Here we are five Sundays into the Easter season and we find for our text today Jesus addressing his disciples, whose hearts are troubled. Although it’s a season of celebration, we too probably still need encouragement. It doesn’t take long to run into things that leave our hearts troubled. This passage takes place around the table where the “Lord’s Supper” took place.
After a perplexing foot-washing ceremony by Jesus and just before Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus shares some very troubling news. For starters, he announces that one in their group is going to betray him. To make matters worse, they are not sure who it is. For one of the disciples to betray Jesus would also mean betraying the other disciples. Each disciple may be wondering if it is he whom Jesus speaks of. This would certainly be troubling as everyone is eating together. But there’s more. Peter, their fearless leader, has just been told that he will deny Jesus three times. As if this isn’t discouraging enough, Jesus then talks about going away. And they haven’t a clue where to. Everything sounds like times are going to turn nasty and Jesus will not even be around to calm the storm. No doubt, there are some heavy hearts gathered around the table.
Jesus starts by saying:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. (John 14:1 NRSV)
Now, anyone can say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” But when it is God who is speaking, then encouragement can be had. When Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe also in me,” he is letting them know who is speaking to them. If you had just been diagnosed with a suspicious spot on your heart and your mechanic slaps you on the back and says, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be just fine,” it probably wouldn’t go far in making you feel much better. But if your cardiologist sits you down and says, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be just fine,” you would be encouraged. We can take encouragement in this passage not just because the words on the page tell us to, but because we know who has said these words. God himself in Jesus Christ is telling the disciples, and us today, not to let our hearts be troubled.
If we are to be encouraged by such words, we would need to trust the person speaking to us. It’s possible your cardiologist doesn’t like delivering bad news or perhaps he has a malpractice history a mile long. In that case his words are no better than your mechanic’s. But Jesus doesn’t just say, “God says not to worry,” he says, “Believe in God.” Trust God with the unknowns of what’s troubling you. These were good words for the disciples, and they are good words for us. We trust that he knows best and he is working in our troubles for our good, even when it seems he is “away.” We can take heart when he says not to be troubled.
Believing in God’s word to us may be especially hard when we feel God has left us, as Jesus just told his disciples he was about to do. When we think God has passed us by, we may think his words are empty. But Jesus’ departure from them is not disconnected from his words to them. Think of a heart bypass surgery. If a heart is damaged because of a faulty artery, a doctor will “bypass” that artery and provide another way to restore health to the heart. This analogy breaks down in many ways, of course, but when Jesus leaves the disciples is not because he is done with them. Rather, he is bypassing them in order to provide a way to heal their troubled hearts. If that analogy doesn’t help, you can just “bypass” it.
Jesus goes on to use a word picture to help encourage his disciples and build their trust in him.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going. (John 14:2-4 NRSV)
When we see word pictures in Scripture, we should clue in on the fact that God is trying to tell us something that we might not find easy to grasp. God sees what we cannot. What God is doing through our troubles will add up to something more wonderful than we will ever be able to comprehend this side of glorification. How do you explain something that is beyond one’s comprehension? You use word pictures, metaphors, figures of speech. You give them something they do comprehend in a new way that can hopefully stretch their imaginations into hope.
Jesus paints a picture of his Father’s house that has “many dwelling places.” Many have come up with some interesting understandings from this passage. Some are better than others. But at the heart of this picture would be a message about living in the Father’s presence. How does one describe such a thing except to use concepts like a house that has plenty of room for everyone around the table? Jesus tells them that he goes to “prepare a place for [them]” and from there he will “come again and will take [them] to [himself], so that where I am, there you may be also.” Using the picture of the “Father’s house,” Jesus is letting them know that what appears to be his leaving is actually his work in being with them in a deeper way than they now understand.
In context, we understand that where Jesus is going to prepare for us to enter this place is at the cross. The cross is where all the betrayals, denials, and failures of our lives will be defeated, bringing us into the presence and communion of the Father. So, like a heart bypass surgery, what appears to be passing by their troubled hearts is in fact the very act that will save it.
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. (John 14:5-7 NRSV)
Thomas states what is true for the disciples and all humanity with, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Of ourselves, we do not know where we are going, or how we can get there. If Jesus did not reveal this to us, we would not know that the only way to the Father is through a Son who had such love for us that he went to the cross for us. Without the defeat of sin and death, we would be stuck in our inward focused humanity of selfishness and fear that leads to betrayal and denial. Only Jesus knows the way to the Father, which is accomplished through the crucifixion of our Lord. Only Jesus knows the life of love in outgoing otherness. This is the way of the Father with the Son in the Spirit. On the cross, Jesus defeated sin and death with his very love and life. So, Jesus answers Thomas with, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
Phillip follows up:
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? (John 14:8-10 NRSV)
Philip speaks truth in the fact that we will find our satisfaction in seeing the Father, in knowing who he really is for us. But what Philip misses is that Jesus is the Son who reveals the Father. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Ultimately it is the Son who shows us the Father and in him we trust for our satisfaction and life.
It may be good at this point to pull back and digest the implications of what Jesus has just said: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” This means that what we see in Jesus is what we get in the Father. Have you ever felt like the Father and Son were more like a Good Cop/Bad Cop duo? Or maybe Jesus seems to love us, but I’m not sure about the Father. He seems to keep his distance. Jesus is telling us that’s not the case. These words are good ones to remember through every Gospel story of Jesus.
When we see Jesus touching the leper or being an advocate for the woman caught in adultery, we are seeing the heart of God. God the Father is not standing in the shadows shaking his head in disapproval when Jesus heals or forgives or touches the broken-hearted and downcast. That’s the Father’s heart reaching out in Jesus’ words and actions.
You may want to go through the Gospels and read them again with this truth in mind. Read the stories and see how Jesus interacts with each character. Then ask yourself, “Can I see the Father doing that?” If the answer is “no,” Jesus is inviting you through that story to know his Father a little deeper. He is showing you in that story a revelation of the Father that will need to replace the way you think of him now. This will be an exercise of expansive freedom if you have been accustomed to seeing the Father different than the Son.
The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:10-13 NRSV)
Jesus goes on to show that this trust in him will result in his disciples doing “greater works” than what he so far has done. Jesus is not telling us that we must out-do him with our works, but rather that he is still the one doing the works and we get to participate. In Jesus’ earthly ministry, his kingdom has been established. His works up to that point were inaugurating his kingdom. Easter tells us that his kingdom is now up and running. Jesus is in charge, so his works will continue in the crescendo of greater works till the kingdom is fully established at his return. So, he is still the one doing the works, but he does them through those who believe he is the Lord, ruling and reigning. In that way we are invited to participate in the “greater works” Jesus will do in his kingdom.
Notice how Jesus concludes this passage:
I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:14 NRSV)
Jesus is still the one who “will do.” In prayer, we can participate in his doing by asking “in his name,” which simply means we are asking in accordance to his will and purpose and in keeping with who he is for us. Jesus tells us that “anything” asked of him in this manner he will do. Much like the picture Jesus taught of a son asking for bread, he will not receive a stone. But if we ask for stones, which would not be in keeping with the Father’s good purposes for his children, we are not given guarantee of such provision. The Father only gives the bread of life. Our stones of death have been rolled away.
As the Easter season approaches an end, may we continue to celebrate the risen Lord who has defeated sin and death and claimed victory with his risen life, establishing the kingdom for us here and now as we anticipate its final installment at his return. If we need encouragement when our hearts are troubled, may we remind one another of the words God speaks to us in his Son Jesus Christ.