Sunday, April 10, 2011

Won't You Be My Neighbor

On air for over thirty years, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood has become a classic of sorts, embedding itself deep in the memory of several generations of children--the mechanical trolley clanging as it moved around the track, the striped tiger and royal king puppets. Then, there was the song he sang: "It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor, Would you be mine? Could you be mine?"

To me, the thought was always inviting. I was double digits before learning what a subdivision was. Before then, I thought real non-television people lived on individual plots of land lying beside the endless asphalt ribbon that ran in front of our house.

We did have neighbors...but not really. Living in the country on family land with my maternal grandparents on one side and one of my mother's sisters on the other, I was quite used to living side-by-side with people I loved, people like me.

Then, after the birth of our first son, husband wanted to move back to his family's land...deeper in the country. I said yes, but I wondered. These were people he loved, people like him. I was different. Could we really all live happily together in unity?

Lately, I've spent a little more time than usual contemplating not only my physical present home, but my eternal home as well...with neighbors I'll live with for all eternity.

Christ told His followers, "'In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 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. 14:2-3).

I grew up reading "mansions" in the King James instead of the New American Standard's "dwelling places." What a vision I had--my very own mansion on a hilltop all its own, high above those golden streets running past and situated perfectly across to the sparkling, crystal sea.

A Hollywood-worthy image for sure, but really a poor interpretation of what Jesus meant.

Strong's Concordance defines "dwelling places" as "staying, abiding, dwelling, abode" (167). No mansion explicitly in that definition, just an implication concerning the eternity of this place Jesus is creating for believers.

Vine's Expository Dictionary says much more to dispel my childhood mansion theory: "There is nothing in the word to indicate separate compartments in heaven; neither does it suggest temporary resting-places on the road."

The "No separate compartments in heaven?" should catch your attention. Sadly, definitely not a mansion, at least not one that would be listed on the modern-day housing market.

The key may be found in the previous two verses when Jesus says twice, "prepare a place." In the Greek, the word for "place" can also be translated as "room." In other words, this passage can be interpreted to mean that Jesus has gone to "prepare a room" for each believer.

One of my favorite teachers of Jewish culture, Ray Vander Laan, also believes this is what Jesus meant. In the video "No Greater Love" from the That the World May Know series, Vander Laan explains that in Jesus' day, "families usually lived in clusters of buildings called insulas. These clusters were built around a central courtyard. Grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts all lived and interacted together in the insula."When a son married, he would add a "room" onto his father's house. Thus, when Jesus used this terminology, His original hearers would have understood that "This word-picture presented Jesus as a bridegroom, preparing new rooms for his followers in the insula of heaven" (Vander Laan).

Having this image of heaven in mind and knowing what John's vision in Revelation says about there being no need for a sun because of the Father's light, then heaven's dwelling place could literally look like one giant mansion-like insula, with every believer's room connected to another's...all surrounding one giant courtyard filled with the radiant glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

What's more, consider what Revelation says about our eternal heavenly neighbors: " behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb" (Rev. 7:9).

Talk about different--from every tribe, tongue, and people group. Because God saw fit to mention these specific differences, it seems improbable that believers will suddenly become carbon copies of each other in heaven. Instead, your neighbors--my neighbors--will continue to show the depth of our Creator God in their remaining differences.

Yet, those differences won't matter. There will be no in-fighting in our insulas. Instead, our unity will be complete. Paul says the body of Christ will grow ""until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).

In heaven, unity will reign. Neighbors different in every way--all made pure by the blood of the lamb, all living together in praise of a holy God for all eternity.

If the structure and make-up of heaven show one thing, it's that everyone--no matter how different they are from us--everyone is worthy of being treated with the same kindness and Christ-like-love we show to our loved-ones...and that everyone is worthy of our offering them the redemptive plan of salvation, of Christ's grace, mercy, and love.

1 comment:

  1. I like the photo you have used as well as the word image of God's children dwelling together. Just lovely!