Monday, February 02, 2015

Looking Ahead to Easter (John 14:19-24)

When you look in your bulletin and see that the title of today’s message is “Looking Ahead to Easter,” I know some of you may be thinking, “We knew his watch was broken, we didn’t know his calendar was too!” Well, I fully realize that Easter is 2 months away, but there is a sense in which every Sunday is Easter for the Christian. In fact the reason why Christians worship on Sunday is to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Really every day is Easter for the Christian because every day we live in the sure and certain hope of a Christ who conquered death for us.

In our text today, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the promises of Easter before the first Easter Sunday takes place. As Jesus speaks, it is late Thursday night. On Friday, the next day, Jesus will die on the cross. And as Jesus seeks to comfort them in the face of His impending death, He points them here to Easter Sunday to reassure them that His death will not be the end. There are three Easter promises that He gives to them here to point them beyond the horror of the cross to the glory of His resurrection. In the same way, these promises speak to the hearts of all who follow Him today. As we live in broken down bodies in a fallen world that has been ravaged by sin, the promises of Easter assure us that, no matter what comes our way, there are blessings that only the follower of Christ can cling to when everything around us seems to be going terribly wrong.

I. The Promise of Unending Fellowship: You will see Me (v19a)

As C. S. Lewis chronicled his journey through the grief of losing his wife to cancer, he wrote, “I have no photograph of her that’s any good. I cannot even see her face distinctly in my imagination.”[1] This is one of the most troubling realities of grief, that we will no longer see the face of the one we love. Jesus knew that the hearts of His followers were troubled. They had left everything behind to follow Him. Every day for three years, they had seen Him. Now He was leaving them behind, and all they could think of is that they would never see Him again.

Jesus said, “After a little while the world will no longer see Me.” Undoubtedly, for some in the world, this would be exactly what they were hoping for. Jesus was a troublemaker in their minds. The Pharisees, the chief priests, Herod, Pilate, and a multitude of others were hoping they would never have to lay eyes on Jesus again. And to their own destruction, they would get their wish. They would never again see His face. “But,” Jesus said to His followers, “you will see Me.”

For a little while, they would not see Him. Most of them scattered when He was arrested. As far as we know, only one of them watched Him die. When He was buried, only the women were present, along with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea – none of whom were present when Jesus spoke these words. But after a little while, these men would see Him again. After He arose from the dead, Jesus appeared to them. It was not a vision or a hallucination – it was Jesus in His glorified body, really present and really visible to them. They saw Him again. But only they saw Him. The unbelieving world did not see Him. In all of His resurrection appearances, if we leave aside His appearance to Paul on the Damascus Road, He never appeared in the presence of unbelievers. The promise was for Jesus’ followers: “You will see Me.” This was the promise of unending fellowship. His departure from them was only momentary. They saw Him again.

But what of us who live two millennia beyond that first Easter? How does this promise secure us in a world filled with hurts and hardships? At Easter, we sing a song that asks, “Were you there when He rose up from the grave?” And the answer is, “No! We weren’t there!” But we see Jesus through the eye of faith. As we believe in the Savior who died for our sins and rose from the dead to save us, we see Him with a plainer view than our eyesight could afford us. We see Him as Lord and Savior of our lives. And we see Him as He works in and through us by His indwelling Spirit. Remember that there is a special blessing attached to those who see Him by faith in this way. Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (Jn 20:29). He has promised us unending fellowship with Himself, and He has fulfilled that promise to all who have trusted in Him.

But there is a future aspect of His promise which remains for us. Just as He said to His disciples, so Jesus can assure us, “After a little while … you will see Me.” The day is coming when we will see Jesus face-to-face, with new vision and transformed eyes in heaven. The assurance that we will see our friends and loved ones again in heaven is a great comfort, but there is even greater comfort and hope found in the promise that we will see Jesus. We will look into the face of the One who is both our Maker and Redeemer, and we will see the unfathomable glory of God in His face.

