“Let Not Your Hearts be Troubled”
#9 in the Series “All I have Commanded You”
(Jesus said) “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know where I am going, and you know the way.”
Thomas said unto him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, and how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me. If you had known me, you would also have known my Father also. From now on you know Him and have seen Him.” John 14:1-7
(Jesus said) “Therefore I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; or for your body, what you shall wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Behold the birds of the air: for they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor do they store their food, yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? Which of you can, by being anxious, add one inch to his height. And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lillies of the field, how they grow. They do not work, neither do they spin. And yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Therefore, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is cast into the oven, will he not clothe you much more, o you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “How will we be clothed?” After all these things do the Gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is its own evil. Matthew 6:25-34
We have reached the ninth article in this series of twelve that seeks to summarize the entire teaching of Jesus. I have suggested that the twelve foundational commandments of Jesus can be arranged in the shape of a wagon wheel. The rim of this wheel is the command “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,” a command that sets the priority for life. The first five “spokes” of the wheel are commands in which Jesus calls us to an abundantly heroic life, one of significance and worthy of the calling we receive as children of God. We are now at the third of five spokes in which Jesus issues commands to safeguard our freedoms: 1. “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest;” the first freedom is the freedom to rest. 2. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven;” the second freedom is the freedom to have eternal possessions. 3. “Let not your heart be troubled;” the third freedom is the freedom from anxiety.
I want you to consider something interesting about the way God “parents” us in Jesus Christ. All of us who are parents, and who are going to give the car keys to our children for the first time, repeat a phrase that we have said over and over again to our children as they grow up. We say, “Be careful!” I want you to imagine giving the keys of the car for your child to drive by themselves for the first time and employing, instead of “Be Careful!”, this phrase: “FEAR NOT!” In the Old Testament the important parenting phrase was “Fear God!” Jesus, however, teaches us to refer to God as Father, and as Father the Lord admonishes us to “Fear not!”
Jesus proclaims that if we believe in God and in him, we are completely safe in the world. If this is true, it will make a great deal of difference to the way we live our lives. If we are safe, we can take risks, we can explore the world, we can make ourselves vulnerable in relationships because nothing will harm us. Children certainly develop best in safe environments where they don’t have to worry about abuse, neglect, or accidental harm. God’s children grow spiritually when they are convinced that the primary responsibility for their safety rests not on themselves but on God.
But is it true? I submit to you that Christians not only suffer the same illnesses, accidents, and calamities as other humans—they can also suffer precisely because they are Christians. We Christians suffer terribly in wars, because of natural disasters, as victims of crime and because of injustice. Worst of all, however, we may suffer precisely because we belong to Christ and refuse to say otherwise.
Recently I read a book entitled Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrandt, founder of the Voice of the Martyrs ministry that looks out for Christians who are persecuted for their faith. Wurmbrandt was a Lutheran pastor of Jewish descent in Romania during both the Nazi and the Communist regimes. Although he was at risk during the Nazi era and was later able to pastor a government-sanctioned church under the Communists, his involvement with the underground church and its evangelistic activities, ultimately led to his arrest by them. During 14 years of imprisonment he suffered horrible torture: 4 vertebrae were broken, he was carved with a knife in 12 places, his body was pocked with 18 large holes from burning and cutting, and his untreated Tuberculosis was so severe that the doctors had no idea why he hadn’t died. Through all this he remained both humble and committed to Christ. In his book he says that others suffered much worse than he did. One pastor had his son brought in and tortured before him. The torture was so severe (blood all over the walls) that the pastor called out, “Son, I cannot bear it, I must cooperate with them to save you.”
Just before he was savagely beaten to death, the son called back, “I do not want to be the son of a man who betrayed Christ. Stand firm, father!”
To such as these Jesus promises Heaven. Heaven, however, is not just pie in the sky in order to keep people passive and unresisting on earth. Instead, since we believe in Jesus, who himself was tortured and executed because he refused to deny that he was who God said he was, the promise of heaven becomes the seedbed of heroes who follow Jesus’s example. We doggedly resist injustice and the watering down of our commitment to Christ because, despite all the evidence to the contrary, we insist on believing that Jesus is with us and will take care of us.
In John 14:12 Jesus says that we will do greater things than these (the things that Jesus himself did). He doesn’t mean merely that we will do greater miracles than He. He means that we will bear greater witness. A greater witness to Christ may not mean greater wealth, fame, prosperity, or health. Greater witness may, in fact, at times mean greater suffering, greater courage, greater risks, greater service, and maybe even a more heroic death.
God is emphatically not sadist, either enjoying the suffering of others or telling His children to enjoy their own suffering. Most often God does protect us and spare us from suffering, as anyone who travels the freeways of Houston accident-free over any number of days can attest. God is, furthermore, gracious to those Christians who fail to stand up for their faith because of weakness. The example of Peter reminds us that many who have denied the faith under pressure or who have accomodated their faith under pressure will also find their way to heaven. Richard Wurmbrandt writes about many who failed under Communist pressure, but who still love the Lord Jesus. We are not saved by the greatness of our suffering or even by our own faithfulness under fire. We are saved by desiring Jesus above all things and because He is great in faithfulness to revive that desire even when it has been dimmed by failure.
I was impressed by Richard Wurmbrandt’s courage, by his stand against Communism and by his learned and eloquent plea for Christians to stand with the underground church. What most impressed, however, me was his love for those who had tortured him, those who were communists, and even those Christians who betrayed other Christians to the Secret Police. Rev. Wurmbrandt believed that Jesus had suffered and died for each of them. Precisely because his torturers had left no room for Jesus in their hearts, Richard Wurmbrandt resolved to leave no room for Satan in his. And he saw some of these torturers come to Christ.
If God ever allows us to suffer, it is for love. Occasionally, God allows for Christians to be so protected and blessed that they become in society a kind of coddled spiritual elite. Usually at those times the witness of the church is less and the resentment against the church is more. At those times when Christians are prospering, people believe that we don’t know what real life is like. However, when we share in Christ’s sufferings heroically, whether under persecution or just because of the illnesses and accidents of life, Christians become a redeeming presence in society.
So here is why I should never be anxious, no matter what the circumstances are: 1. Jesus will be with me every step of the way. 2. Nothing that I endure will be meaningless; all things will work together for my good. 3. God will give me the strength to face anything. 4. Even if I stumble, even if I fail to take a courageous stand for my faith, Christ’s strength and faithfulness have me bound for heaven. No matter what happens to my body and to all the corruptible possessions I have in this life, my ultimate treasure, my redeemed body, and my family in God are safe. Because I can lose nothing that is of permanent value in my life, I am completely safe. “Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says, and the Father does not reply “Be careful!” Instead, he cheers us on: “Fear Not!”