As the sun descended on that long-anticipated day, the room gradually dimmed as twelve men huddled close to Jesus, hanging on his every word. The trembling shadows in that candlelit upper room must have befitted the somber faces staring intently at their Master. What compassion Jesus must have felt as he caught their gazes, one by one, seeing their fear, their confusion, their sadness.
He deeply understood the troubles they would soon face in this world. But he also knew that he would soon overcome this broken world that vainly sought to oppose him. And he also knew that they would have a Helper unlike any they had ever known. So as he spoke, he intentionally looked into their eyes with an expression of heartfelt comfort.
“Let not your hearts be troubled,” he said. “You believe in God. Believe also in me” (John 14:1). He wanted them to believe that the One with whom they had walked so closely for those three brief miracle-filled, awe-infused, horizon-widening years would not abandon them now. And though he had to speak of leaving, he promised that “I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (14:3).
What a wonder. That the Son of God would receive the likes of them — or of us — despite all our flaws and fears, to himself. To hear him say, with unfeigned affection, I will “receive you,” means that he wants to embrace us, accept us, gather us up “that where I am, there you may be also” (14:3) — forever!
The disciples responded with confused questions, not understanding that Jesus had no intention of enforcing his will in an earthly kingdom that would usurp all who opposed him in the here and now. But with the advantages of my post-Pentecost perspective, Jesus’ promise of heavenly fellowship with him creates great expectations in me. Spending eternity with Jesus — I can’t imagine anything better.
But Jesus wasn’t satisfied with merely pointing to future fellowship with him as he sought to comfort his disciples in this troubled world. Jesus anticipated his own burial, resurrection and ascension when he then said, “A little while longer and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (14:19-20).
So yes, Jesus wanted his disciples to be comforted by his promise that one day and forever, “where I am, there you may be also” (14:3). But he also reassuringly promised that he wanted to walk in close fellowship with them in this world — “you in me, and I in you” (14:20) — as he also spoke of a “Helper” (14:16), “he who dwells with you and will be in you” (14:17)!
So imagine Jesus at a table with us now, in 2020, looking intently at each of us, catching our gaze, seeing the fear, the confusion, the sadness, the frustration, the angst of living in a world wrestling with a pandemic.
I can hear him saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in me.” And he would want us to be comforted as he said, “Believe that I will not only one day joyfully receive you to be with me forever, but also believe that because I am now with my Father, I have sent my Spirit to abide with you and to help you, so that through him you can truly and continually be in me, and I in you — together in loving friendship — right now, today and every day.