There’s something Jesus said, and it’s in the book of John, and people who’ve been around church culture have likely heard it: “Let not your heart be troubled.”
It’s a beautiful thing. It’s so calming. Don’t let your heart be troubled, Jesus says, because “I go to prepare a place for you.” I’m coming back for you, he says, “that where I am, there you may also be.”
But there’s another story we might be familiar with, and it’s horrifying. The story is of what we call the “last supper”, when Jesus was together with his friends. He tells them he won’t be with them much longer. He says they won’t be able be able to follow him in the coming days.
Peter, one of those closest to him, says, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for your sake.” Jesus tells him that before the end of the night, before the rooster crows, Peter will deny him three times.
It’s a horrifying story because we know what Jesus predicted actually happens within hours. Peter just called him, “Lord”. And within hours, he’ll profanely act as if he never knew him. It’s a chilling betrayal.
Here’s the catch: These two stories aren’t two stories. They’re the same story.
We just don’t notice it because someone, centuries ago (but centuries after John wrote his gospel) inserted a “chapter break” between the two events. What actually happens: Peter says he’ll follow. Jesus says, no, you’ll deny me this very night. And then he tells him “Don’t let your heart be troubled…”
And, he says, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
The Worst Chapter Break in the Bible hasn’t just done injustice to narrative continuity. It’s nearly kept us from seeing one of the most stunningly vivid pictures of how God feels about us.
And by “us”, I mean you, Person-Who-Is-Reading-This. I mean you, and I mean every human who has ever failed Him, and, in word or deed – willfully, brazenly, knowingly – lifted a proud hand to the sky and given God the finger.
I mean you, and me, and every church kid who would never say a dirty word, but whose secret porn addiction makes her doubt Jesus could possibly turn to her and say, “But don’t let your heart be troubled. I still want you.”
And every man, like the one who wrote me recently, wondering if it was really true – he’d heard me say it on the radio – that God could even love a murderer. He was writing me from prison, and a few years ago, he’d killed his cellmate. Could Jesus really look a murderer in the eye and say, “Let not your heart be troubled… I’m going to prepare a place for you”?
And I mean every dad who’s ever cheated on his wife, then found himself living his later years immersed in loneliness and regret for never really knowing his kids. It was all his fault, you know. Yes. Of course. But then there’s Jesus: “I still want you.”
And every 12 year-old boy, like the one who came crying to me after a Sunday School class I taught, who wished he could “unsee” all the things he’s seen on the internet, things he kept going back to, in spite of his best intentions. He was bawling and broken and wondered if God could still love him.
“But don’t let your heart be troubled…”
Profane Peter would deny the Son of God three times that very night. And Jesus told him he knew what Peter was going to do, and He still wanted him.
We are no less guilty than Peter. And no more. So forget the chapter break. It’s all one story. One very astonishing, breathtaking, beautiful story.
He still wants us!