Do not let your hearts be troubled
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The apostles could have responded, “But isn't that what You did, Jesus?”
In the upper room, on the night when He was betrayed, Jesus also commanded His disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Yet, just moments earlier, John tells us that, “Jesus was troubled in His spirit, and testified, 'One of you will betray me.'”i Likewise, after Jesus' Palm Sunday, triumphal entry; He was praying, and He Himself says, “Now is my soul / troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”ii Twice, Jesus Himself was troubled concerning His death; twice He commands His disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”iii But isn't that what You did, Jesus?
Yes, Jesus is troubled / so that His disciples might not be troubled. The greek word ταράσσω means to agitate or to stir something up. Think of it kind of like a washing machine. When you open the lid, the machine pauses and the water is still and peaceful, calm and innocent; but when the lid is closed again, the water thrashes around like a rough sea in a tempest.
Jesus' spirit / was agitated, stirred up, troubled. He knew what He had to do and His time had come. He was taking on the sin of the world and He would soon have to bear the worst of His Father's wrath because of this. He would soon experience hell, being forsaken by God. He really did have reason to be troubled.
So what's your problem, / Peter, James and John and Thomas and Phillip and the rest of you. I have come to bear the real pain, the real shame. There is all the reason in the world for me to be troubled; what's with you? I am bearing your unbelief, Thomas; I am bearing your cowardliness, Peter; your selfishness and hot-temper James and John; and your ignorance, Phillip. I will be punished for you; you will be rewarded for me. What are you so troubled about?
Are you scared of being identified with me, or with those other Christians? Are you afraid of death? O, you mean that sweet passage into the presence of God the Father; eternal rest with all the beloved saints of God. Really? Your afraid of these things? Stop being troubled. Repent. Believe in God, believe in Me, your Savior, your Lord and God.
So, what's your problem, / St John's? What is so challenging for you that your soul is agitated? You get depressed or angry or both. You hide or fight or drink or hold a grudge. What is it? Family problems? Work problems? Friend problems? Health problems? Is death near; yours or someone else's? O, you mean these blessings our Lord sends to you to strengthen your eternal connection to Him, to strengthen your faith.
Yes, suffering and sorrow are challenging; and stuff happens at the most inconvenient times. Repent. Turn back to your God, who loves you, who does send painful experiences at times. Even experiences that pain and grieve your heart: / friends betray you, even your closest friend; children walk away from the faith. And what do you think: that it's your fault? That your actions or words are so powerful that they are the cause of this? You think you have done some great sin that God didn't have the power to stop the consequences, the results? Repent. And recognize the power and wisdom of God.
So, what, pastor, you are saying God allows these evils to happen to me? Yes. I am. And I suppose you got angry with God, too, didn't you? That shows how foolish you are. God died for you; He suffered damnation for you, and you are angry with Him because He allowed your life to be a bit uncomfortable for a while? That's love. God isn't afraid to offend you, even if that means you will curse Him for it, because He knows what is best, He has your eternal life in perspective.
Paul Gerhardt, a brilliant hymn-writer and perhaps the most compassionate pastor since Jesus, / he was afflicted with so much suffering, both in his family and in his work, that it would take hours to go through it all. Here's a summary from one historian: “He suffered many blows during his seventy years. Both his parents died before he was out of his teenage years. His schooling was stricter than any modern American would tolerate. He [witnessed the death of] four of his five children and his wife. He lost his prestigious post as deacon of the Nikolaikirche in Berlin. He had to care for his sickly son and sister-in-law without his wife’s help. His last parish mistreated him. All this on top of the regular strains and stress of being a student, tutor or pastor. What makes his trials all the more daunting is the fact that he lived during the Thirty Years’ War. Violence, greed, rape, looting and plague were the norm not the exception. Towns and churches lost more than half their population, families were destroyed and death was everywhere. Throughout his life, Paul Gerhardt did not live in a town or serve a parish that was not grossly effected by these disasters. He certainly was sifted in Satan’s sieve.”
