[John 16:5-7] But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
[John 14:1-3] Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
They Will Walk by Faith
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid.” [Isaiah 12:2]
The disciples, in their day, were afraid, befuddled, doubting, grieving. Full of sorrow.
Why these readings? We’re in the fifth Sunday of Easter. We’re still celebrating the resurrection of Christ, but our Gospel reading (and last week’s) is from before His resurrection. Before His crucifixion. And many of our church’s are reading from John 14 today.
These readings are from the upper room. On Maundy Thursday evening, as recorded in the Gospel according to John, Christ speaks at length to His disciples. Among other things, He speaks at length about His coming departure.
“Now I am going to Him who sent me.” “It is to your advantage that I go away.” “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” And, in His house are many rooms. He goes to prepare a place for you. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself.”
Christ would depart - He would be crucified and die. A little while. He would be back. His resurrection! But then He would depart again. His ascension. And that little while - waiting for His return - is a lot longer.
Why these readings? These readings in the Easter season are like the conversation Jesus had with Mary Magdelene on Easter morning. Mary Magdelene had lost her Lord. Crucified. Buried. She lost His body! “Maybe the gardener took Him.” Then He speaks her name, “Mary”, and she realizes her risen Lord is standing before her. She has her Teacher and Savior back!
Yet only briefly. Right away, what did Jesus say to Mary Magdelene? “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” [John 20:17]
The message Mary Magdalene was sent to proclaim to the disciples on Easter morning was, “The Lord has returned. And He is leaving us again” - the very thing He told them on that Maundy Thursday evening a few days before in our Gospel readings.
Resurrection Sunday leads us to Ascension Thursday, forty days later. And to Pentecost - the sending of the Holy Spirit, the Helper, ten days after that.
Jesus’ incarnation and birth, His perfect life, His innocent suffering and death, His resurrection from the dead - and His ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit - are all integral to His work of saving us.
It is to our advantage - unto our salvation - that the resurrected Christ of Easter Sunday becomes the ascended Lord of Ascension Thursday.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” [Matthew 28:18]. The resurrected Jesus ascends - He ascends to the right hand of God, to the place of all power and authority. He does so to exercise that authority for your sake - to rule as the one who sympathizes with your weaknesses [Hebrews 4:15] and has atoned for your guilt [Hebrews 10:10].
The risen Jesus becomes the ascended Jesus to be your intercessor. Ascended, at the right hand of God, He continuously speaks to the Father on your behalf - forever telling the Father that He has died for your sin, that He has paid your price.
“Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” [Romans 8:34]. The wounds of the cross, present in Christ’s resurrected flesh, are forever presented to the Father in Christ’s ascended flesh. “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them”[Hebrews 7:25].
The risen Jesus becomes the ascended Jesus in order to be the sender of the Holy Spirit. “If I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
Now He sends the Holy Spirit to you in Baptism who performs the great miracle of forgiving your sin, renewing your mind, forming your heart, and giving and sustaining your faith in Christ.
We don’t understand why Christ had to depart to do all this. Couldn’t He have stayed present and visible to us and still taken His place at God’s right hand? “He can do anything!” - but that doesn’t mean He does whatever we imagine He could do. Instead, we take Christ at His word.
Christ’s departure unto death and the grave on Good Friday was for your salvation. His longer departure in His ascension is likewise for your sake. It does mean that for now we have sorrow. We are stuck down in this sin-fallen existence. We know Him, but we don’t see Him.
But this is also His work - that we believe without seeing. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” [John 20:29]. “We walk by faith, not by sight” [2 Corinthians 5:7]. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”[Hebrews 11:1].
Brothers and sisters, God’s will is that - in this time period - you be a people who walk by faith, trust, in His promises and in the powerful working of God. “Blessed are those who don’t see, yet believe.” Your Savior’s will is that you live in this more blessed time period of believing Him while not seeing Him - of trusting Him as your Lord while not seeing Him as your Lord.
Ours is a time of believing that the Shepherd is guiding His flock while not seeing Him do so. And the disciples, they saw the crucifixion, they saw the ascension - but they had to believe the unseen promise of what the Lord was doing behind it all.
You see the Lord do many things in your life - you are called to believe His will and work hidden behind it all. You see the world, the field, the pasture, and the valley - you believe without seeing that it is the Good Shepherd who is leading you through it all.
So, the result of what Christ says in these Easter season Gospel readings - that He goes to prepare a place - that He goes to send the Spirit - is that you become a people who walk by faith, not by sight. This is His will and the work of His Holy Spirit. May He work this in us more and more. Amen.