Dear disciples who love Jesus,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanks to the promises of Jesus things are not as they may seem. It may seem that you are cut off from the world as you hunker down in your home in order to ride out this viral wave that has washed over the earth. It may seem that you are all alone as no one stops by to visit, no one comes to sit at table with you, there is no one to go to the shopping mall or to the restaurant or to church with you.
Perhaps now we can appreciate a little better how the disciples felt when Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. They sheltered in place. They stayed behind locked doors and did not go out. We do it for most of the hours of the day until we have to get out for a walk or take a drive in the car or putter around in the backyard, but they were on self-imposed lock-down for fear and did not dare go out at all (John 20:19).
It seemed like they were left alone. Jesus was gone. He was dead and buried. What's more, they did not dare to visit or message any other followers of Jesus. All they could do was sit inside and they didn't know how long this was all going to last. We heard about the two disciples who headed off to Emmaus on the third day, but they were the exception. All the rest were still in the locked upper room when they returned to Jerusalem with the joyous news that they had seen the Lord (Luke 24:33).
And so, in our lonely existence in these days, while we are kept from our loved ones and fellow disciples, Jesus' promises can bring us joy as well. Things are not as they seem. They weren't as they seemed to the disciples between Good Friday and Easter Sunday and they are not how they seem to us now between Easter Sunday and the Day of the Resurrection of all flesh.
Hear the promises of Jesus for His disciples: “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:18-20).
The promises of Jesus declare that an intimate communion exists even while it seems like we are all alone. We might feel like orphans, cut off from our parents. We might indeed be orphans, whose parents have died. We might feel the loss, the helplessness, the big hole in our heart that used to be filled by someone who always knew the right things to say, someone on whom we could always count to get us out of a mess, someone whom we knew loved us without reservation.
The disciples surely felt that way when Jesus was placed in the tomb. They had lost someone who had become to them closer than father or mother. Can you even imagine that? Jesus' enigmatic saying, “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37) does not have so much to do with loving parents less, as experiencing the love of Jesus to an infinitely greater degree. His love for His disciples and us is in a whole different category. Our fallen nature can only conceive of it in terms of familial relationships. Those are the strongest bonds we understand. But the love of God the Saviour for His people is in a whole different classification. So when they lost Jesus to death, it was a greater loss than we experience, even at the loss of our dear parents.
Jesus knew that the loss would be great for them. He knows that all of our losses deeply hurt and pain us. So His gracious promise, “I will not leave you as orphans” brings tremendous comfort. He will not leave us feeling that deep sense of loss, neither loss of Himself nor loss of our family members.
This is the kind of hurt that Jesus promises to heal. This is the kind of pain that His death and resurrection relieves. When Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples, speaking their names (John 20:16), walking with them (Luke 24:15), talking with them (24:32), showing them His hands and side (John 20:27), and eating with them (Luke 24:41), He took the sting out of that great loss that they suffered when they had lost Him to death.
Jesus relieves this loss for all of us who mourn the death of parents and other loved ones. By His resurrection from the dead, He guarantees the resurrection of all flesh. He is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). As He sprouted out of the ground in resurrection, so will many more. He will not leave us orphans. The dead in Christ will rise when He comes again in glory, with the sound of a trumpet and with a cry of command (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
What joy and gladness will be ours on that day when our beloved dead are restored to us, when there will be no more orphans. Think of that. All of the tragedy that death has unleashed on the world will be undone. Those giant holes in our hearts will be filled again as we embark on eternal life with those whom we love who have died in the faith.
As glorious as that will be, yet more wonderful will be the presence of Jesus, come again to bring life and liberty to His disciples. We will experience that incomprehensible joy of Easter morning as the Lord Jesus appears before our eyes, as He calls our name, and we see His hands and side pierced for our transgressions. This is the promise of Jesus for you now. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you... In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:18, 20).
This intimacy is something that the world cannot understand because it does not know Jesus. And we ourselves have trouble understanding and therefore believing it because we are in the world. As we entangle ourselves in the pursuits and philosophies of the world, all of this becomes harder to comprehend. All that the world is able to see is loss. It doesn't see the promise of resurrection and restoration. So all the world worries about is hanging on desperately to what it has and grabbing on to as much more as it can possibly seize. We get hopelessly enmeshed in all of that when we lose sight of the promises of Jesus.
So He restates them to us again and again. For He promises not only to restore to us what death has taken away, but to restore us, by forgiving our sins of worldly greed and self-centredness. This was the purpose of His death and resurrection, that in all of what He will restore on the last day we might be a part of it, included in the resurrection and restoration. We will be not only recipients of those who died forgiven in Jesus, but we will be a part of the gifts that He restores to others as we ourselves are raised forgiven in Jesus.
Jesus restates these promises to us over and over again in His Word. What is more, He gives us His Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, the helper, a friendly defender who testifies to us that we are forgiven in the death and resurrection of Jesus and all of these promises are ours now in Christ. With this gift of the Spirit of Truth dwelling within us we become aware of the mystical truth that even now Jesus is with us and, as He is both with us and with the heavenly Father, we have the Father's love now, too.
We are not alone as it may seem. Even orphans are not alone. Jesus is truly present in His Word and has not left us as orphans. As empty as the house may seem, the Word of God is the presence of Jesus with all of His promises that you have more than it seems even while living in isolation.
So these promises of Jesus come paired with His admonition to live like those who hold such dear and precious promises from Him. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). If you love Me because of the promises that I have made to you, then live in the sure hope of those promises. Cast aside the ways of the world and keep the commandments of the One who has promised to come to you, to restore to you, to reveal to you the intimate communion that is yours through the gift of the Spirit of Truth whom He has placed within you.
This Holy Spirit, your friendly defender, reminds you of the promises of Jesus: His promise that your sins are forgiven in Him; His promise that He will not leave you as orphans; His promise that He Himself is coming to you. His promise: “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.