ords are capsules of meaning. They serve us well as we try to share with others that which no one else except ourselves has access to, namely our thoughts. They also come accompanied with feelings and emotions. Words can encourage, enrich, or even hurt others depending on how we use them. The word that hurts is not a true word but a false image of what God intended our words to be. In a sinful world, words of hope fill life with meaning and feelings of joy. Knowing the desperate condition of fallen humanity, Jesus brought to us words of hope, what we indeed needed. In John 14:1-3 we find a cluster of those words coming from the lips of our Savior. His words of hope begin with an exhortation: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Hope and Exhortation
Exhortations aimed at our well-being are of great value in our spiritual life. In fact, the Bible is to a significant extent a compendium of a variety of exhortations practically touching every aspect of our lives. They can shape our character and create the boundaries we need to enjoy proper interaction with others and with our Lord Jesus Christ. They contribute in a very specific way to define the nature and quality of our future. Exhortations presuppose that there are dangers to be avoided and values to be embraced and appropriated.
Exhortations also presuppose that we are creatures with free will. The exhortation aims at motivating us to make the right choices, to select the good and avoid evil. An exhortation at the proper time, if accepted, could make our lives more restful. So Jesus exhorted His disciples at the right moment in order to guide them and to help them understand the nature of the Christian life. It was the right moment in that He anticipated that His departure could be a threatening experience for them. Exhortations are by nature anticipatory. That is to say they are based on the ability of the exhorter to anticipate dangers and to give the proper advice to avoid them.
Jesus knew very well what His disciples and His future followers would face in the world. His capture and death would be a trying time for them. Living in His absence would be threatening to their faith in Him. But His exhortation is addressed to all of us because we too live in the presence of the absent Lord in a world of uncertainty and confusion that constantly threatens our commitment to Him. What the world offers us is trouble, anguish: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). This we know through personal experience and through the observation of human life on this planet. The world cannot offer us anything else except trouble. The “world” that our dear Savior is describing is the world of the human race in rebellion against Him and His Father. His people exist in the midst of that world. But they exist in a state of constant expectation, anticipating the in-breaking of the glorious presence of the risen and glorified Savior in the arena of human history.
Hope as Freedom From Trouble
Jesus’ exhortation has a pedagogical orientation. That is, it seeks to teach His followers how to live between the moment of His departure and the moment of His return. Therefore we must carefully
listen to His words of hope expressed in the form of an exhortation.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus is interested in our emotional well-being. Our emotions are important to Him because through creation they are part of our diversified and marvelous being. It is true that they have been corrupted by sin and consequently they tend to control human nature to the point that very often humans act in totally irrational ways. But Jesus is telling us that our emotions can be controlled: “Do not let . . .” In the context of the passage it is clear that this control is possible through the word of hope that He has shared with us in His death, ascension, and soon return.
Our hearts could be troubled in a world of trouble, but Jesus says that does not have to be the case. In this particular passage “to be troubled” means to be agitated, to be disturbed, and to be restless. Jesus places this potential emotional state within the human heart. In the Word of God the heart is the very core of our being, the place where we reflect, analyze, and make decisions. It is the center of our personality. If that center is in a state of turmoil there will be disorientation and confusion in our lives. The result will be a disoriented life, drifting, lacking an anchor and a final destination. This exhortation is addressing a serious human condition that must be avoided by those who have found in Christ the center of their lives.
The verb “to be troubled” tends to describe the result of the work or influence of an external power on a particular object. For instance, when waters are troubled or agitated by some external force (compare John 5:7). Jesus is telling us not to allow the external circumstances of life in this world of sin and rebellion to determine how we ought to live. In the midst of disorientation, restlessness, and turmoil we are to remain anchored in the word of hope in Christ. This is true peace.
Although in the world we experience trouble, in Christ “you may have peace” (John 16:33).
He is the only fountain of peace. In the Scripture “peace” is much more than the absence of war. It designates a life that operates the way God intended it to operate. It means that our being is whole, well, totally integrated or reintegrated into an indivisible oneness with God through Christ. Jesus has reordered the fragments of our lives, healed us, and made us whole! We are at peace with Him and with our fellow human beings. Consequently, He can look at us and exhort us saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled by what you see and may even experience in the world. Remain united to God through Me; do not be confused or disoriented because in Me you have found a glorious future, a magnificent hope.”
Foundation of the Word of Hope
The word of hope is grounded in the saving death of Jesus. In fact, His words of exhortation that we have been reading are meaningful only to the extent that they are connected to Christ’s sacrificial death for us. To the question Why should I not be troubled? Jesus does not provide a psychological answer such as, “Because this is good for your mental health,” useful as that answer may be. He goes deeper than that and states, “Because I was troubled for you.” And He was!
Anticipating the dramatic experience of the cross, Jesus said to His disciples, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27, 28). Amazing love! He who exhorts us saying “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” said to the disciples, “My heart is troubled.” He took what was ours in order to free us from it. He took on Himself our restlessness, our agitation of spirit, our inner turmoil based on our sense of separation from Him, and fully experienced it in a real and total separation from the Father. He had a valid reason to be troubled in His heart. On the cross He was willingly separated from the Father.
Now He looks at the disciples and says to them, “My departure is not a true separation because we have been united to each other with unbreakable strings of love. This separation is not like what I will experience on the cross. Therefore, do not let your hearts be troubled; let My heart be troubled for you.” It is because of His sacrifice that we can enjoy a life of rest and peace in Him, a life of union with God through Him.
The word of hope, phrased in the form of an exhortation, is grounded not only in the sacrificial death of Jesus but also in the promise of the coming of the Spirit after the departure of the Savior. In a sense the departure of Jesus was not a real absence or separation from us. The absent Lord continues to be the present Lord in the life of each believer and in the life of the church. He did not abandon His church but chose to dwell in it through the Spirit. The Spirit is “another Counselor” given to us who represents Him (John 14:16). In the coming of the Spirit to us Jesus Himself comes to us: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (verse 18). Through Him Jesus continues to exhort and guide His church (verse 26). The Spirit “makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world’s Redeemer” (Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 671). Throughout the centuries of Christian history Christ has represented us before the Father as our High Priest while at the same time making His presence fully real in the church through the mysterious and effective work of the Spirit. Therefore, “Do not let your hearts be troubled!” He is still with us and will be with us “to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Questions for Reflection
1. Jesus' words "Do not let your hearts be troubled" suggest that we have a role in bringing about their fulfillment. What is that role?
2. Pastor Paulsen points out that Jesus was "troubled" so that we might be "troubled." What does he mean by this?
3. In what ways doe Jesus' worlds "Do not let your hearts be troubled" go beyond merely psychological encouragement.
Finally the word of hope, phrased in the form of an exhortation, is based on the fact that the separation will come to an end. The exhortation is nurtured in the fertile soil of the Christian hope. Without this hope the exhortation is void of meaningful content and may even carry with it the deathly venom of legalism. In other words, the Advent hope validates the meaningfulness of Jesus’ exhortation to us. The physical separation of our Lord from us has temporal limitations. In the presence of trouble it does not make sense to tell people not to be troubled unless there is a promise to bring the source of trouble to an end and the power needed to accomplish it. This will happen at the moment when our Christian hope manifests itself in the glorious appearing of our Savior and Lord. Our hope has a direct impact on the quality of the life that we live now, “while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
Let us continue our common journey of hope with untroubled hearts, resting in Christ.
Jan Paulsen is president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church.