This promise of unending fellowship has a profound effect on a true believer in Christ. In 1 John 3, the Apostle writes, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies Himself, just as He is pure.” The promise that we will see Jesus face-to-face one day fuels our fight against temptation and sin, because we remember what Jesus said in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8). When I surrender to temptation, I am choosing to see, or indulge in, something other than the surpassing greatness of God’s glory. That is why all sin is idolatry at its core. It is an elevation of my own desires to a level above God where I serve them and obey them instead of God. But if I want to see God – if that is the driving force behind my life – then I will fight temptation whenever it arises for the sake of the purity of my own heart. I want to keep my heart pure, because I want to see Him more than anything or anyone else.

This promise also provides us with endurance in trials. When we encounter various trials in life (not if, but when), Satan would love to persuade us that God is not present, that He does not love us, that He is not good, and so on. But the promise of unending fellowship here as Jesus says, “You will see Me,” reminds us that He is present, He does love us, and He is good. We have seen Him with the eye of faith. We have seen His goodness and grace at work in and through us on countless “good days” before the bad days ever struck, and we know that we will see Him face-to-face. So when those thoughts arise in the midst of a hardship, we have to keep resting in this promise. Jesus will never leave nor forsake those who have seen Him by faith, and when this world has done all it can do to us, we will see Him face-to-face. That is why Paul is able to say in Romans 8, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).

Jesus is alive, and we see Him by faith, we see His work being done in and through us, and we will see Him face-to-face. That fuels our endurance to persevere through the trials and temptations of life. So we have this promise of uninterrupted fellowship. The world does not see Jesus, but we have, we do, and we will. We are never alone, never forsaken, never abandoned, not in life and not in death. And this brings us to the second promise.

II. The Promise of Undying Life: You will live (v19b) 

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in books that fall into a category that some have called “afterlife tourism.” These books claim that the writers have experienced a journey to heaven, or in some cases hell, and have come back to tell us all about what it was like. A couple of weeks ago, there was quite an uproar after the child whose story inspired one of the most popular of these books came clean that the entire tale was fabricated. Alex Malarkey, who was 6 years old when he was in the terrible car accident that sparked the book entitled The Boy Who Went To Heaven, is now 16 and remains a quadriplegic. But he bravely confessed in an open letter that he made the story up in order to get attention. Alex said, “People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough.” Amen. After all, Jesus Himself said, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.” When we want to know about heaven, we should look to what His word says and trust that it is enough! So many of these books present accounts of heaven which not only contradict each other, but also contradict the Bible!

Jesus offers us so much more than these stories can! He says, “Because I live, you will live also.” This is not a promise that we can visit heaven temporarily and come back to live on earth, only to suffer, grieve, hurt, and ultimately die again. He promises us an undying life just as He Himself has.

Having spoken often to His disciples about His impending death, Jesus now says, “Because I live ….” He is looking beyond the cross to His resurrection. He will die. He will be really dead – not just passed out or in a coma – DEAD! He knew He was going to be dead, and yet He says, “Because I live.” He knew that death would not be the end. His followers would see Him again – on earth even – as He overcame death by His resurrection. He would be alive just as surely as He was dead. In Revelation 1:18, Jesus says, “I was dead and behold I am alive forevermore.” Jesus is the only person who can speak of His own death in the past tense.

But notice that His resurrection is tied to a promise He is making to His disciples. “Because I live, you will live also.” In Jesus’ death, He took all of our sins upon Himself, and died to receive the full penalty that we deserve. When He uttered from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, He was receiving the full outpouring of wrath and condemnation that you and I have earned because of our sins. We deserve to be forsaken by God, condemned and cast out from His presence. But Jesus took this for us. By His resurrection, He demonstrated that our sin and its penalty of death and wrath had been fully defeated. Therefore, for the Christian, death does not have to be feared. Death is not the end, and it is not the entryway into judgment for the one who believes in Christ. It is the entryway into life everlasting.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says:

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. … But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death (1 Cor 15:17-18, 20-26).

And because death has been abolished by the resurrection of Christ for all who trust in Him, that great chapter concludes by saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:54-57). So death is defeated for the Christian because the Lord Jesus lives. And because He lives, we will live also. But it will not be life as we have known it. It will be a new life, an eternal life, an undying life, in the splendors of heaven and the presence of God. John recorded what he saw in his vision of heaven in Revelation 21: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev 21:3-4). This is life as God intended us to live! And it is ours if we have trusted in Christ. Because He lives, we will live also.

