What Bible verses come to mind when you think about funerals?
I think of John 14:1-4. It’s the one about Jesus preparing many rooms for his followers in his Father’s house.
It’s an appropriate use of the passage. It brings us comfort. It encourages us to see those we love in God’s presence.
But when this is the only occasion the passage is used it sets any application purely as a future event. The problem is I’m not sure it’s what Jesus had in mind.
Shaped by the journey
A few years ago I had a stop-over in Thailand as I was travelling to Kenya. I got food poisoning from my final meal in Thailand and carried it on to Kenya. It made for an unpleasant trip and was even worse once I landed.
My experience in Kenya was shaped by my experience in Thailand. In other words, my future (Kenya) was shaped by the journey, or present (Thailand).
The same thing is true for the passage in John. You see, we need to think about what the word’s ‘my Father’s house’ would have meant to the disciples.
Jesus told them he was going to his Father’s house to prepare a place for them. We interpret his comment about preparing a place for them as referring to heaven because we view through the lens of the cross.
But for the disciples, God’s house is the Temple. This is the place where they understand God to be dwelling. If Jesus said he was going to his Father’s house, they would have understood it to be the Temple.
For Jesus to say he was preparing a place for the disciples was revolutionary. For them it meant that Jesus was creating a space inside the Temple where they could be experience the daily unimpeded presence of God.
Jesus was giving a vibrant relationship with God in which his followers dwelt in God’s presence. No one except Jesus had this kind of relationship. Not even the priests.
For the disciples Jesus’ promise of God’s presence was a here and now. Think about how Peter. one of the hearers of Jesus’ words, remind Christians they were being built into a living temple (1 Peter 2:4-5). Or how about what John, another one of listening to Jesus, thought? He spoke about it in terms of the Holy Spirit abiding in us (1 John 3:23-24).
The problem of being long-sighted
Contrast this to the way we think about Jesus’ words.
We interpret them being way off in the future. For us it seems like dwelling in God’s presence is something reserved for after death.
We rightly understand gospel message of the past – Jesus taking our sin on himself to the cross and rising from the grave. And we rightly look forward to the gospel future when Jesus will return. But often we fail to see the glorious message of the gospel present – God is dwelling with us right now.
We interpret the passage in light of the big narrative of the Bible. We fail to notice Jesus’ use of Temple language. So, we only grasp half the message because we don’t place ourselves in the shoes of the disciples.
God’s presence today or tomorrow?
The point is this, Jesus prepares a way for his followers to experience the presence of God. We will see this in the fullest sense after he comes again.
But our lives aren’t simply about waiting for this promise to occur. He has created the opportunity to experience God’s indwelling presence now. His death and resurrection has invited us to take up residence with God now.
The sad thing is, I often find myself visiting the place God has made to share life with me rather than making it my home. What a difference it would make if I made living with God’s presence my home.