Funeral Sermon from John 14

This is the meditation I delivered at the graveside service for my grandma on May 22, 2012.

“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. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:1-6

The words come at us like a punch in the gut. Or, more precisely, a slap in the face. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” We are not sure if these are the words of a Buddhist monk preaching detachment from all things; or a druggie whose brain was long ago turned to tepid pudding. What words are these? “Don’t worry about it”?  They do not comfort. These words cannot be for someone grieving death. Or they are from someone who has never grieved death.

But Jesus has grieved death. Not more than a few months before saying these words, Jesus Himself attended a funeral. And in John 11:35 we read 2 of the most comforting words in Scripture: Jesus wept. Jesus wept at the funeral of a man he was about to raise from the dead. Jesus wept for the grief and sorrow that death caused. Jesus wept in the knowledge that all men must die for all have sinned. So these words “Let not your hearts be troubled” do not come from some disassociated mountain-top guru. These words do not tell us not to mourn. But they do tell us how not to mourn.

We are told that time heals all wounds. But that is a bitter cure. It is a placebo. Time only heals the wound because we chose not to think about it any longer. We do not remember. We do not love. We do not cherish. And eventually, we do not care. Or hurt. Or feel. I want nothing of this healing for it will only leave me a worse person. The way to honor Grandma’s memory is not to gradually just stop thinking about her.

I need a medicine for the soul stronger than pain; fiercer than grief. This is the medicine that Jesus speaks of. It is the strong medicine of belief. It is the effectual medicine of hope. For you see, we do not defeat grief by waiting it out. We defeat grief by relentlessly pursuing, by tenaciously grasping onto something stronger: hope in a savior who has conquered death and promises life.

These words give such strong hope because the words are bold. They are strength and power. 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? I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

These are not the words of a good man. These are not the sayings of a wise teacher.  A good man does not say to other men, believe in me and you will have no reason to fear death. A wise teacher does not say to fellow man “I am the only way of eternal salvation.” I good man does not say, “I am God.” These words give no room to neutrality. No one ever left after hearing Jesus and said, “Well that was a nice talk.” People were amazed when Jesus spoke. People were angry when Jesus spoke. But people were not indifferent. And we must not think that anyone can be so today.

Jesus is the only way to eternal life. It is this belief, this hope that gives comfort and conquers grief. And it is belief. Jesus does not say do good work for me. He does not say live a life of self-sacrifice for me. He does not say withdraw from society and spend all your days in prayer and meditation. He says simply, believe in me.

Now the thoughtful cynic will say, “So what’s the difference. One man handles his grief by gradually putting death out of his mind. You cope with grief by thinking about Jesus. Either way, the answer seems to be just forgetting about it.” And if we are not careful he would be right. I am not saying we should just turn our eyes upon Jesus and forget about grandma, I am saying we should have faith that this word from Jesus is true about Grandma.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we know this passage as true. By faith we know that it is true about Grandma. Everything we see and sense says that Grandma is dead. The coffin, the grave, the stone. But these words tell us that Grandma is more alive now than she ever was before.

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. We do not forget grandma, rather, by faith we see her as she really is. By faith in these words of Jesus our hearts are flooded with joy and wonder. When we read those glimpses of heavenly worship in Hebrews 12:22-23- that speak of coming to the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to innumerable angels in festal gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect- we are reading about Grandma. And when we read in Revelation 5 & 7 about all of heaven joining in to worship God and Jesus Christ- the Lamb slain for the sins of man- we are reading about God’s fulfilled promise to Grandma. And when we read in John 14 about an infinite house with glorious rooms, we are reading about the Lord’s fulfilled promise to Grandma.

 

There is joy in these words. Faith that Jesus is true and joy that grandma has certainly found him to be true. Now is the time we cling to these promises in faith. Grandma has gone to the Father through Christ. The Lord has finished the good work of salvation he begun in her. In faith of this promise our grief is suffocated. In faith of this promise regret, bitterness, anger, and despondency find no place. In joy and gratitude our hearts cry out to the Lord: Thank you Jesus for being a faithful savior. Thank you Jesus for keeping your word. Thank you Jesus for presenting my grandma to your Holy Father as one of your own.