And yet, in the midst of this torment allowed by His merciful Lord, he wrote so many hymns of comfort / not only for the Good Shepherd's sheep under his own care, but for us as well. Please turn in your hymnal to hymn 754 and follow along as I read these precious words of hope and comfort from this man who was refined in the fire of affliction:
See LSB 754
Please understand. All this is not to discount your sufferings, but rather to lift them up as the blessings that they are. It's strange, it seems like a contradiction, but it is true. And how you react to the crosses which our merciful Lord allows you to bear, those reactions do matter, they are important.
Sometimes things happen to you that are completely out of your control. They are accidents, yet they affect you profoundly.
And sometimes your own, actual sins cause you to suffer. Things that you had quite a bit of control over, yet you made the decision in weakness to engage in sin and then you were afflicted by the consequences of those actions or words. This sort of thing actually happens all the time, it's just that we are so used to the milder consequences that we really give it no thought. Examples of this abound.
But what about the big things. The sins that have the long-term consequences. Things which you have to live with perhaps for the rest of your life; we all have these. Shouldn't these things trouble your heart? Isn't it right to feel guilty about them? (Perhaps you know my style of preaching by now and you can anticipate a small, yet powerful word that usually comes at this point in the sermon: Repent.)
But why do we repent? Is it to show God that we really are truly sorry for what we did? Is it because God requires a bit of penance before He forgives us? Does repentance actually earn anything for us?
No, no, and no. In fact, you / are not capable of repenting. Repentance / is an work of God. Repentance is preached to you. Jesus preached repentance, in fact it was the very first preached word that came from His mouth. No, you don't do repentance, repentance is done to you. God repents you, He turns you, He shows you your sin and by His Holy Spirit, changes your heart. Sin and the Holy Spirit don't mix; the Holy Spirit in you from your baptism is strengthened by / preaching and the Sacraments. Repentance and forgiveness go together; These are God's works, and He does them in you.
Sure, it looks like you are doing them, that they are your works. But that's not what God's Word says. Jesus said, “Amen, Amen I say to you, the one believing in me, the works which I do he also will do, and he will do greater than these...”
Greater works than Jesus' works? No, not really. But certainly it will appear like greater works. Why? Because you have no real connection to the man born blind, or the wedding at Cana, or the Emmaus disciples. But when Jesus does His works in you, how great they are!
Again, repentance and forgiveness go together. // Imagine your worst sin, / go ahead, I'll give you a moment to do it; your worst sin.
What if that sin were completely gone, if it would have not effect on you. Imagine if you would never feel troubled over it ever again. Imagine if you had peace. Well, guess what? It's possible. And guess what else? That's my job, to forgive those sins.
If your heart is troubled over a sin, whether that is a sin you have committed or someone has committed against you; if the devil won't leave you alone and continues to torment you about anything: come for your freedom, your release, your Absolution. And if the guilty feelings remain: come again, and then again. Keep coming: I'll keep forgiving you, 70 times 7, pronouncing Jesus' words and God's work upon you, in you, the greatest work of all: forgiveness of sins.
“But, pastor, that sin is mine, others know I've committed it, it won't just go away so easy as you say.” // And I respond: What sin? / Really!! Believe in God, and believe in Jesus, His Son, your Savior who has completely forgotten that sin. Sure, there may be things in your life that result from that sin, but those consequences will no longer be burdens for you; they will be blessings, and opportunities. You name the sin, it can be forgiven.
Private Absolution. You come in and kneel in the chancel here with your sin, or at least the guilty feeling of your sin, you leave with freedom and confidence, you leave with strength of faith in Christ Jesus. Absolution gives you the confidence and comfort to live / free. Sound silly and uncomfortable? How long do you want to live with that guilt? That sounds silly and uncomfortable to me. It's not easy. I know.
Stop tormenting yourself. Let God repent you and forgive you; let not your heart be troubled any longer; let God have His merciful way with you. Just ask Him: He will do it. / He has done it. He continues His greater works.
In +Jesus' name. Amen.
iiiHere in John 14:1, and also in 14:27
[image by Ed Riojas]