TRA 20th April, 2003
The Promise of Eternal Life
My wife and I went to see the Australian film "Rabbit Proof Fence". It is the moving story of the clash between the Government philosophy of the 1930's in caring for half caste Aboriginal children in the Moore River Mission, and three half caste children who miss their mothers and decided to abscond and walk back home, through 1500 miles of desolate Western Australia to Jigalong.
It is a story of courage and determination. It is a true story. Two of the three girls, now old women, appear at the end of the story. But it is not a true film. It is not true to Molly Craig's story as she told it to her daughter who wrote the book. It is not true to the events of the time and the conditions that existed in Government-run Missions. It is a moving account, based on fact, that is designed to support the "stolen generation" story. Half-caste children in the desert areas were frequently rejected by tribal aborigines. Hundreds were brought to Missions to give them a chance at education and work. Young girls coming into puberty in tribes were given to old men as brides and frequently suffered rape. The tribal elders I spoke to in that area during the late 1960's affirmed these truths. Yet it is a powerful film illustrating the desire in the hearts of every one to get back home, where we belong. That is a theme that Jesus expounded, and lies at the heart of one of His greatest promises. Jesus promised John14:1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."
Once I was talking to the great New Testament scholar Professor E.M.Blaiklock. I said, "I am going to preach tonight on the background of the word "Mansion." Dr Westcott, the great Greek scholar, Dr William Temple, Dr Kingsley Barrett, and Professor Lightfoot have said something about this word in their commentaries that I have not seen elsewhere." He said, "Oh, yes. "Monai pollai" the two Greek words meaning 'many mansions.'" I asked "Do you go along with the understanding of those scholars?" He replied, "I think it one of the loveliest expressions that I know." I said, "I want to share that with our people tonight." He said, "I am going to share it in glory." He did unexpectedly soon. For Professor Blaiklock died soon afterwards.
What did Jesus mean, "In My Father's house are many rooms."? Older translations use the word - "mansions". Some picture a great building of immense opulence. Actually, the Greek word had nothing to do with great wealth. The word "mansion" came to us from the Latin, through the French. The Scots call it "manse". I happen to live in one! A manse is not a palace, but a place where you rest for a period. For a few years the minister stays in one manse while ministering in a church and then moves on to another. A mansion was a resting place for a short time before progressing further. "Monai" in Greek means to stay or remain for a little while and our common word for a resting place today - motel - comes directly from it! Dr Westcott said that in the eastern world a traveller would send a friend ahead of him. This friend was called a "dragoman". He knew the language of the people and the country. He would go ahead and prepare for the next night's stay.
Dr Westcott declares this is what Jesus is saying, "In My Father's house are many resting places where you can stay upon your journey." He goes before us to prepare the way for all the household. Dr William Temple, the great Anglican scholar, takes us a little deeper into the word. He puts it beautifully. "Nothing happens in eternal life that does not have its antecedent here in our physical life. We are to grow in grace and when the shadows of life fall and we find ourselves walking through the valley of death, we will find that He had gone before us and prepared a resting place. Then, after acceptance, light and warmth, we will move on once more to another resting place, coming ever closer to the heart of God. This is what Paul means when he says that we will go from glory to glory. It is what the hymn means when we sing, "Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place." C. Wesley It is the promise of Jesus that in His Father's house, for members of His family, there are many places of increasing joy and happiness. It is out eternal home.
After death we grow towards perfection until we stand before God's throne, in the eternal city where there is no more sorrow, crying or sadness. Jesus told His disciples, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John 14:1-3 That promise of eternal life, is one of the grandest promises our Lord ever made. There are two pieces of evidence we have for it.
1.CHRIST REMOVES THE FEAR OF DEATH.
