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.
So it is only natural that a question arose at this point. And it is good old “Doubting Thomas” who asks it. He admits that he is clueless concerning where Jesus was going to. How could anyone know the way to where Jesus was going if they did not know where “where” was or even what “where” was? Poor old Thomas gets a bad rap, maybe even more than Peter. John is the only gospel who highlights the character of Thomas, the skeptic who comes to faith. But he certainly not alone.
Jesus responds with the well-known declaration “I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This has been treated rightly by the church over the centuries to show the exclusive nature of the Christian faith. This verse is one of the several I AM statements in John. The way it is constructed in Greek is very emphatic as the Greek pronoun ego, “I”, is grammatically unnecessary as the verb “eimi” already says “I am”. To add the pronoun puts special emphasis on the “I”. This particular phrase can be found in Exodus 3:14 as part of the divine name “I AM that I am” where God speaks to Moses from the burning bush. These “I AM” statements equate the Father and the Son. Jesus is no mere man, although He is fully human. He is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, who came down from heaven to save us. The fact that the Son is equal to the Father is also demonstrated in verse 1 where the disciples are told to believe both in God and in Jesus.
Jesus is more than a guide to the way to the Father. It is true that the Son who came from His Father’s house knows the way back there. He claims to be the way itself. Not only this, but he is THE truth. Only God can claim to be THE truth. The same can be said for Jesus’ claim to be THE life. God is the source of life. The Gospel of John shows us that Jesus created all things, and without him was not one single thing created. Jesus claimed also in John to have life within Himself.
This sets up another stunning declaration in verse seven: “If (since) you have known me, you now also know the Father. From this time, you now know Him and have seen Him”. Wherever heaven is located or how far off it might be geographically speaking and whenever in time that Jesus returns to take us there, is swallowed up by the idea that wherever Jesus is, heaven is. Wherever Jesus is, the Father is. The verb “is” was a present reality to the disciples of Jesus, not just a future one. Although Jesus has not yet introduced the work of the Holy Spirit in this discourse, the Holy Spirit is the present presence of both The Father and the Son in the life of the believer. Heaven in a real sense is a here and nor reality and not only a sweet by and by promise. This is similar to what Jesus says in chapter 11 that “I AM the resurrection and the life.” In answering Martha, he is confronting her with the reality that the resurrection life is a present reality and not afar off. There is an already but not yet aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven.
So Jesus comforts His distraught disciples with a proposal of marriage. With the impending death of the groom, it did not seem to be a propitious time to propose as far as human terms are concerned. I remember a former parishioner telling me the story of her daughter. She was a college student and in love. The expectation was that the couple would marry and live happily ever after. But in her senior year, she got sick. The diagnosis was advanced ovarian cancer. She wasted away quickly, and the time of her life was coming to an end. She had so wanted to marry the love of her life. Her boyfriend knowing this proposed to her as a last wish. On the day of her wedding, she was unable to process up the isle to the altar. Her father has to carry her to the altar. Her father and brother had to hold her up as they made their vows. She died one month later. We see this as a wonderful example of love on the part of the couple.
Chapter 13 began with the statement that Jesus loved them to the telos, the end. His giving of his life would be even a more supreme act of love than the love of this man for his bride. The cup of wine for making the engagement was the cup of His blood which would be poured out as the ultimate bride price. The disciples had just shared in this first communion with Jesus. The marriage of Jesus was contracted. The next day, the bride would be purchased.
We also need to not that unlike the couple who married out of love and pity knew that their marriage would soon be ended by death. But this marriage of Jesus and His bride would not be cancelled by death. Rather, it would be ratified by death. Luke records in the communion the promise that Jesus would drink the cup with them in the Kingdom of God. There was the foreboding of death, but there was a promise that Jesus would overcome death. Jesus would die and be buried. But on the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead. He appeared with the people he had purchased by his blood for forty days to further prepare them for their ministry to increase the church. He promised the Holy Spirit would equip them and be with them as Jesus returned to the Father to make the room for His bride. When all is ready, He will return to consummate the marriage with His bride.
In the meanwhile, we who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior eagerly await the return of the groom. As the bride of Christ, we are called to make the preparation on our part for this wedding. We must keep ourselves from other suitors. We need to be watchful and make sure we have sufficient oil in our lamps. We can be confident that the groom is making preparations for us and the one who is THE truth will remain true to His bride. Part of the preparations we are to make is to go out and make disciples of all the nations. We need to proclaim the Gospel so that the bride will be fully represented. We need to invite those to come to the greatest wedding feast there will ever be, not just as spectators, but as the bride. The angels will serve as the spectators.
Yes, by worldly standards, it seemed a strange time for a proposal. But for God the Son, the time was right.