55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 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. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 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. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
What follows is the text of a sermon I preached on 22nd May 2011 at London Road Methodist Church in Horsham, West Sussex.
There’s been a lot of talk this week about the rapture. Harold Camping, the leader of an organization called Family Radio, proclaimed that at 6pm on Saturday 21st May, 200 million Christians would be raptured, with those who had not been saved would remain on earth until God destroyed the planet on October 21st. Camping’s pronouncement gained worldwide attention. Christians and atheists alike mocked his claim, and are likely to continue to do so for many more months ahead. Whilst we need to be wary of people who prophesy the end of the world, it does spur us on to think about heaven, and that is what we’re going to be considering today.
Over the next twenty minutes or so, we’ll look at three points from John 14. You may find it helpful to have the passage open in front of you.
Firstly, we’ll see that even if the end of the world failed to come yesterday, one way we can be confident that we will go to heaven. Secondly, we’ll see that the only way to heaven is through Jesus, and finally, we’ll look at what our response to Jesus should be and the importance of prayer as we seek to live out the rest of our lives here on earth.
Let’s straight away turn to our first point, then.
Obviously we all know what happens when we die. We go to heaven. That’s what we’ve been taught, and, if we are Christians, that’s what we believe.
But do we really?
It’s one thing to believe that God was responsible for creation; we can look around us, and for many of us it makes sense that God must be behind it all.
It’s one thing to believe the words of the Bible and to accept that Jesus existed, that he did amazing things, and that he fulfilled scripture written thousands of years before.
But believing in an afterlife is hard. How can we be confident that we are going to heaven? How can we be confident that heaven even exists?
We can be confident because Jesus assures us that it is true. If we turn to John 14, we can see that Jesus says to his disciples, “my father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”
Jesus’ disciples are upset because he has told them that he is leaving them. He shows them, however, that it is better for them that he does leave, because he is going to his Father’s house to prepare a place for them, and for all believers.
We need not worry about whether we’re going to heaven because the Son of God has personally prepared a place for us in his Father’s home.
He says to his disciples, would I have said that to you if it wasn’t true? Would I lie to you? Of course not, so trust me. Trust that I am going ahead of you to prepare a place for you in my father’s home.
What’s more, we need not fear about there not being room for us, either. Jesus assures us that his Father’s house has many rooms. There is room for all believers.
You might have heard that story in which a man has to travel for a census with his pregnant wife. When he arrived, all the hotels and inns were full; there was no space anywhere. In the end, he and his wife had to spend the night in a stable, where his wife gave birth.
I speak of course of the birth of Jesus. Jesus arrived amongst us in a stable because there was no room for him. When we arrive in heaven, though, there will be more than enough space for us. We won’t be turned away. We won’t have to stay in a lean-to bolted onto the side of heaven.
Jesus doesn’t just promise his disciples that there is a place for them in heaven. He also assures them that he will personally come back for them when it is their time to join him.
“I will come back and take you to be with me,” he says. He will personally meet us and take us to his heavenly Kingdom.
We don’t need to worry about whether we’re going to heaven, or how we’re going to get there. There’s no protracted interview prior to entry as some imagine. If we know and love Jesus, he has personally invited us to his father’s home, and he will personally escort us to there.
If we trust Jesus, if we follow him, we can be more certain of one day arriving in heaven than we can be of arriving back at our homes later today.
Perhaps, like Thomas in verse 5, though, we’re still not sure of the way to heaven. So our second point is, how can we know the way?
Our answer to this question comes loud and clear in verse 6. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
But look closely at that incredible statement. Jesus didn’t say, “I will show you the way.” He said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” Others have claimed to show people the way to heaven, indeed, that’s what we should be striving to do. Jesus, though, is the only person who can claim that he IS the way.
How can we know, though, that Jesus really is the way? This is unpacked in the next part of this verse.
We can be confident that Jesus is the way because he is also the truth. Jesus shows us the truth about God. He shows us what God is like. When we look at Jesus, we see God, because Jesus is God. In our reading today, Phillip asks for assurance that Jesus really is the way by asking to see God. “Lord,” he says, “show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Show me God, he says, and I will believe.
How often do we hear that said today? If I could see God, I would believe. How can I believe in a God that I cannot see?
Jesus, probably a little exasperated that his disciples still didn’t get it, replied in verse 9, “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. How do you say, ‘show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?”
When we look at Jesus, we see the Father, we see God. Anyone who has seen Jesus has seen God. Because Jesus is the earthly revelation of God. When people complain that they can’t believe in God because they can’t see him, we need to point them to Jesus. In the four Gospels we have a record of Jesus’ life, of his miracles and his teaching. When we look at the heart of Christ, we see the heart of God revealed. Looking at Jesus we see not just him, but God himself.
Jesus asks his disciples, and us, not just to accept what he says, but to look at the evidence he has provided us with. Having witnessed all that he has done, he tells his disciples to “believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” Look at all I’ve done, he says. He fed five thousand people with just five loaves and two fish. He healed the lame. He cured lepers. He made the blind see. He raised the dead. He walked on water. He calmed a storm.