For Christians, Christ has removed the fear of death. Many live with that fear constantly. Job raised one of the oldest questions the world has asked: "If a man die, shall he live again?" In almost every culture, in almost every ethnic group throughout the world, there has been a searching for life beyond the grave. Children, before they are given exposure to teachings about eternal life, have been known to draw pictures or talk about life after this life. It is as though they have experienced life within the womb, and then know what it is like to be expelled into another life that becomes their home, but they are confident that this is not the end. There is yet more to come! Yet many people fear dying. The scholar can fear it. The scientist and the savage also fear death. Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled." He was facing the cross, facing death, and He said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled." Why? Because Jesus ended two fears that cause us to be afraid of death.
a. The fear that death is the end. I was speaking with a man in a hospital who was dying. He was not a Christian and as I shared with him my belief in life after death, he said, "Oh, I wish I could believe it. If only I could believe that there is life on the other side, I would have no fear now." By encouraging us to see that this life is not the end, that there is more beyond, that death is a door that opens up to new life, Jesus has removed our fear of death. In the days of Columbus people thought that the world was flat. If a sailor went too far he would come to the edge and drop off. The heavens were held up by two great pillars at the entry to the Mediterranean Sea, called the Pillars of Hercules.
You could sail through them, but they had to be kept in sight in order to be safe. In the reign of Philip and Isabella, Spain had coins that pictured the Pillars of Hercules and the words in Latin, "Ne plus ultra" - no more beyond. Then, in 1492, Columbus sailed across the ocean and found land and people on the other side. From the West Indies he brought back people of a different colour. He gave the monarchs wonderful gifts. He said, "There is land beyond. There is more beyond." Spain took its coins and crossed off the word "Ne" and left the words "plus ultra." There is more beyond! When Jesus Christ came back from the dead, He said, "There is more beyond. You need not fear. . I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John 14:1-3 He ended the fear that death was the end. The Writer to the Hebrews said that Jesus "set free those who were slaves all their lives because of their fear of death." Hebrews 2:15
The fear that death brought judgment. Jesus broke the fear that death brought judgment. If you rub against the grain of the universe you will get splinters. If you transgress, the wages of sin is death: physical, social, emotional, and psychological death. Paul says, "You are dying all the time so long as you are dead in your trespasses and sins." Then comes judgment. That judgment would indeed make us all afraid, were it not for the provision that Jesus has made. As John expresses it so beautifully, "If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."1 John 2:1,2
2.CHRIST ESTABLISHES THE FACT OF ETERNAL LIFE.
Jesus said, "Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." John 5:24 There is the promise of our Lord that you will not come under judgment but will have everlasting life! Jesus ended our fear of death, the fear that death was the end, and the fear that death would bring us to judgment. But the positive side is this: He established the fact of eternal life by going through the processes of death Himself with calm of mind and serenity of soul. He looked death in the face and said, "Father! In your hands I place my spirit!" Luke 23:46 By coming back from the grave and into the lives of people, He established the fact of eternal life.
When I was a small child, my elderly grandmother lived with us. She lived in one room and my mother and we four children had the rest of the very small house. My father had died. I loved to go into my grandmother's room. All her photographs were on the wall. All the treasures she possessed were around her. There was a tiny fireplace and a rocking chair! She would sit and look into the fire. Over the fireplace there was an enormous portrait of Robert Burns. A piece of heather stuck in the top of the fireplace had come from Scotland. There were pictures of moors and glens and heather-clad hills. I would crawl on to her knee and she would recite Scottish poetry. She longed for her home country, and for the heather hills. As she rocked with me she would say,
"Till all the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt with the sun,
I will love you yet, my dear,
While the sands of life do run."
It was forty years before I visited Scotland. But I knew it. I knew the sound of it, the colour of it, and the smell of it. As I stepped onto Edinburgh Railway Station, I felt I was in a home I knew and loved, because someone who had been there before had given me the accent of its life. I have never been to heaven, but my friend Jesus has. The more time spent in His company the more we know something of life on the other side. When the time comes and we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, because He is with us. He has said, "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."
Jesus then said to His disciples: "You know the way to the place where I am going." His disciple Thomas said, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." But Philip still wanted more. He said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know Me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father." Jesus promises to take you to the Father. He prepares a place for you, and He will come again to take you to Himself. That great promise starts to be fulfilled when you start to follow Jesus, when you know Him to be the Way, the Truth and the Life. John 14:8-9
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