John 14: Troubled hearts

In this next section of His farewell discourse, Jesus speaks to the anxiety His disciples have or are about to face: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1), He says. Good advice, but how realistic? After all, these people are on the brink of losing their close friend. They have already experienced anger, censure and misunderstanding–to say nothing of the daily pressures common to any person’s life. In a world such as we inhabit, how can a heart not be troubled? Indeed, John has already mentioned three times when Jesus’ own heart was ill at ease (John 11:33; 12:27; 13:21), recognizing that there are occasions and developments that leave us agitated.

The difference is this: while crummy stuff happens around and to us, we need not give in to despair and live as though only storm clouds will ever surround us. The sorrow Jesus experiences and that John reports in 11, 12 and 13 is real, but short-lived (the Greek tenses convey this); the trouble He warns against in 14 is an on-going condition.

Jesus is not saying here: be Tigger, not Eeyore. Rather, He is telling disciples that when they encounter life’s storms, they need not be swept out to sea. Jesus knew this from personal experience: His friend Lazarus had died, the cross loomed before Him, one of His chosen twelve betrayed Him. If ever anyone had cause for despair, it was Jesus. But while each of these episodes marked Him, none defined Him. Instead, Jesus poured His heart out to the Father (see Hebrews 5:7), and drew strength from Him to continue with a  life defined by love, grace, service.

We might even say that in such times, Jesus leaned heavily on the empowering Spirit of God–which is just where Jesus sends His disciples. “I will send you another Counselor,” He promises (John 14:16) a few moments after encouraging them about troubled hearts. This One–the Spirit–makes it possible for disciples to face all life hurls at them and emerge with tender, not fretful, hearts.

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