When Skiffs Sail Heavenward
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 17:24a (Holman) “Father, I desire those You have given Me to be with Me where I am.”
These words radiate Jesus’ love for His people. When friends leave friends, their hearts want to say, “I wish I could take you with me.”
This is the sentiment Jesus expressed. He knew He would return to Heaven soon. His presence through the Holy Spirit would continue with the disciples, but as long as the Apostles live in a world of sin and trouble, a sense of distance cannot be avoided. Hence, Jesus essentially said, “I wish you could go with Me.”
A sincerely expressed desire for perpetual companionship gives evidence of true affection. Marriage, the highest covenant of human love and dedication, demonstrates this truth.
Friendship has varying levels. Casual acquaintances, people we like and enjoy, friends, family, etc. The highest level of friendship is when there is a desire to be together forever, to spend hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year with another.
This is what Jesus wants with us, His people. He desires inseparable co-existence with each of us forever. Jesus desires this intimacy with us so strongly that Heaven will not be completely Heaven for Him until we all arrive there.
John 17:24b “Then they will see My glory, which You have given Me because You loved Me before the world’s foundation.”
Jesus sees His followers struggling in a sinful world, but is excited about what we have before us. He looks forward to our being lifted from this life, to be transported to the place where we can see His glory.
Jesus knew this hope would make all our troubles less troubling. He knows we’ll be delighted when we see Him in Heaven. I imagine Him saying, “Don’t give up, children. It’s worth it. I can hardly wait for you to see Me here.”
Love always wants to share its joy with the beloved. When I hear good news, I feel incomplete until I’ve shared it with Ruth. Similarly, Jesus can’t view His life as full until His followers behold His glory.
It’s like a husband who secretly buys an expensive Christmas gift for his wife. He can’t wait until she sees it. For the suspenseful time being, nothing else compares in importance to the concealed surprise gift.
Christ can hardly wait for us to end our labors, and see His glory. Imagine! He who is altogether fair and lovely wants, desires, yea yearns, for the time when we frail, finite, rebellious sinners shall join Him.
What love! The Father loved us when we were at our worst. He sent His own Son, whom we crucified. Jesus died for us while we were His enemies, yet now awaits our arrival as if we never did Him any evil.
I don’t understand it, but I do believe it. His love for us is absolute fact. All we can do is yield ourselves to love Him back, and to love our neighbor as ourself.
Every Christian’s death is an answer to Jesus’ prayer found in this verse. “The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the Lord’s sight” (Psalm 116:15).
When the time comes, willingly and submissively release our beloved fellow believers to go home to glory. Everything, including death, comes to us through a filter of divine love. When a loved one is called home, do weep, but don’t begrudge their departure. Jesus loves them more than we do, and wants them nearby.
We speak of our departed loved ones as gone “from us.” We should remember they have gone “to Him.” We speak of them as the departed. They are also the arrived.
Even as we look down into the dark narrow grave, we can echo the angel, “He is not here; He is risen. Why seek ye the living among the dead?” Jesus’ resurrection was but the first fruit; His followers are the rest of the crop (I Corinthians 15:20-23).
As the skiff of a beloved believer’s life sails away toward the horizon, don’t think of them as tossing on a midnight sea. Instead, see them through the lens of remembering Jesus has come to them walking on the water. Upon death, they immediately land where they’re going. When they disappear from our sight they are already in port, safely harbored.
Jesus, the One who loves us most, is there. This is what makes Heaven Heaven. Where He is, Heaven is; where He is not, Hell is. A throne room without Him is a devil’s dungeon, but a dungeon with Him is a glorious throne room.
There’s no need to argue over the location of Heaven. We know exactly where to find it: where Jesus is.
Paul, writing of the Second Coming, built to a climax. He spoke of Christ descending with a shout; the trump sounding, the dead rising up in the air. Then came the apex – “So we will always be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:17). This is Heaven. In the next verse Paul commanded us to use these words to encourage one another. That’s exactly what this sermon is trying to do.
In Heaven we will be nearer to Jesus than the Apostles were when they sat at this table with Him. The sins of life will not be there to impede our relationship.
John 17:25 “Righteous Father! The world has not known You. However, I have known You, and these have known that You sent Me.”
In this context the word “righteous” describes the Father as the One who always does what’s right. Never doubt the fairness of God.
When heavy grief assails, let our faith in God’s righteousness remain undaunted. When a cruel blow befalls – the kind that almost shakes faith into atheism – meet it with this firm belief: Father is righteous.
That’s what Jesus did here. He was headed to the Garden of Gethsemane. His agony would soon begin, yet He prayed, “Righteous Father.”
The word “Father” in itself is a confession of faith. To believers it first means cause. God is the source of our physical and spiritual life. “Father” bespeaks affection; we love the One who first loved us. “Father” implies resemblance; we ought to be like Him.
Only Christians can rightly call God “Father.” When they received Christ, they became adopted children of the Father. The choice is stark. People can either become adopted children of God, or cast their lot with an orphan world.
The Curies, two famous scientists, enjoyed this earthly life together. They celebrated romance, prestige, family, and success, but by missing Christ, lost their hope of life together after death.
After she buried her husband, Madame Curie wrote, “Everything is over. Pierre is sleeping his last sleep beneath the earth; it is the end of everything, everything, everything.” She was wrong. Not everything was over. It was not the end. Unbelievers stumble through a dark world here and then wake up in an even darker eternity.
Happiness on Earth is not enough. We need something that will last through tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and into Heaven beyond.
The very thing that makes Heaven sweet is what makes Hell bitter. To lose sight of Christ and everything beautiful must be the worst part of perdition. Jesus will not be there; this means no life, no love, no kindness, no gentleness, for He is Author of all these things.
People barter away Heaven in order to enjoy a few pleasures of this pitiful Earth, and pawn eternal glories for moments of worldly enjoyment. But let’s not end on this note.
John 17:26 “I made your name known to them and will make it known so the love You have loved me with may be in them and I may be in them.”
Christ must be invited to come live in our heart. Jesus loves us so deeply that He cannot be content with exterior contact. He must have His personal abode in the sanctuary of a human heart. Into this place He carries his love. From there it is “shed abroad” as a blessing to us and others. Does Jesus reside in your heart? You can receive Him now.