Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled
John 14: 1 — 14
After our Lord's death and resurrection it became the natural practice for members of the infant Church, under the leadership of the Apostles, to look back over the events and teaching of Jesus, and interpret them with the help of the Holy Spirit. This practice has continued through to our times in the greater part of the Church. Thus in our three-year lectionary of Gospel readings, after Easter, we find ourselves going back over our Lord's lessons, and reflecting on their meaning, just as the disciples of Jesus did.
This reading is taken from the long discourse of our Lord to his Apostles immediately after the Last Supper, which is recorded in John chapters 13 — 17. If you take a glance at these chapters don't be concerned if you have trouble getting the sequence, particularly in chapters 14 — 17. Jesus is commenting on events yet to happen. Time is collapsed: present, past, future are not always distinct.
In John 13: 33, Jesus starts hinting about changes to take place.
A little later, Simon Peter asks "Where are you going Lord?" Jesus gently "leads him on" so that Peter insists that he will follow his master now and is ready to die for him. Jesus, even more gently, questions Peter about really being ready to die for him and adds:
It is only after the events of Easter / Passover, that the real lessons are appreciated. For now, we join the Apostles around the table with Jesus. Having answered Peter's enquiries on a one-to-one basis, he now prepares the rest of the group for their ordeal. If we read and ponder very carefully, we can sense the depth of feeling with which Jesus has dealt with Peter's probing, and the concerns of the others.
Ronald Cox sums up the situation very skilfully and this can help us get the gist of the whole passage.
The Gospel Story by R. Cox
(CYM Publications 1950)
Some Notes On the Text
Part One: Jesus Comforts His Disciples.
Dr Ryle makes the following observations:
Ryle also quotes another scholar with a rather helpful analysis of chapter 27 giving seven specific words of comfort from Jesus to his Apostles. This list goes beyond our present reading, but it would do our souls good to reflect on them.
Hengstenberg gives the following list of the grounds of comfort, which the chapter contains, in systematic order, which well deserves attention.
"In my house (there) are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you." The Greek text is complex but we know that Jesus is emphasising here three things:
Ryle offers a reassuring note:
Jesus adds "I am going to prepare a place for you"
Our Lord concludes this short (3 verse) word of comfort to this disciples with:
Note that the word "if" in the Greek text carries the meaning "when", as is often the case in colloquial English. The original Greek has "I am coming back" to emphasise the certainty of the return of Jesus for his disciples. The same word is used in Revelation 22: 20 thus preparing the way for his disciples to realise they are to be ready.
We have here an extremely simple yet beautiful idea of heaven. It is being ever with the Lord. Whatever else we see or do not see in heaven, we shall see Christ the Lord. Whatever kind of place, it is a place where Christ is. (Phil 5: 1-23; 1 Thess 4:17) (Ryle)
J. C. Ryle has a worthwhile chapter on these three verses. You may wish to read it at this point before continuing.
Part 2: Jesus the Way to the Father
Our Lord knows his Apostles very thoroughly. It is time to lift their sights higher and he makes a comment, knowing he will get a "bite" from Thomas.
To this Thomas replies without delay:
Just what Jesus wanted to hear.
"I am the way and the truth and the life", responds Jesus; "No one comes to the Father except through me".
James McPollin S.J., has a helpful sentence:
Ryle has a helpful perspective to offer:
To extend his "understudies" further, he adds another challenge"
This is too much for Phillip who responds as quickly as did Thomas a moment before:
Now Phillip gets a little "attention", which continues at least till verse 11.
Verse 9 — 11
In the reaction of Jesus to Phillip's request some key ideas are expressed"
The meaning behind these statements is clear (with the help of James McPollin, SJ):
Our Lord had laid the necessary foundation to now proclaim a startling and powerful truth to his close companions.
This verse opens with the traditional formula "Verily, verily I say unto thee." In other words, he gives a clear signal that this statement is to be taken very seriously indeed. We will often hear this verse used by the ambitious campaigner as part of an arsenal of Biblical quotations to call down great miracles and show the power of God in their ministry. Such use would be another deliberate mangling of our Lord's teaching. In this verse he does not mean that the disciples will perform more outstanding miracles than Jesus did. Their works will be greater because they will not be limited by time and geography as in the case of our Lord. When he goes to the Father his help will be available to his disciples in all parts of the world at all times.
Many of us will have been sent on "guilt trips" by those who tell us God has not answered our prayers because we didn't' have enough faith! The above verse must surely be one of the most abused in all Scripture. The simplistic and uninformed interpretation of it has given rise to countless campaigns to harangue the gates of Heaven and, to express it somewhat crudely, "hold a gun to God's head."
It cannot be denied that some groups of Christians design man-made religious schemes often to serve personal agendas, and then by force of numbers actually set about pressuring God to bring about what they seek - in other words, to conform. We are talking about the contemporary Church as well as the past! Those most critical of the Church over its two millennia are often, today, the ones most blatantly demonstrating this defect themselves.
In verse 13 above Jesus is not referring to irresponsible prayer, saying, "whatever you ask," because in the same breath he adds, "so that the Son of Man may bring glory to the Father." Unless a request in prayer will bring glory to the Father, we should not even be entertaining this idea.
Jesus repeats the same idea to round off this unit of teaching:
"You may ask for anything in my name and I will do it."
The same provisos apply as for verse 23. When our requests to God are intended to conform to his holy will, then they may be granted. If conforming to his plan is not our highest priority, what can we reasonably expect from him?
