The Farewell Discourse
Our Gospel reading, this morning comes at the start of three chapters that are known as the Farewell Discourse. Part 1 of the discourse is often sub-titled “Joy and Peace”. Jesus tells the disciples he is going away. Even after all the teaching they have had they do not understand what He means – How could they?
In the first verse He tells them to trust him, in the same way that they trust God, a theme He will return to later.
He is going to prepare a room for them. The top picture shows what houses might have looked like in ancient Jerusalem. Away from the city, where there is space, a room would simply be added as needed. When one of the sons was married, he would bring his bride to live with the extending family in the new room.
Place of rest
Rooms were places of rest, they weren’t living spaces as they are for us. Life was lived outside, there were no jobs that required people to sit at desks and work on computers. The house – the room – because most of them were a single room was the place you returned to after a long day in the fields, or a long night in the boats.
The translation here is sometimes “In my Fathers house are many mansions”, so perhaps the bottom picture is a better image of what heaven will be like for us.
Which ever you prefer, I thought that these few verses imply that there will be time to rest in heaven – it won’t be loudly praising God 24x7 for eternity – there will be time to enjoy His presence in peace and quite too.
Jesus has to go to prepare these rooms. When we have the American wing of the family come to visit, there is lots to do to prepare the rooms. Beds need changing, repairs need carrying out and a thorough clean is required. We have to spend time making the rooms just like home, or even better. That’s what Jesus is going to do.
Jesus promises to come back and get them, and assures them they know where he’s going.
Of course, they don’t, because they haven’t got the enormity of what he’s talking about at all.
I’ve always enjoyed walking. Quite often, on holiday, we set off across the countryside to head somewhere, sometimes we have a destination, sometimes we don’t. On our honeymoon we were walking down the side of a mountain in Austria, following the road back and forth as it snaked down the hill. I spotted a shortcut through the woods, and dragged my new bride down a steep path. The path was difficult, but the compensation was that we saw an Ibex at close quarters. Another time we were given directions by a local before we set out, and the hill he warned us of, was just a steep and more slippery than we could have imagined. The only safe way down was to sit and slide carefully.
Sometimes we’ve got lost and had to ask the way. We’ve often got good instructions, but so far no one has said – follow me, I’ll show you.
That’s exactly what Jesus does here - “I am the way, the truth and the life”. You don’t know where you are going – follow me – live your life my way.
It’s the ONLY way to God the Father.
“If you knew Me, you’d know Him as well.” Jesus says.
That confused Philip, and gave Jesus the opportunity to explain that He and God are one, that He has done nothing except what God has given Him the authority to do. “If anyone has faith in me”, Jesus says, “they will do what I have been doing, they will do even greater things, and can ask anything and I will do it”
That should be quite a comfort to them – and to us.
Jesus then promises them the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, and promises to leave them peace.
On Friday, we celebrated the end of war in Europe in 1945. VE day. Peace returned to Europe. There was still a lot of work to do to re-build society, and it is a tribute to those who began that work that the peace has survived for 75 years.
The peace that Jesus gives is not the absence of war, it is more than that.
In the time of Corona Virus COVID-19, there is not peace. We are disturbed, worried, scared, because we do not know what will happen to us, our health, our livelihood, our loved ones.
It’s hardly surprising then that there are reports that 1 in 4 people have tuned into a religious service during the outbreak. Our on-line services have provided a way for people to connect to God, even if they don’t know who He is yet. At times when food is unexpectedly short, or loved ones are ill, our peace is stolen from us.
It’s then that we need the reassurance that Jesus gives that God is still in control, and whatever happens in this world our destination is still the same. That will return our peace.
The promises in the passage are amazing. It is quite difficult sometimes to believe that they can be real. But we know they can because we have an example of them in our reading from Acts.
Before the passage that was read today, we read that the disciples had a problem. The early church had problems right from the start, just as all churches do. In Acts 6:1 it says “the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.”.
So the disciples delegated the task to seven men – all Grecian Jews, judging by their names. Stephen was foremost among them.
He was described as “A man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” and “A man full of God’s grace and power”
He was opposed, set-up and arrested. He preached a long sermon, which, starting with Abraham spoke of the coming of Jesus. He spoke against the Temple, say God does not live in houses built by men. He accused the Sanhedrin of killing the Messiah and breaking the Law of Moses.
This made the Sanhedrin absolutely furious and they stoned him.
Just like Jesus he prayed for his murderers. Compare his words with those of Jesus:
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
Stephen said “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Luke 23:46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Stephen said “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
We say, and we pray that we will be changed and be more like Jesus. Stephen is our witness that that is true and possible. Even as he was being murdered, he had God’s peace. So that he could pray for his murderers that they would be forgiven.
As I close this morning, my pray is that we can all have that peace. Because we know where we are going, our destination is ready, and we know the way to get there.