John 14:3 (ESV) … “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.”
What is a Christian to do when the world he knows falls in? What is he to do in the day of great trouble?
This is not an idle question because, although we do not always like to think about it, life is filled with troubles. Disappointment is a trouble, and there are many disappointments. We are disappointed with ourselves, for we are not always what we want to be. We want to be strong, but we are weak. We want to be successful, but we experience many failures. We want to be liked, but often people are at best indifferent to us. We are also often disappointed with other people, with a husband, wife, son, daughter, friend, employer, partner, employee, or whatever the case may be.
Circumstances, too, are a source of troubles. In some cases we can do something about the circumstances, and we try to; but this is not always so. Poverty cannot always be changed, and poverty is troubling. The loss of a loved one is also beyond our control, and this is devastating. So is loss of a job, sickness, or even uncertainty about the future, the last of which is particularly unsettling in these times.
And what about spiritual troubles, when it seems as though the Lord’s presence is withdrawn and we are plunged alone into what has well been described as the “dark night” of the soul? What are we to do in such circumstances? What are we to do with despair? The answer is that we are to take ourselves in hand and by a deliberate exercise of mind strengthen our faith in God. We are to think of him and so overcome trouble by reminding ourselves of the power and promises of God and by trusting in him.
Our text (John 14:1-3) is a call to us to become strong Christians, not the kind who weep and wail and expect everyone to pity them, but rather the kind who are of great stature in faith and who are a source of strength to others. The text says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1).
Cause to Be Troubled
There are two important things about this text, and the first, quite paradoxical in view of what I have just said, is that frequently we have cause to be troubled.
It would not be necessary to make so much of this point if it were not that there is a kind of Pollyanna Christianity in our day that seeks to deny it. It is the kind of Christianity that pretends that there are no troubles for any truly surrendered child of God. This view of life takes Romans 8:28 to mean that only good things come into the life of one who truly loves God (“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”), rather than seeing that the verse actually says that evil will indeed come but that God will nevertheless accomplish his own good purposes in spite of it. This view is unrealistic and uninformed, for evil does exist. Troubles do come. Death is an enemy. So, rather than denying these things, we must begin by a realistic recognition of them.
Obviously, it was this that prompted Christ’s saying, for it was clear to him that from a human viewpoint the disciples, to whom he was speaking, had cause for deep agitation.
For one thing, he himself had been troubled. We know this because we are told about it in the previous chapter: “After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit” (v. 21). Was this not unusual and troubling in itself? Was it not a cause for dismay that he who had been their stay in every troubled sea, their refuge in every hostile crowd, should be troubled? Moreover, he had also indicated that he was about to be taken from them. He had said it before, but they had not fully understood him. Now the message got through, and they were in turmoil. He was their life. For him they had left family, home, and occupation. What would they do once he was gone from them? What could fill the void left in their aching and anxious hearts?
Nor is this all. If there were nothing more, the disciples might have comforted themselves with the thought that, regardless of what might happen, still they loved him and would be faithful to him or to his memory forever. But they were really not free to think this, for he had told them that one of their number, Judas, should betray him, and that another, Peter, should deny him three times before morning.
Did the disciples have cause to be troubled? Certainly they did! From this we learn that it is not wrong to honestly recognize and even analyze our problems.
We may add another point also. It is also not wrong to recognize and openly acknowledge things that trouble others. Here is a useful principle in counseling. Sometimes when a person comes to us with a problem, as people do to me constantly, we want to minimize their problem. We want to say, “But that is not so bad. Think how things could be worse.” We may even want to tell stories of those we know who were in even worse circumstances. But we must not do this. Nothing is gained by minimizing the problems. Instead, we must hear the troubled soul out, and we must acknowledge that in many, if not all, cases there is that which rightly troubles him. Indeed, we must even “mourn with those who mourn,” as Paul says in the great ethical section of the letter to the Romans (12:15).
More Cause Not to Be
So Christians are realists. They are realists about all life’s problems. At the same time, however, we must add that they are realists about the power of God and his promises. And this means that although there is cause to be troubled, nevertheless, there is even greater cause not to be. This is the second important point. Regardless of what there may be to cause us to be troubled as Christians, there is more cause not to be troubled.
What are the reasons why we should not be troubled? In these verses there are five of them. First, we know Jesus. He is God. He knows about us and our circumstances. He is able to deal with them. Therefore, there is every reason to trust him. Jesus indicates this when he issues the challenge, “Trust in God, trust also in me.”
Frankly, there are a number of ways in which these lines may be taken, due to the fact that in both parts of the sentence the verb “trust” may be in either the indicative (“You trust”) or the imperative mood (“Trust!”). In Greek the two forms are identical. Thus, there are four ways to translate the sentence: (1) “You trust in God; you also trust in me”; (2) “Trust in God! Trust in me!” (3) “You trust in God; trust in me also”; and (4) “Trust in God, as you trust in me.” Of these four, the first may be rejected because it is nothing more than a statement, and an exhortation of some kind is demanded by the context. The last may also be rejected because it suggests a backward relationship. The disciples were obviously not to begin with their faith in Jesus and then work up to faith in God, for it is a need for faith in Christ that is indicated. So possibilities two and three are left: “You trust in God; trust also in me” and “Trust in God; trust in me!”
