Christ Above All
Robert C. Shannon
(c)opyright 1989, Robert C. Shannon.
My Father's House
    No word came more easily to the lips of Jesus than the word, "Father."  He spoke of God as His Father in a way so natural it almost surprises us.  He did it so often that He changed the very vocabulary of faith.  Ever since, believers have not hesitated to pray as Jesus prayed, "Our Father."

    Among the texts in which Jesus used the expression, "My Father," none is more impressive than this, and none is more familiar.  It's in John, chapter 14:

Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (John 14:1-3).
    In this text is a useful strategy for life. "Let not your heart be troubled."  Jesus assumes we can control the things we think about.  We often say that we cannot.  We say that thoughts come to us unbidden and there is nothing we can do about them.  But it's evident at the very beginning of this Scripture passage that Jesus intended for us to control our thoughts.  We do not have to concentrate on all the ugly, miserable, mean things of life.  We can also open our eyes to the beautiful, glorious, and encouraging things of life.

    Some people completely concentrate on the dark side of life. They fix their minds on it and see nothing else.  If there were a rainbow about their heads, they wouldn't see it.  Once a bloodhound is put on a certain scent, he stays on it regardless of any other scents that may come his way.  Once a heat-seeking missile is programmed for a certain target, it goes to that target no matter what happens.  People sometimes think like that.  They are programmed and their target is the miserable, the mean, and the ugly.  That's what they think about.  That's all they think about.  Showers of blessings may come down upon them, but all they see are the dark clouds and all they hear is the thunder.

    Jesus tells us, "Learn how to control your thoughts."  There is something more powerful than the mind, and that is the spirit.  The spirit can control the mind.  We need to learn to control our thoughts and to think good thoughts even in the midst of life's unhappy moments.  Jesus did.  He went through a life of incredible activity, under constant pressure, and yet was serene and calm.  No businessman, no professional man, is under half the pressure that Jesus was.  No mother, no housewife is under half the pressure Jesus was.  Beside the ordinary pressures of His life, there stood before Him always the shadow of that cross.  He knew when and where and how He must die.  That burden must have been the heaviest of all.  Yet Jesus went around saying, "Be of good cheer" and "My peace I give to you."  He had learned to direct His thoughts to the good and wholesome things of life and not to concentrate on the things that were depressing.

    Look at the apostle Paul.  What a terribly difficult life he lived!  He was constantly in danger.  His life was in jeopardy every day.  He said, "I die daily."  That meant he was always threatened by death.  Yet he wrote, "Rejoice in the Lord, always.  And again I say, rejoice."  Here is a strategy for life.  Let's not let the world about us control our thoughts.  Let's not let events control our thoughts.  Let's not let others control our thoughts.  Let's take control.  "Let not your heart be troubled."

    There is also in this text a vivid memory, "my Father's house."  Is it going too far to suppose that when Jesus spoke of the Father's house there was in His mind a memory of a certain house on a certain street in which He once had lived?  My wife grew up in a parsonage, the daughter of a minister.  Then she married a minister and lived in a series of parsonages.  Later when she took a class at university, she wrote a paper about all those parsonages she had lived in.  She called it "My Father's House."  You can see the double meaning in it.  She wrote about the little cramped house she'd lived in with her parents, and then about that too large house in which their furniture seemed lost, a house so large nobody could keep it warm.  She wrote about a house she'd lived in with me.  It had a coal furnace in the basement which sometimes belched enormous black clouds up through the house, a parsonage we laughingly christened "On Top of Old Smokey."  She wrote of that other house we not so humorously named "The Pigeon Roost."  To speak of the father's house brought to her mind certain vivid memories of earthly houses in which she'd lived.  Was it not so with Jesus?

    Could Jesus, speaking of the Father's house, not be at least to some degree thinking of a house in Nazareth filled with precious memories?  I want to describe that house for you.  No one can visit that house.  You can go to the house where George Washington lived. Y ou can go to the house where Abraham Lincoln was born.  But no one can go to the house where Jesus lived.  It disappeared long ago.  But we know what it was like.  We know what life was like in the village of Nazareth.  We know what the life of a carpenter was like in Jesus' day.  We have a fairly accurate idea of the kind of house in which Jesus grew up.

