Monday, January 12, 2015

The Untroubled Heart (John 14:1-6)

About a year or so ago, Business Insider featured a piece about the most famous books set in every state in America. For the state of Vermont, the book chosen was Eleanor Porter’s 1913 novel Pollyanna.[1] I never read it, but I did see the Disney movie based on it. If you are familiar with the story, then you know that the title character, Pollyanna, is an orphaned child with a bright outlook on life. She likes to play what she calls “the Glad Game.” In every situation, Pollyanna tries to find something to be glad about. So for example, on one Christmas when she did not receive the doll she was hoping for, but a pair of crutches instead, she was glad that she didn’t need them. She is a lovable character whose infectious optimism soon begins to permeate the lives of everyone she meets. It makes for a fun story and a cute movie, but in real life things are different. We’ve come to use her name, Pollyanna, to describe someone who is unreasonably and illogically optimistic. It does not take long to have a Pollyanna perspective challenged in the real world. And for most of us, the Pollyanna perspective that others might have is not contagious, only annoying.

The fact is that the world in which we live is radically corrupted by sin. Suffering, tragedy, and hardship, in all of their various manifestations are unavoidable. The Bible does not deny this but affirms it throughout. Job said it pretty well, “Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil” (14:1). Christians are not exempt from this turmoil. Jesus promised us, “In the world, you have tribulation” (Jn 16:33). The message of Paul and Barnabas to the believers they encountered in Asia Minor was “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Though there are many who presume that the Bible espouses a kind of Pollyanna outlook on life and the world, and many Christians who try to adopt that perspective, the reality is that the Bible tells us that we can and should expect our lives in this world to be hard. Nowhere are we encouraged to pretend otherwise. You have endured difficult things. Oh sure, some have had it worse, and a few perhaps have had it better, but all of us have had our share of hardships, and they will continue.

Consider the disciples in our text. They have left all that they had behind: family, careers, possessions. They had given everything to follow Jesus and for three years they have been in His constant companionship. He has become to them their friend, their teacher, and their Lord. All of their hopes for the present and future were pinned on Him. They had rejoiced as He received the hero’s welcome as He entered Jerusalem on Sunday. Now, less than a week later, they have gathered into an upper room with Him where He has told them that He will be leaving them. He has made it clear that on the coming day, He will be put to death. They had been shamed by their unwillingness to serve one another by washing one another’s feet. They had been shocked by the announcement that one of them would betray the Lord, and startled at the announcement that even Peter would deny Him. They were greatly troubled in their hearts.

Now you notice here that Jesus does not speak to them in a Pollyanna way. He doesn’t say, “Well, fellows, look on the bright side.” He doesn’t ask if they are troubled or why. He knows they are troubled. He says to them, “Do not let your heart be troubled.” The way it is worded, He is acknowledging that their hearts are troubled, and He is inviting them to overcome that condition. But this is not some meaningless drivel like, “Don’t worry, be happy.” You know how it feels when you are greatly troubled and someone gives you that sort of hollow, “There, there now, don’t worry, it will be alright.” It does not help. Jesus’ words to His disciples are not empty and meaningless platitudes. He is telling them here in this text how they can overcome the troubled condition of their hearts. And the words which He speaks to them apply to us as well. When we find ourselves in that familiar position of having a troubled heart, we can look to these words and find comfort and strength. These, then, become the secrets of the untroubled heart.

I. The untroubled heart believes in the Person of Christ (v1).

I saw an old Peanuts comic many years ago that featured Lucy and Linus gazing out the window at a pouring rain. Lucy said, “Do you think it is just going to flood the whole world?” Linus said, “Oh no, it will never do that. God says in Genesis Chapter 9 that He’d only destroy the world once with a flood. And He sent a rainbow in the sky as a promise that it would never happen again.” Lucy said, “That sure takes a load off my shoulders.” And Linus said, “Sound doctrine has a way of doing that.” You know, it really does. And so, when Jesus sought to comfort the troubled hearts of His disciples, He pointed them in the direction of sound doctrine. He said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”

The word “believe” has a wide range of meaning. There is an important sense in which, when we say “to believe in God” or “believe in Jesus”, we mean to turn to Him in repentance and to exercising saving faith in Him. That is, we mean that one should trust that by His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus can save us from our sins if we place our faith in Him as Lord and Savior. Certainly, if a person has a troubled heart and has never turned to Jesus to be saved, then they have good reason to be troubled – in fact, they should probably be more troubled than they know to be! Whether your heart is troubled or not, it is never bad advice to turn to Jesus and be saved!

