Good News for Troubled Hearts (Part I)
Series: The Gospel of John
Our hearts seem good at finding trouble; does Jesus simply add to it? No. Instead, he gives us a way to not let our hearts be troubled.
You ever have something hanging over your head, and you tell yourself, “If I can just get through this, then I’ll be able to breathe a bit”? Maybe it’s finishing school, getting out of a non-ideal living situation, hitting a deadline at work, or having a hard conversation. There’s a measure of truth in it; some seasons are harder than others. Nonetheless, it doesn’t take long once we get through those things to find something else that troubles us. Whether wealthy or poor, privileged or not, our hearts all seem good at finding trouble. And sometimes the mistake we make with Jesus, is we think he wants to add to our trouble. We think if we go to him with our troubles, he’ll remind us of all we aren’t doing, give us more to do, and our hearts will be even more troubled. That’s not the real Jesus though. In the passage on which we’re focusing today, we hear the words of the real Jesus, and this is what he says to his troubled disciples: Let not your hearts be troubled. Why? This week we’ll look at 3 reasons, next week we’ll look at 3 more: Heaven is sure, you know the way, and Jesus is still working.
Heaven is sure
Our text begins with this command to not let not your hearts be troubled. Jesus’ disciples had plenty of understandable reasons to let their hearts be troubled: At this point they had seen Jesus troubled, they’d been cast out of their native communities for following Jesus, Jesus has told them very clearly that he is about to depart from them and return to the Father, that one of them is going to betray him, and that their leader, Peter, is going to deny him three times as he moves toward his death. We too always find ample reasons for our hearts to be troubled. Wars in the world, violence and crime in Philadelphia, racial injustice, conflict with neighbors, family, fellow church members, a world that seems increasingly opposed to basic biblical teachings, people we love who don’t love Jesus or are wandering from him, discontentment with our living situation, relationship status, job, or church, physical illness, mental illness, and then there is always the constant sense of our own sins and shortcomings that we carry with us. Our hearts always seem to find reasons to be troubled.
And, yet, here is Jesus, saying to his disciples, and through them, to us: Let not your hearts be troubled. He begins by giving us the basic, overarching “method” for addressing troubled hearts. So how can we not let our hearts be troubled when they seem so good at being troubled? The answer is not minimizing your troubles, escaping your troubles, or even trying to fix your troubles. As soon as you fix one trouble, your heart will find new things to be troubled by. That’s why moving away from the troubles doesn’t ultimately work either: Wherever you move, your heart will find trouble there too.
So here’s Jesus’ basic method, verse 1: Believe in God, believe also in me. The basic antidote to heart troubles is faith. And Jesus is not here calling his disciples to believe for the first time. Clearly in some sense they already believed in him; these are his true disciples. But faith exists on a spectrum from weak to strong. Even the weakest faith, when fixed on Jesus, is sufficient to save, but it delivers little comfort to a troubled heart. Sometimes faith is weak because it just doesn’t know much, so it has very little on which to act. If you’re afraid of the future, for example, and you don’t know that God has already ordained the future to work for the good of those who love him, you can’t believe in him in that way, and therefore you can’t derive comfort for your troubled heart from him in that way. So often when our hearts are troubled, we need to learn more. I’m amazed how often Christians assume they already kinda know everything there is to know about God, and so are very defensive and closed off to further teaching, especially in times when their hearts are troubled.
On the other hand, there are times where you may already know everything you need to know to believe in God, and believe also in Jesus, when your heart is troubled, but your faith may still be weak because it’s simply inactive. You know God has ordained the future to work together for the good of those who love him, but for whatever reason, you’re just refusing to really exercise faith upon God in that way. You say, “Well yeah I know that, but that’s not what I need right now” and then you go right back to dwelling on your troubles, as though they are the whole picture. They aren’t. Believe in God, believe also in Jesus. When your heart is troubled, consider: What is it about God and Jesus that I need to believe right now? That’s a great question to ask fellow church members. When your heart is troubled, reach out to one or more of them, tell them your troubles, and just ask them: “What could I be believing about God?” Maybe they’ll teach you something new; be open to that. Maybe they’ll remind you of something about God you already know, but that you just aren’t exercising faith upon.