There is great help for a Christian in this promise. No matter what comes our way, the worst thing that can happen to us in this world is death. But Christ has defeated death so that it is powerless against us. In Him, we are more than conquerors! So as Christians we do not need to fear death. Death is an enemy, but it is an enemy that has been defeated on our behalf through the death and resurrection of Christ. He has given us the promise of undying life. Because He lives, we will live also.

Now we come to the third promise:

III. The Promise of Unshakable Assurance: You will know (vv20-24)

When I was in seminary, my favorite class was one that many students tried to avoid. But every Thursday morning at 7 am(!) I took my seat with great anticipation and eagerness in the lecture hall to hear Dr. Bruce Little teach on Epistemology. Epistemology is essentially the study of knowledge. What do we really know, and how do we know it, and how do we know that we know it? Epistemology is intensely relevant and practical because all day, every day, we are making countless decisions based on what we know, or what we think we know. When it comes to our Christian faith, epistemology has an important role as well. We say we believe certain things. We say we know certain things. But how do we know them? How do we know that we know them? Is there a difference between what we believe and what we know? These are eternally important questions. When the Apostle John wrote his first epistle, one of his stated purposes was this: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). He wants the believers to become knowers. And so does Jesus. He says to those who believe in Him here, “In that day, you will know.” And He explains what we know, how we know, and how we know that we know.

Let’s look at what He says about how we know. He says, “In that day.” What day? It is the day that His followers would see Him; the day in which, after His death, He would be found to be alive. So the basis of what we know is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the basis for all Christian belief and knowledge. We do not determine our beliefs on personal opinion or preference, or emotion or feeling. Our beliefs are based on what Jesus said and what Jesus did. But why should we believe what Jesus says – about the Bible, about Himself, about us, about life, death, heaven, hell, or anything else? Well, the only reason to believe Him is if He is able to demonstrate His own trustworthiness. He claimed to be God. That would be pretty easy to disprove. If you kill Him, and He stays dead, then He isn’t God. If He says, “I am going to be killed and then rise from the dead,” but He doesn’t rise from the dead, then He is a liar and He cannot be trusted. But, He did rise from the dead, just as He said He would. His resurrection demonstrates the veracity of all that He said, and therefore we can trust Him. We do not trust our feelings or our opinions; we trust Jesus Christ on the basis of what He has done for us. You might wake up tomorrow morning and say, “I don’t feel like I am a Christian. I don’t feel that God is near to me, and I don’t feel that He loves me.” Thankfully, it is not about how you feel. What are the facts? What do you believe? Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins on the cross and rose from the dead? Have you personally trusted in Him on that basis? Then those historical facts become the basis for what you know to be true. That’s how we know.

Now what do we know? He said, “In that day, you will know that I am in My Father and you in Me, and I in you.” This is the content of our assurance. Because Jesus died and rose again, we know that He is in the Father. That is to say, He and the Father are one, and that Jesus is both fully God and fully man in one divine Person. Jesus said that. It is a bold claim. But He backed it up when He demonstrated His power over death in His resurrection. We know that He is God in the flesh, and that He is mighty save because He is in the Father.

Because Jesus died and rose again, we also know that we are in Him. To be “in Christ” is to be united with Him in His life, His death, and His resurrection. The Bible has many promises for us because we are “in Christ.” For example, in Philippians 3 Paul says that He longs to “be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ…” (Php 3:7-9). So, when we are in Him, we are not viewed by God on the basis of our own merits, and that is a good thing, since all of our works are but filthy rags in His sight anyway (Isa 64:6). Instead we are viewed in Christ, so that God sees us clothed (or covered) in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He does not treat us, receive us, or respond to us as we deserve, but as Christ deserves, because we are in Him. We know that we are saved because we are in Him, and we know that we are in Him on the basis of His death and resurrection.