On May 19, Jesus finished getting Grandma’s room ready for her. So now, where he is, she is: enraptured in worship and adoration of the savior who died for her that she might live. Now we count these promises true in the life of Kate Metzler: a sinner saved, daughter of God, dweller in heaven. And as I dwell on her experience of God’s faithfulness to her, I find the power of these words: Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. I find power to rejoice with great joy.

 

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Wilhelmus á Brakel on the vehement love of God

Oh wondrous love! God, who is love, sets his infinite love in motion to cherish with love such persons who in themselves are hateful, despicable, and condemnable. This love is not generated by the desirability of the object, but it originates within Himself, being desirous to love and to love specific individuals. Observe the following concerning this love: “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3); “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us” (Eph. 2:4). This love is so great, vehement, and incomprehensible that the Lord Himself exclaimed in amazement, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

Love was the origin of eternal election;
love sent Jesus into the world to be their Surety;
love drew them out of the world to Him, translating them into the kingdom His love;
love radiates continually upon them;
love preserves them;
love brings them to glory;
and love engenders a perfect union with, and love for, Him.

This would not be credible if God Himself had not said this. Since God does say this, however, we now wish to believe and acknowledge this, rejoice in this, and be engaged in adoration. We wish to give Him glory, and being ignited by His love, to love Him in return. “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God: Sermon 9, If Jesus is all-powerful does he need to pray to raise Lazarus?

Sermon 9 in Chrysostom’s series On the Incomprehensible Nature of God is short in length but mighty in exposition. While Chrysostom’s exegesis in sermon 8 left something to be desired, in sermon 9 he returns to a surgical precise treatment to completely undue the argument of his opponents.

The text under discussion is John 11:1-46. Chrysostom summarizes the view of the Anomoeans: “For many of the heretics are saying that the Son is not like the Father. Why? Because, they say, Christ had need of prayer to raise Lazarus back to life; if he had not prayed, he would not have brought him back from the dead” (1).[1] It is somewhat amusing that such an objection would be raised against the divinity of Christ. After all, if all it takes is prayer to raise the dead why don’t the Anomoeans simply pray to raise the dead? That would certainly lend some credence to their argument! In any event, Chrysostom simply excoriates such argument against Christ’s deity.

The Anomoeans, joined by Jews or Judaizing Christians,[2] began their assault in this text at the place where Jesus asked where Lazarus was laid (4). How can Jesus be omniscient when he does not know where Lazarus was laid? Rather than simply reverting to the standard “incarnational” or kenotic explanation, the preacher responds with some brilliant rhetorical questions of his own.

If Jesus is ignorant, then the Father must be too (5-6). Why did God ask Adam where he was? Did God not know? Why did God ask Cain where Abel was? Did God not know? Why did God tell Abraham he had to see if what he heard about the wickedness of Sodom was true? Did God not know? There must be a higher purpose to such questions from the Lord. Furthermore, returning to the text itself, if Jesus is not omnipotent how did he know four days beforehand that Lazarus was going to die? And in fact had already died? (10)

But Chrysostom does not dispense entirely with an argument based on the condescension of Jesus. The prayer of Jesus was an act of condescension to Martha who said “I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”[3] Jesus prayed because that was the extent of Martha’s faith. But Jesus had already demonstrated that he did not need to pray to raise the dead. Jesus simply told the widow’s son[4] and the young daughter of the synagogue ruler[5] to arise and they did (11). While Christ had the power to simply command the dead to rise, he condescended to pray because that is what Martha asked for.

Chrysostom explains this marvelously:

So Martha asked for prayers, and the Savior gave her prayers. Someone else said: “I am not worthy for you to come under my roof. But only speak the word, ‘Be it done to you,’ and my boy will be cured.” And the Savior said to him: “Be it done to you according to your faith.” Another man said: “Come and cure my daughter.” And Christ said to him: “I shall follow you.” Therefore, the physician applies the cure as men wish and desire it, just as at another time a woman secretly touched the hem of his robe and secretly she was cured. And Martha said: “I am sure that God will give you whatever you ask him.” Because she asked for prayer, the Savior gives her a prayer. But it was not because he had need to pray; it was because he was accommodating himself to her weakness. He was showing her that he was not opposed to God but that whatever he does, the Father also does. (14)

Such examples could of course be multiplied many times over. We can even see the same principle working in the opposite direction. When Jesus returned to his hometown to minister, “he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.”[6] Chrysostom’s reasoning is Scriptural and undeniable. And he is only getting warmed up.