That said, this is not what Jesus is saying here. He is not saying, “If you would just get saved, your hearts would not be troubled anymore.” That would be a lie. Jesus is talking to men who have already believed in Him in that way. They are His disciples. Therefore, it is encouraging to us to know that if we are Christians and are troubled in our hearts, we aren’t encountering anything unusual. Even the very first Christians experienced this. And Jesus comforts them by encouraging them to believe in God and in Himself. He is speaking of what one writer has called “a quiet disposition of trust.”[2]

Are you troubled in heart? Believe in God! Don’t be a functional atheist. A functional atheist is a person who may believe in God but lives as if God does not exist. Do not forget that you live in a world that is under the sovereign providence of the God who is able to intervene in your circumstances. Your situation may look impossible to you, but nothing is impossible to Him. Rest in the fact that He is able to handle the things that trouble your heart. The universe in which you live is well within the jurisdiction of the Almighty who knows all, who can do all, who loves you and who is a good Father to His children.   

But this belief in God that Jesus calls us to is not just some generic spirituality. Surveys done around the world demonstrate that the vast majority of the human race believes in some sort of deity, but Jesus is not just telling His disciples to believe in any or every so-called Higher Power. This is specific. He says, “Believe in God, believe also in Me.” Jesus is calling us to exercise the same level of faith we have in God toward Himself. To believe in God apart from Christ is a form of idolatry, for the only God who exists is the One who is revealed to us through Christ! If someone believes in God, but not in Christ, then they do not believe in God. So, Jesus is saying, “Believe in Me as you do in God; believe in God through Me because I am the ultimate revelation of Him, and there is no way to believe in Him apart from Me.”

When our hearts are troubled, we can receive comfort through believing in the Person of Christ, because He is the God who has come to us, the God who has become one of us, and the God who rescues us from our sin. If He is able to save us from the greatest of all possible calamities, namely an eternal separation from God in the agony of hell, then is it not a rather small thing to entrust Him with the worries and cares that burden your heart today? When our hearts are troubled, the God in whom we place our quiet confidence is the One who has manifested Himself in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. He understands our human hardships because He endured them Himself. He is able to “sympathize with our weakness” (Heb 4:15). He is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3). He is not a philosophical construct, He is a living Person, and He calls us to believe, to trust, and to rest in Him. We have entrusted eternity to this Jesus, can we not entrust Him with today? This is a secret of an untroubled heart: to believe in the person of Christ.

Let’s look at another of these secrets of the untroubled heart here:

II. The untroubled heart believes in the promises of Christ (vv2-3).

There is comfort to be found by troubled hearts within the promises of God’s Word. The Psalmist recognized this in the midst of his own troubles. In Psalm 119: 50, he prays, “This is my comfort in affliction, that Your word has revived me.” Later, he says, “O may Your lovingkindness comfort me, according to Your word to Your servant” (119:76). The Word of God brings comfort to troubled hearts. And the Lord Jesus is the Word which has become flesh to dwell among us (Jn 1:14). Paul writes, “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him (in Jesus) they are yes” (2 Cor 1:20). Jesus Christ is the focus and fulfillment of all of God’s promises, therefore when He makes a promise to us, we can believe those promises! He says here, concerning His promise, “If it were not so, I would have told you.” We can trust all that He has told us, we can trust that He has told us everything we need to know, and that He has not told us anything that is untrue or unnecessary. When our hearts are troubled, we can believe in His promises.

Notice that He promises us something here about a place and something about a presence. Look at the promise of place: “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places.” He is speaking of heaven, and He is saying that there is ample space for us to dwell there. There are many dwelling places. Now, some of you may balk at this phrase “dwelling places” because you learned this verse at a young age from the King James Version, and there it says “many mansions.” We can thank William Tyndale for bringing the word “mansions” into the English Bible here.[3] It was an appropriate translation in his day, for in Old English the word “mansion” simply meant “a place to abide,” which is exactly what the underlying Greek word means. But, for a long time now, the English word “mansion” has carried the idea of a palatial estate. This has been romanticized in stories and songs for us, instilling in us the hope that every person will have a lavish and opulent palace in heaven. That is reading far more into the text than is there. You may think that it is taking away something from the promise, but it is not. In fact, the idea of a grand palace actually undercuts the central focus of the promise. The idea is that of a family home. In Jesus’ day, it was customary for sons to add to their father’s house once they married, so that the father’s house was enlarged into a large compound surrounding a communal courtyard.[4] So the idea is not that every person gets his or her own extravagant mansion in heaven, but everyone is invited dwell in intimate proximity with God the Father in His own family estate.

