Summary: God calms hearts with astounding promises to captivate believing souls.
For the disciples, quality time with Jesus in the Upper Room has not been pleasant. First, the Lord embarrasses them by taking the form of a slave and washing their feet (an act far beneath his dignity, especially since they felt so acutely that it was beneath theirs). Then their trusted treasurer is revealed as a traitor – Judas – with whom they shared meals and served God. (Some of you know how it hurts when a friend turns his back on you – the rejection, the loss, the confusion, the self-doubt.) Third, Jesus informs them that he is leaving, and where he is going they cannot come. And finally, Peter, the bold leader of the bunch, is rebuked as a fickle denier of the faith. John 13 is a somber – even sad – hour in the life of these first followers.
Maybe a few moments pass before Jesus again speaks; or possibly he allows the difficult reality to sink into their souls for longer. One thing is certain – the disquiet (even the despair?) settles like a stinking smoke in the room. But the great physician knows his patients, and he comforts their souls with a healing balm.
[Read John 14.1-11. Pray.]
Recently, the Smithsonian magazine described our time as the “Age of Anxiety.” Someone else said it is the “Cardiac Age,” a time of troubled hearts, where people are anxious about retirement funds, worried about elections, fearful of nuclear terrorists, and concerned about issues all over the globe: population, hunger, the lack of clean drinking water, and the possibility of a pandemic.
Worry has been defined as “a small trickle of fear that meanders through the mind until it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” What a picturesque and accurate description! Worry, or a troubled heart, may seem a small matter, but its corrosive effects wreak great damage. “A small trickle of fear that meanders through the mind until it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”
George Muller, famous for building and maintaining orphanages through determined prayer rather than by telling people of their needs, said, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.”
Notice the connection Muller made between faith and overcoming anxiety (or worry). “…the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.”
In our text, Jesus sees in the faces of his friends their troubled hearts. And they have reason to be anxious. The future is frightening; the problems they face are immense; their own abilities are less formidable than they had hoped or imagined.
A year earlier, these men were in a living parable about this very matter. One day Jesus got into a boat with his disciples and slept as they sailed. A sudden windstorm came down on the lake; the boat was filling with water and they were in danger. They woke Jesus: “Master, we are perishing.” Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves, and said to them, “Where is your faith?” “Where is your faith? Bring it out and put it to use. You say you believe; now apply your faith to real life.”
That was a very physical example. Now the trouble is more of a spiritual nature, but the solution is the same – faith is called for in the midst of difficulty.
Chapter 14 begins with a command: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” But notice something unique: it is a passive imperative. (I usually do not dwell on points of grammar, but I really think this will help you.) An active imperative is a command you directly obey: “Alice, do not hit Bobby.” But a passive imperative is trickier: “Bobby, do not be hit by Alice.” It is the same command, but now given to Bobby. How does he obey? Hide in the closet? Stay out of her room? Threaten to hit her back? Can he really prevent himself from being hit? It is not so obvious how, is it?
Jesus does not say, “Peter, do not trouble John’s heart.” He says, “Peter, do not let your heart be troubled (by outward circumstances is implied). How do we obey that command? The answer is by believing – by believing in God and in Jesus as he is revealed in the gospel.
Belief is hard in the face of trouble, so Jesus gives his men four reasons to believe. Four comforts for the anxious heart. Four truths to encourage, and calm, and captivate your soul. Muller was correct: “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” He learned that from Jesus. Let’s see if we can also.
1. The “Different” Truth We Are to Believe in Difficult Circumstances (to the Calming of our Hearts) is that Jesus Prepares Heaven for His People (John 14.1-3)