notre dame montreal


Sermon on John 14

Sermon for Easter 5

John Chapter 14 Rev Dr Sam Cappleman

To start the journey is to arrive

The gospel passage today is one which is often used at funerals so might well be one of the most spoken about passages in the bible.  It’s a passage of reassurance and God’s unending love for all.  And also so much more….

It’s an appropriate passage as it speaks of a surety in the times to come.  But as it does, it often raises questions as to what happens when we die and what will heaven be like?

We’ve just been away travelling through some fairly remote places and judging from some of the people we’ve been with some of the questions people might have about heaven is, ‘Will there be internet access there, if so what’s the password?’

I then couldn’t help thinking about how many people might fit in?  There is an urban myth that 75% of the people who have ever lived are alive on earth now.  It’s a myth that is exactly that, a myth.

According to the Population Reference Bureau in the US around 108 billion people have lived on planet earth since human life is understood to have begun.  The world population today id around 7 billion, which equates to about 6% of all the people who have ever lived, which is still quite a high proportion.

But would 108 billion people, or some percentage of that number fit in heaven?  Where would they all go?

There are lots of different views of heaven according to who you ask.  And are there multiple divisions, the seven heavens for example?

In older Jewish thought heaven (Shamayim) was one of the three parts of the cosmos, the place where God and other heavenly beings dwelt.  (Earth (erets) the home of the living, and (sheol) the realm of the dead being the other two components).

First century Jewish scholars divided the heavens (plural in Hebrew) was divided into 7 different divisions, some of which they went on to describe.  The Apocryphal book of 3 Enoch (probably from around 200 CE) gives some details and descriptions, especially about the 3rd heaven, which Paul also references in 2 Cor 12 v 2 – 4)

If we asked an astronomer about the heavens they probably describe the heavenly objects, the stars and planets and pant their picture of heaven

In the New Testament there are lots of references to heaven, but interestingly, very few details about it.

That’s because in general the New Testament writers do not describe heaven as a place or location, but rather the presence of God.  The concept of ‘going to heaven’ which we sometimes talk about is not really covered in detail in scripture.

God and heaven are inextricably linked in the New Testament.  Location is not important, heaven is where God is.

Matthew tells us Heaven is where God is, (Mt 6 v 9) in a phrase we are all familiar with from the Lord’s Prayer.

The book of Hebrews tells us that Christ has ascended into the highest heaven (Heb 4 v 14) and Jesus tells the prisoner on the cross that he will be with Christ in Paradise (a safe haven, a walled space / garden), perhaps the highest heaven, when he dies.  And the book of Philippians (Phill 1 v 23) seems to be clear that all believers are with Christ when they die.

Heaven, being in the presence of God, is therefore part of our inheritance and reward in the form of spiritual treasure and eternal life.  To dwell (abide) in the presence and glory of God is the ultimate delight/heaven for Christians. 



In the gospel reading today Jesus, who has just told the disciples that He is leaving them and that they will follow Him later after He has prepared a place for them, tells them that in His Father’s house there are many ‘rooms’,

These are not so much physical locations (or mansions as the word is sometimes translated) but places to rest, or abide.  A place where God is.  It’s the same word that is used when Jesus speaks about abiding in Him a few verses later in John 15 when He speaks about being the true vine.

It’s as if Jesus is saying, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, where my Father is there is space for all’.   Even if that’s lots of people!  Do not worry.  You know it’s to that place I am going.

Thomas and Philip still don’t quite understand.  We don’t know where you are going.  Can we see the Father?

Jesus simply replies that He is the way and if they disciples know Jesus they know both the way and the Father.  In Jesus they see the Father revealed and they have already started on the way.

And is seeing the Father in Jesus, so they catch a glimpse of heaven on earth.  Because heaven is not a place or location but the presence of God.

Just as when Thomas declares Jesus as ‘My Lord and my God’ when he encounters the risen Christ (Jn 20 v 28) John is telling us that the disciples are encountering nothing less than God on earth, and through Him, a glimpse of heaven on earth. 

But it’s not the specific location which is heaven, it’s the presence of God and a place where they and we are to abide.

In Thomas’ terms, as we start the journey on the way and begin abiding and resting in Christ, so we arrive at our destination, and begin experiencing the presence of God in our lives.  As Christians, our abiding has already started with the presence of God in our lives.

And as we abide in Christ, as we follow His example and do the things that he did John tells us at the end of today’s gospel reading that God’s glory is revealed through the Son

Glory is a theme which runs through John’s gospel, starting with the wedding at Cana in Galilee.  A sign and miracle which was given so that His glory could be revealed.

We don’t know what heaven will be like, we don’t even know what our bodies will be like in heaven.  But we do know it is where God is.

He invites us all to join with Him there, both now, in the glimpses we get of heaven here on earth, and in the world to come, where we will be with Him in all His glory in eternity. 

Invites us too to join with Him so that through us others who may not know Him well may catch, perhaps only briefly, their own glimpses of heaven here on earth.