“Hope for the Future and a Present Priesthood” (John 14:1-14; 1 Peter 2:2-10)
You gotta have hope. Hope is faith facing the future. You and I, we need something to look forward to. Otherwise, we lose heart, we get depressed, and our hopelessness paralyzes us. So we need hope, hope for the future, in order to function well in the present. And really, we need hope for the big future, the eternal future. Because the reality is, at some point, we’re going to depart this life. At some point, something is going to do us in, and death is going to carry us away. Do you have a hope that can deal with that? A sure hope, a certain hope? Do you have a hope for the future that strengthens you to carry out your calling in the present? In our lessons today, we hear about both: “Hope for the Future and a Present Priesthood.”
Let’s start with that hope for the future. Hope is a wonderful thing. It lifts our spirits and helps us to carry on. We need hope in our life. But we need a hope that can also deal with death. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” This life is short and full of trouble and will end in death for every one of us. We need a hope that reaches beyond the grave. How can we deal with that discouragement, the prospect of death looming before us?
The disciples were dealing with discouragement and lack of hope as we meet them in the Holy Gospel for today. It’s a night when Jesus, their master, had told them some troubling things. He had said to the disciples, “One of you will betray me.” He told them he was going away: “Where I am going you cannot come.” “Where I am going you cannot follow me now.” Obviously, this was very troubling and disconcerting to the disciples.
So in order to give them hope, Jesus now tells them these words: “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.”
Troubled hearts. Jesus is going away. But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus calls them to faith, faith in God, faith in Jesus himself, as the one sent from the Father, sent to do the Father’s will. Jesus speaks peace to troubled hearts by pointing his disciples to where he is going and what he will be doing there. He is going to his Father’s house, as he puts it, and he is going there to prepare a place for those who believe in him and follow him.
“In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Jesus had come from the Father and now was returning home. By speaking of God as “my Father,” Jesus is affirming his identity as the only Son of God come from heaven. He is the eternal Word made flesh, “the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Now he is returning to his Father, having come and done his will. He’s going home to his Father’s house, but he’s not the only one who will be going there. There is room for more. “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Many more will come.
In fact, Jesus is going there first to get the place ready. “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus says. “For you?” Yes, for you! Jesus is preparing a place for his disciples, all those who believe in him, trust in him, and follow him. That includes you! Jesus is preparing a place in his Father’s house 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.” OK, some more hope. Jesus is going away, but he will come back and get us and take us to where he is. Jesus is going to his Father’s house, preparing a place for us, and he will bring us there, to be with him, where he is, forever. This is the hope Jesus gives his disciples. His going away is really for their benefit. “And,” he tells them, “you know the way to where I am going.”
But now this raises a host of questions. Thomas starts: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” This whole going-away business was still troubling the disciples. It was still shrouded in mystery for them. It would be for us too, except we get to look at it now on this side of what would come that night. We know where Jesus was going that night–and the next day. That was the night our Lord was indeed betrayed, arrested, and put on trial. And the next morning he would be delivered over to Pilate, condemned to death, and handed over to be crucified. That’s where Jesus is going, and he knows it as he speaks to his disciples. Jesus is going to the cross, to suffer and die for them and for you.
The way to the Father’s house runs through the cross. Jesus came to do his Father’s will, and that will is that he, the only Son of God, would die for the sins of us all. Here is the greatest service and the greatest sacrifice ever made: Jesus serving us and saving us with the perfect sacrifice for sins. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” That is what Christ our Savior has done for us. He laid down his life, his holy innocent life, willingly, so that the penalty for our rebellion against God–death under God’s judgment–would be paid by him, not us. Jesus takes the death that otherwise would strike us down.
But Jesus emerges from this battle victorious, having defeated our enemies for us. Sin, death, devil–defeated, conquered by our divine Champion! Christ’s resurrection on Easter Day is the proof. Our Savior still bears in his glorified body the wounds by which he won our salvation, the marks in his hands and side. The way to the Father runs through the cross.
We need a hope that reaches beyond the grave. The good news is, we have it! Christ Jesus conquered the grave for us and gives us the hope of eternal life. “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” I’m reminded of what St. Peter wrote in the beginning of his epistle: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Now we have hope, real hope! And we rejoice in this hope, even amid the difficulties of this life. Life can be difficult and full of trouble. We lose a loved one. We have heart trouble and troubled hearts. We grow old and grow weak. Physical ailments, emotional wounds, discouragement–these are the afflictions that we face in this life. But Jesus speaks hope to troubled hearts: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. . . . 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.”
You see, we are looking forward to a place much grander and more glorious than our home here. With the sure hope that only Jesus gives, we look forward to our home in heaven, in our Father’s house. Jesus is preparing that place for us. And Christ will come again and take us to himself, that where he is, we will be also, forever. This is our hope for the future.
And this hope for the future arms us and strengthens us for the present. It enables us to carry out our calling in the here and now. And today I’m calling our calling a “present priesthood.” A priesthood? Yes, you and I are called to be priests. Here I’m picking up on the language in today’s Epistle from 1 Peter 2. There Peter says that we are being built up “to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
“A holy priesthood,” that’s who we are. And you don’t have to be a pastor to be part of this priesthood. No, you were brought into this priesthood at your baptism. There God put his name on you. There you were made holy, you were set apart to belong to God alone, set apart for his service. That’s what priests are, that’s what priests do. The Old Testament priests were consecrated, set apart, holy to the Lord, and dedicated to his service.
In fact, the whole people of Israel were set apart to be God’s holy priesthood in the world. In Exodus 19, after the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai, the Lord told Israel: “You shall be my treasured possession among all peoples . . . and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” And then in Deuteronomy, Moses reminds them: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
God’s treasured possession, a chosen people, a holy priesthood. Notice, this is the very same language that Peter uses and applies to us now as the church. In 1 Peter 2:9 we read: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Yes, we are a holy priesthood, a royal priesthood, dedicated to the service of our king, Jesus Christ. And what do priests do? They offer up sacrifices. Now here we need to be clear. The sacrifices we offer are not sacrifices for sin. No, that once-and-for-all sacrifice was already offered up by our great High Priest, Jesus Christ. His sacrifice on the cross is the only sacrifice that atones for sin, and that sacrifice is total and complete. It is finished.
And because of Christ’s complete sacrifice for sin, now you and I offer up our sacrifices in service to the Lord. As Peter says, we “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” What are these sacrifices? These are our prayers and praises and thanksgivings to God. These sacrifices occur as we proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. When we sing our hymns, when we pray for the people of this world, when we confess the faith to one another and bear witness to the world, we are offering up spiritual sacrifices as the holy priesthood. When we carry out our vocations in the world, however humble they may be–father, mother, butcher, baker, candlestick maker, and today we especially honor the vocation of mother–when we carry out our various vocations with faith in God and in service to our neighbor, we are doing priestly, God-pleasing work. And these sacrifices are pleasing to God because of what Christ has done for us.
Dear friends, today embrace your identity as the people of God. We are a holy priesthood, set apart to belong to God, dedicated to his service, offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. And we have a sure hope to strengthen us for this service. Our hope for the future enlivens and animates us as we carry out our calling in life. Hope for the future and a present priesthood: In Christ, that’s what we have.