Bridge Over Troubled Waters
You know that I'm no fan of contemporary Christian music. However, I've always thought that certain songs from the 60s and 70s rock n' roll era, could, with a few adjustments, be sung as hymns. Take Simon and Garfunkle's 1972 hit "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." There is a certain comfort, a certain truth in that song. "When you're down/ and feeling small/ when friends just can't be found/ like a bridge over troubled waters/ I will lay me down." Everybody comes to a spot in their lives where they are faced with a raging, boiling torrent of water that they can't cross.
There are many places in life where the waters can be troubled. The peaceful pool of family life can suddenly foam with all sorts of problems. The marriage that is sailing along through smooth waters can be faced with deadly rocks. People can be like a cool drink of water to you, but then someone comes into your life who agitates the water so much it rolls with boiling.
These are just a few of the ways the waters in our life can be troubled. There are more, such as financial problems, health problems, house problems, or even world problems. Actually, there are too many to name, and it really doesn't matter if we don't name them. The problems that can come into our lives all have this in common. They create a raging flood of water before us which we don't see anyway we can cross. This image ought to be familiar to you all. You've all seen a torrent of water rushing by muddy and swirling. You dare not try to cross it. You will be swept away. Fear, worry immobilize you. You've got to cross this, but you can't. You've got to deal with this family, marriage, financial, people, or health problem, but you can't.
This is the type of situation Jesus is addressing in our text. The setting is the upper room on the night Jesus was betrayed. All of chapter 14 deals with the disciples being upset that Jesus is going away. We read this lesson today because we will celebrate the Ascension of Jesus this Thursday. The chapter opens with Jesus telling them He's going to prepare a place for them. Thomas is upset by this and asks, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, so how do we know the way?" Jesus answers that He is the Way. Philip responds by saying, "Lord show us the Father, and it enough for us." Jesus responds that the one who has seen Him has seen the Father, and that He will continue to come to them. This bothers Judas, not the betrayer of Jesus, who asks right before our text, "Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?"
The disciples for 3 years had followed Jesus around as their Messiah. For 3 years, they had expected that Jesus would one day boldly, publicly and triumphantly proclaim Himself as the Messiah. Now He says, not only isn't He going to do that, but that He is going to leave them. Suddenly appearing before them was a rushing rapids of dark churning, swirling water. They felt like you feel at times. They didn't want to cross it. They didn't see how they could cross it. They felt helpless, hopeless. What could they do? How could they go forward? How could they deal with these troubled waters? These are the types of questions that produce despair.
Jesus was constantly concerned that His disciples not fall into despair. He didn't want them worrying about getting the kingdom of God so He told them, "Fear not little flock; it's your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." He didn't want them anxious over what they would eat or what they would drink or what they would wear so He told them, "Don't be anxious for such things; your heavenly Father knows that you need them." Jesus didn't want them to be troubled, agitated like water is (That's what the Greek word means), so here in our text for the second time this night Jesus says, "Don't let your hearts be troubled." And Jesus doesn't want His disciples to have that clutching, cowardly fear that rises in the throat when they think of Jesus going away, so He says to them, "Don't let your hearts be cowardly."
I want to make sure you understand the situation here. Jesus in a matter of hours is going to be betrayed by a dear friend. All of His disciples are going to desert Him. He is going to be gruffly arrested and bound as a violent, wretched criminal. He will be led before the Jewish supreme court whose members will beat, spit, and mock Him. His solid rock Peter will deny Him 3 times. He will be led before the Roman Governor and a "Jewish" king who will hurt and humiliate Him more. He will then be scourged to within an inch of His life and sentenced to death on the cross. He will be crucified suffering not just the rejection and punishment of men, but of God. Two last very important points to note in all of this: One, Jesus is absolutely innocent. Two, Jesus knows exactly what is going to happen.
How are you when you are faced with a major medical test or even school test? How are you when you are standing beside troubled waters? Are you very concerned with others? Are you hoping others are not slipping into despair? When the waters are very troubled before you, are you thinking how you would like to be a bridge over troubled waters for someone else? I'm sure not. But Jesus is! Jesus was concerned with the disciples being afraid or cowardly. He didn't want their hearts to be torn up even though He was faced with their betraying and deserting Him. Jesus didn't think of Himself and His troubled waters. He thought of His disciples, their troubled waters, and Him laying down and being their bridge.
