Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

Easter 5A

John 14: 1 14

Introduction

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.

"My dear companions, I shall not be with you very much longer. You will look for me; but I tell you now what I told the Jewish authorities, 'You cannot go where I am going'."

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:

"Before the rooster crows you will say three times that you do not know me."

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.

Study Summary

Ronald Cox sums up the situation very skilfully and this can help us get the gist of the whole passage.

This is the last day of Jesus' mortal life. The intimate, daily association with his apostles is finished; it will never be taken up again. He has eaten his last meal with them; he is now saying good-bye. It is definite, permanent, irrevocable; and that is why everyone is so sad. He had come on earth as man for two purposes: to redeem mankind, and to found a kingdom (his church) to bring that redemption to all men. By the end of this day he would have accomplished both: his work on earth would be concluded. From then onward he will begin a new relationship with his followers; no longer physically present and visible to their eyes, but more intimately with them by the supernatural vision of faith. He is more than a human friend and leader: he is their God. And that is the theme of all this farewell discourse. It is set out in the first sentence as a title, like the opening words of John's gospel.

All partings are sorrowful: the stronger and deeper the bonds are, the more is it felt. To the apostles, Jesus was everything; it would be a bleak and meaningless world without him. And he, too, felt all those deep emotions that men feel at parting; no one ever had loved with such an intense and pure love, or expressed it so tenderly as Jesus did at this leave-taking.

He begins with the imagery of a journey, because that was how the apostles were visualizing his ' going away.' He describes his destination as a house; not a private residence, but a great palace with ' many dwelling-places ' (like the temple, his 'Father's house' on earth, with its many buildings); he is going to make it ready for them, so that they can all be together, 'at home with the Lord' (2 Cor. 5: 8). The apostles are like children who see with the imagination, not with the mind: Thomas asks for a road map, and Philip for a picture of the Father. They have both, seated there in the room with them; Jesus himself is both the road, and the journey's end ('the way truth and life'). In one sentence he sums up the essence of Christianity: he himself is the object of faith, because he is God: to possess him is to possess 'truth and life.' To do that they must imitate him; he himself is their model.

The Gospel Story by R. Cox

(CYM Publications 1950)

Some Notes On the Text

Part One: Jesus Comforts His Disciples.

Verse 1

"Do not let your heart be troubled; trust and believe in God; trust and believe also in me"

Dr Ryle makes the following observations:

Our Lord's great object throughout this and the two following chapters seems clear and plain. He desired to comfort, stablish, and build up His downcast disciples.

He saw their "hearts were troubled" from a variety of causes, partly by seeing their Master "troubled in spirit" (13: 21), partly by hearing that one of them should betray Him, partly by the mysterious departure of Judas, partly by their Master's announcement that He should only his a little time longer with them, and that at last they could not come with Him, and partly by the warning addressed to Peter, that he would deny his Master thrice. For all these reasons this little company of weak believers was disquieted and cast down and anxious. Their gracious Master saw it, and proceeded to give them encouragement: "Let not your heart be troubled." It will be noted that He uses the singular number "your heart," not 'your hearts." He means "the heart of any one of you."

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.

(a) The first encouragement is, that to the disciples of Christ heaven is sure (v. 2 3).

(b) The second encouragement is, that disciples have in Christ a certain way to heaven
(v. 4 11).

(c) The third encouragement is, that disciples need not fear that with the departure of Christ His work will cease (v. 12 14).

(d) The fourth encouragement is, that in the absence of Christ disciples will have the help of the Spirit (v. 15 17).

(e) The fifth encouragement is, that Christ will not leave His people forever, but will come back again (v. 18 24).

(f) The sixth encouragement is, that the Spirit will teach the disciples and supply their want of understanding when left alone (v. 25 26).

(g) Finally, the seventh encouragement is, that the legacy of peace will be left to cheer them in their Master's absence (v. 27).

These seven points are well worthy the attention of all believers in every age, and are as useful now as when first pressed on the eleven.

In the first verse of Chapter 1, our Lord is saying: "Have faith that I have the power to fulfil the promises I make to you. Have faith in me!" Notice he does not say, "Believe in my divinity," but "Believe personally in me."

Verse 2

"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:

  • there is room for all
  • my house is a permanent place to remain in.
  • you should never have any doubt about it.

Ryle offers a reassuring note:

[In my Father's house.] This phrase can bear only one meaning. It is my Father's house in heaven, an expression accommodated to our weakness. God needs no literal house, with walls and roof, as we do. But where He dwells is called "His house." (See Deut.15;
Psalm 33: 14;

1 Kings 8: 13, 27; 2 Cor. 5: 1.)

There is something very touching and comforting in the thought that the heaven we go to is "our Father's house." It is home.

