Reassurance for Troubled Hearts, part 1 (preaching resource for 5/7/23, Easter 5)
This post exegetes John 14:1-15, the RCL Gospel reading for 5/7/23. This exegesis draws on various sources, including "The Bible Expository Commentary" (Warren Wiersbe), "The New Bible Commentary," "The Parable of Joy" (Michael Card), and "The Gospel of John" (F.F. Bruce).
|"Last Supper" by Bouveret (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)|
13:36 Simon Peter asked him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus replied, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later." 37 Peter asked, "Lord, why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you."
38 Then Jesus answered, "Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! 14:1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.
John chapter 14 continues Jesus’ Maundy Thursday evening conversation with his disciples. It opens and closes with our Lord’s loving admonition: “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1, 27). In between these ‘bookends’ are wonderful words of reassurance to all who follow Christ.
It’s no surprise that the Apostles were troubled. After all, Jesus announced that one was a traitor, and that Peter was going to deny him three times. But perhaps the most disquieting blow was the realization that Jesus was going to be leaving them (John 13:33). Where was he going? Could they go with him? How could they get where he was going? These were surely some of the perplexing questions that tumbled around in their minds and hearts and were tossed back and forth in their conversations at the table in the Upper Room that night.
Ever the loving servant-Savior as well as their Lord, Jesus’ words were intended to calm their troubled hearts by imparting six assurances--in this sermon we'll look at the first three.
We will be with God forever (14:1-6)
1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going." 5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" 6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
According to Jesus, his leaving was to his disciples’ advantage for he promised that he was on his way to the Father’s ‘house’ to prepare a ‘room’ for them. The Greek word for ‘room’ (meno) is translated ‘home’ in verse 23 and refers to a place to stay—a place of dwelling. Jesus had referred to the Jerusalem temple as the Father’s ‘house’ (John 2:16), but here that house is God’s heavenly home to which Jesus is now going and in which his people are promised a place of dwelling with the Father.
Earlier that week Jesus had said, ‘where I am, there my servant will also be’ (John 12:26); now he is reassuring them that he is going to the Father to get a place ready for them, and having done that, he will come back and take them there. This place, this home, is described in Scripture as ‘heaven’ (2Cor. 5:1), an eternal kingdom (2 Peter 1:11), an inheritance (1 Peter 1:4), a country (Heb. 11:16), a city (Heb. 11:16), a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ (2 Pet. 3.13; Rev. 21:1); and here as a ‘home’ with many rooms (John 14:2) in which Jesus’ followers have a ‘place’ (John 14:3).
It’s interesting to note that on earth Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3), and now he is returning to the Father to build his church on earth and to prepare rooms for his followers in the Father’s presence in a heavenly home. And what a wonderful home that will be. When John tries to describe it in Revelation 21-22 he runs out of symbols and comparisons, so he lists things that will not be found in that heavenly home: death, sorrow, crying, pain, night, etc.
Thomas’ question (John 14:5) revealed his keen desire to be with Jesus (John 11:16), and this meant that he had to know where the Master was going and how he himself would get there. The Lord made it clear that he was going to the Father, and that he was the only way to the Father—the ‘way, the truth and the life’. Note that Jesus does not simply teach the way or point the way; he IS the way. Our Lord’s statement, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” negates the idea that there are alternative pathways to glory such as good works, religious ceremonies, etc. No, there is only one way there—by and through Jesus Christ. This truth is both exclusive (he is the only way) but it is also a reassuring inclusive truth—i.e. there IS a way to heaven and Jesus is the way for all. We need not depend on our own feeble efforts (which ultimately fail us at our best). No, the way to the Father is wide open in Jesus and he will take there all who follow him.
But how would this assurance of a home with God in heaven calm the disciples’ troubled hearts? The answer is that it enabled them (and us too!) to bear joyfully the obstacles and battles along the way from here to there. This same assurance encouraged Jesus in his time of great suffering and shame: “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Heb. 12:2). Paul also had this truth in mind when he wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Lord God, thank you for his assurance of heaven!
We know the Father right now (14:7–11)
7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." 8 Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." 9 Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10 Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.
So, heaven is our future and ultimate home with God. But what about now? The good news is that we do not have to wait until we enter glory to know our heavenly Father. We know him right now because we know Jesus.
