Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We can only hear Jesus’ words to us today if our hearts are troubled. Because He is speaking to people whose hearts are troubled, disturbed, stirred up. And why are they disturbed? Because He’s just told them the same thing that He said to the leaders of the Jews earlier: Where I am going, you cannot come. Peter can’t understand it. He says he’ll go with Jesus even to death. But Jesus says that Peter will deny Him instead. We know that this is only the beginning of the trouble in the disciples’ hearts. After Jesus’ death, they are disturbed enough that they hide out in a room for at least a week.
So it is to people whose hearts are stirred up that Jesus is speaking: do not let your hearts be troubled. To people whose hearts are stirred up by their sin, that they can’t seem ever to get rid of their old temptations and desires. That their sins have a stronger hold on them then they ever supposed. That the things they know they should not do—the things they hate—those are the things that they do. And the things they know they should do—the things they want to do—they don’t do them.
Jesus speaks to people whose hearts are stirred up by the circumstances swirling around them: that the burden of living in this world gets to be too heavy. That they are never free from the obligations they have toward each other. That the requirements of love never end. Today, especially, we might think of the vocation to be a mother. And mothers bear the scars, physically and emotionally, of what happens to their children. They find both joy and grief as mothers. There are those who have lost children to death or circumstances. There are those who long to be mothers who are not. Whether it’s the vocation as mother or any other vocation, their hearts are stirred up and troubled.
Jesus speaks to people whose hearts are stirred up against God. Maybe we used to hear God, or think we knew how things should be. But now His voice is muffled or distorted or maybe even silent. And then the devil pulls on your ear and suggests that the Lord in whom you trusted was never really going to give you those things anyway. It’s a fool’s errand and a lost cause. Why keep up the struggle? Eternal life is so far away. Live how you want now.
So if your heart is not stirred up and troubled, you’ll have to wait for another Scripture and another sermon. But to those whose hearts are stirred up and troubled, Jesus speaks: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. That is, believe in the Father and the Son. They are trust-worthy and faithful. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places, many rooms. If it weren’t true, why would I have said that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare that place, I will come and take you to myself so that you may be where I am.
Where is Jesus going? That’s what everyone wants to know, from the leaders of the Jews to Peter and Thomas. But He has been clear: He has come from the Father and He returns to the Father. But the Son has entered the flesh for a reason, and His way back to the Father is no way except through death. Where is He going to prepare a place for His disciples? Not to heaven, but to the cross. There’s no need for God to prepare a place in heaven, where there’s no sin and death. The necessary thing, the reason He enters the flesh, is to prepare a place right where we dwell, in the midst of trouble and death. There is no way for the disciples, or for us, to follow Jesus to the Father apart from it. He is life and we are death. Death has set up an impassable barrier. No one just gets to the Father because they die. And this is why no one can go with Jesus to the cross: because no one else can cross the boundary of death but the one who is the Life. He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. So He goes to the cross, exalted in the glory of conquered death. He goes there because His full and willing obedience to the Father’s charge means laying down His life for His sheep, before taking it up again. He goes there because when He is lifted up from the earth, that is how and when He draws all people to Himself, where He is.
So He goes where no one else can go, to do what no one else can do: to carve out a place for His life in the midst of death. There He makes a place for you, where you are with Him and the Father. And that death and resurrection are the evidence that He is trustworthy, that you can believe Him. Do not let your hearts be troubled! You will have trouble in the world, Jesus assures us. There is no lack of trouble from our sin and from the sin of others; from the world and from love’s demands pressing on our sinful nature; from the devil seductively drawing us away from Jesus’ life. But take heart! I have overcome the world, Jesus says. Your lack of trouble in your heart doesn’t come because there’s no trouble. It comes because the place of trouble is not your home and is not your life. Your life is Jesus and your home is with the Father. The Father and the Son dwell with you here and now, though you see them no more than the disciples saw Jesus after His ascension.
But Jesus does not lie. You have His living flesh and blood, in which He went through death and into the life of His Father. Therefore, you have the way by which you go to the Father. So in all your coming and going, you never come or go apart from Jesus. Whatever happens to you, whatever you cannot control, whatever stirs up your hearts, you are in Christ, so you do what Christ does: by His suffering and death, filled up in His Body, the Church, you will enter life. The resurrected Lord has come to bring you to Himself, where He is. He has given you the Way: Himself in His Word and Supper. And He will do what He said, because He is faithful, now and forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/12/17