Click play to listen to the audio version of this sermon.
It goes without saying that the human heart can become profoundly troubled. And when the heart is troubled, then everything is troubling and nothing is right. We’ve all been there. Some of us may be there right now. It’s an amazing thing really. When your heart is troubled, the things that normally give us great joy are completely ineffective. Where we would normally go about our daily life with a certain eagerness and excitement, where our heart is troubled, there’s a sense of fear and dread that overshadows almost everything and there’s no escaping it until our heart is set at peace again.
When King David’s heart was troubled, he didn’t try to compensate by overindulging himself or going shopping. He prayed, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew in me a right spirit.’
What do you do when you have a troubled heart? And I’m not talking about the superficial things that trouble us way more than they should. I’m talking about those things that trouble us to the very depth of our soul and that touch on matters of life and death, where God’s ways seem to be unfair or He even seems to be against us, or not even there at all.
It is important to know the setting for our gospel reading this morning. Jesus speaks these words to His disciples in the Upper Room just before heading out to the Garden of Gethsemane where He would be betrayed, arrested, handed over to the Chief Priests and the Governor of Judea, unjustly accused, hatefully mocked, unmercifully flogged, brutally crucified and die.
Knowing all that is about to take place, we might expect that if Jesus really loved these men as He says He does, He would say something to the effect of, ‘well men, we’ve had a good run. I hope that you’ve enjoyed the adventure as much as I have. But as the saying goes, ‘all good things must come to an end’ and this is it. Do what you can to save yourselves from the wrath that is to come.’
At least that’s what we would probably say. And would probably think that this was a gracious thing to say.
But Jesus says, ‘let not your hearts be troubled.’ He’ll repeat Himself at the end of this same chapter saying, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’ That’s not just advice from Jesus, that’s a command. But certainly a strange command from a man who knows that by this time tomorrow He will be a corpse laid out in Joseph’s tomb.
So, what is the basis for this confidence that everything is going to be okay that Jesus commands His disciples to have? ‘Believe in God, believe also in Me.’ In other words, TRUST me. Trust ME.
So, lets be sure to understand that this command correctly, ‘let not your hearts be troubled.’ This is not an ABSOLUTE command. In other words, if you believe in false gods, if you believe that your good works will save you, or your money, or your church membership, then ‘let your hearts be troubled.’ If you believe that all religions and their gods are the same, that they may take different roads but they all end at the same destination, they ‘let your hearts be troubled.’ Let them be very troubled. Let your heart be so troubled that you repent and cry out for mercy and forgiveness from the God of mercy who loves to forgive. Believe in God, believe also in His Son, Jesus Christ. Then, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled.’
We should be very thankful to St. John for capturing this sermon of Jesus to His disciples in the Upper Room. None of the other gospel writers record any of this. All of John, chapters 14, 15, 16 and 17 is Jesus’ sermon in which He gives His disciples reason after reason after reason to ‘believe in God, believe also in Me,’ so that even when the very bottom will seem to have fallen out of their life, they will ‘not let their hearts be troubled.’ Despite all outward appearances to the contrary, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’
Let’s flash back for a moment to the Old Testament. In the book of Exodus, we read that God’s chosen people had left Egypt after the Passover. They hadn’t gotten very far along in their journey to the Promised Land before they came to the Red Sea that blocked their way forward. When they turned around, they suddenly realized that Pharaoh had changed his mind about letting them go and a great army was bearing down on them from behind. They were completely hemmed in.
Moses, the man of God, said to Israel, the people of God, ‘let not your hearts be troubled.’ His actual words were, ‘Fear not! Stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.’ (Ex.14:13). The one thing that Israel needed to do in the battle of their life was ‘be silent.’ In other words, ‘quit your crying and complaining and watch what the Lord is about to do FOR YOU.’ In other words, ‘believe in God.’
And sure enough, God opened the Sea and provided A WAY WHERE THERE WAS NO WAY. All that the people could see and feel in their heart was sure and certain death. But their reason and feelings proved to be untrue. Instead, God’s Word was true. GOD PROVIDED LIFE WHERE THERE WAS NOTHING BUT DEATH.