Let’s look, then, at what Jesus gives us in this passage to exercise faith upon so that our hearts will not be troubled. He’s told them already that he’s going to return to the Father, but now he teaches them something new to strengthen their faith: In my Father’s house are many rooms. Though Jesus is going to his father, there is room for his disciples to join him there, and he goes, in fact, to prepare a place for them there. We’ve sinned against God and so lost our place in his house, but Jesus has prepared it for us first by dying on the cross, suffering the penalty for our sins, and then by rising from the dead and going to his father’s house on our behalf. There he presents himself as our representative. He says, “Here is the perfect obedience they should have given you. Here is the perfect sacrifice they owed you. You have given me a place in your house. For my sake, give them a place also,” and the Father is delighted to answer yes to that prayer, since he sent His Son to earth for that very purpose.
So Jesus goes to prepare a place for us in heaven, and then he says in verse 3, that if he’s going to prepare this place for us, he will surely come again and take us to himself, that where he is, we may be also. Jesus has already taught in the Gospel of John that a day is coming when those who are in the tombs will hear the voice of the Son of God and rise. So, here, Jesus tells his disciples that the day is coming, though it will be after their death, where Jesus will come and take them to himself, so that they might be with him where he is. Notice the end goal. It is not simply that we will be in our Father’s house. It’s that we will be with Jesus. He will take us to himself, and we will be with him where he is.
So what do you need to believe about God, what do you need to believe about Jesus, so that you can exercise faith upon him when your heart is troubled? Believe He has a real home, called heaven, and there is enough room in it for you. Jesus has already gone there to prepare a place for you: He’s died on the cross for your sins, risen from the dead, and lives there now to intercede for you. So he will certainly come again, raise your body from the dead, and take you there, to be with him forever, never to be parted again. If you are here today and you have not yet repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus, do you have a comfort like this when your heart is troubled? Believe in God; believe also in Jesus, and you can know that in whatever troubles your heart is facing, you will be truly home one day. Why do so many of us love going home, that is, to our hometown on earth? Because we experience that sensation of being home there: This is where I belong, where I’m accepted for who I am, where no one cares how I look or how well I’m doing my job, where I feel safe. Why do others of us never want to go to our hometowns? Because we experienced just the opposite of those things there. Either way, while we are on earth, we are never truly home, because we are never in our true Father’s house. But one day, all who believe can be sure of this: You will be truly home. And the best part about it is that you will be with Jesus, the one who loved you like no one else ever did. He’s already gone there to prepare a place for you, and so he will certainly return and take you to be with him where he is. Let not your hearts be troubled; heaven is sure. And you know the way.
You know the way
So the next thing Jesus says in verse 4 to his disciples is that they know the way to where he is going. Thomas, one of his disciples, responds by saying that they don’t even know where he is going. How can they know the way? But Thomas really did know the way, because Thomas really did know Jesus, and look at what Jesus says in verse 6. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If you know Jesus, you already know the way to heaven, because he is the way. Other religions and teachers claim to show us the way to heaven, or to Elysium, Valhalla, or nirvana. The Buddha for example, the founder of Buddhism, taught a path to nirvana that is commonly represented in early Buddhist texts as an eight-fold path: right view, right resolve, right speech, and so forth. He shows you the way to nirvana, and then it’s on you to do it. But Jesus is the way. He prepares the place for you in heaven. You receive and rest upon him, and you have all you need.
If you know him, you also know all you need, because he is the truth. He is the logos, the Word, the truth that God is always speaking. He is the source and standard of all truth. He does not simply say true things, as though the truth is something out there, to which he conforms. He is the truth, and all our statements, all our beliefs, all our lives, must ultimately conform to him if they are to be true. And he is the life. Again, he is not merely alive; He is the life. As true God, he has life in himself, and it is through him that all things were made. He is the one who died and rose again, and who has now taken our humanity into the state of eternal life, never to die again. So if you know Him, you know the way to heaven, you know the truth, and you have eternal life, because he is the way, the truth, and the life.
So let net your hearts be troubled. Whatever pains, whatever fears you may face, none of them can get in the way of your heavenly home, because Jesus is the way, and you know him. Whatever lies you may be tempted to believe, you know the truth, because Jesus is the truth, and you know him. Whatever threats you may face to your life on this earth, and though one of those threats will one day get the better of you, and you will die, you have eternal life, because Jesus is the life, and you have him. Believe in God, believe also in him. We are so prone to think we have so little, and our hearts are troubled until we resolve that conflict, until we finish that to-do list, until we get to complete safety. And so, our hearts are always troubled. But if you have Jesus, you already have all you need. If you know Jesus, you know the way, the truth, and the life.
