest age.

Yet the name is not only reserved for childhood (as “Daddy” might be in English).  The toddler who cries “Abba”, will continue to call their father “Abba” long into adulthood.  It is not only an intimate term, but one of respect.

But here’s the question:  Who gets to call God Most High “Abba”?

If I called the Queen “Liz” that would be a gross dishonour, but at least such familiarity makes no claim on the Queen.  I have no right to call her “Liz” but in doing so I haven’t established any claim to her throne or right to protection or provision.  “Liz” is intimate but it doesn’t set me in a particular relationship to her.  But if I claim to be family, that’s something else entirely.  If the Queen were not only Ma’am but also Mum, that would put me in a very privileged position.  As family I am in on what she is in on.  As family I can inherit.

So let’s return to our question:  Who gets to call God Most High “Abba”? Answer:  the Son of  God.  And, really, only Him.  Only Jesus can articulate that degree of intimacy.  Only Jesus can make that kind of claim on the God of Heaven.

In the New Testament we read three “Abba, Father”s.  The first is in the garden of Gethsemane (of which, more tomorrow).  There Jesus prays in blood earnestness to His Father as He contemplates the cross.  The obedient Son calls out to the Father with a title that only the obedient Son can.

And yet, the phrase is used twice more by the Apostle Paul.

In Galatians 4:6 he writes:

“God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.”  (Galatians 4:6)

Here we see the Spirit sweeping up the believer into the perfect prayer-life of the Son.  The Spirit of Christ prays Christ’s prayer in us and through us.  We are drawn by the Spirit into the union and communion which the obedient Son enjoys with His Abba, Father.  The believer’s new heart-beat is “Abba, Father, Abba, Father, Abba, Father” because the Spirit is making that cry from deep within us.

But not only this, Romans 8:15 says:

“ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”

“Abba, Father” is no longer just what the Son prays.  And it’s not just what the Spirit of the Son prays in us.  The Spirit now teaches us to pray “Abba, Father” for ourselves.

What right do we have to call the King of Kings “Daddy”?  None.  Not in ourselves.  But Christ has that right.  And by His Spirit, He shares that right with us.

As Mike Reeves has said:  “To be the son of a millionaire would be nice.  To be the firstborn of some wealthy king would be wonderful enough.  But we are the beloved children of the Emperor of the Universe.”  And we can call Him “Abba, Father.”

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”  (1 John 3:1)

This is my blood

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Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 11:17-33

In 2 Thessalonians 2, the Apostle Paul speaks of “the lie.”  It’s a deception which the human race falls for every time.  Essentially the lie is this:  We believe that the Lord is grudging.  We imagine that, if He’s gracious at all, He doles out blessings with a teaspoon.

Ever since Satan first spoke to Eve he has been peddling this same deception:  “You mean to tell me God’s withholding all this fruit from you?  What a miser!”  Eve fell for it.  Adam fell for it.  The world falls for it.  Every day.  And so do I.

The greatest battle in my Christian life is to fight “the lie.”  Every day I am tempted to view God as a distant, tight-fisted, kill-joy.  It makes me mistrust Him, shut down and close off from Him.  Then I try to manage life out of my own resources.  This lie will kill my spiritual life.

So how should I fight the lie?  With the blood of Christ.

After handing out bread at the last supper…

“Jesus took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”  (Matthew 26: 27-28)

It’s a shocking dramatisation of the cross.  Bread torn apart – this is my body. Red wine poured out – this is my blood.  Jesus would be utterly consumed and exhausted on the cross.  Broken and expended… for us.  That’s the whole point – it’s for us.  Jesus takes death, we get the feast.  He gives His blood, we get the banquet.

And just think of what blood means in the Bible.  In Leviticus 17 the LORD speaks of the blood of the sacrifices:

“The life of the flesh is in the blood:  and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls:  for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.”  (Leviticus 17:11)

To pour out blood is to pour out life.  And this is what Jesus does for us.  He gives His infinitely precious blood – the blood of God (Acts 20:28) – in atonement for our souls.