Look, he says to his disciples, and to us. How can you have witnessed all the things I’ve done and not believe that it is God at work. Weigh my claim up against all that you have seen. I. Am. God.
We shouldn’t let our hearts be troubled, we shouldn’t be worried, because when we measure Jesus’ claims against his actions, his claims make sense. If Jesus is God, when he assures us that he has prepared a place in heaven for us, and he will take us there, we can be confident that he is speaking the truth.
A little later in this same chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus goes even further than this. He says, “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”
Just as the Father is in Christ, Christ is in us, and we are in Christ. Since Jesus is the earthly manifestation of God the Father, when we look at our fellow Christians, we see God. When we see the work of a faithful servant of God, we see God himself at work in our world.
This leaves us, as Christians, with an awesome responsibility, but we’ll pick up on that point again shortly.
For now, though, we can trust that Jesus is the way, because he is the truth. He is God, he points us to God, and he shows us what God is like.
We can also be confident that Jesus is the way because he is also the life. Jesus died on the cross yet rose again three days later. He is the life because he defeated death. He is the life because it was through him that all life came about in the first place.
By dying and rising from the dead, Jesus demonstrated once again that he is God. If he is God, if he could raise himself from the dead, if he could raise Lazarus from the dead, if he was responsible for giving life in the first place, we can be confident that he is the life.
We can be confident that Jesus is the way to eternal life in heaven because he is also the truth, and because he is also the life.
Our third point today considers what our response to this wonderful news should be. We find that response in verse twelve, when Jesus states that “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.”
This, then, is how we follow the way. This is how we respond to Christ’s personal call to join him in his Fathers home. By doing the works that Jesus had been doing. These works are not how we get to heaven; Jesus, as we have seen, has already secured our place in God’s home. Rather we do these things to continue Christ’s work, to continue the spread of his gospel, and to continue to bring people to him. These are the greater things that Jesus says we will do; what could be more important than winning souls for Christ, than showing people how they can gain eternal life.
The way for Jesus ultimately took him to the cross, to death, all alone, abandoned by those he loved, humiliated in front of huge crowds.
Many others too, who have sought to follow the way and continue Jesus works, have discovered that the path to heaven has led them also through pain, suffering, and perhaps even death. In our reading from Acts we saw how one of the members of the early church, Stephen, was stoned to death simply for offending the religious authorities. For Stephen, the way led to a brutal death at the hands of enemies of Christ.
Maybe we won’t have to pay that ultimate price, but Jesus still demands our lives. Whilst there are plenty of examples of Christians who have died for their faith, we are all called to live for our faith.
Today it is Aldersgate Sunday, when we remember the conversion of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist tradition. Wesley oversaw a powerful movement that sought to do the good works that Jesus had been doing.
During his lifetime, John Wesley travelled 250,000 miles on horseback. He gave away £30,000, and he preached more than 40,000 sermons. He formed societies, opened chapels, examined and commissioned preachers, administered aid charities, superintended schools and orphanages, and wrote extensively.
When Wesley died in 1791, he died poor, having given away almost everything he earned. But he left behind a Christian movement with 135,000 members and 541 itinerant preachers.
Wesley didn’t die for his faith, but he did live for his faith. Wesley is a good example to us of what it means to do the works that Christ has been doing. As a result of his efforts, the Methodist Church around the world is still doing these “greater things;’ witnessing to Christ and winning souls for him.
We are by no means alone in doing the things that Jesus did. Jesus told us in verse 12 that he was “going to the Father.” He went to the Father so that we might pray to him. He assures us in verse 13 that “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and you will do it.” When we pray, Jesus will support us as we seek to continue his works.
There are two keys to understanding this section of the passage. Firstly, Jesus says, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” We need to consider what it means to pray in the name of Jesus. It means more than simply concluding our prayers with the words, “I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ.” It means aligning our will with his. We need to look back at the “evidence of the works” that Christ performed. We need to study his teaching.
There are plenty of examples of Jesus teaching people the importance of being humble, of turning the other cheek, and of supporting the poor and sick. These then, are the kind of things that we should be praying for.
Secondly, Jesus says that he will do whatever we ask, “so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
Our prayers, then, should be orientated towards glorifying God. Our prayers should focus not on how we can get power, or money, or glory, but on serving God.
This does not mean that we should not pray; Jesus tells his disciples on many occasions that praying is a good thing to do. God wants to hear what is on our hearts and minds. We should bear in mind, though, that our prayers may not be answered in the way that we expect. Our prayers will be answered in a way that gives glory to God.
Finally, then, let’s try to draw together what we’ve learnt today. The first is that we can be absolutely confident that we are going to heaven, because Jesus has personally prepared a place for us in his Father’s home. Secondly, we can be completely confident that Jesus is the way to the Father, because he is also the truth and the life. And thirdly, we need to consider our response to this. With the aid of Jesus through prayer, we need to ensure that we are living out a life that continues the saving work of Jesus when he walked amongst us.
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