    The house was on a narrow unpaved dirt street.  It was right up against the street at the front.  It was made of mud plastered onto a framework of reeds.  It had one tiny window.  It had one door and that door led into one single room.  It had a dirt floor.  Over in the corner were the bedrolls, rolled out onto the floor at night to make a pallet and rolled up and stored in the corner by day.  There were few items of furniture.  There was a lampstand.  Do you remember Jesus' illustration of a lampstand?  It was a little shelf that held a stone lamp.  There was a basket or tub that held flour.  When it was empty it could be turned upside down to make a table.  Then the lamp could be set on top of it, but never under it, of course.  There was a hand mill made of two round stones.  Here the grain was ground.  Because Joseph was a carpenter there probably was also a wooden stool or two, and maybe a table.  Outside there was a stairway that led to the roof.  The rooftop served as a second room.  There was a rude shelter on the roof.  Here the grain and the flax dried.  Here was a small pile of firewood.  That was the kind of house in which Jesus grew up.  That was the kind of house in which He lived until He was thirty.  With that picture in mind it is amazing to think of Jesus speaking of "my Father's house."

    Perhaps there was in Jesus mind a more vivid memory, not of a house in Nazareth, but of a home in Nazareth.  It was a place where people felt accepted; where people knew they were loved; where there was security.  It was a place where you could sense the firmness, the dependability, the consistency.  Jesus must surely have grown up in such a home.  Surely God chose well when He chose Mary to be the mother of our Lord.

    We catch a glimpse into the home life of Jesus when we read about His mother and His brothers coming to try to persuade Him to abandon His ministry and come back home.  They knew He was working too hard.  They knew He had opposition.  They wanted to spare Him and they urged Him to come home.  This was a home where He was welcome, where He was loved, where somebody cared about Him.  This memory must surely have been fresh in the mind of Jesus when He spoke of Heaven as "my Father's house."

    Do you have a memory like that?  If you do, cherish it.  If you do, thank God for it.  Do you have a memory of a home that was in some small way a taste of Heaven?  Are you giving somebody else a memory like that?  Will it be possible for someone to think of Heaven and describe it in terms of the home you have created?

    Jesus had an advantage over us.  He had another memory.  He had a memory of Heaven.  We don't have that.  Jesus had recently come from Heaven.  Surely the memory of what Heaven was like never died out in His heart.  We can never have that.

    For me, it's impossible to read this text and not think of a little chorus I learned in church in childhood.  "Everything's all right in my Father s house . . . in my Father's house . . . in my Father's house.  Everything's all right in my Father's house.  There is joy, joy, joy."

    Have you ever flown over a city at night?  Sometimes you fly low enough that you can make out the lights in individual homes.  Did you ever try to imagine all the things that are going on in all those houses?  In one, someone is coming home from work, tired and weary.  In some, people are in the kitchen cooking supper.  In others, children are doing their homework.  Simple, sweet, lovable things one can picture happening in all those homes.  But in how many of those brightly lit houses is there the darkness of dissension?  In how many are people quarreling, criticizing, fighting?  How many of those homes are breaking apart?  How many husbands and wives are saying things to one another that they would never say even to a stranger, let alone a friend?  In how many of those homes are the children absent and the parents unaware of where they are or what they are doing?  How much heartache lies behind those little squares of light?

    Compare such a scene with that chorus, "Everything's all right in my Father's house."  In that house no tear is ever shed, no heart ever breaks, no pain is ever felt.  That is the only place that always and ultimately deserves the name "home."

    In this text there is also an appealing description. "In my Father's house are many mansions."  If you read that in one of the modem versions, you will be disappointed with it.  You will not find the word "mansions."  You will find instead the word rooms!  That seems quite unsatisfactory to those of us who have grown up with the King James Version of the Bible.  However, it is in fact the better translation.  "In my Father's house are many rooms."  That is really what Jesus said.  But I know that they are mansions.  In spite of the Greek word that is very properly translated "rooms," I know that they are mansions.  I know that He who always does abundantly more than we ask or think, that He who has given us richly all things to enjoy, that He who has showered blessings indescribable in this life, has provided for us richly in the life to come.  I don't need a word to tell me that!

