A sermon by Bob Browning, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Frankfort, Ky.

May 25, 2014

John 14:1-7

Some of my most meaningful conversations are with people who are dying. When your days on earth are drawing to a close, you don’t waste words, which is why most of the dialogue is focused and serious.

This appears to be the case with Jesus in today’s text. Jesus is speaking some of his last words to the disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. They have gathered in the Upper Room to eat the annual Passover meal commemorating the night their ancestors were released from Egyptian bondage to begin their journey to the Promise Land.

That year, the conversation around the table was quite different. Jesus’ attention was not drawn only to the Israelites’ journey from Egypt, but his own journey to the cross. He talked openly about his death at the hands of his enemies.

This was not the first time Jesus had told them he was going to die a violent death, but there was a sense of urgency in his voice that night. He included details about disciples betraying and denying him, which seemed to have taken them by surprise and caused them to become defensive. Listen to how this conversation is described in the Fourth Gospel.

“ ‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now. Where I am going you cannot come.’

Simon Peter asked him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow now, but you will later.’ Peter asked, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’

Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!’ ” John 13:33, 36-38.

Can you imagine how difficult it must have been for Jesus to tell the disciples what was coming, and how hard it was for the disciples to hear it? No wonder the disciples were reeling in shock and dismay, which Jesus detected when he looked around that room. So evident was their grief and confusion that Jesus responded immediately with strong words of comfort and hope. 

“ ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled,’ Jesus said as he looked around that room. ‘Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you 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, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place 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, the truth and the live. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him,’”  John 14:1-7.

What message was Jesus sending the disciples with these words? To answer this question, I believe you must discover what was troubling the disciples. After all, Jesus began this portion of the Farewell Discourse that evening by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” So, what was troubling them?

It appears fear and guilt had made their hearts grow restless. Jesus just told the disciples he was going to die at the hands of his enemies, striking fear in their hearts. Then he informed them they were going to abandon him during this ordeal, which they could not believe. No wonder their hearts were racing. This is a normal reaction to fear and guilt.

What did Jesus say to help them during this traumatic time? If we can learn this, perhaps it can help us deal with our own fears and guilt. 

I think Jesus began by assuring them he was aware of their anxiety. He could see the confused looks on their faces and hear their concerns in their questions. All their hopes, dreams and plans were crumbling around them, and they had no power to prevent it.

This was not the outcome they envisioned for Jesus or them when they accepted his call to follow him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Obviously, something had gone wrong, terribly wrong, and they did not have a clue what his death or their response to it would mean to their future.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” was Jesus’ way of telling the disciples he understood what they were feeling. He knew how distracting and devastating their fear and guilt were.

Jesus also helped the disciples that evening by telling them not all the news he had for them was bad. There was good news, too, and he was eager to share it. What was that good news?

Jesus wanted the disciples to know neither his enemies nor death would have the final word in his life. God would, and that word would be a good one. That tomb would not hold him because God would raise him from the dead, just as God will give abundant and eternal life to all who are faithful in the pursuit of justice and peace as Jesus was.

Furthermore, Jesus wanted the disciples to know sin would not have the final word in their relationship. Grace and mercy would, because Jesus loved them unconditionally. With God’s help, he would forgive them and love them just as much after the crucifixion as before. He would continue to use them as flawed servants to transform the lives of people. They did not have to be perfect to be of service, but forgiven, and he was willing to forgive them.

There was one more thing Jesus wanted them to know that evening to calm their restless hearts. When they died, he would not abandon them as they would him later that night. Instead, he would come to each of them, tenderly pick them up and carry them straight to the waiting arms of God.

“If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you unto myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Every disciple around that table could trust Jesus to usher him into the presence of God; they needed no one or nothing else for this to occur. Jesus truly was the way to truth and life.

How do you think it made the disciples feel to know Jesus’ future and theirs would not end with his crucifixion? It had to give them hope and help them through the worst experience of their lives. While not all their questions had been answered that evening, they knew in their hearts their relationship with Jesus and the mission they had given their lives to would not end.

Our text today brings to mind the words of a former church member and dear friend whose twenty-one year-old son died suddenly on the basketball court. When I asked her how she was doing, she simply replied, “I am not all right now, but I will be.”

Do you have this kind of faith? Do you have a relationship with God which calms your troubled heart even in the midst of a storm? You can if you will trust Jesus and follow him to the open arms of God.

What could you say to calm someone’s troubled heart? Among your family members and friends, whose peace and joy have been sabotaged by fear or guilt? What could you say or do to help them?

Could you share your faith in a God who loves them and wants to walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death so they will not be afraid?

Could you tell them about the difference God made in your life in your darkest hours?

Could you assure them of your love and friendship, offering to accompany them on their journey from fear to faith?

Perhaps today’s sermon title reminded you of the Simon and Garfunkel’s chart topping song released in January, 1970, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Do you recall the words?

When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all
I’m on your side when times get rough, and friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down
When you’re down and out, when you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you
I’ll take your part when darkness comes, and pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down
Sail on Silver Girl, sail on by
Your time has come to shine; all your dreams are on their way; see how they shine

If you need a friend, I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind

Who needs you to be a friend like this?

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