John 14:1-12 tells us that after Jesus rose from the dead, he assured his doubtful disciples that he was going to heaven to prepare a place for those who believe in him. Only a living, risen Savior can promise an eternal, unchanging home in heaven and actually make it come true. That’s right: “He Lives My Mansion to Prepare.”
I have an aunt named Emma. Well, actually, I had an aunt named Emma. My sister and I always called her “Auntie” Emma even when we grew up and called all our other aunties aunts. Auntie Emma taught kindergarten for 44 years, and she was good at it. What made her our perpetual auntie, I think, was that she was just as kind and gentle when we were adults as she was when we were children. I don’t remember Auntie Emma ever being upset or perturbed about anything. Except once. It was all about a Bible passage in today’s Gospel where Jesus said: “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” I knew Auntie Emma was upset. I could see it in her eyes; what had always been silk and satin turned into steel. I could hear it in her voice; what was usually soothing and sweet turned to grit and grind. “When I get to heaven,” she said, “I want more than a room; I want a mansion.”
You know where she got that from. The old King James Version said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” If you’re older than 50, that’s what you learned in catechism class. But even if you’re younger than 50 (and I realize most of you are), you know about the mansions. “The mansions of heaven” is a term Christians use pretty often. Preachers say it, poets write it, people sing it—there are even jokes about Lutherans who live in heavenly mansions. The newer Bible translations don’t use “mansion,” but it seems that nobody but the Bible translators are willing to give the mansions up. And I’m not surprised. Living in a mansion is a wonderful thought. Our mansion would be a place like nothing we knew on earth, all white and gleaming, with light beaming in through crystal windows: the perfect place to spend eternity with Jesus. It seems a lot better to have a mansion than a room!
So what is Jesus promising us in the Gospel today: a mansion or a room? That’s a good question, and Jesus is going to answer it this morning. But there are more questions here; there are always more questions when we look into the future and the future is unclear. In the Gospel, Jesus’ followers were full of questions, and we’re full of questions, too. You know why? We are still struggling to come to grips with Easter. What difference does it make for us that Jesus is alive? How does Jesus’ resurrection change the way we think about life down here? And here’s the bigger question: How does Jesus’ resurrection change the way we think about life up there? You know how this goes: Christ is arisen! (He is risen indeed.) I’ll tell you something: He Lives My Mansion to Prepare.
The words that Jesus spoke in John chapter 14 are some of the most beautiful words in the Bible, but the night he spoke them wasn’t a beautiful night. Within a few hours of this conversation on Thursday night, Jesus would be under arrest. By the end of the next day, he would be dead. Jesus knew the rest of the story, but his disciples didn’t. So when he told them that he was going to be leaving them and that they wouldn’t be able to follow him, they were just all upset, almost beside themselves.
That’s when Jesus spoke these words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. 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.” So is it a room or a mansion? It’s more than a room, but mansion isn’t right, either. What Jesus promises here is a dwelling place that lasts, a home that’s always secure. No renovation; no relocation. When you think of Jesus’ words here, think of the house where your grandparents lived when you were little and still live today; it was always exactly the same. Think of Jesus’ words and think of “home, sweet home” or “There’s no place like home.” On that Thursday night the disciples couldn’t imagine life without Jesus. And Jesus knew what life was going to be like without him. He knew the miles they would travel and the threats they would face. They couldn’t put down roots; they couldn’t stick around. They’d have to sneak out the back door when enemies showed up at the front door. They’d have no place to call home; no place to hang their hats. Jesus was preparing them for their future. When they were huddled around a fire without a roof over their heads, when they were hiding in hovels that were no better than barns, they would remember Jesus’ promise: In my Father’s house you have a home you will never lose, an abode where you will always be safe; a home in my Father’s house is better than home, sweet home.
I’ve lived in the same house for 26 years. It’s a beautiful home on a beautiful campus. But the day is coming when I’ll have to move out of that home, and I know right now that’s going to be a sad day. Down here on earth where we live, home isn’t always a happy place. Some homes explode in anger and criticism. Some homes burn down and some are lost to financial downturns. Some homes are the place of tragedy and some homes have a room in which somebody died. Some homes evoke memories we would rather forget. Here’s the problem: My home and your home—all homes on the planet—are infested and contaminated by sin.
It wasn’t always like that. Once upon a time God’s people had a perfect home. But Adam and Eve wanted something better, so they went their own way. You know how they ended up: homeless and on the street. No one since, and certainly no one here this morning, has ever been able to buy that home back. So where do you think Jesus was going when he said, “[I go] to prepare a place for you”? He was going to the cross; in fact, he was going to the cross the very next morning. You might say he was going to the cross to pay off the mortgage. He was going to assume the debt we owed because of what we do and don’t do. And so he died and the deed was done. And then he came back to life again, and he handed the deed to us. A room, a home, a mansion: You can call it what you want to. What Jesus promised us in the Gospel for today is a place that will never need repairs, never be sold, never be sad; a place that will always be secure, always be safe, and always be home, sweet home. And he came to life on Easter morning to make the promise sure. Like I said, He Lives My Mansion to Prepare.
Well, this was all too much for Thomas. You probably remember that Thomas had a tendency to doubt anyway. “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” We can almost hear Jesus exhale in frustration. How long would it take for them to understand? But Jesus answered. How do you find this home I’ve promised you? “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would knowï»¿ my Father as well.” And then Philip chimed in, another disciple with a reputation for dumb questions: “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus must have sighed again. “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” You and I know how Jesus must have felt. We go through this with our teenagers or with classmates or the guy we work with. You just want to explode. What part of this don’t you get?
There wasn’t an explosion in the Upper Room that night. No harsh words, no patience running thin. Jesus did nothing more than invite his disciples to ponder the mysteries of God, to think about the relationship that existed between the Father and his Son, to explore the depths of the mind of the Holy Trinity. “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
What could they have answered? Despite all his words and all his miracles over the span of three years, these disciples still struggled to understand Jesus. Not yet did they see Jesus as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians1:15). Not yet did they believe that “by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (16). Not yet did they grasp that “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (17). And not on this Thursday night did they have a clue that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (19,20). They didn’t believe this on Friday or Saturday. They didn’t even believe it on Sunday until Jesus came walking through the locked doors and said: Peace be to you. On Easter night they saw Jesus, and then they knew and then they believed.
I’m not going to stand up in the pulpit this morning and accuse anybody here of being dumb or asking dumb questions. But, brothers and sisters, we talk and think like Thomas and Philip way too often. We talk about heavenly mansions but long for earthly ones. We get ourselves focused on renovations and relocations and take our sights off our home in heaven. We gather knowledge and accumulate wealth as though they will last forever, when the reality is that we will be neither smart nor rich when we die. We want our children to know about computers and sports so they can get to college, but are not so concerned that they learn to love Jesus so they can get to heaven. We whine and complain about how tough life is, and we wonder and worry about the life to come as if we have no Savior who has promised us his presence on earth and a home in heaven. How much of this do we not get?
Christ is arisen. He is risen indeed. Yes, yes, yes. But that is so much more than an Easter greeting or an Easter shout. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead changes everything. It changes the way we think about Jesus: Only a living Savior can be the way, the truth, and the life. It changes the way we think about life: Only a living Savior can provide answers that lead us to faith and confidence. And it changes the way we think about death. Only a living Savior can promise an eternal, unchanging home in heaven and actually make it come true. That’s right: He Lives My Mansion to Prepare. But there is more: He lives to bring to bring me safely there. Amen.