When our hearts are troubled …
(John 14:1-12 / May 10, 2012)
Every time I read those verses my mind goes back to a conversation I had while I was a pastor in Milwaukee. A husband and wife had spent a good fifteen weeks going through a Bible Information Class, but they still seemed somewhat skeptical. Fair enough.
On this occasion I remember the couple appearing somewhat anxious, and so I asked them, “Is there anything that you feel uncomfortable with?” To which the wife replied, “Pastor, we hear what you are saying. And we understand what the Lutheran church teaches regarding salvation, but we have to let you know that can’t give up our trust in the Virgin of Guadalupe. We believe that she is the one who will take us to God in heaven.”
That was a difficult moment for me. Because on the one hand I don’t want to offend, but on the other hand it is imperative to speak the truth. So, I said, “Let’s look again at John 14:6. Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” You’re saying this. Jesus is saying this. You realize that they cannot both be right.”
Is that true that the two belief systems cannot both be right? We often hear the comment, “Why does Christianity have to be so exclusive? Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus were only “one way” rather than “the Way”? Can’t there be another way to God and his glory besides Jesus? Well, that is what is what we’re going to look at today, and in doing so, we’ll see how the answer to that question is also the answer to when our hearts are troubled…
Now, the two disciples in this text (Philip and Thomas) weren’t thinking about the exclusivity of Christianity, but they were thinking about the way to the Father. It’s not that they didn’t believe Jesus was sent from God. It’s that they still didn’t believe that Jesus was God. So, in their mind, “Jesus and God are different, and what we really need is God right now, not Jesus.”
Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us” (v. 8). Enough for what? What is Philip talking about?
Well, back in chapter thirteen the disciples had received disturbing news. Remember, the context here is the night before Jesus dies, and in John 13:33 Jesus tells his disciples, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.” Well, that doesn’t sound good. Then Simon Peter asked him, “Lord where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later” (John 13:36).
So, we can understand the anxiety among the disciples. That is why their hearts were troubled. It’s also why Jesus begins John, chapter 14 with the words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus just said he was leaving them. He attempts to comfort them by assuring them, “I am not abandoning you. I am going, but that is to prepare a place for you in heaven. 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 (v. 3). So, trust. Trust in God; trust also in me” (v. 1).
Trust, you see, is the antidote to trouble. We all have trouble. We all go through prolonged phases when our hearts are troubled. So, how do we have peace in the midst of trouble? Jesus says the answer is to have faith, to trust. In what? “Trust in God; trust also in me.”
The thing that stands out to me in these verses is that the disciples hear those words, and yet, they immediately want to bypass Jesus. It’s as if they hear the first part, but not the second part, for they latch on to what he says about God, but they miss the whole point that Jesus is God. To the disciples, Jesus still wasn’t enough for them. He was good alright, but he was for other things. Not for the real problems of life. Right now, they had real problems, “So, give us God, Jesus! And give us heaven. Show it to us so that our troubles go away!”
To which Jesus replies, “But I am God. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well … Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father … Believe me when I say that I am in the Father is in me” (vv. 7,9,11).
But Philip isn’t having it, “Lord, [just] show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” In the same way that as we experience troubles and the pastor says, “Look to Jesus” and we think, “Well that sounds nice, but that’s not going to do anything.” And so, we bypass Jesus and tend to look right past him.
For some it’s to Guadalupe. For others to family, to health, to wealth, or to self. You see, everyone is different when it comes to what they think will actually save them, to what they think will actually make them feel better, to what they think will actually take their anxiety away. And yet, in a nutshell it’s all the same. It is a vague concept of “God”, not the true God of the Bible. The true God of the Bible is Jesus.
That’s what Jesus says here. And yet, we tend to look right past Jesus to a god of our own imagination because we think: “This is what will help me. This is how I will feel better.” And to all of that nonsense Jesus says, “No, it won’t make you feel better. No, it won’t help you. The only thing that will help you is to look to me.”
“If you really knew me…” (v. 7). That is the answer to these disciples’ troubled hearts, and that is the only answer when our hearts are troubled as well.
So, why do we always want to bypass Jesus? It’s because we lack faith. Like Thomas and Philip, we want to see if we’re going to believe. And when we look at Jesus what do our eyes see? A man. A simple man. We see a man who suffers. And we hate suffering. That is why people don’t want to look at Jesus when they experience trouble. Jesus was a man full of troubles, full of sorrows.
“But God”, we say, “he is glorious. With God there is no suffering. No trouble.” And so, rather than look at the God of the Bible (again, Jesus says, “If you really knew me…) we create our own version of God that has absolutely nothing to do with suffering. We refuse to accept the fact that in this world we will have trouble. That’s what Jesus said. “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). But we don’t believe it. It is hard for us to accept the reality of sin. It is hard for us to accept that this world will never be reformed. It is broken beyond repair. That is why Jesus is taking us to a new world, a permanent place with the Father in heaven (vv. 2-3). But because we don’t believe what God says about sin, and we think there is a way to live in this world without suffering. But there’s not.
Here is a phrase to keep in your back pocket and pull out regularly. “There is no crown without the cross.”
Jesus says in Mark, chapter 8: “If anyone wants to come after me, he must take up his cross and follow me.” He says, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). These are words, loved ones, that take a lifetime of thought.
Lose our life for Jesus? Trust Jesus when outwardly we are losing? Take up a cross and follow him? If there is one thing that is common to all human flesh it is that we don’t want trouble. We don’t want anything that has to do with the thought of suffering and death. What we want is comfort, ease, health, and wealth. So, we say, “Well, where is God in all of this? If God was real and if God was here, we wouldn’t have suffering. There would be no COVID-19. My four-year-old wouldn’t have “Coronavirus” as part of her working vocabulary!”
This is what we need to understand and believe: God is here in the person of Jesus. God hides himself on earth in the person of Jesus. When we look to Jesus we are looking to God, for God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So, if we bypass Jesus we are looking to a false God. But if focus on Jesus, if we really come to know him … then Jesus says, “That is how you really know God.” And you see, once you know the real God, the troubles of this present world, though real, are manageable. Because once a person knows the real God, they know what his plan is for this world. They know what he is doing with this world. They know what his plan and purpose is for them! Because he tells us! Heaven! That’s what his plan and purpose for you is. You’re going to heaven. You will soon have a permanent dwelling with God. The good life is not this life; it is the later life. And you see, this knowledge, this peace of mind, this faith and trust to believe that even in dire circumstances it all nevertheless remains true, all of this comes from knowing God.
So, how can you know him so that you can receive all of this? Well, Jesus answered Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The only way to the Father in heaven is through the cross of Christ. Again, “there is no crown without the cross.” But it’s not my cross; it’s Christ’s cross. With his death, Jesus took away the sin that separates us from the Father. With his resurrection, Jesus ensured that not even death will keep us from the Father. Everything you want and need to for access to God is found in Jesus. “I am the way, the truth [he will never lie to you], and the life [eternal life, the good life]”. All other substitutes are failures and will only disappoint.
You see, if there is only one way up the mountain, there is only one way up the mountain. And if there is only one direction from Waukegan to make it to Chicago (south), there is only one direction from Waukegan to make it to Chicago. If you travel north from Waukegan, you will never make it to Chicago. You’ll make it to some place, all right, but it won’t be where you wanted to go.
When your hearts are troubled, look to Jesus. He alone is God. And he alone will take you to him. Amen.