And then Jesus says we will also know in that day that He is in us. When Jesus died and rose again, He ascended to His Father and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all who trust in Him (cf. vv16-18). In a very real way, Jesus lives in His followers. He says in verse 23 that He and His Father will come and “make Our abode” with the one who loves Him. He has done this in the person of the Holy Spirit. He lives within us, empowering us to live the Christian life in obedience to God, transforming our desires to reflect the will of God, and shaping us into Christlikeness. We know this because Jesus has died and rose again.

We do not have to doubt these things, we know them. The content of our assurance is that Christ is in the Father, we are in Him, and He is in us. The basis of it is His death and resurrection. Jesus also speaks of the evidence of these things. This is how we know that we know. The first thing He speaks of as evidence of our assurance is the evidence of a personal relationship -- our love for Him, and His love for us. He said, “He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love Him.” Friends, before you were a Christian, you did not love God. You were a rebel to His will. But suddenly, and somewhat inexplicably, you came to grieve your sin and the gulf that separated you from God and you longed to please Him because you found yourself falling in love with Him. This is the evidence of regeneration, new birth, and genuine conversion. You were responding to God’s love by loving Him, and resting in His love for you. You may say, “But doesn’t God love everyone?” Indeed He does. But you know from your own life experiences that there are different kinds of love. You love your parents, your children, your spouse, your friends and neighbors. But you do not love them all in the same way. So God loves all people, but He has a unique and special love for those who love Him and come to Him by faith in the Lord Jesus. One of the assurances that we have of His love for us is that we ourselves are growing more and more in love with the Him.

That brings us to the second evidence of our assurance. How do we know that we love Jesus? He says that if we love Him, we will obey Him. This is the evidence of practical devotion. For many who say that they love God, it is merely lip service. True love for God manifests itself in obedience to Him. Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me” (v21). Again in verse 23, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word;” and in verse 24, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words.” There was a time in our lives when we did not desire to obey God. But since coming to faith in Christ, our desires are changing. We want to do what is pleasing to Him. How can we explain that? The only explanation is that Christ is transforming us. We are not yet perfected, and we won’t be in this life in this world, but we are growing to love obedience! We do not find ourselves obeying because we have to, but because we want to. Practical devotion, an obedience that flows from love for Christ, is an evidence of our assurance.

That brings us then to the final evidence of assurance here – that of profound interaction. Jesus said that He will disclose Himself to the one who loves and obeys Him. This disclosure, or revelation, of Himself comes to us through the very word that He has given us to obey. And these words, Jesus said, are not His only, but the Father’s who sent Him (v24). But, here’s the thing. Once upon a time, you and I very likely looked at the Bible as merely a book. Perhaps a special book, or an important book, but it was still just a book. Maybe some have looked upon it as a collection of religious rules and regulations. But something happens to us when we are saved. We begin to view this book differently. Now it becomes a place where we turn to meet with God. When we read it, we are hearing God speak to us. He is pouring His truth into our hearts and we find ourselves, not interacting with words on paper, but with the living God through those words. So one of the evidences of our assurance is this profound interaction that we have as we meditate upon His word, because there we have found that Jesus discloses Himself to us.

So, we have this promise of unshakable assurance. Because Jesus has died and rose again, we know that He is in the Father, that we are in Him, and that He is in us. And the evidence that we truly know this is found in our personal love relationship with Him, in our practical devotion of obedience to His will, and in our profound interaction with Him in His word.

Because of Jesus’ victory over death in His resurrection, He makes three specific promises here: you will see Me; you will live; and you will know. The promise of unending fellowship enables us to endure the hardships of life and overcome temptation and sin. The promise of undying life liberates us from the fear of death. And the promise of unshakable assurance guards us against the doubts that arise from our feelings, experiences, and emotions by anchoring us to the bedrock foundation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But these promises are only for those who have trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior. If you have, then the promises are yours. Trust them. Rest in them, because you know the One who has promised them, and you know His promises are steadfast. If you have never turned to the Lord Jesus and trusted Him to save you, you can do that today. He has taken your sin and its penalty upon Himself in His death, and He has overcome sin and death for you in His resurrection. This is why we are told that if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved. You can have uninterrupted fellowship with Him; an undying life like His own; and the unshakable assurance that God-in-Christ has saved you and lives within you as you trust in Him.

[1] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: Bantam, 1963), 16.

No comments: