In the gospel of John, there is a story about a man with a troubled heart. He longed to be free of a debilitating disease, which plagued his life for thirty-eight years (Jn. 5:5). We find him on the outskirts of a pool called Bethesda, which means “house of outpouring.” Ancient witnesses describe the waters in this pool to be red with minerals and thought to have some medicinal value. So, multitudes with infirmities would gather to the pool to be healed.
When Jesus “saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time,” He asked, “Do you want to be healed?” (Jn. 5:6). Disappointed, the man responded, “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going, another steps down before me” (Jn. 5:7). The pool was likely fed by intermittent springs that would trouble the waters with fresh minerals. When the springs poured in, the people entered the pool to be healed. This man, due to his infirmity, couldn’t get into the troubled waters fast enough. Jesus, having compassion for the man, healed him immediately (Jn. 5:9-10).
Although the pool may have soothed, or even healed, some superficial wounds, there is no evidence of it restoring anyone from any serious diseases. This is John’s point. He compares the superficial healing of the troubled waters with the supernatural healing of the living waters. Multitudes came to the pool to be healed, but only one man left restored. He was healed by Jesus, the one who has the “springs of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14).
Troubled waters can’t comfort a troubled heart. However, it doesn’t stop people from trying. Many look for comfort in the wrong places. Some of us turn to the waters of entertainment to escape our troubles. Others try optimism, hoping for a better future. Conversely, some will try fatalism and anticipate the worst. It is also popular to pursue positive thinking in order to counteract our adverse circumstances. Even still, few try mysticism and lift their minds into a false reality. However, these waters merely postpone our problems. As Isaiah says, “There is no peace for the wicked” (Is. 57:21).
The search for comfort in a chaotic world can only be found in trusting Christ. He is the “God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). He doesn’t avoid our troubles nor tell us to avoid them. He joins us in them and comforts us through them.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”John 14:1-14
In the introduction to this passage, we learned that troubles are inevitable, but God is reliable. The disciples, who abandoned everything to follow Christ, were coming to terms with the reality that Christ, as they understood things, would soon abandon them. It was the beginning of their troubles. Within hours, one would betray Christ, another would deny Him, and all of them would scatter from Him. It seemed as though everything was crumbling around them.
Christ, on the other hand, was not shaken by the uncertainties around them. In fact, He was just hours away from being arrested, beaten, and brutally killed. Despite these sufferings, His heart was on them. He desired to comfort them. As John put it, “He loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1).
The Search for a Quiet Heart
Most recognize, in one way or another, that the greatest need in this world is to have a quiet heart, one that is completely free of distress. This is certainly what the disciples desired that night in the upper-room. Jesus, who knew their hearts (Lk. 9:47), consoled them beginning with this plea, “Let not your heart be troubled” (Jn. 14:1). It was a rather strong way of saying, “Stop allowing your heart to be shaken!”
The word “troubled” means “set in motion what needs to remain still.” It can be translated as agitated, perplexed, and stirred up inside. It was actually used to describe the waters in the pool of superficial healing. When the springs poured into the pool, the waters were “stirred up” (Jn. 5:7). Elsewhere in the New Testament, the word takes on more figurative speech. When Herod the king heard the news of Jesus’ birth, “he was troubled” (Matt. 2:3). When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, “they were terrified” like they saw a ghost (Matt. 14:26).
Here in the upper room, the disciples had a disturbance of the soul. They were deeply agitated, full of unrest, and completely shaken up. What was set in motion in their hearts needed to be still and quiet. So, Jesus tells them, “Stop allowing your heart to be shaken!”
Before we walk down that path too far, it is important to know that Scripture describes Jesus as having inward unrest as well. For instance, when Lazarus died and Jesus saw Mary weeping, after He Himself wept, and “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (Jn. 11:33). In another instance, “Jesus was troubled in his spirit” after he told the disciples that one of them would betray Him (Jn. 13:21). The same word is used here. However, His troubled heart was a result of the sting felt by the loss of loved ones and the sins against God. Jesus was never troubled by uncertain times.
The disciples, however, were troubled for the wrong reasons, which indicated they had an incomplete, weak faith. This is why Jesus’ exhortation includes a call to trust Him. “Believe in God; believe also in me” (Jn. 14:1). In other words, instead of being troubled by this world, be full of steadfast faith. Instead of being shaken and stirred up inside, be strong in belief. Instead of being disturbed, agitated, and terrified, trust in God. The only remedy for a troubled heart is a strengthened faith.
The Existence of a Sovereign God
It’s easy for us to overcomplicate things. Putting a stop to a troubled heart sounds like it requires a magic wand and twenty page dissertation. Instead, Jesus tells His disciples, and each us as well, “Believe in God” (Jn. 14:1). It’s so simple, so basic, and easy to miss. At the same time, this short phrase invites us into one of the most profound exercises of the mind and heart.
It’s best to see it from the perspective of Moses. In Exodus 3, he is drawn to a burning bush in the wilderness where God’s presence is calling out to him. From the bush, God tells him that He will use Moses to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt—the most powerful kingdom in the world at that time. It was an incredibly terrifying task.