For John, to know is to experience. And to know God is to have a deep, personal relationship with him (see John 17:3 where such knowledge is the definition of eternal life). So Jesus says that to know him (which is synonymous with ‘seeing’ him) is to have a deep, personal, intimate relationship with him; and this relationship with him is the same as a relationship with the Father because the Father and Son inter-relate—they are united one in the other. Here again Jesus is speaking to the truth of the incarnation and is thus claiming divinity—he and the Father (God) are one. And from now on these disciples would understand more and more about their Heavenly Father, even though Jesus was leaving them.
The evidence Philip and the others (including us today) are to look at to know Jesus and the Father are Jesus’ own words and works which are inseparably linked and testify to Jesus being truly God and truly man; truly united with the Father and Spirit in the one God: One in Three and Three in One; the divine Trinity.
Note that believe in John 14:10 is singular in Greek, for Jesus was addressing Philip; but in John 14:11, it is plural as Jesus addresses all the disciples. The meaning of both uses in Greek is “go on believing.” Jesus is admonishing all his disciples: “Let your faith grow!”
What a blessing! We know the Father and Creator of the universe, for Jesus Christ who is the eternal Son of God has revealed him to us. Why should our hearts be troubled when the Creator and Ruler of the universe is our own Father?
We have access to God in prayer (14:12–15)
The old hymn says it so well: “O what peace we often forfeit, o what needless pain we bear; all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Prayer is the privilege of all who know Jesus, for in our relationship with him we enter into the divine, internal communication of the Trinity—in Christ, with the Father, through the Holy Spirit. What reassurance it is to know that Jesus, who is fully God and still fully human (now glorified) is in heaven interceding—communing with the Father and the Spirit—for us and with us. This reality invites from us a three-fold response as we participate in Jesus’ prayer life:
- We pray in faith (v. 12)
12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Jesus’ “I tell you the truth” is an emphatic pronouncement: “listen up!” As we participate in Christ’s glorified humanity, through faith, great things will result. These “greater things” applied initially to the Apostles who were given power to perform special miracles as the credentials of their office. These miracles were not greater in quality, for “no servant is greater than his master” (John 13:16), but greater in scope and quantity. Peter preached one sermon and 3,000 sinners were converted in one day. The fact that ordinary people with extraordinary trust in Jesus performed these signs made them even more wonderful and brought great glory to God (Acts 5:13–16).
Prayer in faith connects us to the mighty works of Jesus—works he performs through all believers and thus multiplies his work on earth. What a privilege to have a part!
- We pray in Christ’s name (vv. 13–14)
13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
To end a prayer with the words ‘in Jesus’ name’ is not a magic formula. Rather it’s the statement of a Jesus follower in prayer acknowledging the reality that we pray with Jesus—within the scope of his name, authority, power and will. This is both a great privilege and responsibility.
The “whatever you ask” (verse 13) and the “anything” (verse 14) are qualified by all that God has revealed in Scripture concerning prayer and concerning his will. “In my name” is the controlling element, for to know God’s name means to know his nature and his will. Jesus grants our requests in order to glorify the Father, and thus such grants are always according to God’s will (1 John 5:14–15). Remember that the first request in “The Lord’s Prayer” is, “Hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9).
- We pray in loving obedience (v. 15)
15 "If you love me, you will obey what I command.
Our relationship with God in Christ (which includes prayer) is one of reciprocal love whereby we say ‘yes’ to Jesus’ commands. Thus prayer is part of a dynamic relationship of trust expressed in obedience—seeking out and living faithfully our Lord’s will for us.
Note that love is a principal theme in the Gospel of John; it is used as a verb or noun a total of fifty-six times. And here we learn that we express our love for Jesus by doing what he tells us—this is prayer in action. What a privilege!
What wonderful assurance Jesus gives to his disciples in the Upper Room – and now through the Scriptures the Spirit inspired them to record (here through John) we are reassured as well. In this chapter, Jesus’ has promised that through his life, death, resurrection and ascension, God draws us into the circle of his divine love and life. We participate in that ‘divine dance’ of love with the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. What wonderful assurance that is! And how much we need that reassurance, particularly when the ‘prince of this world’ comes after us (John 14:30) as he did in great fury that night and the next day for Jesus. Indeed Jesus needed God’s reassurance, and he received it.
“Come let us leave” was Jesus’ direction in John 14:31. Reassured of God’s love, presence, power and peace, we can go forward in faith and confidence. We are not alone. We are not orphans. God is with us and for us. Shalom