An Unfortunate Division
A beautiful aspect of Scripture is that it, as Spurgeon once said, “widens and deepens with our years.” Sentences and clauses that meant little to us in previous readings can erupt with significance and splendor. Verses we once glossed over can stand out as awe-inspiring.
This very phenomenon happened to me recently while reading the Gospel of John. Specifically, the short clause at the beginning of Chapter fourteen, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” The shock in my reading was not due to unfamiliarity, I’ve read the fourth evangelist’s book a number of times. What struck me was the unfortunate chapter division between thirteen and fourteen.
While every word of the New Testament is inspired, the chapter divisions are not. This can often lead to unfortunate divisions, like this particular instance. If we read “let not your hearts be troubled” as the beginning of what follows in chapter fourteen, the text is still great. However, if we keep this small clause together with the words that precede it – the implications are simply jaw-dropping.
Two Pains Before the Lord
Towards the end of chapter thirteen, we have the famous scene of Jesus foretelling Peter’s thrice-repeated denial of the Messiah. In the midst of Jesus telling his disciples about his departure from them to face his impending death, Peter states, in ignorance, that he will never forsake Jesus. Jesus confronts his misinformed proclamation by letting him know that not only will Peter forsake him three times, he’ll do it before sunrise.
It is at this point, if the reader zooms out of the narrative, that we can see Jesus informed Peter of two things: First, Jesus is departing from the disciples and for the first time the disciples will be without their leader. Second, not only is Jesus leaving the disciples, in his doing so, Peter will forsake and let Jesus down three times over.
Either of these pronouncements would have been enough to crush Peter where he stood – and it is precisely then that Jesus utters the now seemingly preposterous words, “Let not your heart be troubled.”
The Pain of Distance
The first of Jesus’ pronouncements is that he is leaving the disciples and for all their previous following, they won’t be able to follow him in the endeavor he’s now pursuing. This leaves the disciples with a fear with which modern Christians can relate; a fear of distance between God and us.
A perceived distance between God and us stems from many sources: sin, insecurity, doubt, neglect of disciplines, prayerlessness, and more. These seasons of feeling “far from God” make joy hard to come by. Times we feel isolated from God often lead us to isolate ourselves from his people as well; creating a perfect concoction for despair. We might intellectually know our union with God will never falter, but our communion with him sometimes can feel far and sporadic.
The Pain of Shame
As if the imminent distance Peter faced was not enough, before the inauguration of the distance, Peter would forsake the one he wants to remain close to. Therefore, Peter’s pain of distance is compounded by his pain of shame. Little surprise to the reader, Jesus’ foretelling of Peter’s denial comes to pass. In the midst of Jesus’ public humiliation, Peter utters the heart-breaking sentence, “I do not know that man.” Realizing what he had done, the Scripture says Peter “went out and wept bitterly.” He now bore the weight of shame that comes with letting down the Savior.
Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled
The command to not let your hearts be troubled, coming from Jesus, is great in any context. Yet, for me, the imperative became stunning in the face of two agonizingly relatable pains in the narrative – distance and shame.
The fact is, for those of us who are Christians, we did have shame before the Lord and distance with him. The problem with the plight of sin is that it was greater than only banishment from Eden. Our plight was a judicial one. We were guilty before the cosmic King and therefore steeped in the shame of our transgressions and the distance with our God.
The glory of the story, however, is that Jesus knew in under a day’s time, he would die a traitor’s death to ransom his people. While the sunrise would bring shame for Peter, it would bring death for Christ. It was in that death, where Jesus hung as a curse on a tree, that both our distance with God and our shame before him came to a decisive end. To the Christian living in fear of shame and distance before God, the gospel speaks a better word.
So then, let not your hearts be troubled. In the death of Christ was the death of your distance and shame – to him be the glory.