Now, the flipside of that is in the second half of verse 6: Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” In other words, he’s not just “a way”; he is the way. And therefore, no one can come to the Father except through him. That means what it sounds like: No one can be reconciled to God, and therefore no one will end up in heaven, unless they personally put their faith in Jesus. Now Christians are often criticized for saying that; we get accused of being intolerant, bigoted, or narrow-minded because, the charge goes, we say that unless you believe what we believe, you won’t go to heaven. So I want to spend some time responding to that, because maybe some of you here today have that objection, or at least interact with others who do.
In response, let me first point out that Christians aren’t just making that up. We aren’t just saying, “Hey, we really like Christianity and we want to feel better than others and control them, so we’re going to tell everyone that unless they believe what we believe, they’re going to hell.” Jesus is the one who said no one comes to the Father except through him. And you have to understand that we as Christians really believe that he is our Lord. That means we don’t believe we have the freedom to change what he said. It means we don’t feel free to believe that he died for our sins and rose again while denying the things he taught that may make us or the people around us uncomfortable. We say you must believe in Jesus to go to heaven because Jesus said that. So if you think that’s terrible, you should at least reckon with the fact that you think Jesus is terrible, and then weigh that against all the other things we know about Jesus. Does he really seem like a terrible person? If not, and he taught this, then maybe this teaching isn’t as terrible as you’re assuming.
And why do you assume it’s terrible? It is typically an assumption, isn’t it? It’s almost never the result of a long chain of reasoning. It’s more so that people hear it and go, “Ugh, that sounds bad.” Those kinds of gut reactions are heavily influenced by your upbringing, and many of us have been brought up to believe that everyone is doing their best, but each of us only gets part of the truth. So you might think Christians have part of the truth, but it’s arrogant of them to claim to have the whole truth. But how do you know Jesus is only part of the truth, when He claims to be the truth, the only way to God? The only way you can know that is if you claim to know the whole truth, which is the very thing you suggest Christians are arrogant to do. I can know that a slice of pizza is only part of a pizza pie because I know what a whole pizza pie is. How can you claim Jesus is only part of the truth unless you claim to know the whole truth? So It won’t do to simply rule him out for claiming to be the only way to God; how do you know he isn’t? Instead, you must actually interact with his claims to see if he is, and that’s where our text goes next.
He goes on to say that not only is he the only way to God; he is God. When Philip asks him in verse 9 to show him the Father, Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” He says the Father is in him and he is in the Father. In other words, they are one being. And he does not merely say this of his own authority, but he says in verse 10 that the Father who dwells in him does his work. So don’t dismiss him as intolerant because he claims to be the only way to the Father; how do you know he isn’t? Instead, consider his claim: He is one in being with the Father. Whoever has seen him has seen the Father. The Father is in Him and He is in the Father. And if that’s not enough, he says in verse 11 to believe in him on account of the works. He’s turned water into wine, healed the sick, made a paralyzed man walk, taken a few loaves and fish and fed 5,000, given sight to a man blind from birth, walked on water, and risen the dead. It’d be one thing if he made a building disappear, or flew through the sky; that would prove he was magical. But these works that he’s done, to make wine out of water, to feed people, to heal the sick, to raise the dead…these are the works of the God who creates life out of nothing.
No matter how weak you may feel, how far short you may fall, how inconsistent your love for Jesus and your service to him, how little your knowledge, if you know Jesus, you know the way to your Father’s house. So let not your heart be troubled, finally, because Jesus is still working.
Jesus is still working
So Jesus has done all these wonderful works because the Father is in him, but Jesus is going away. Now what? Jesus says in verse 12 that whoever believes in him will also do the works that he does, and greater works than these will he do, since Jesus is going to the Father. Now, if you just read that verse, it sounds like Jesus is saying his disciples will keep doing the miraculous works he did, and even greater works than these, since he’ll be gone then. In other words, he’ll be done working, but they’ll keep working. The verses that follow clarify that’s not what’s happening. There he makes clear that the way they are going to do the works that he does is they are going to pray in his name, and then he says in verse 13: “I will do” whatever you ask in my name. Again, verse 14: If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. So even though Jesus will be in heaven, he’ll still be working in response to the prayers of those who believe in him. In fact, in some sense it’s because Jesus will be in heaven that he’ll respond to the prayers of those who believe in him. Notice in verse 12 he says the reason we’ll do greater works than him is because he goes to the Father. When Jesus is on earth, these works are only happening where he is. But when he’s in heaven, believers anywhere, at any time, can ask him to act, and he says he will do it.