Who can look to the cross and doubt the generosity of our Lord?  Here is no grudging miser.  Here is Life expended to the very last drop.  Here is a gushing forth of self that we might live.

This God does not dispense blessings with a teaspoon.  He pours Himself out – for us and to us.  At the cross, ‘the lie’ is unmasked.  Satan is the miser.  We are the selfish ones.  God is Giver – though it cost Him everything.  And He doesn’t merely give us things, He pours out His own blood.  He expends Himself in complete self-offering.  And all we can do is gratefully receive.

This is my body

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Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 10:14-17

The mission of Christ’s life was His death.  It was His ‘glory’, or His ‘hour’ as He kept calling it.  And on the night before He died He instituted a meal to commemorate this central act of His coming.

Incredibly, Jesus did not mainly set Himself forth as the Host of this meal (although He is – it’s the Lord’s supper after all).  But more fundamentally, Jesus offers Himself as the main course.

He takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it and gives it to His disciples saying “This is my body.”  (Matthew 26:26).

The meaning of His death is contained in this little phrase.  Jesus, torn apart like bread, is given that we might live.  He is devoured, that we might be fed.  He is broken that we might be nourished.

To be eaten up is a common way of speaking about death.  For instance, the Psalmist speaks of his deadly foes like this:

“When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.”  (Psalm 27:2)

When a person eats the flesh of another they take advantage of their death.  And so Jesus wants us to do with His death.  He wants us to take advantage of His sacrifice.  In fact the Old Testament sacrifices were eaten after they were killed.  First they turned away wrath, then they nourished and provided an occasion for fellowship.  The Passover Lamb was the same – first its blood shielded from judgement, then it sustained the people for their journey out of Egypt.

And so it is with Jesus.  He is our propitiation and our fellowship meal.  He’s given for us as our atoning sacrifice and given to us as our ongoing sustenance.  Jesus really is the Bread of life.  And it’s His death that brings us life.

Think of a loaf torn apart and handed to you.  Freely offered.  Life-giving.  Hunger-satisfying.  Fellowship-creating.  Generous.  Nourishing.  Available.  That is Jesus for you.  Because of His once-for-all death on that Friday, He says to us today:

“This is my body which is given for you.”  (Luke 22:19)

Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it …

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Matthew 26:17-30

Every Sunday for 2000 years ministers of the gospel have been repeating this phrase.

All over the world, Christ’s people gather to eat the bread and drink the wine and they hear these words:

“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat…”  (Matthew 26:26)

Let’s consider each phrase…

As they were eating…

The Lord’s Supper is a supper.  It is a meal.  And this is how salvation is portrayed throughout the Bible.  God’s people are not promised a heavenly buffet – finger food that we can take poolside while we top up our tan.   We are called to a feast – a wedding feast with Christ as host. We are brought into the heart of the Family, to sit at table and dine with our Lord.  There could be no greater sign of our fellowship with God than that we are invited to eat with Him.

… Jesus took bread…

As we will see, Jesus says of this bread:  “This is my body.”  Here is how the feast comes about.  Before Jesus is the Host, He becomes the main course.  In history, the Son of God did indeed take a body.  He took our flesh, entering our humanity and making it His own.

… and blessed it…

Jesus lived perfectly before the Father.  And the law set out many blessings for full obedience (Deuteronomy 28:1-14).  Therefore Jesus comes into our situation and lives the blessed life in our place.  Yet now, at the end of His life, something else happens…

… and brake it…

The violence of the act is shocking.  This bread is torn apart in front of the disciples.  Here we see the cross dramatised.  Now, instead of the blessings of Christ’s obedient life, we remember the curses Jesus takes for our disobedience to the law (Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 28:15-29:29). The blessed One is broken.  But He is broken for us…

… and gave it to the disciples.