Jesus is promising His troubled followers that they are not home yet! In this world, our hearts will be often troubled. Every hardship ought to to rip open a desperate homesickness in us and remind us that we should feel “out of place” here. The real place of a son or daughter is at home with the Father. And Jesus, the heavenly bridegroom, has returned to the Father’s house to prepare a place for His bride, the Church, so that we may all dwell together for eternity. There, in that place, the Bible promises us that God will dwell among us, and we shall be His people, and God Himself will be among us, and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain (Rev 21:4).

This brings us to the second part of this promise—that of presence. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” That is a wonderful promise. There have been many fanciful notions of Jesus, up in heaven, rolling up His sleeves and nailing boards and laying bricks to build us a place. But that is not the idea. It is not that He went to heaven in order to begin preparing the place, but that His going actually prepares the place for us, and us for the place. The focus is not on the place, but on the presence. We cannot enter into the presence of God if we are not first cleansed of our sin. And it is in His going away – going away to the cross, going away to the tomb, rising again to go away in His ascension to Heaven – that we are saved and washed clean of our sins that we may enter into His presence in that place. And with that place now prepared by the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, He promises, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am there you may be also.” The promise is comforting to us, not because of the opulence of our mansion but because of the intimacy of His presence. Within each of us, there is an insatiable longing to be in the presence of God. David prayed, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that shall I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple” (Psa 27:4). This is the longing of us all, and all the more as our hearts are troubled in this world. There is comfort in knowing that this longing shall be satisfied forever as we are received by the Lord Jesus, unto Himself, that we may be where He is. And there is comfort as well in knowing that it is not only our desire to be with Him, but it is His desire for us to be with Him. And He has promised to those for whom this place has been prepared that we will be in His presence.

John Piper asks, “If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, an no human conflict or any natural desires, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?”[5] Let me phrase it this way – if you could have the place (the mansion, the palace) apart from the presence of God-in-Christ, would that satisfy you? Let me humbly suggest that if you could be satisfied with the place apart from the presence that a subtle idolatry may have crept into your troubled hearts unaware. The glory of Christ’s promise includes a place, yes, but it is focused on the presence of God in which we will dwell forever. This is a promise that satisfies yearning souls and that comforts troubled hearts. So great is the promise of the intimacy of His presence that He has already given us a foretaste of it by indwelling His people in the person of God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is an earnest, a downpayment if you will, of the promise of eternal life in His presence. So greatly does He long for you to be in His presence, He has come into our presence, and abides in our presence as the Spirit indwells us. As glorious as His presence in our lives is today – and it is GLORIOUS – there is even greater glory awaiting when we behold the Lord Jesus face-to-face in our eternal home with Him.

The untroubled heart bears many secrets. It believes in the person of Christ and in the promise of Christ. But there is a third secret of the untroubled heart here:

III. The untroubled heart believes in the provision of Christ (vv4-6).

You probably know the disciple Thomas by his nickname: “Doubting Thomas.” I don’t like that name for Thomas. I prefer to call him “Honest Thomas.” We’ve all known people like Thomas. They blurt out loud what the rest of us are just thinking quietly to ourselves. That’s what Thomas is doing here in verse 5. Jesus had said to them in verse 4, after the promise of the place and the presence, “You know the way where I am going.” There are eleven guys sitting there listening to Jesus (remember, Judas Iscariot has already left the room), and I can envision ten of them nodding their heads, stroking their chins, maybe uttering quietly, “Yes, yes, we know the way.” But every single one of them is as confused as Thomas. Thomas is just the only one who has the guts to be honest. Thomas blurts out, “We don’t have a clue where you are going, and therefore we most certainly do not know the way!”