Moses was troubled in his heart. So he made excuses as to why he wasn’t God’s man for the job. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” God, desiring to calm his heart, responds by saying, “I will be with you” (Ex. 3:11-12). Still not completely ready to embark, Moses asks, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Ex. 3:13). Now, at this point, I can imagine all the wilderness noises and fire cracklings being sucked out of the air as the Lord responds, “I AM” (Ex. 3:14).
Again, so simple, so basic, so easy to miss, and yet, so profoundly deep. The name itself, according to scholars, teaches at least six things. First, it tells us that God exists. Second, it teaches us that God is self-sustaining. There is no existence outside of Him, and therefore nothing from which He came. Third, it communicates to us God is unchanging. He is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Fourth, it says that God is an inexhaustible source of energy and never grows tired or weary (Is. 40:28). Fifth, it lays upon us the weight of objectivity and puts an end to the notion that all views of God are equal. Sixth, it requires us to conform to God, not He to us. It’s a small name with big truths.
Shifting gears back to the upper room, Jesus comforts the disciples the same way God comforted Moses—by urging them to believe in God (Jn. 14:1). He exists. He is self-sustaining, self-existent, unchanging, inexhaustible, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present. There is none like Him. He is God and God alone. We call these the attributes of God. Scriptures reveals them to us. And, as it does, it gives attention to God’s characteristics. It tells us that God is love. God is mercy. God is gracious. He is also patient, gentle, truthful, wise, righteous, and more. As God is unending, so are His characteristics.
Jesus is saying this: Instead of allowing your heart to be troubled, believe in God—the whole package.
My boss used to talk about the “secret sauce” that I had. It was that stuff that separated me from other people in my line of work. In Hebrews 11, we find a gallery of heroes found in the Old Testament who had a secret sauce. They were ordinary people with ordinary lives having ordinary troubles. Yet, unlike their contemporaries, these people were extraordinarily triumphant in their troubles. Their secret sauce was faith—belief in God’s existence.
“For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”Hebrews 11:6
Among other things, the reward for those who believe in God is comfort. Faith is the secret sauce for conquering your troubles. It is what quiets a restless heart and stills a shaken soul. Let me show you how …
- Comfort comes from trusting God who is all-knowing, because my troubles never take Him by surprise.
- Comfort comes from trusting God who is all-powerful, because my troubles are not bigger than Him.
- Comfort comes from trusting God who is all-present, because I am never alone in my troubles no matter where they find me.
- Comfort comes from trusting God who is sovereign, because my troubles are being worked for my good.
- Comfort comes from trusting God who is merciful, because He doesn’t count my wrongdoings against me.
- Comfort comes from trusting God who never changes, because my troubles are always something new to me and I need consistency.
- Comfort comes from trusting God who is jealous, because He glorifies Himself which is the greatest good.
- Comfort comes from trusting God who is loving, because I know that He “loves me to the end” (Jn. 13:1).
Maybe this is what David had in mind when he wrote, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you” (Ps. 56:3). Believing in God brings comfort to us when we are troubled.
The Presence of a Comforting Christ
My professor in college loved to hand out assignment after assignment to see our facial expressions. After each one, he’d say, “Wait, there’s more.” When exhorting the disciples to believe in God, He gives another exhortation, “believe also in me” (Jn. 14:1). The disciples were primarily troubled by the news that Jesus was leaving them. They believed in God. However, their faith in Christ was weakened.
The original language allows us some flexibility here. The two clauses, “believe in God” and “believe also in me,” can be interpreted in either the indicative or imperative moods. That is to say, they can be understood as statements of fact or commands. Most scholars believe the first clause is indicative and the second is imperative. So, it is to be read like this:
You already believe in God; now believe also in me.
This seems very likely. It touches the very matter that had concerned the disciples. They were troubled by the news that Jesus was leaving them. It threw them into confusion and despair. They were disappointed, uncertain, and frightened by the possibility of instability. By acknowledging their belief in God and exhorting them to believe Him, He is making the connection of faith. They believed in the invisible God, why not believe in the invisible Christ?
Wait, there’s more.
The implication of this is huge. Jesus is making Himself one with God. This is what He says just six verses later, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also” (Jn. 14:7). And, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). Finally, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (Jn. 14:10).
This wouldn’t have been a surprise to us now if we were studying the entire gospel of John. The deity of Christ is one of his main themes. In fact, he comes out the gates with it. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn. 1:14). Or, maybe this would have been a good focus statement, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (Jn. 1:18). Jesus unapologetically set Himself on par with God because He is God.
One day, when the Jews were pressing into Christ about His identity, He served them with a hard ball. These were the guys who held Moses up as a cultural icon, for he encountered the great I AM in the wilderness and no one had ever been as close to God’s presence like him. Yet, these Jews are just a few feet away from Jesus contending for His identity. This is what He told them:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”John 8:58
We can add one more truth that this name teaches us about God. It is this: God is near to you. The self-sustaining, self-existing, unchanging, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present, all-wise, inexhaustible God is with you. This is what God said to Moses. This is what Christ said to the disciples. This is what the Lord says to you now. God is with you and comfort comes from trusting Christ’s presence.