What is the whole purpose of Christ’s taking flesh, of living the blessed life and dying the cursed death?  That we might take and eat.  Jesus wants to feed us with His very Self.  Here is the self-giving love of Christ – to be torn apart to bring life to the world.

So then, as it says in the Book of Common Prayer:  “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.”

Greater love hath no man than this…

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John 15:13-27

War memorials the world over record these words from Jesus:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  (John 15:13)

In the context of a war memorial we might picture a brave soldier taking a bullet for another.  Or perhaps throwing himself on a grenade, or stretchering out an injured comrade under heavy fire.  If we were the one saved, we would be eternally grateful.

But when Jesus originally spoke these words, He was telling us that we are the saved ones.  Therefore we are His friends.  And He is the one who takes the bullet.  Out of immense love, Jesus comes to the fight, joins us in our predicament and lays down His life for us.

Over the past few days we have been speaking of the eternal love of God. But in John 15 we see this love earthed into the blood, sweat and tears of our own fallen state.

And that is absolutely essential.  Because someone reading the last few posts might well object to this lofty talk about God’s love.  It’s all very well, they may protest, to speak of the life of the Trinity before the world began.  It’s all very well to speak of our mystical union with Christ.  It’s all very well to speak of our participation, through Christ, in the eternal love of God.  But how on earth does that love meet with me in my sin and suffering, my curse and condemnation?  The answer that Jesus gives is that it meets us at the cross.

This great love, about which Christ has been speaking for the last three chapters, does not and cannot remain a heavenly love.  It must descend to our situation.  Which means it enters into even our hellish cut-off-ness from the life of God.  Jesus comes into the trenches, takes up our cause and faces the fire.

Having taken us into Himself, the True Vine is consumed on the cross (Psalm 80:14-19), taking the judgement that belongs to us.  This is how He loves His friends.

To believe in an abstract love from heaven is not enough for us.  When we know the depths of our own depravity, our consciences are not placated by imagining some benign smile from above.  We need to know that God’s love is a knowing love, a divine “nevertheless”.  Before He declares His oaths, we need to know that He sees us to the bottom – that His love does not skim over but actually plumbs the depths of our sin. But this is precisely what the cross tells us.

There can be no greater love than this.  Our Heavenly Friend does not forget about our unloveliness – He enters into it, He endures it and its consequences, and He rises again to say “Even so, I have loved you with eyes wide open, I have loved you at your very worst, and I have loved you more than my own life.  Nothing can separate you from my love.”

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”  (Romans 5:8-10)

I am the Vine, ye are the branches

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John 15:1-12

Last time we saw the incomparable enormity of Jesus.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  If we want to see God we must look no further but only at Jesus.  For, as He says, “The Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 14:10)

While we are still reeling from this truth, Jesus hits us with another.  And this time it’s personal.

In John 15 verse 9 Jesus makes the most astonishing claim:

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you.”

Ask yourself – how has the Father loved the Son?

He has loved Him perfectly, unbreakably, begininglessly and endlessly. Remember from John 14 that Jesus is so much one with the Father that they are in each other.  As we have seen, Jesus is “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18).  Their love is the original love that both predated and produced the universe.  And now Jesus says that this love overflows to me. How is that possible?

It’s possible only because of “union with Christ.”  We share in the eternal love of God because we share in Christ Himself.  The believer is one with Jesus, even as Jesus is one with the Father.  And perhaps the most evocative description of this one-ness is in John 15:1-8.  Here Jesus says:

I am the vine, ye are the branches” (John 15:5)

Throughout the Old Testament Israel is pictured as a vine.  But for the most part it is a fruitless vine.  Now it’s true that some trees have a use apart from their fruitfulness – perhaps they are good for furniture or timber.  But not vines.  If a vine is fruitless, it is useful only as firewood. This is our natural state, cut off from the life of God, fruitless before him and good for nothing.