This, my friends, is the love so amazing, so divine that we sing about on Good Friday. This is the love that we need right next to us when we're standing beside the trouble waters of home, health, life or world. If at this ultimate crises point in His life, Jesus was more concerned for the disciples than for Himself, if at this despairing point beside the troubled waters in His life Jesus did not want His disciples despairing, how much more does Jesus feel that way now that He has crossed over the troubled waters Himself?
Time to rethink your view of God. We assume He is far away from us when we're standing beside troubled waters. We assume that He couldn't be all that concerned with us if He would let troubled waters rush through our life. We assume that we have good reason to despair because after all God is allowing us to be in this situation. Think again. The God who on the worst day of His life told His disciples that they didn't need to be troubled or timid, surely would say the same thing to you today from the bliss of heaven. The God who from the blood, sweat and tears of life could look with pity on disciples and say, "You don't have continue to have troubled hearts," surely looks from the blessing, rest, and joy of heaven with pity on you and says today, "You don't have to continue to despair."
Jesus really does say this to you today, but that's not enough. It's not enough to simply say, "Don't worry," "Don't be afraid," "Don't be troubled." Scripture never says the "Don't" part without giving the reason we don't have to. Merely to tell people not to worry or not to be troubled without giving the reason is cruel. Here Christ says the reason we don't have to be troubled or afraid when we're standing beside troubled waters is because He is the bridge.
Jesus says that His Word will lead to the Father making a room in you. "If anyone loves Me, My Word he will keep, and My Father will love him and will come to him and will make a room with him." Christ is the bridge between the divine and the human, between God and mankind. Being both 100% God and 100% man, Jesus reaches both sides. Ah, but you're troubled by the part about "whoever keeps My Word." What Words did Jesus speak to them in the upper room? He told them He didn't want them troubled. He told them not to be afraid. He gave them peace. He gave them victory over the world. He told them that they were clean. And most importantly He gave them the Words which gave them His body and blood.
In keeping those Words, as we do each Sunday, what happens? The true God comes and makes a room with us. The true God crosses the troubled waters of our life by means of the Words about His Body and Blood now being here. The true God crosses over our sins which trouble us and makes a room for Himself in our bodies through the Holy Communion. He crosses over the family troubles, the marriage troubles, the sickness and even the deaths and comes into our time and space with His Body and His Blood for our forgiveness, life and salvation.
Jesus, as our bridge over troubled waters, is our communication link between heaven and earth. Jesus says to us, "These words you hear are not My own; they belong to the Father who sent Me." In the mouth of Jesus you know what God in all of His majesty, might and mystery thinks about you and your situation. So when you are standing beside waters troubled by some very real crises, what are you to hear from heaven? "This is what your sins deserve?" "This is what your sins have caused?" NO! You are to hear from heaven, from the lips of God exactly what you hear from Jesus, "Fear not; you don't have to despair. Though your sins do deserve this, I don't deal with you according to your sins. I deal with you according to what Jesus deserves and won for you by His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death."
Heaven is not speaking in the rising flood waters that threaten to engulf you. Heaven speaks in your baptismal waters that wash your sins away. Heaven doesn't speak in the loud sound of rushing waters. Heaven speaks in the soft, "I forgive you in the name of the Lord." Heaven doesn't speak in the foaming waters of hardship or the brown waters of tragedy. Heaven speaks in the placid wine of Communion which is the blood of Christ and the white bread of Communion which is the Body of Christ. And these sound not one note of despair.
Christ is the bridge. He says that He is going to the Father and coming back again. How did Jesus go to the Father? By means of a bloody cross in place of sinners. That's one lane of the bridge. How does Jesus come to us again? By means of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion. That's the other lane of the bridge over troubled waters. Friends, Jesus has successfully bridged the biggest gap there is, the one between sinners and God. If He has bridged that humongous gap, rest assured that any troubled waters you face are no more than a trickling stream to Him. He easily reaches across troubled waters to stand on your side with you on your side in Waters that regenerate; in Words that forgive, and in Bread and Wine that rejuvenate for everlasting life. Whose afraid of troubled waters when they've got a sturdy bridge? Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter VI (5-20-01) John 14:23-29