The enemies of truth say the prayer of Jesus proves that he does not have the same power of the Father. Chrysostom turns his attention to the prayer and simply obliterates the argument of the heretics. The questions he asks are simple, yet forcefully persuasive. What did Jesus ask for? Nothing (17). What did Jesus pray for concerning Lazarus himself? Nothing (18). Who did Jesus pray for? The living (18-19). When did Lazarus rise? When Jesus prayed? No. Afterwards, when Jesus commanded (20). The very prayer itself serves to support the preachers argument that the prayer was a condescension to Martha and those present. Jesus did not ask the Father to raise Lazarus. Jesus did not ask for the power to raise Lazarus. Lazarus had no place in the prayer of Jesus. Jesus did not need to pray, he only needed to command. And command he did.

“Lazarus, come out here!” The dead man heard the command of his master and immediately he broke the laws of death. Let the heretics be ashamed and perish from the face to the earth! Surely, Christ’s word has proved that the prayer was not uttered to raise the dead man but because of the weakness of the unbelievers who were, at the moment, nearby. “Lazarus, come forth!” Why did he call the dead man by name? Why? If he were to have given a general command to all the dead, he would have raised all those in the tomb back to life. But he did not wish to raise them all. That is why he said: “Lazarus, come forth! I am calling you alone to come back for a time. And I am calling you before the throng here present, so that, by raising one dead man to life, I may prove my power over those who are going to die. For I, who have raised one man, will raise up the whole world. For I am the resurrection and the life.”

“Lazarus, come forth!” And the dead man came forth bound with bandages. What marvelous and unexpected things Christ did! He loosed the soul from the bonds of death. He burst open the portals of hell. He shattered to bits the gates of bronze and the bolts of iron. (21-22)

This sermon in a prime of example of how John earned the name Chrysostom—golden mouth. It is a model of biblical exegesis and exposition.

 


[1] All parenthetical paragraph references refer to Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, The Fathers of the Church A New Translation (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

[2] Chrysostom refers to “the Jews” throughout the sermon. Obviously Jews would be united with Anomoeans against the deity of Christ, but Harkins believe they may have been Judaizers since it seems they were conversant in the New Testament.

[3] John 11:22

[4] Luke 7:11-15

[5] Mark 5:40-42

[6] Matt. 13:58

John Chrysostom On The Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 5: Only the Trinity knows the Trinity

Sermon 5 is the longest sermon in the series of 12 sermons On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, but like the previous two sermons Chrysostom has lengthy conclusion that has little to do with the stated thesis of the series as the final third of the sermon deals with the subject of prayer (43-62). [1]

Chrysostom deals intricately with the texts of John 1:18 and 6:46, “No one has ever seen God. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, himself declared him. Not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God, he has seen the Father.” The fact that “no one” has seen the Father except the Son is not meant to exclude the Holy Spirit, but all created beings (5-6). For support, Chrysostom turns to Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 2:11, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (7). This is certainly delicate reasoning, but it is sound. “No one” cannot exclude the Spirit in John or the Son in 1 Corinthians. Because we know God’s word is true and his testimony concerning himself is trustworthy, John 1:18; 6:46; and 1 Cor. 2:11 must all be true. So “no one” must indeed refer to all creatures outside of the Trinitarian communion.

Chrysostom then enters into a discussion that is, frankly, an amazing display of exegesis. The preacher turns his attention to 1 Corinthians 8:6, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” As “no one” separates the Trinity from all creation, so “one” separates the Trinity to itself. To prove the equality of the Son and Father Chrysostom demonstrates that “God” and “Lord” are used interchangeably of the Father and Son. Paragraph 12 offers a concise summary,

 Some names are common to several; others are proper to one. There are common names to show that the essence is exactly the same; there are proper names to characterize what is proper to the personal realities. The names “Father” and “Son” characterize what is proper to the personal realities; the names “God” and “Lord” show what is common. Therefore, after Paul set down the common name of “one God,” he had to use the proper name so that you might know of whom he was speaking. He did this to prevent us from falling into the madness of Sabellius.

