Summary: This would not seem to be the right time to propose marriage
A Strange Time to Propose
If someone you loved dearly were suddenly to break the bad news over dinner that he or she had a terminal disease and was going to die, how do you think you would react? And suppose up to this point that person appeared perfectly healthy. Would you have feelings of denial? Anger? Now suppose you were the one with the terminal disease and you know you were at death’s door. What would you tell your friends? How would you prepare them for what was about to happen?
When we come to this passage, we must remember that Jesus had just broken the news to His disciples about His impending death. And this was compounded by the type of death He was about to die, and that one of the disciples would betray Him to death. We can see that the confusion we would have felt over hearing about bad news over a loved one’s terminal illness would have been felt even more intensely by the disciples of Jesus. And Jesus needed all the more to prepare them for what was about to happen.
Jesus’ announcement to the disciples in the last chapter was met with shock, doubt, and denial. They had been told that not only would one of them would betray Him, but that all the rest would disown and forsake Him, of which Peter was going to be the most obvious example. It is hard to imagine how awful and effect that this had on the disciples. What would you have said and done?
This morning’s text begins with Jesus trying to encourage His crestfallen disciples. He tells them to stop being troubled over the news. There are several ways the rationale he gives for this can be translated. The first is “You have faith in God and you have faith in me”. The second is “You have faith in God, have faith in me as well.” The third is “You have faith in God, believe in me also.” The fourth is “Believe in God, and believe in me also.” It seems under the circumstances that Jesus is not just stating a fact to His disciples but rather commanding them to believe.
Jesus goes on to tell His disciples that in His Father’s house are many rooms. The translation of the King James is a bit misleading in its rendering of “mansions” rather than “rooms”. In the highly individualistic and materialistic culture in America, it has led to songs like “I’ve got a mansion over the hilltop” as though every believer gets a separate mansion of their own. But this is not the best translation. A better translation of this is the adding of additional rooms to God’s mansion. Heaven is a place where believers will dwell together as a family.
The adding on of rooms for new family members was practiced in ancient Palestine as well as by some groups like the Amish today. The technical term is “insular” housing. When a father of a boy went to another village to contract a marriage with the father of another girl in ancient Israel, and the contract was made, he and his son would return home. It was the son’s responsibility to add a new room to the family dwelling for him and his bride to move to. When this room was completed, the groom would go back to the village of the bride to claim her and take her home to himself.
It seems that this metaphor exactly fits the words of Jesus here. The church from the very beginning of the Gospel of John is compared to a bride. John the Baptist served as best man for this wedding. Here Jesus says that He is returning home to make a place for Him and the disciples, and by extension, to all disciples of Jesus. After this place is made for the bride, he continues that He would return for her and take her to His home.
The next statement that they knew the way would seem rather odd in this context. The bride’s family came from another village than the groom. Villagers rarely left the confines of their village. The only one who would naturally know the way there was the groom. After all, the groom came from there. When speaking about heaven, this is absolute. Jesus knew from where He came. No one else on earth had ever seen heaven. The difficulties of knowing the way to heaven can be demonstrated by this simple example. Please point which way heaven is? Did you point up? Then tell me, which way do those people down under in Australia point? Up or down? As is clearly evident, we have no clue at all which way heaven is, geographically speaking. Neither did the disciples.