James McPollin in his much admired commentary, (and very worthy of a place in your library) closes his discussion of this passage in these words:
From, John, by J McPollin SJ (Michael Glazier 1979.)
The three verses we have now read are rich in precious truth. For eighteen centuries they have been peculiarly dear to Christ's believing servants in every part of the world. Many are the sick rooms, which they have lightened! Many are the dying hearts, which they have cheered! Let us see what they contain.
We have, first, in this passage a precious remedy against an old disease. That disease is trouble of heart. That remedy is faith.
Heart-trouble is the commonest thing in the world. No rank, or class, or condition is exempt from it. No bars, or bolts, or locks can keep it out. Partly from inward causes and partly from outward, — partly from the body and partly from the mind, — partly from what we love and partly from what we fear, the journey of life is full of trouble. Even the best of Christians have many bitter cups to drink between grace and glory. Even the holiest saints find the world a vale of tears.
Faith in the Lord Jesus is the only sure medicine for troubled hearts. To believe more thoroughly, trust more entirely, rest more unreservedly, lay hold more firmly, lean back more completely, — this is the prescription, which our Master urges on the attention of all His disciples. No doubt the members of that little band which sat round the table at the last supper, had believed already. They had proved the reality of their faith by giving up everything for Christ's sake. Yet what does their Lord say to them here? Once more He presses on them the old lesson, the lesson with which they first began: "Believe! Believe more! Believe distinctly on Me!"
Never let us forget that there are degrees in faith, and that there is a wide difference between weak and strong believers. The weakest faith is enough to give a man a saving interest in Christ, and ought not to be despised; but it will not give a man such inward comfort as a strong faith. Vagueness and dimness of preception are the defect of weak believers. They do not see clearly what they believe and why they believe. In such cases more faith is the one thing needed. Like Peter on the water, they need to look more steadily at Jesus, and less at the waves and wind. Is it not written, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee"? (Is.26: 3.)
We have, secondly, in this passage a very comfortable account of heaven, or the future abode of saints. It is but little that we understand about heaven while we are here in the body, and that little is generally taught us in the Bible by negatives much more than by positives. But here, at any rate, there are some plain things.
Heaven is "a Father's house,"— the house of that God of whom Jesus says, "I go to my Father, and your Father." It is, in a word, home: the home of Christ and Christians. This is a sweet and touching expression. Home, as we all know, is the place where we are generally loved for our own sakes, and not for our gifts or possessions; the place where we are loved to the end, never forgotten, and always welcome. This is one idea of heaven. Believers are in a strange land and at school in this life. In the life to come they will be at home.
Heaven is a place of "mansions," — of lasting, permanent, and eternal dwellings. Here in the body we are in lodgings, tents, and tabernacles, and must submit to many changes. In heaven we shall be settled at last, and go out no more. "Here we have no continuing city." (Heb.13: 14.) Our house not made with hands shall never be taken down. (2 Cor. 5: 1.)
Heaven is a place of "many mansions." There will be room for all believers and room for all sorts, for little saints as well as great ones, for the weakest believer as well as for the strongest. The feeblest child of God need not fear there will be no place for him. None will be shut out but impenitent sinners and obstinate unbelievers.
Heaven is a place where Christ Himself shall be present. He will not be content to dwell without His people: — "Where I am, there ye shall be also." We need not think that we shall be alone and neglected. Our Saviour, — our elder Brother, — our Redeemer, who loved us and gave Himself for us, shall be in the midst of us forever. What we shall see, and whom we shall see in heaven, we cannot fully conceive yet, while we are in the body. But one thing is certain: we shall see Christ!
Let these things sink down into our minds. To the worldly and careless they may seem nothing at all. To all who feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of God they are full of unspeakable comfort. If we hope to be in heaven it is pleasant to know what heaven is like.
We have, lastly, in this passage a solid ground for expecting good things to come. The evil heart of unbelief within us is apt to rob us of our comfort about heaven. "We wish we could think it was all true. — "We fear we shall never be admitted into heaven. — Let us hear what Jesus says to encourage us.
One cheering word is this, — "I go to prepare a place for you." Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people: a place, which we shall find Christ Himself, has made ready for true Christians. He has prepared it by procuring a right for every sinner who believes to enter in. None can stop us, and say we have no business there. — He has prepared it by going before us as our Head and Representative, and taking possession of it for all the members of His mystical body. As our Forerunner He has marched in, leading captivity captive, and has planted His banner in the land of glory. - He has prepared it by carrying our names with Him as our High Priest into the holy of holies, and making angels ready to receive us. They that enter heaven will find they are neither unknown nor unexpected.
Another cheering word is this, — "I will come again and receive you unto myself." Christ will not wait for believers to come up to Him, but will come down to them, to raise them from their graves and escort them to their heavenly home. As Joseph came to meet Jacob, so will Jesus come to call His people together and guide them to their inheritance. The Second Advent ought never to be forgotten. Great is the blessedness of looking back to Christ coming the first time to suffer for us, but no less great is the comfort of looking forward to Christ coming the second time, to raise and reward His saints. (Heb. 9: 25 — 28.)
Let us leave the whole passage with solemnized feelings and serious self-examination. How much they miss who live in a dying world and yet know nothing of God as their Father and Christ as their Saviour! How much they possess who live the life of faith in the Son of God, and believe in Jesus! With all their weaknesses and crosses they have that which the world can neither give nor take away. They have a true Friend while they live, and a true home when they die.
Expository Notes on St John by J.C. Ryle D.D.
(Hodder and Stoughton 1908)
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