Jesus is sitting with his closest friends and followers. The eleven are there–Judas, the one who would betray him, had already left.
Jesus wants to help these dear friends make sense of what he has been saying. He has told them he is going to be delivered over to the authorities, he is going to be tried and unjustly condemned, he will be horribly crucified, he will die. He has explained that one of their own will betray him, that all of them will flee, and that one of the leaders among them will swear with oaths that he doesn’t even know this Jesus.
Understandably, they are devastated. They had been living with Jesus for years–day in and day out sharing life with him, watching and participating in some incredible ministry. But that doesn’t look like it’s going to continue. And they are, with reason, distraught.
So he speaks to them words of comfort:
“Do not let you heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1).
Because of the way that Greek works, there is a little debate about whether Jesus is offering commands (as in “I tell you to believe . . .”) or whether he is affirming something (as in “You do believe in God . . .”). But regardless of how that debate is resolved, the essence of what Jesus said is clear.
In the way that Old Testament “saints” understood believing in God, Jesus wants these friends (and, by extension, all of his friends . . . including us) to believe in him. That “believing” is more than just affirming truth about God, agreeing with what God has revealed about himself. To believe in God is to trust in, rely on, depend on, look to, rest in him.
Like Abraham did when depending on God to provide a promised son. Like Moses did in trusting in God to deliver the children of Israel. Like David did looking to God in his battle with Goliath. Like Elijah did resting in God as he asked God to send fire from heaven in a confrontation with false prophets.
Here is the antidote for trouble-heartedness–even in the face of such startlingly troubling news as had been shared with the eleven: Depend on Jesus, rest on Jesus, look to Jesus, rely on Jesus, believe in Jesus.
That is not religious cliché. That is more than a pat answer. Coming to understand what that is like, how to live there, what that will mean, is the foundation for life in the midst of incomprehensible hardship. And Jesus begins his words of comfort with this invitation.
Jesus says, “Believe in me!”
It seems to me to be a fitting invitation at the start of this new year. In the weeks to come I’ll be living in Jesus word’s to his friends as found in the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-17). And we start here. The foundation for the coming year: Believing in Jesus.