By Sewell Hall
On the evening of February 28th, this year, Ken and Jean Chaney slipped off of an isolated icy road in California, and soon their car was almost completely covered with snow. There was little or no chance of being rescued until the spring thaw, too far in the future to offer any hope of survival. They faced the ordeal of freezing or starvation, the certainty that one or the other would see a companion die and then go on to face death alone. How would you react in such circumstances? Would you be calm or distraught? How would you spend your time? On what would you depend for strength to cope?
Every responsible human being has faced or will face such crises as these – traumatic personal experiences, the loss of loved ones and death itself. These may not come all at once, as in this case, but they surely must be faced sooner or later by everyone of us.
As Jesus met with his disciples in the upper room on the very eve of his betrayal, he knew better than they the terrible challenges they were about to face. Although they had not yet comprehended the reality of his approaching crucifixion, they were already expressing concern about his insistence that he was about to “go away.” They had depended on him for everything; how crushed they would be to see him crucified and buried!
Jesus knew, too, the personal jeopardy they would sense as his disciples. Peter would feel so threatened that he would Heaven, A Comfort to the Troubled. . . actually deny him. Most of the others would scatter. And when reports of his resurrection began to circulate, they would bar the doors in fear. Jesus could see down into the future the persecution and death which they would face because of faith in him.
What could Jesus say to comfort them for the moment and for the future? As always, he knew the words to say:
Let not your heart be troubled; you 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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (Jn. 14:1-3).
These words can serve to comfort us as they comforted them.
Grounds of Comfort
First, there is comfort in believing in God and in his Son. We are not in a world governed by fate or chance. God made it and he is in control. The earthly sojourn of his son reassures us that he knows our needs and is concerned for our welfare. “He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32)
Second, there is comfort in his words of consolation. it is heart-warming to look through the Bible and see the reaction of God, his angels, and his Son when his children were frightened. In these verses it is, “Let not your heart be troubled.” The words, “Do not be afraid,” are found more than 70 times in Scripture.
But the Lord goes further to provide specific promises. He assures us that there are many dwelling places in his Father’s house, that he was going to prepare one for us, that he would come again to receive us, and that our dwelling place will be with him forever.
Many Bible students consider this a promise of the fellowship that Christians now enjoy as result of Christ’s going away to the Father and offering his shed blood for our redemption. But in view of many passages about heaven which seem to beparallel to this one, we are confident that we do no violence to the truth if we interpret this promise in the usual way: that Jesus was promising a dwelling place in heaven to his anxious and fearful disciples.
The Comfort of Hope
The hope of heaven is the greatest possible comfort in times of affliction. Abraham “sojourned in the land of promise as in a fcreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:9-10). The weight of heavenly glory which Paul anticipated made the afflictions that he was suffering seem light, and the eternity of that glory made his afflictions seem to be “but for the moment” (2 Cor. 4:17). Peter observed that the saints to whom he wrote greatly rejoiced in their heavenly inheritance, though for the time being they were “grieved by various trials” (1 Pet. 1:3-6). Climaxing the book of Revelation, written to encourage those who were oppressed by Roman persecution, is a picture of the saints at home with God. Jesus himself, “for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). If these notable sufferers found comfort in the hope of heaven, so can we.
Look away from the cross to the glittering crown,
From your cares, weary one, look away;
There’s a home for the soul, where no sorrow can come
And where pleasures will never decay.
The hope of heaven is the greatest possible comfort when we lose our Christian loved ones. Though David could not bring his dead son back, he took comfort in the fact that he could go to him (2 Sam. 12:23). Jesus comforted bereaved Martha with the promise, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (Jn. 11:25). Paul wrote to Thessalonian Christians who were sorrowing over the loss of their brethren, assuring them that at the coming of the Lord those dead saints would be caught up together with the living saints to meet the Lord in the air, “and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17). To this he added, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (v. 18). What greater comfort could be found in bereavement than the words of Revelation 14-13, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.”
Called home from service to reward,
Called home from toil to rest;
Thy soul from earthly sense hath gone
To dwell among the blest.
Called home from rugged paths of time,
To tread the street of gold;
Around thee lies a land sublime,
All glorious to behold.
If the hope of heaven comforts us in affliction and in the loss of loved ones, how much greater is the comfort when we ourselves face the spectre of death! Without the assurances of God’s word, the approach of death would be the most frightful experience possible; how we all fear the unknown! But faith in the exceeding precious promises of God and of his Son robs death of its terror. Walking by faith, we see death as a move from an earthly tent in which we groan into “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1). We see it as the moment of victory, the successful end of the race. We see it as the gate through which we pass to obtain the reward for which we have lived our lives, and to experience the union with our Lord in that place which he has prepared for us where we “shall be like him” (1 Jn. 3:2) and live with him and with the Father forever.
After the battle, peace will be given;
After the weeping, song there will be;
After the journey, there will be heaven,
Burdens will fall, and we shall be free.
– James Rowe
The comfort which the hope of heaven brings is evident in the lives of saints who appear on the pages of Scripture. What Bible student would fail to think of the courage of Paul as he faced death, confident that “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge shall give unto me on that day” (2 Tim. 4:8)? The hope of heaven demonstrated by the martyrs of the early centuries, even in the face of death, so adorned the doctrine of Christ as to challenge the Roman Emperor to bow at the feet of him who could inspire such calmness in death.
The Chaneys who were stuck in the snow-bank kept a diary which was found when their bodies were discovered weeks later. Their attitude was summarized in the words, “Here we are, completely in God’s hand! What better place to be!” They spent their time singing hymns, taking catnaps and quoting Bible verses. Their diary included admonitions to their children and grandchildren. And it closed, 18 days after it was begun, with this observation: “Dad went to the Lord at 7:30 this evening. It was so peaceful I didn’t even know he left. That last thing I heard him say was, ‘Thank the Lord.’ I think I’ll be with him soon.”
The hope of heaven still comforts the troubled heart.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 20, pp. 627-629
October 17, 1991