So what are these works, then, that those who believe in him will do? Most directly, they are the miracles we see Jesus performing through his disciples in the book of Acts. There we read about believers in Jesus healing a paralyzed beggar in Jesus’ name, driving out demons in Jesus’ name, and even raising the dead. They were doing the works Jesus did, because Jesus was doing them. Now, it’s not necessarily the case that we’ll be able to do the same works today in the same way. The miraculous element is up to Jesus, and the very fact that the healings were miraculous is because they aren’t ordinary. There are churches and groups of Christians out there today who still claim they can basically do this: Just pray in Jesus’ name, have enough faith, and people will get healed. But I’m telling you, you can try going and praying in Jesus’ name for miraculous healing and believe all you want that they are going to happen; unless Jesus does it, it’s not going to happen, and experience has taught us that he often doesn’t do it. Because while those prayers may be said with the words “in Jesus’ name,” they are often not offered in that spirit. They’re looking really for on demand magic more than they are the glory of God. And honestly, when you really get up close to churches and Christians who claim that sort of thing happens all the time in their churches, you learn pretty quickly that a lot of it is fake. People they claim got healed have the same issues days later.
But, that disclaimer in place, whoever believes in Jesus will still do the works he did; they just may not be miraculous. Jesus’ people should still seek to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and do mercy to all who are hurting. AND, pay attention to the rest of verse 12: Greater works than these will he do. What are these greater works? Here’s where the idea that we should just be out doing miracles on demand breaks down. Jesus says there are actually greater works than feeding 5000, walking on water, and raising the dead. As we read Acts and the rest of the New Testament, we find Jesus’ disciples doing some of those things, but what do we really find them focusing on? Preaching the gospel. What do we find them praying for in Jesus’ name? Boldness to keep speaking the word without fear. Listen to how the apostle Paul describes the work Jesus sent him to do: “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in [Jesus]” (Acts 26:18). So what is the greater work those who believe in Jesus will do? They will proclaim the gospel to all nations and through them, Jesus will open the eyes of the blind, turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in him.
So Augustine says that the greatest work of God is the conversion of a sinner. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval theologian, explains that to give sight to the blind is to restore a defect to its natural state. But to convert a sinner is to bring them into a state of grace, and in the end, to a state of glory. In other words, when Jesus gives sight to the blind man, that blind man will still close his eyes in death one day. When Jesus raises Lazarus from the tomb, he’s still going to have to go back one day. But when a sinner is converted through the preaching of the gospel, they receive from Jesus the gift of eternal life, and though they die, they will live. So let not your heart be troubled. Through all the trials of our lives, Jesus is still working. Through us, through those who believe, he is still making dead sinners alive, and still transforming us from one degree of glory to another until we are fully conformed to his image and raised from the dead to live with him forever. That’s the real miracle. That’s the greater work. When you read the prayers of Jesus’ disciples recorded for us in Scripture, that’s the kind of stuff they’re praying for in his name.
And here’s the crazy part: He does it through people like you and me. Do you believe that? Do you believe he could use you to make dead sinners alive, to help others grow from one degree of glory to another? Of course you aren’t sufficient for it, but pray in Jesus’ name, and he will do it. Though there is much to trouble us, let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Jesus. He left His Father’s house and went through great troubles on our behalf. And when he faced the ultimate trouble of the cross, he did not try to escape, but continued entrusting Himself to His Father, in order that through his death and resurrection, he might return to His Father’s house no longer on His own, but to prepare a place for us as well. If he has prepared this place for us, he will certainly come and take us to be with him there. If you know him, you know the way, because he is the way, the truth, and the life, and even now, dwelling in heaven, he continues to work. So pray boldly, and don’t settle for small prayers: A job, safety, a family, even healing. By all means, pray for those things, pray even for your daily bread. But pray for greater things, greater works: The conversion of lost people, true spiritual revival, greater conformity to Jesus, the reaching of the unreached peoples of the world. Even through troubles, these are the greater works Jesus is accomplishing through us. When you go through trouble, consider what works Jesus might be preparing to do through you. How could you show the unbelieving people around you that Jesus is better than health when you’re going through sickness and pain? How might your trouble give you opportunity to speak of him? How might you encourage one another with the hope of heaven through your troubles? Troubles of the heart are hard enough; we trouble them worse when we fixate on them. Focus instead of the greater works Jesus has for you through them, and look forward to the day when you will be with Him forever in your Father’s house.