Text: John 14
Date: Lent Midweek II + 3/7/07
When our Lord Jesus Christ—on the night in which he was betrayed, around the Passover table in the Upper Room—said, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” his own heart was troubled. That is, he knew what was about to take place, and the agonizing reality of it all. He knew that the greatest pain of his innocent, bitter torture, suffering and death would not be the bloody, stinging flogging, nor the crown of thorns smashed onto his head, nor the exhausting task of carrying his own cross to the place of execution; not the nails, the spear, the mockery, the manifold disgrace of it all. The essence of sin is separation, being cut off, isolation, rejection, being absolutely alone and forsaken. He would give expression to the greatest suffering of it all and the essence of the sin of the world that killed him when he would say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Sin is separation.
If sin is separation, then salvation from sin is reconciliation, fellowship instead of alienation, unity instead of division. At Christmas we recall with joy the words of promise of the prophet Isaiah that the virgin-born Savior would be called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (Is. 7:14). On the night in which he was betrayed his heart was troubled because he knew the only way to break the bonds and isolation of sin and death was to take it into himself, bearing in his body the ultimate cause of our separation, that he might then bring the ultimate reconciliation of the creation back into unity and fellowship with its Creator.
That’s why the Gospel is always in the language of relationships and proximity. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
The disciples were troubled also, picking up on Jesus’ words of leaving and going away. In the previous chapter Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” When Jesus said, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now,” Peter objected, saying, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” [John 13:36-37 (ESV)]. Now fearful Thomas picks up the theme and asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Now, we who know the rest of the story know that, after the three days of separation, of death, Jesus will be raised again and will appear and will be with his disciples again. But even this is not enough, is not the whole story. For, at the end of forty days, he would leave again, this time, ascending to the right hand of the Majesty on high. Before he would ascend, however, he would say, “Behold, I am with you always.” “I am Immanuel always.” No longer in his state of humiliation in which he was able to be with only one person, one disciple at a time, now in his state of exaltation he is able to be with each and every one of his believers in a more intimate way. That’s why tonight he says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” As the Spirit of truth dwells with you and in you, so also the entire Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Everyone hates goodbyes. And through the terror of that Good Friday it seemed to lead to nothing but despair. But now, by his resurrection and ascension and the sending of his Holy and life-giving Spirit, he is with us through his Word and holy sacraments. We are to comfort one another with the fact that those who die in the Lord are with the Lord, even as he said to the repentant thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And our greatest comfort is in his own promise, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Whether for our comfort now or for our future destiny, Jesus ends tonight’s conversation in the same way in which he began it, saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” But then he adds, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” This is the peace that results from the conviction of faith in Christ’s word, that he is the way, the truth and the life; that because he lives we will live also; that by his death he has destroyed death; that by faith in him we are justified and made heirs of heaven. In Christ we have been reconciled to God and made partakers of his love. “And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
When we hear the last words of John chapter 14, the words of Jesus, saying, “Rise, let us go from here,” we are not to imagine that what follows in chapter 15 and following are spoken somewhere else than the Upper Room, but that, perhaps, they rose from the table and that they remained standing around for a time talking and listening until going forth across the Kidron valley in chapter 18. There is much more for his disciples to hear in preparation for what was to follow. And so we are always in need of hearing and learning more, that our hearts may learn not to be troubled and that we may have his peace.
For now and for all our days, “the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”