    Everything I know about God the Father tells me that.  Everything I know about Jesus the Savior tells me that.  Verse after verse in the Bible assures me they are mansions indeed.  You may live in a tiny apartment on this earth, but you're going to have a mansion there.  You may live in one small, cramped room in this life, but you're going to have a mansion there.

A tent or a cottage, why should I care,
When they're building a palace for me over there.
                                                (Harriet E. Buell)
    More than once we've all driven down the highway, bone-tired, and motel after motel has greeted us with an illuminated sign:  "No Vacancy."  But they will never hang a "No Vacancy" sign over the doorway to Heaven.  "In my Father's house are many rooms."  Many rooms!  Christ may call His followers from every corner of the universe, from every point of the compass, from each of the four winds.  It matters not how many come to Him, there will be room.  They will come from every generation, from every continent, from every land.  They will come home to the Father's house, and there will be room for all.

    But the best part is this: Jesus said, "It's where I am."  If it's where Jesus is, it doesn't matter how small the room.  Just a cot in a corner will be enough if it's where Jesus is!  I don't need many rooms.  I don't need a mansion.  I don't need golden streets or gates of pearl.  If Jesus is there, that's all that's needed.  We've all heard the old expression, "Home is where Mother is."  That's sometimes true.  Maybe you grew up with the kind of mother who could make any kind of place into a home.  There is a more universally true expression, "Home is where the heart is."  You may count the place where you were born as your home state or your home country.  Or you may count another as your home state, or your home country.  Home is where the heart is.  Heaven is where Jesus is.

    Some will tell you that Heaven will be right back here on Earth.  A lot of us don't think that's so, but it really doesn't matter.  I don't care if Heaven is on Earth, Mars, Venus, or Jupiter or on the farthest flung star in the Milky Way.  Heaven is where Jesus is!  That's enough.  That's all we need to know.

    But it is intriguing to read the description of it.  Streets of gold.  You may have traveled many a mile to see one golden brick.  They pave the streets with them in Heaven.  Ships coming to the New World often carried much less cargo than they did on the return voyage.  So they carried ballast stones to fill out the weight.  When they got to the new world they discarded them.  People paved the streets with them and you can see them in our older cities:  Savannah, Georgia, San Juan, Puerto Rico and others.  When I think of the streets of gold, I think of those ballast stones.

    When I read about Gates of Pearl, I think of the few pearls I've seen and how very small they were.  Then I read about the Tree of Life.  I read about the divi-divi tree long before I ever saw one.  It grows on the island of Curacao in the Caribbean.  All of the branches are on one side of the tree.  The reason is that the trade winds blow out of the east constantly for eleven months of the year.  It forms the tree in this way.  I was anxious to see one.  When I did, it was something of a disappointment.  I don t know that I ever went so far to see so little.  But the Tree of Life is not going to be a disappointment.  I've heard about that tree from earliest childhood.  Before I could ever identify an oak or a locust or a chestnut tree, I had heard about the Tree of Life.  I've read about it all my life and I'm going to see it someday!  I know it's not going to be a disappointment.

    Someone once gave me a book entitled Cities of Destiny.  Some cities just happened, and some were deliberately created.  Brasilia, for example, was deliberately created in the midst of the jungle to be the new capital of Brazil.  There are planned cities, and others that just grew up and sprawled out.  In that book on cities of destiny, there is one conspicuously missing.  That's the city where my destiny lies.

    Once it was said that all roads led to Rome.  But only one road leads to this city of destiny.  In the very same chapter as this text, Jesus said, "I am the way.  No man cometh unto the Father but by me."  That chorus from childhood about the Father's house has also this verse:

Jesus is the Way to my Father's house,
    to my Father's house,
    to my Father's house.
Jesus is the Way to my Father's house.
There is joy, joy, joy!

Faith for the Storm
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Does Jesus Care?

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