The preacher then goes through Old and New Testament Scriptures demonstrating that the Father and Son are each called Lord and God (13-24). Returning to his main text, Chrysostom again asserts that knowledge necessitates identity. As men do not know the essence of angels, so neither angels nor men know the essence of God. The preacher goes even further in an amusing fashion. Not only are men incapable of knowing the essence of angels or God, they are incapable of knowing their own essence:

 And why should I speak of what kind of essence the soul has? It is not even possible to say how it exists in the body. What answer could anyone give to this question? That it is extended throughout the bulk of the body? But that is absurd. To exist that way is proper only to bodies. That this is not the way that the soul exists in the body is clear from this example. If a man’s hands and feet are amputated, the soul remains whole and entire and is in no way mutilated by the maiming of the body.
Then it does not exist in the whole body but has it been gathered together in some part of the body? If that is true, the rest of the parts must be dead, because whatever lacks a soul is altogether dead. But we cannot say that. What we must say is that we know not that the soul is in our bodies but that we do not know how it is there. God has shut us off from this knowledge of the soul for a reason. So that, out of his great superiority, he might curb our tongues, hold us in check, and persuade us to remain on earth and not to meddle out of curiosity with matters which are beyond us. (28-29)

This also points to an important conclusion to be made plain before Chrysostom turns his attention to prayer. There is something inherently off-putting to the statement that a person cannot comprehend God. Even when time is taken to explain weight of “comprehend”; even when it is acknowledged that things can be truly known of God; for some it is hard to hear that God cannot be known in his essence. Chrysostom has a helpful analogy:

 Tell me this. Suppose that two men are obstinately arguing with each other about whether they can know how large the sky is. Suppose that one of them says that it is impossible for the human eye to encompass it, and the other would contend that it was possible for a man to measure the entire sky by using the span of his hand. Which of these two would we say would know the size of the sky? Would it be the one who argues how many spans wide the sky is? Or would it be the one who admits that he does not know? Surely the man who admits he does not know the size of the sky when he sees its magnitude will have a better understanding of how large the sky is. When it is a question of God, will we not use the same discretion? Would it not be the ultimate madness if we failed to do so? (39)

Underlying the sermons of Chrysostom is a trust in the word of Scripture. This trust underlies his philosophy and epistemology too. It is not adventurous, brave, or noble, to go beyond the bounds of Scripture. It is folly and madness. Neither is it weak or ignoble to rest content in the knowledge that Scripture does provide. To stay within the bounds of Scripture is true security, it is full sanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

The Trinity in Scritpure: The Comfort of God

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter [παρακλητον] , that he may abide with you for ever… But the Comforter [παρακλητος] , which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:16,26)

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate [παρακλητον] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous… (1John 2:1)

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort [παρακλησεως]… (2Corintihians1:3)

If you have been long in the faith you have probably heard the explanation about “another” in John 14:16. Greek has two words to express the idea of another: another of the same kind and another of a different kind. It is something like the difference between “another” and “an other.” Jesus uses the first type of word: the word that indicates that the Holy Spirit is the same kind of comforter that Jesus is. The apostles have no reason to worry or fear. The Holy Spirit stands in the place of Christ and offers the comfort that the physical presence of Jesus would no longer provide. The Holy Spirit mediates between the Son and his disciples. He is sent to the disciples to draw them closer to Christ.

While John 14 is based on the assumption that Jesus is a comforter, the apostle John goes ahead and makes it clear in 1 John 2:1. Jesus is our comforter in our relationship to the Father. Jesus has borne the wrath of God against sin and presents us faultless before the throne of God. Jesus mediates between his disciples and the Father. He was sent into the world to rescue a people from sin, drawing them into fellowship with God.

The Father is the God of all comfort. A slightly different, but obviously related word is used here. Whereas the Son and Spirit are both a comforter (personal noun); the Father is the source of all comfort (impersonal noun). The Father is the source of all comfort. He eternally begets the Son who is our comforter before the Father. The Father is the source of all comfort: the Sprit eternally proceeds from him comforting God’s people with the presence of Christ.

This is yet another way we see the illumination of two truths that seem to be in tension. We are told by the more careful theologians that the Trinity acts in concert: what One does the Three does. Yet we also see individual “actions” each member performs. Most notably, it is only the Son who died for the salvation of humanity. But the death of the Son was a death to the Father in the Spirit. These passages remind us that the Trinity is a God of comfort. The comfort the Trinity offers to man is the comfort that the Three offer as One. The Spirit comforts us with Christ who comforts us with the Father who comforts us with the Son and Spirit.