But step forward Jesus.  He is the true Vine.  He is the true people of God, the true humanity.  Unlike natural man, Jesus has a connection to the ultimate Life-source and brings forth much fruit.  And the good news is this:  we are grafted in to the fruitful Vine and we have life in Him. Now that we are in Jesus we are in on the beloved Son as He stands in the Niagara of the Father’s love.

Just think of how close the believer is to Jesus.  He doesn’t simply say “I am the root structure, you are the vine.”  Or “I am the trunk, you are the branches.”  Jesus is the whole vine and we are branches within that vine. Jesus comprehends His people in a remarkable way.  He incorporates us into Himself such that we are a part of Him.

We are one with Jesus like a bride with her groom, like a body with its head, like a branch with its vine.  We do not have a separate existence from Jesus.  We cannot pursue our life, our identity, our flourishing apart from Jesus.  And for His part, Jesus cannot reject us, abandon us or deny us any more than He can reject, abandon or deny Himself.

Who He is, we become.  Where He is, we dwell.  What He has, we inherit. What He’s done, we possess.  We are one with Jesus and He is one with the Father.  Therefore it really is true what He says: “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you.”

Is this the reality you dwell upon day to day?  Jesus tells us, 10 times in 7 verses to “abide” in Him.  We are to make our home in Jesus.  To remain in this love, this truth, this Vine, this Jesus.  A thousand things will distract us in our day.  A thousand competing abodes will offer a sense of security and identity.  But none of them compare to Christ.

“Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.  I am the vine, ye are the branches:  He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.”   (John 15:4-5)

I am the Way, the Truth and the Life

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John 14:5-31

–  “That’s the way.”

–  “Ain’t that the truth.”

–  “This is the life.”

How do we tend to speak of the way, the truth and the life?

For us, ‘the way’ is usually a technique or learned habit.  In the ‘religious realm’ we might think of lengthy pilgrimages and ritualised approaches to God.

For us, ‘the truth’ is information or compelling logic.  In the ‘religious realm’ we might think of the mysteries of the faith or catechisms which must be taught.

For us, ‘the life’ is ordering drinks poolside on our summer holiday, or walking through breath-taking scenery.  In the ‘religious realm’ we might think of the life as something far-off – an eternal reward for those who get ‘the way’ and ‘the truth’ right.

The trouble with our thinking is that we leave Jesus out of it.  And the results are disastrous.

In John 14, Jesus has just redefined the afterlife for His followers.  The essence of our future hope is that we will be where Jesus is.  The future is not a paradise of pleasures so much as the presence of Jesus.

Jesus will similarly personalise our concepts of way and truth and life as He continues…

“And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.  Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?  Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life:  no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also:  and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.  Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.  Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?  Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?”       (John 14:4-10)

What is the way to God?

It is not a long ascent to heaven through deeds and rituals.  The way is Jesus.  And therefore it is a way that has come down to us!  The way is not our approach to God.  The way is Christ’s approach to God and He is given freely to us.

This means if we ask ourselves “Am I on the way to God?” we are really asking the question “Am I in Jesus?”  And if we are in Jesus, we are not just on the way – we have arrived!  Jesus does not show us the way and leave us to get on with it.  Jesus blazes the trail and invites us directly to the destination.

What is the truth of God?

It is not an impersonal logic that we have to piece together through information gathered ‘on the ground.’  The truth is Jesus.  Therefore, again, the truth has come down to us and told us what we didn’t already know.

This means if we ask ourselves “Do I know God?” we are really asking the question “Do I see Jesus for who He is?”  This is how He speaks to Philip.  When Philip wants to see God, Jesus insists “Look at me!”  Jesus does not show us truths about God, He puts Himself in our eye-line and says “Keep looking.”  Truth does not assess the claims of Jesus.  Jesus is the Truth who assesses everything else!

What is the life of God?

