Texts: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31;1-5, 15-16; John 14:1-14; I Peter 2:2-10
Theme: As the chosen people of God, we are invited into relationship with Jesus to participate in the transformation of the world to the glory of the Father.
Between a portion of John 14:1-14 often being read at funerals and the recently released movie “Heaven is for Real” — in May of 2014 I think the preacher has little choice other than to address the question of heaven and eternal life. These texts however give an opportunity to move beyond the popular views of heaven and eternal life to something deeper.
A quick read of John 14:1-6 wearing 21st century interpretative glasses would seem to say “Believe in Jesus as the way and the truth and the life and you get to go to heaven.” But we need to back up — “believe” is better understood as “trust” — and second the verb tense is less instruction and more request — so “please trust me” is the feel here. “Please trust me, I am the way”, Jesus says. So the truth is not a collection of propositions to which we give intellectual assent — the truth is a person — the way is a relationship with that person — the life is living in relationship with that person. The text is an invitation to relationship with Jesus as the way to the place of “many mansions”. Such a reading creates a very untraditional altar call — “Please enter this trusting relationship with Jesus.” While the events described take place with Jesus aware of the looming reality of the cross, there is little to no reference to cross here other than the fact that Jesus is going away. This is an invitation to trust Jesus on the basis of relationship — not on the basis of Jesus did all of this for you.
The text appears to work backwards in time — the first portion is about the future in the place of “many mansions” (the life to come) but the second part of the passage talks about those who believe/trust in Jesus doing the works of Jesus and even greater ones in this present life. The promised relationship of heaven spills from the future into the present. Or to put it even more boldly, heaven can begin now. So heaven is real and is to be experienced in relationship with Jesus Christ now.
The relationship with Jesus has a purpose beyond itself, that the Father be glorified. The relationship with Jesus “saves us”, but that is not the most important thing, the most important thing is about something beyond ourselves — the glory of the Father.
Stephen’s death at the hands of the Sanhedrin is an example of a person in relationship with Jesus seeing beyond themselves and their relationship with Jesus to live so the Father might be glorified, “he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus” (Acts 7:55). In our context coming to Jesus is often portrayed as being good for us (meeting our needs), Stephen invites us to recognize a bigger reality. Following Jesus serves a greater calling, the glory of the Father, the fulfillment of kingdom. In a world that so often diminishes us, this vision enlarges us. We can become participants with God in the transformation of the world.
Being involved in God’s grand plan does not mean that we are merely pawns God uses for God’s purposes. The I Peter 2 passage will not let us go there. Jesus, a living stone, is “chosen and precious in God’s sight” (2:4), we are living stones (2:5) — and if we have missed the implication that “chosen and precious in God’s sight” applies to us because we are living stones, Peter makes sure we get it “you are a chosen race” (2:9). As “chosen and precious” we have a role befitting our status — proclaiming “the might acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2:9). This proclamation is part of the works of Jesus referenced back in John 14.
As the chosen people of God, we are invited into relationship with Jesus to participate in the transformation of the world to the glory of the Father. This is an invitation to eternal life which begins now, and it is an invitation worth issuing to a world of hopelessness and diminished dreams.
“Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries,” but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”. If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: ‘We have found the Messiah!’ (Jn. 1:41) The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in him ‘because of the woman’s testimony’ (Jn. 4:39).”
“In a word, Christ, did not ascend to heaven privately for himself, to live there alone, but rather that it might be the common inheritance of all godly people, and that in this way the head might be united to the members.” John Calvin
“For although the majesty of God in itself is hidden from us, it shines in Christ; although his hand is concealed, it is visible to us in Christ.” John Calvin
“In [John] 14:13, the phrase “ask in my name” probably means, “ask, invoking my name,” which involves asking in accord with character and will of Jesus.” Ben Witherington, III
“[Jesus] is the Way because he is the truth, i.e. the revelation of God, and because the life of God resides in him (in the context of the Gospel that includes life in creation and life in the new creation.)” George Beasley-Murray
On I Peter
“God’s loving initiative in bringing the church to himself…both titles stress the dignity of the church because of its union with Christ. Jesus is King, and all in his “house” belong to a royal house.” Edwin Blum
The story of Stephen reminds us practitioners of polite, civil, mentally balanced religion that once there were Christians who quite joyfully parted with possessions, family, friends, even life itself in order to remain faithful….Luke sees Stephen as a hero of the faith, a quite rational person who died for the same faith by which he lived. Indeed not to die for what you hold most dear would seem, to the church of Acts, to be the essence of irrationality, even insanity….What is worth living and dying for? William Willimon
O Jesus, I have promised
To God be the glory great things God has done
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life George Herbert
Lord, speak to me, that I may speak
Christ is made the sure foundation
You that know the Lord is gracious
God of love,
as in Jesus Christ you gave yourself to us,
so may we give ourselves to you,
living according to your holy will.
Keep our feet firmly in the way
where Christ leads us;
make our mouths speak the truth
that Christ teaches us;
fill our bodies with the life
that is Christ within us.
In his holy name we pray. Amen.
– The Worship Sourcebook, Faith Alive Christian Resources
We praise you for your Holy Spirit,
who teaches us and leads us into all truth,
filling us with a variety of gifts,
that we might proclaim the gospel to all nations
and serve you as a royal priesthood
The Worship Sourcebook, Faith Alive Christian Resources