To be sure, there is not a great deal of difference in these two translations, and both make good theology. Still, in spite of the great weight of many recent versions, it seems to the writer that the translation of the older, Authorized Version is preferable. Why should the disciples be urged to believe in God in this situation? True, it is always good to be urged to believe in God, but in this situation the problem is that Jesus was about to be taken from the disciples and that they were troubled by thoughts of this parting. They did not really doubt that God would take care of them in some far off, general sense. But they did not understand how Jesus could go, how he could apparently be abandoning them. So what does Christ say? In these circumstances it is as though he turns to the disciples and says, “Look, I know that you trust God; trust me also, precisely in these circumstances. Believe that I know what I am doing, that I am going away for a purpose, that the purpose will be accomplished, and that I will again return to you so that we can be together.” This he said in the face of his own execution.
Here was the first reason why the disciples were not to be troubled. They knew Jesus, and they had every reason to trust him.
So do we. In fact, we have even more cause than those first disciples, for they stood on the far side of the resurrection and did not know, as we do, that the cross of Christ was our salvation or that the resurrection was to follow it. Did Jesus know what he was doing? Of course he did! Could he be trusted? Certainly! Then let us also trust him. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the hardship, let us believe that he has a purpose in those circumstances and is most certainly working them out for our own spiritual good.
A Home in Heaven
The second reason Jesus gives why we should not be troubled is that there is a place prepared for us in heaven. “In my Father’s house are many rooms,” he said; “if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (v. 2).
For many people, talk of a home in heaven smacks of escapism, as if in the face of trials the Christian is to turn his back upon life and live only for glory. It is the “pie-in-the-sky” philosophy. This has been true in some cases. Some have indeed turned from life when they should have been living it victoriously. Some have been escapists. But there are also circumstances where those who are not escapists have nevertheless gained great comfort and strength from these promises.
I think of one example. Not long ago I visited a member of my congregation who had been confined to a home for incurables because of crippling arthritis. She was always in constant pain and had wasted away in this home for many years. At this time this poor woman, who never complained and who never talked about herself or her condition unless someone asked about it, was near death. As we talked, I asked her, “Ida, do you still love Jesus?”
Her eyes glowed through her suffering as she replied, “Yes; oh yes! And I do long to be with him. I am so anxious for him to take me home.” The death of a Christian is not like the death of an unbeliever, for the Christian knows where he or she is going. He is sure of his heavenly home.
Moreover, the life of a Christian is not (in most cases) like the life of an unbeliever. For, knowing his destiny, knowing that he will again see Jesus in that heavenly home, the faithful Christian follows him now and lives for him. Paul indicated this when he wrote: “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.… But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:17, 20). John also speaks of this when he writes, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2–3). To know our destiny is a great incentive, not only for the enjoyment of peace in the midst of turmoil but for godly living as well.
Our Personal Dwelling
The third reason Jesus gave the disciples why they should not be troubled is that he was going to prepare a place for them. On the surface this seems to be much the same point as before; that is, that there is a heavenly home and that there are many abiding places in it. But it is not really a repetition. It is something more. There is a place called heaven. Jesus was going there. But in addition to this he tells them that there is work that he is going to do for them once he gets there.
What did Jesus refer to when he said that he was going to prepare a place for his disciples? I am not sure that there is a full answer to that question, because I do not know of any passage of the Bible that bears directly upon it. As I think about it, I wonder if the fact that we ask that question does not hide the verse’s true meaning. We read the verse “I am going there to prepare a place for you” and focus on the word “prepare.” What if we were to focus on the words “for you” instead? In that case, the emphasis would not be upon whatever architectural alterations the Lord may be making in heaven, but rather upon the fact that it is for us as individuals that he is altering it. In other words, it would be the promise that in that great home of the Father’s there is a place being prepared particularly for us.
Have you ever decorated a room for someone special? If you have, you know what it is to make a room suit one particular personality. If it is a daughter, you make the room pretty. You hang up her pictures. You make a place for her hobbies. If it is a son, the room might have airplanes or model cars. If it is for Grandma, the room might have her favorite books; and it might be far from the playroom or the children’s bedrooms. We take care in such preparation. Are we to think that Jesus will take less care for those whom he loves, who are to spend eternity with him?
The fourth and fifth points may be taken together. They are: first, that Jesus is returning again for those whom he has left behind and, second, that from that point on they will be with him forever. He said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (v. 3).
There have been those who have identified this coming of the Lord Jesus with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost spoken of later. But this is not right. In the case of the Spirit, Jesus comes to the believer and the believer receives him. In this verse, Jesus receives the believer so that the believer may be with him in heaven. Clearly, this is what Paul describes so vividly when he says, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16–17).
There is comfort in that. Indeed, there must be; for Paul immediately follows this with the admonition; “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (v. 18).