It is not an abstract ethical programme or spiritual state or future bliss. The life of God is Jesus.  The Son constitutes (in fact eternally constitutes) the Father as Father.  And life is to be drawn into Christ, to share in His life with God.  As Jesus prays in John 17:3:

“This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

Jesus does not simply get us to God or get us to truth or get us to eternal life.  He is those things.  Those things – even the Father and the Spirit! – are in Jesus.  He contains, within Himself, God on the one hand and all creation on the other.

How do you think of Jesus?

You cannot think too highly of Him.  He is incomparable and all-encompassing.

How do you think of God and the world?

You cannot think of them Christ-lessly.  He’s got the whole world in His hands!

In my Father’s house are many mansions

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John 14:1-4; 17:20-26

What lies beyond death?

The Hindu might claim reincarnation.  The Muslim seeks a paradise, with Allah conspicuous by his absence.  The atheist asserts there is nothing. What is the Christian hope?

In words that are read out at funerals the world over, Jesus says this:

“Let not your heart be troubled:  ye 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 unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1-3)

First let’s examine two phrases that can send people on wild goose chases of interpretation.  The word for “mansions” is difficult to translate.  It occurs only one other time in the Bible – in this very chapter:  “If a man love me, he will keep my words:  and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”  (John 14:23)  Perhaps, therefore, it’s best to understand verse 2 as something like “In my Father’s household, there are many abodes.”  Jesus’ point is not about the architecture of our eternal habitation (extensions necessitated after every conversion!).  He is telling us about the roominess of the Father’s household.  Always space for more!

The other phrase that can give the wrong impression is in verse 3:  “I go and prepare a place.”  This does not refer to some celestial renovations Jesus has to make before our rooms are ready.  Our place is not prepared by a team of angelic property developers.  No, it is the going of Jesus that prepares our place.  Jesus is speaking of the cross.  His departure is His death on Calvary.  That’s what secures our place.

So now that we have cleared the ground, what do we positively learn about our eternal hope?  Just this:  our hope is Christ Himself:

“I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:3)

Here is the whole purpose of Christ’s coming.  He is the One who was “with God in the beginning” (John 1:2).  The Greek puts it more literally that Christ was towards the Father from eternity.  He faces His Father and is ever drawn to Him, seeing His face (John 6:46) and resting in His bosom (John 1:18).

What then is salvation?  It is being drawn by the Spirit of God into the Son of God, that He might bring us to where He is.  As He prays in John 17:24:

“Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me:  for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.”

Eternal life is something that begins the minute we trust Christ, but it will be consummated in face-to-face fullness when we see Him.  This destiny is to be with Jesus and therefore to participate in His life of loving fellowship with the Father and by the Spirit.

What will that look like?  Well John 13 gives us a picture…

It was a good meal, good friends, good wine.  People were relaxing around the table. One man seemed even more relaxed than the rest.  We are told:

“Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved… He then lying on Jesus’ breast [asked him a question]” (John 13:23-25)

Here, we assume, is John himself – the author of this Gospel.  As he tells the story he remembers leaning back against Jesus.  Hearing His heart-beat.  Listening to His breathing.  John was one of the younger if not the youngest disciple.  And he calls himself “the beloved disciple.”  Clearly he felt completely at ease with Jesus – leaning back on his chest.  Jesus had just washed their feet. He was teaching them about His Father and because it was Passover they would have been singing hymns around the dinner table.  We can imagine, throughout, Jesus’ arm around His young friend as John leant back on Jesus.

John knew he could find rest, peace and welcome in the bosom of Jesus. And Jesus is the One who has eternal rest, peace and welcome in the bosom of the Father.  Those few minutes around the dinner table are a picture of our everlasting hope.  Those beloved of Jesus are invited into His arms as He rests secure in the Father’s.

No other view of the afterlife comes close to the personal hope of the Christian.  Other religions may go into detail about the pleasures of paradise, but for Christians the focus is different.  Christ is our life and He is our hope.  Whatever else the future holds, this is the heart of it – warm, personal, feasting joy in the company of Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom. Therefore, “Let not your heart be troubled”.