Now, what is going on here? Jesus said they knew. Thomas, at least, says he doesn’t know, and he claims to speak for them all. So, was Jesus wrong about what they knew? Was the One who, at times past had demonstrated that He was acutely aware of the hidden thoughts in the hearts and minds of others sorely mistaken about what His disciples did and did not know? No, Jesus was exactly right. They did know where He was going, and they did know the way. They just didn’t know that they knew.

Have you ever known something you didn’t know you knew? If I said to you, “You know the one whose father had an almond orchard in California,” you might say (like Thomas), “I don’t have the foggiest notion who that is.” But you do know her. She has played this organ almost every Sunday for the last 27 years. You didn’t think you knew who I was talking about, but you did, in fact, know her. So, when Jesus says to His disciples, “You know the way where I am going,” He was exactly right. Thomas and all the rest of them really knew the way. Thomas just didn’t know he knew the way. He knew Jesus. And Jesus says He IS the Way.

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” People with troubled hearts need to remember that. When our hearts are troubled, we feel lost, confused, and afraid. People who are lost need to know the way. People who are confused need to know the truth. People who are afraid need to know what life really is. And the Way, the Truth, and the Life is a singular Person: Jesus Christ. Truth is, ultimately, not a collection of facts. Truth is the Word of God, and Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Way is not a set of directions, it is a Person who does not merely show us the way, but who in fact is the Way. Life is not a series of days strung together, but the Lord who created life and who has life in Himself to give to all who receive Him. The definite articles are important. Jesus is not a way among many, a truth on par with others, and a life that might be compared to other means of existence. No, He is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. That means, apart from Him there is only an unnavigable labyrinth, a web of falsehoods, and ultimately the hopelessness of death. But because He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life, there is something more for those who know Him.

Because He is the Truth, we can believe Him when He says He is the Way. Because He is the Life, we know that the Way ends beyond the grave, with Him in life everlasting. Notice that He says here, “No one comes to the Father but through Me.” Here we ought to just fall down in worship because of the perfect convergence of all of God’s glorious attributes. If God were only a God of perfect justice, then Jesus could have rightly said, “No one comes to the Father {PERIOD}.” Because we are all sinners, none of us could stand before the holy justice of God. But because God is a God of perfect love and grace, He saw fit to place the perfect justice of His wrath on a substitute, a sin-bearer who took our place under that infinite outpouring of judgment on the cross. Therefore we have this blessed word “but.” No one comes to the Father BUT through Me. This is the provision of Christ: not merely that He has made a way, but that He has become for us The Way into the presence of God. Friends, in light of love so amazing and so divine, how can we who have been redeemed by the blood of the cross ever conclude, when our hearts are troubled, that we have been abandoned, left alone and unloved, in this world full of grief and hardship? If your heart is troubled, there is comfort to be found in this provision. You are loved with an everlasting love – a love that was not content to leave you perishing in your sin, but instead came to rescue you and become for you the Way, to impart unto you the Truth, and to provide for you the Life that saves you forevermore from death.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Oh, it will happen. Life in this fallen world will see to it that your hearts have plenty of reason to be troubled. But thanks be to the God of all comfort, Jesus has imparted to us the secrets of the untroubled heart. This is no hollow Pollyanna philosophy that is offered to hurting souls as a pat answer to their problems. No, the untroubled heart takes quiet confidence in the Person of Christ, on the basis of the promises of Christ, and in view of the provision of Christ. The meditation of the medieval preacher Thomas a Kempis puts it this way:

Follow thou me. I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.
Without the Way there is no going; without the Truth there is no knowing;
Without the Life there is no living.
I am the Way which thou must follow; the Truth which thou must believe;
The Life for which thou must hope.
I am the Inviolable Way; the Infallible Truth; the Never-Ending Life.
I am the Straightest Way; the Sovereign Truth;
Life true, Life blessed, Life uncreated.[6]

[1] Melia Robinson and Melissa Stanger, “The Most Famous Book Set in Every State,” Business Insider, October 11, 2013. Accessed online at, January 8, 2015.
[2] L. Scott Kellum, Preaching the Farewell Discourse (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2014), 97.
[3] Robert H. Mounce, “John” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (rev. ed., Vol. 10; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 560.
[4] Andreas Kostenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 426.
[5] John Piper, God is the Gospel (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2005), 15.
[6] Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (ed. Paul M. Bechtel; Chicago: Moody, 1984), 260. 

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