Words to Strengthen
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And 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. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
Jesus and his disciples have gathered in the upper room. The streets and rooms of Jerusalem throng with pilgrims, making their way from around the Mediterranean to come to the Temple for Passover. The Romans are on high alert, knowing that a festival celebrating release from slavery might bring about cries for liberation from the Roman Empire. Emotions run high and the city is noisy.
Back in this upper room, Jesus has been causing confusion. First of all he has washed his disciples feet, something so demeaning that even Jewish slaves would be spared the task. This was the job of a gentile slave, not a Rabbi. This is a lowly task, not something a teacher should do. But the feet have been washed, and the disciples are clean.
Well sort of.
After washing off the dirt, Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that one of them will betray him. This was a bombshell - who on earth would it be? Judas leaves to betray Jesus, but the disciples assume he is just getting supplies for the meal. Jesus knows, though.
Now that Judas has left the disciples are truly ‘clean’. It is time for final instructions. He needs to tell them that he will be leaving them. He needs to prepare them for the fact he will be executed in the most violent fashion. He needs to reassure them that it is definitely not all over. This is a time for them to hold their nerve, and to realise that the ways of God are often obscure to us. And so it is that Jesus begins: “let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me”.
I could go through this whole passage, but to be honest if you were to distill what Jesus taught right down to the bare essentials this is what you would have. In a sense here is the Gospel.
First of all there is the exhortation “let not your hearts be troubled”, which is so reminiscent of all those times in the Old Testament where God says “do not be afraid" and anticipates the time when Jesus will once more appear to his disciples and say “peace be with you”. Here is a great truth which lies at the core of the faith: once we understand the absolute sovereignty of God, and his great love towards us, we can feel safe and secure. The more we look up to God, rather than looking around at our troubles (or down at our feet) the more confidence we can have. Troubles will surely come, but we can still our hearts when we remember in whose hands we are gripped. Let anxiety be just a prompt, and swiftly fly to the strongholds of prayer. It was when Martin Luther heard that his great friend Leonhard Kaiser had been executed that he penned the famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.
Jesus continues: “believe in God”. Since belief in God is the basis for our stilled hearts, it is important that we understand quite what ‘belief’ means. First of all, it doesn’t mean simply believing that God exists. After all, James wrote “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). Belief begins with the assent to a certain truth, but it must grow from there.
The second step of belief is realising that the truth applies to you. When I was growing up, if you were to walk around the markets of Romford, Essex you would find many traders who believed in the existence of certain laws, but it’s just they don’t apply to them. On our roads there are many who look at signs and see ‘speed suggestions’ rather than ‘speed limits’. The second step of belief is the realisation that this truth which you have accepted as true actually applies to you too. It’s the sort of realisation which you get when you attend a Speed Awareness Course.
The third step is then trusting entirely in that truth. We have no confidence in anything else than God. He is the foundation. His words in the Bible are the basis on which we live.
And then Jesus goes on: “believe also in me”. Well there’s a statement: believe in God and also in me! When Jesus puts himself alongside the Father, he demonstrates his divine nature. When he says that he is as ‘belief-worthy’ as God, he makes himself equal with God (Philippians 2:6).
There is yet more here. When Jesus is asking us to believe in him, he has in mind not only his teachings and actions but also the work he is about the complete upon the cross. His death earns the forgiveness of our sins, our wrongdoings. When we face God’s judgment in the final reckoning, we really don’t have anything to offer in our defence. Who has lived a perfect life? Certainly not me! What we can offer, though, is Jesus’ life and sacrifice. Rather than believing in our own goodness, we can believe in his goodness.
That is why Jesus is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6). It is he alone who can bring us back to God, he alone who speaks truth and can give us life.
So it was that, as the disciples faced the whirlwind of emotions which would break across their hearts in the coming days, Jesus gave them something to cling to. Here is the rock which can withstand all the storms of life. Here is the anchor for our souls.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”