Standing on the other side of the Sea, looking back, seeing how God had delivered them from captivity and death to freedom and life, they believed in God and confessed that He is the way and the truth and the life.
Martin Luther says that the experience of Israel at the Red Sea is the experience that we must all one day have. Just as they stood face to face with their death, so, one day we will have to face our own death. ‘As we approach the shore of yonder life and are to disembark, we find death blocking our path. We cannot escape it. We must take a most perilous leap. My reason judges that this is indeed a wretched end to life, to be carried away, to be buried under the earth, to be reduced to dust. And yet Christ declares that this is the very way to gain life and to come to the Father. So in that hour, you must ignore physical death, the grave, pestilence, the sword, and the fire that you feel, also all the darts and spears the devil hurls into your heart. Instead, Christ says, ‘you must look upon Me. I have been for you the Way and the Truth and I have led you all through your life. I have protected you in all kinds of danger, lies, and deception; and I will also be the Lord in your death, and you will have life as surely as you now feel death.’ (AE 24:49f).
Now, flash forward to our Gospel reading. Here, in the Upper Room, we see Jesus. Who is this Jesus whom our eyes are fixed on? Follow me carefully here please. This Jesus whom we see here, is Israel, the people of God, all rolled up into One Man. God is bringing His people face to face with their death, and through this One Man, Jesus Christ, He is going to deliver them all.
Jesus has come face to face with His death. He is hemmed in by the Chief Priests and Scribes and Pharisees in front of Him, and by Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers behind Him. There is nowhere to turn, no place to flee. He cannot escape death.
Incredibly, as Jesus faces His death, we hear Him say, ‘now my soul is troubled.’ (John 11:27). As He prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was ‘in agony and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.’ (Luke 22:44). Why doesn’t He take His own advise to His disciples ‘ ‘Let not your heart be troubled’? Why is Jesus in such deep agony as He faces His death? He is Israel hemmed in by the Sea and Pharaoh’s army and He is experiencing their terror. He is you and me hemmed in by the devil and this sinful world and our own sin and our death that we cannot escape. He is experiencing our fear. And His heart is ‘troubled.’
‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize without weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.’ (Heb.4:15).
For all the times I have read the account of Christ’s passion, it has always struck me that there is this complete change in His attitude after He finishes praying in the Garden. He goes from ‘troubled soul’ and ‘agony and bloody sweat,’ to remarkably calm and at peace throughout the entire gruesome ordeal. It is as though the Father had answered His prayer in the Garden saying, ‘Let not your heart be troubled.’ ‘Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.’
And He, being the TRUE Israel, the people of God as the people of God were created in the image of God to be, ‘believed in God’ ‘ with all of His heart and soul and mind. He believed that God would provide A WAY WHERE THERE WAS NO WAY. He believed that God’s Word was true, even when every ounce of reason and senses screamed that God is a liar. And firmly convinced that even out of death itself, God would bring life, Jesus went to the cross. And on the 3rd day, God raised Him from the dead, just as He promised He would.
Jesus is Israel. He is the one, holy, Christian Church all wrapped up in One Man.
Do you see what that means?
In your baptism, you have already stood before the Sea, hemmed by the devil, the world and your own sinful flesh behind you, and your death in front of you. But God has brought you through the water to the other side. Not apart from Christ Jesus, but in Christ Jesus. For ‘You were baptized into Christ Jesus.’ The enemy He defeated is your enemy. The sin He crucified in His body was your sin. The death He died was your death. And when God raised Jesus from the dead, He raised you too.
So, do not let your hearts be troubled, that you find that there is a cross that you must bear. Jesus has already brought you safely through it. Do not let your hearts be troubled, that your faith is weak and you continue to doubt and fall into sin. Jesus has already atoned for your sin by His precious blood shed for you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, that you cannot escape death. Jesus has already prepared a place for you in His Father’s house.
Believe in God, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, who by the Holy Spirit will create in you a clean heart, and renew in you a right spirit.