(There are many mansions.) The word rendered "mansions" means literally "abiding-places." It is only used here, and in the twenty-third verse of this chapter, "abode." We need not doubt that there is an intentional contrast between the unchanging, unvarying house in heaven, and the changing, uncertain dwellings of this world. The dwellings of this world are continually changing and decaying. Here we are ever moving: there we shall no more go out. (See also Heb. 13: 14.)

Our Lord's intention seems to be to comfort His disciples by the thought that nothing could cast them out of the heavenly house. They might be left alone by Him on earth; they might be even cast out of the Jewish Church, and find no resting-place or refuge on earth; but there would be always room enough for them in heaven, and a house from which they would never be expelled. "Fear not! There is room enough in heaven."

Jesus adds "I am going to prepare a place for you"

Ryle:

(I go...prepare...place...you.] This sentence is meant to be another ground of comfort. One of the reasons why our Lord went away, He says, was to get ready a dwelling-place for His disciples. It is the same idea which is contained in the expression in the Hebrews, "the forerunner." (Heb. 6: 20; see also Num. 10: 33.)

The manner in which Christ "prepares a place" for His people is mysterious, and yet not inexplicable. He enters heaven as their High Priest, presenting the merit of His sacrifice for their sins.

He removes all barriers that sin made between them and God. He appears as their proxy and representation, and claims a right of entry for all His believing members. He intercedes continually for them at God's right hand; and makes them always acceptable in Himself, though unworthy in themselves. He bears their names mystically, as the High Priest, on His breast; and introduces them to the court of heaven before they get there.

That heaven is a "prepared place for a prepared people" is a very cheering and animating thought. When we arrive there we shall not be in a strange land. We shall find we were known and thought of before we appeared.

Verse 3

Our Lord concludes this short (3 verse) word of comfort to this disciples with:

"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."

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)

Extra Reading 

John 14: 1 - 3

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

Verse 4

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.

"You know the way to the place where I am going."

Verse 5

To this Thomas replies without delay:

"Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way!"

Just what Jesus wanted to hear.

Verse 6

"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:

Thus the only way a Christian disciple can 'go' to the Father is through a fellowship of faith and communion of life with Jesus, who leads us, who is the way of the Father because he is the truth and the life".

Ryle has a helpful perspective to offer:

When our Lord says, "I am the way," He means, "The Father's house in heaven is to be reached through my mediation and atonement. Faith in Me is the key to heaven. He that believeth in Me is in the right road."

When our Lord says, "I am the truth," He means, "The root of all knowledge is to know Me. I am the true Messiah to whom all revelation points, the truth of which the Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices were a figure and shadow. He that really knows Me, knows enough to take him safe to heaven, though He may not know many things, and may be troubled at his own ignorance."

When our Lord says, "I am the life," He means, "I am the Root and Fountain of all life in Religion, the Redeemer from death and the Giver of everlasting life. He that knows and believes in Me, however weak and ignorant he may feel, has spiritual life now, and will have a glorious life in my Father's house hereafter."

Some think that the three great words in this sentence should be taken together, and that our Lord meant, "I am the true and living way." But the general opinion of the best commentators is decidedly unfavourable to this view of the sentence. To my own mind it cuts down and impoverishes a great and deep saying.

Musculus remarks that no prophet, teacher, or apostle ever used such words as these. They are the language of one who knew that He was God.

Verse 7

To extend his "understudies" further, he adds another challenge"

"If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. from now on you do know him and have seen him".

Verse 8

This is too much for Phillip who responds as quickly as did Thomas a moment before:

"Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us".

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"

  • "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."
  • "I am in the Father and the Father is in me"
  • "The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself; it is the Father living in me, who is doing this work" (JB)

The meaning behind these statements is clear (with the help of James McPollin, SJ):

  • Jesus is the "way" to the Father because he is in communion with him.
  • To contemplate Jesus with the eyes of faith is to see the Father.
  • His words are the Father's voice; his works are a manifestation of the Father's power.

Verse 12

Our Lord had laid the necessary foundation to now proclaim a startling and powerful truth to his close companions.

"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."

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.

Verse 13

Jesus continues:

"And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."

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.

Verse 14

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?

Conclusion

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:

The disciple, then, who prays in the "name" of Jesus will take on, with the help of the Spirit, who interiorises the message of Jesus, the sentiments of his Lord and will submit his will to that of Jesus and thus become one with him in thought and desire. Thus his prayer becomes a participation in Jesus' own prayer of communion with his Father completely penetrated by the Spirit free from egoism. Consequently a prayer "in the name of Jesus" goes much deeper than a mere invocation of the name ''Jesus" and the more one's life is penetrated by the teaching and example of Jesus, under the inspiration of the Spirit (vv. 16 17), the more unselfish, free, and assured does our prayer become. In short, the prayer in the name of Jesus animated by the Spirit, makes us think and wish like him (15: 7, l6; l6: 2326; 1 Jn 3: 22).

From, John, by J McPollin SJ (Michael Glazier 1979.)

Expository Notes John 14: 1 3 J. C. Ryle. 1908

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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